Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life, the universe and everything: Philosophy of Education Chapter 10 (Curriculum)

[Each person is] the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know. ~~Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10
Here are some Philosophy of Education numbers for you:

"Knowledge of Man" gets 48 pages in Chapter 10.

"Knowledge of the Universe" gets barely 17.

("Knowledge of God" gets 12.)

Some people are puzzled by Charlotte Mason's seeming lack of enthusiasm for subjects outside of the humanities.

Some people are very, very frustrated by it.  Especially those who majored in math or science, or who work in math or science, or who are married to someone who worries that this CM stuff might be nice for the early grades but that nature study isn't going to cut it as they get older.  And when do they do magnets and simple machines?  And dinosaurs?

Less emphasis on science and math just doesn't fit, for instance, with current North American high school demands, and the almost more important requirements of colleges and universities.  Many post-secondary programs in Ontario require senior-level maths and sciences.  One college lists these requirements for grade 12 students applying to a nursing program:

■Six U or U/C credits including: Grade 12 U compulsory English; One of Grade 12 U Advanced Functions, Grade 12 U Calculus and Vectors or Grade 12 U Mathematics of Data Management; Grade 12 U Biology; Grade 12 U Chemistry and two other Grade 12 U or U/C courses with at least a cumulative average of 75%.
(U is University stream, U/C is University/College stream which would be slightly less advanced)

A Fitness and Health Promotion diploma program requires the following courses for admission:

■Grade 11 or 12 Biology, C or U, or equivalent (those without it can take a prep course at the college)
 ■Grade 12 Compulsory English, C or U, or equivalent (ditto)
■PLUS one of the following:
■Grade 11 or 12 Physics, C or U, or equivalent (ditto)
■Grade 11 or 12 Chemistry, C or U, or equivalent (ditto)
■Grade 12 Health and Physical Education, C or U, or equivalent
■Grade 11 or 12 Science, SNC3M or SNC4M

Take the science at high school or take it before you start the program, but somewhere along the line, you have to take it.  Of course, not all the programs require math and science, but, as my own guidance counsellor used to say, "you might be closing some doors if you don't take those courses."  I personally squeaked through school with two science credits (the last was in grade 11) and senior Functions and Relations, but then I was stubborn (I filled up my senior timetable with languages).  Our Apprentice earned about every senior math and science credit there was (in addition to her hairstyling apprenticeship), and got herself into a chosen-by-hand science degree program.  That's so you know that I would never stop anybody from taking lots of math and science and geography if that's what they want to do.

But that's Charlotte Mason's point: that, first off, it's not what everybody wants to do, or can do; but second, why should that stop the rest of us from taking an interest in our universe and all its "quirks and quarks?"  Not earning senior science credits may "close the doors" of particular college programs (that never bothered me), but why should it close the doors of general interest? Unfortunately, our education system doesn't see it that way, though teachers moan about students' lack of interest in their science and math courses. It was the same thirty years ago--Grade 11 was Physics, take it or leave it.  Grade 12 was Chemistry.  No other options.  When the voices out there complain about students' lack of math numeracy, or scientific literacy, they miss that one point:  that though the humanities types and artsies don't get calculus, can't even get through senior chemistry without tearing our hair, it doesn't mean that math and science should be of no interest or have no relevance, that we're all doomed to everlasting ignorance, it's pork rinds with Bubba time.

But nobody can be completely cut off from at least the effects of science, even if our understanding of them is sometimes a bit straggly.  We are bombarded with media stories of new medical discoveries (did you read about the ear that was created on a 3-D printer?), of meteors blowing up over Russia, of problems of the environment and agriculture.  We are shown graphs, quoted numbers.  We want to know what we should eat to stay healthy, how a new machine works, why some kinds of birds or bees are disappearing.   If we are Christians, we certainly do want to know more about the "One who set the atoms dancing." 
"Lord, You turn the wheels of the galaxies. You know what makes the planets spin. And You know what makes this watch run…” Through the years [Father] took his stopped watches to “the One who set the atoms dancing,” or “who keeps the great currents circling through the sea.” ~~Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place 
Please don't get me wrong:  those who want to take college or university courses in areas requiring, for instance, a lab science background, or a particularly difficult math that the student's parents haven't studied recently, should certainly have the opportunity to get what they need.  There really is no sneaking in through the back door on solid math and science preparation, and many homeschoolers do have to turn to outside courses, tutors, co-ops and so on.  If you need that preparation for something, then by all means find a way to do it. This is where Charlotte Mason says that she doesn't have a lot to say about how science and math are taught (although she might have more to say these days)--geometry proofs are what they are, senior chemistry is still senior chemistry.

And her point, again, was that many of us could have done--can do--quite nicely without it.  Her belief was that those who really needed to study higher-level math and science were a minority--an important and gifted minority, but still a minority.  For the rest of us--we were not to be left without science and math altogether, by no means!--although what the "rest of us" do might not quite please the purists.  For those of you who ever watched Seinfeld--do you remember George's invented holiday, "Festivus--for the rest of us?"  That was pretty much what Charlotte was saying here--that there should be a large crowd of humanities majors enjoying our math and science Festivus, instead of being left out of the celebration altogether.

This did not mean, especially in the higher years, that it was to be all "science lite" or science-made-entertaining; or that those subjects could be dropped entirely.  In the next post I will link to some of the books that her senior students used, to demonstrate that point.  But math and science, taught in an accessible way, were to be part of the lifetime mind-equipment of every student; and they were valued for their place in the Science of Relationships and the Knowledge of the Universe.


Anonymous said...

Enjoying the series on science! Actually, though I must take issue with the statement that CM did not do as much science as now. I recently did an exercise in which I took the timetable posted at AO, and broke it down how the (American) schools nowadays would divide subjects, listing out each class, with time spent, and adding up the total time. I was shocked at how MUCH time Form IV spent on science, as well as the variety. In that one term, students studied physical geography (30m/wk), geology (40 m/wk), astronomy (40 m/wk), geography (two classes, 1 hr. 15m total time) and botany (two classes, 1 hr. 15 m total)! This meant total time of 4 hr, 20 m on various sciences, not including 1+ hour of nature study time daily (5-10 hrs/wk)! By contrast, English took up 3 hr. 20 m, and history 1 hr. 45m (not including the suggested weekend museum time)! Her students, at least in that form and time, easily spent more time on science than enything else. (In actual school time, foreign language had sciences beat, at 6 hrs, 20 m spread over four languages). It certainly gave me a different idea of what CM really did. Lori

Mama Squirrel said...

Hi Lori!

Agreed--it's a puzzle. Do you think if they had, excuse the expression, done the math, it might have seemed a bit funny?

Although there's this thought as a possible explanation: that these subjects were still "Knowledge of the Universe," still very important in the CM scope (even if she didn't spend much time here describing them). They were still being taught for the most part with literary books etc.; they weren't meant to be done in a utilitarian way. So in that sense maybe CMers can have their science cake and eat it too.