Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Planning for History in a CM way -- Texas History for High School

Let me take you on a journey - the way that I apply the Charlotte Mason method to a subject like history. In this case, it’s Texas History, a requirement for public-school children in this state at both 4th grade and 7th grade, and again, at university.

Of course, as homeschoolers, we didn't have to do this study -- ever. However, we decided that we would because my kids have grown up in England and only just moved to my home state in June 2016. It also would be a great way to invite along some other homeschoolers in a co-op, and widen our social circle.

In Texas - time to study Texas history!

The challenge was to map a well-documented study that's normally for ages 9/10 and 12/13, onto a more rigorous expectation for high schoolers. Further, to move away from the textbooks used at these years and even at college, and find some living books that would cover the sweeping timeline of the territory.

Just a reminder of what I mean by a living book — 

  • A book that engages the reader and draws him or her into learning more about a subject; it is typically narrative in style and written by an authority on the material. Living books are written by someone with a passion for the material or by someone who has experienced the story first hand. - Sassafras Science

Textbooks are not living books, in general. There are some exceptions, such as the Exploring Creation books by Jeannie Fulbright from Apologia Science.

Another criteria for choosing books was avoiding twaddle. Twaddle means probably what you think it means — books that are silly, babyish, basic, usually bitty, full of pictures without extended text. Texas History has a lot of this rubbish on offer, probably because it’s a school subject and publishers can get away with quantity over quality.

Once I established the kind of book I was looking for, it was time to scour Amazon. I love Amazon because you can input a book title - for example, even the textbooks — and check out the related titles that come up in the search bar.

In some ways, though, I got to cheat on this step. I knew a living book that we used years ago, when I touched on the history of the Alamo with my children almost ten years ago. The book was called Journey to the Alamo by Melodie A Cuate. It’s one of those stories where modern-day children get whisked back in time by a magical trunk, and find themselves in the midst of the battle. Not especially strong for the high schoolers I was teaching, but a favorite for the middle-grade kids, and helpful for the search threads on offer when looking on Amazon.

I also googled Texas History and homeschooling, to get the way that other parents have navigated this subject before. No reason to reinvent the wheel, right?

Finally, I went to my library to expose myself to the bigger picture of Texas history than I remember from my own 7th grade education. I’m lucky that my local library has a very creditable collection, its shelves fairly full of Texas-related living books in the adult section. It was here that I hit on the best find: my spine book of the year.

“Good-bye to a River” is a memoir by John Graves. He wrote it in the 1950s after taking a canoeing trip down the Brazos, stopping by many of the homesteads of people whose family traced roots back to the 19th century. He picked up lore and legend, myth and hearsay, and as he floated down the river, camped on the shores, fished and hunted and tried to keep his puppy warm and dry, he took the experience and turned it into a repository of some of the last memories of people who had been there in Texas’s early days of settlement.

That is, settlement in the northwestern part of the state, a place that remained wild and dangerous until almost 1880, and rarely included much in the narratives of the southeastern portion and its famous six flags.

The only problem with the book is that it has its moments of gruesome raids and scalpings, so it’s in need of some editing and generous warnings about certain chapters that one should probably skip entirely.

My second book of choice was Sam Houston’s Republic. It came highly recommended on homeschooling sites, and the first pages seemed promising. Definitely a living book, but ever since buying it and trying to push through it, I’m backtracking. It’s not very well written, extremely digressive, and the kids literally groan whenever I open it.

Not a good sign.

These two books are working as our spine - the books that I use to take information from and discuss in our meetings. We also lapbook/scrapbook our sessions, building up a picture of regime change as we journey from Indian ranges, to Spanish and, to a lesser extent, French territory, Mexican colony, independent Republic, and the difficult years of unity and war. The overall idea is to vist the six flags of Texas while acknowledging the ever-present danger of the Comanche peoples to the north.

Six flags of Texas - with a Seventh!

We also have a bank of books that we’re reading and enjoying as bedtime reading or independent reading.

These include the remaining titles of Cuate’s Mr Barrington’s Trunk series, of which Journey to the Alamo was first. She followed this by San Jacinto, Goliad, Gonzales, Galveston, Plum Creek and La Salle’s Settlement. If you have middle schoolers, you could do your whole year of Texas history by reading this series. The only problem is that it’s expensive to buy, so make your library do it for you!

Another series that we’re using is written by Janice Shefelman. Titles include Comanche Song, Spirit of Iron, and Willow Creek Home. She also writes a book about German immigrants who arrived in Galveston (A Paradise Called Texas), one of the most important eras of Texas history when it comes to my own family! 

The Cuate and Shefelman books are great for 5th-7th grade, but not really great for high schoolers. We read them anyway as a family for fun, but sometimes the way to push the older students is to turn them loose and make them discover their own info. We’ve completed one sub-section of our study when, over Christmas, they had a bird-watching project to complete.

Big Boys do Scrapbooks

Next, because we’re entering the era of the Republic, we’ll be exploring origins of our Republic luminaries like Travis, Crockett, Bowie, Houston, and Fannin, each high schooler responsible for researching one of them. We’ll also be combining the middle schoolers and high schoolers for a salt dough recreation of the Alamo.

A trip to San Antonio is de rigueur as the weather improves, too!

I hope this blog post has accomplished two things: first, given you insight and perhaps encouragement that you can choose your own era of history and make it part of a Charlotte Mason education, particularly with its emphasis on living books. I should say here that I’m not saying that this alone is “the Charlotte Mason method”, but part of a whole philosophy that includes all the other subjects and various hallmarks like copywork, dictation, nature study, etc.

However, people often ask on social media about how to design their own CM-style history curriculum, so this post will probably give you an idea of the process.

Second, if you need ideas for Texas History, this should give you, at worst, a head start!

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