Education is the acquisition of knowledge combined with skills built to handle that information. Knowledge/information is learned through listening to stories and lectures, watching movies and TV, and through reading books and blogs. Skills, on the other hand, require conditioning. You have to build muscle strength and coordination to master a physical skill. Mental skills are no different. You can explain basic math but it takes mental conditioning to handle numbers fluently. The study of grammar or spelling is the mastering of language used to communicate our thoughts. So in Texas we are required to teach the mastery of reading, spelling, grammar, and mathematics and to cover the topic of good citizenship. That last one is a pretty vague statement. Most of our responsibilities are skills but you have to construct your own definition of ‘good citizenship’ to formulate a program of study to transmit that idea.
Here’s where I’d like to talk about different educational models. The progressive model utilized by the public system is based on a spiral where students are expected to absorb information over many repetitions while building the associated skills. This spiral is often explained as a way to teach a large number of children where it is assumed only 25% of them understand or absorb the information upon the first exposure, 25% will ‘get it’ on the next go around, the third 25% will master the information on the third time through while the last 25% probably don’t have the capacity to learn the subject. On the other hand, Teaching to Mastery is an approach that puts knowledge on various levels to be climbed like a stairway. This method is far more efficient for the teacher and eliminates most of the boredom and frustration for the students.That’s not to say repetition is never called for. This where I like using the classical model. Classical education is more aligned with scientifically known stages of brain development. The Grammar stage (K-6) involves a lot of memorization, the Logic stage (7-9) is where students begin to question everything (and argue everything!), and the Rhetoric stage (10-12) they finally learn how to communicate their original and well reasoned thoughts. This comports with the buildup of neural connections in the preoperational child, the capacity for abstraction in the concrete phase, and the formal operation stage where students’ hypothetical and deductive reasoning skills are developed. Piaget’s stages don’t match up completely with classical education but I like the concept of breaking the big picture down this way and using Charlotte Mason’s methods to build and hone those neural connections.
Here’s an example using the aforementioned ‘good citizenship’ term Let’s build understanding of how we relate to others from smallest to largest. We’ll start with family relationships, move to communities, expand to city, then state, country, and world. Good citizenship for a preschooler might be understanding the importance of taking responsibility for keeping your room clean, as an example. Community level GC would be how to be a good friend. City level would be respect for police and fire department personnel building manners as the child’s world expands. And that is exactly what skills are implied by the vague ‘good citizenship’ requirement. Treat manners like a physical skill and build those ‘muscles’.
Your assignment (if you choose to accept it) is to post in the comments how you would prioritize teaching ethics. (And yes, I’m building your curriculum building muscles!)