Don’t let lesson plans strangle kids’ serendipitous learning and creativity

Here’s a woman — a homeschooler no less — who understands that lesson plans aimed at a state test can seriously damage a kid’s education. My only caveat is that in formal classrooms, such serendipitous learnings are encouraged from well-thought-out lesson plans and a very well prepared teacher who can deviate to meet the hot, rising curiosity of the kids in the moment.

At least I hope that’s what she understands.  This post on teaching history, from the ancient and often inaccurate This Country of Ours, by H. E. Marshall, gives me the cause to reserve endorsement of this school.

2 Responses to Don’t let lesson plans strangle kids’ serendipitous learning and creativity

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Marshall’s book has some remarkable stuff in it. It’s written in a “gee whiz, golly, ain’t this inspiring stuff” sort of way.

    But he also suffers from a bit of the trouble Parson Weems’ stories suffered from. There is exaggeration of things, and large omissions.

    Take a look at the story of the founders of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts, for example. Can you see there any mention of the fact that the religious refugees were a minority of the people aboard the Mayflower? How about the death toll from the first winter?

    If you read through that entire era, one gets the feeling that the “savage” Native Americans were shiftless, prone to thievery, and constantly trying to take unfair advantage of the settlers, who treated the natives much better than perhaps they deserved. There is no mention of the unprovoked, brutal and barbarian warfare the colonists waged against the people who had literally saved their lives earlier.

    In another omission, one gets the idea the George Washington was the upfront hero of the crafting of the Constitution. Disregarding the fact that most of his machinations of Washington were very well hidden, Madison and Hamilton are largely ignored. A kid might be justifiably confused at hearing Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution.

    Washington is presented as a very pious Christian. Religious freedom is never presented as an issue of contention.

    In short, in way too many ways, it’s a long “just so” story.

    In the classroom of a well-edified instructor, these stories could be quite useful. A lot of the basic facts are there. Usually, when home schooling mothers complain to me about my “unfair criticisms” of Marshall, they demonstrate precious little understanding of history themselves. So I fear for classes that use Marshall.

    Let me suggest something: Get a copy of Ellis’s Founding Brothers, and check out McCullough’s stories about Jefferson’s and Adams’s end-of-life friendship (see his bio of Adams, and his wonderful 1776, at least). The relationship between Adams and Jefferson is as wonderful a story as could ever be invented about brothers-in-revolution who find themselves bitterly opposed to each other later, and then reconcile. It also reveals a lot about the truly inspiring nobility of the men and women who built the fledgling United States (Abigail Adams plays a huge role in that story). Supplement your use of Marshall with these other sources. See if they don’t sway you a bit differently.

    A lot of my students over the last eight years have been immigrants and minorities. They come to these stories of Washington as the cartoon-like good guy with great skepticism. They are encouraged to discover Washington was human, that he had failings — and I think ultimately they are greatly inspired by his nobility in the face of adversity.

    History is much more than the memorization of a sequence of events and their dates. Marshall sucks a lot of the life out of history by avoiding the great controversies, by avoiding the ambiguous actions of great men, by simply not telling the whole story. Too many teachers are not equipped to overcome those shortcomings.


  2. Jen says:

    I’ve read twice tonight that there are inaccuracies in “This Country of Ours.” Where, specifically, are they? I’m using this as part of our curriculum!


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