Englemann (Mastery vs Spiral Part III)

This is KRIS’ comment to Mastery versus Spiral Part II. I’m expanding on her five paragraphs.

1) Again, I can’t disagree with him in terms of mastery programs compared to spiral programs, but I disagree with him on the bigger picture.

2) For example, he states when a child does not learn, that reflects badly on a teacher. Yes, but then, in his Sweden example, he basically is saying, “If you just teach it like this then they will understand.” Well, maybe not, and that’s the point. A teacher has to know a topic well enough to explain it in a variety of ways to reach a variety of students. I think that is what US parents mean by having a teacher care about their children, while Englemann advocate a master teacher.
Yet central to Charlotte Mason’s homeschool philosophy is that education is the science of relations. Every child must form a relationship with some knowledge in order to learn it.Compare that with cramming for a test, or even memorizing a method. Englemann’s “mastery of the method” is his definition of learning.

3) He is right, though, especially in math, that by knowing these methods hard a fast a child will do better in school–but that’s because school assessments are designed to reward those who do! And that is why, according to Marilyn Burns, vast numbers of people have Math Phobia. For some people memorizing the algorithm simply does not work, and Englemann’s answer seems to be, “Well, they just didn’t master it.”

4) This leads to the phenomenon of what I very irreverently call Stupid Human Tricks. This type of mastery creates intelligent-appearing children because they can perform all the wonderful 4 and 5 digit multiplications and divisions, spit back science and history facts, and diagram sentences with ease. They even get rewarded on tests for doing so. Yet they do not forge any relationship with the material, and so they will retain but a fraction of what they so brilliantly regurgitate. Ultimately, is that really education? Do they understand mathematical concepts? (Most do not.) Can they discuss the impact of historical event? (Most cannot.) Can they write well? (Not generally.

5) Yet the science of relations should not be an excuse to avoid challenging our children, as if our child’s enjoyment is the sole indicator of them forming relations. On the one hand, Miss Mason states that we should not interfere with a child’s narration for they will glean what is important to them on their own terms (which is why choosing content reflecting my values is the first priority in selecting books and media.) On the other hand, she wrote the facts of a passage, say from a history text, on the board to which the children could refer while narrating. I guess there’s no getting over mastering those facts, yet that should be the servant of forging a greater understanding of knowledge and not its master. In short, teach our children to think and not just to know.

A short explanation. I pulled the trigger really fast when I commented about Englemann, Chinese teachers, etc. I just thought Englemann’s paper was relevant to the distinction I was trying to draw between those two concepts. I’m no expert on anything either, I just taught in the classrooms and now I’m at home, playing with blog design, reading about different things, and igniting discussions and adding comments that sooner or later will backfire ouch).

Like Jeanne, I read about Charlotte Mason, I read Andreola’s Companion, and also thought it was too much. A couple of years later I read The Well Trained Mind and was even more petrified about all that the Trivium involves. Then I read “When Children Love to Learn”, by Susan Schaeffer (she has to be the one to blame 🙂 and from then on I’m back on this Charlotte Mason wild horse to tame it for my home. I believe I maybe make orthodox Charlotte Masoners cringe, but we are who we are. I can’t lie, many of the things I write about I don’t have direct experience given that my daughters are young, but I love to see others, hear from others, and I observe and read testimonies to support many of those thoughts. Of course, always bring up your arguments and we’ll debate them in honesty, that’s how we can grow in our knowledge and believes.

Now for some points to make (they seem to help me organize):
1) It looks from your posts we seem to agree with Kris’ first statement. We have analyzed MEP, and we have a better idea about mastery for math and core subjects. We like that MEP is a spiraling mastery program, or a program of mastery that spirals through the years.

2) Englemann is speaking in the context of the classwork and probably (just by reading that paper in isolation it’d be pretentious on my side to assert this), probably he just wants to stress the role of the teacher not just as loose lecturing, but actively committed to master the subject taught, and to lecture according to his idea of  DIRECT INSTRUCTION (again, I don’t know much about this). When I said the Chinese parents worried about the teacher knowing (mastering), and the USA parents worried about the teacher caring for the students, I may have implied we should ask for the first from teachers, probably as you say, we should ask for both and they are inclusive (if you care you’d be prepared). As for the blame on the teacher or student, there shouldn’t be ‘blame’. That’s a sub product of  teaching to the test, having to ‘produce results’, perform. However, what Englemann describes in that scenario about Sweden talked to me about the teacher that CM denounced and accused of lecturing and devoted to the art of fragmentation. There is no relationship there, no care, and surely no knowledge of the subject and students. That’s why in the first post I insinuated we, as homeschooling parents, or teachers of smaller groups, are in a privileged position to tackle the foundations of what a true education means.

3) Yes, knowing the subject to be taught helps, but it will be simplistic to say if the student didn’t truly learn that now it’s not him but the teacher who didn’t master it. As for that idea of Englemann of accelerated instruction, as you say, it may be appealing to schools that need steroids to boost up their performance, we believe in a diet of steady work outs, even if it’s just a brisk walk, and no energy drinks (but tea or coffee are allowed 🙂 The idea is for us to guide the students to learn to think, or to fish as I read in a blog recently.

4) This gave me a restoring LAUGHTER…oh, and how it reminds me of Charlotte Mason speaking, in the first Volume, when she says how those children can parrot facts and impress grown ups, but the true connections and ideas crossing the mind of the child that may just be watching an insect in the backyard, in the middle of his masterly inactivity time, that can’t be shown or pictured (and trust me on this one, I’ve tried).
5) Beautiful way of wrapping up, Kris. And from “More Charlotte Mason” by Levison (thanks Ellen for advising me to buy both her books), I just read how some people are confused and believe CM is a child oriented education and mean it negatively, just because she lived in an era where children (and women also) were regarded as feeble, not important, the poor were sentenced from birth by many. In other words, Charlotte Mason DEMANDED much from the children, but was aware of  the fact they were persons from birth, and knew what the right diet was for them. She gave more importance to the performer (the child) than the performance of the child.
This was a super intense week for me, now I need my time with the Lord and family. I’ll be back when time permits, and thanks for listening and commenting so passionately.

* About the pictures: the top one is from a park nearby, the next one with the OXO cubes and piano from the antiques market in Valetta, the capital of Malta Island, the carriage is from M’dina, a Maltese city from Medieval times, the fisherman from Marsaxlok, Maltese fishing village, and the dog was also there at that village, swimming in a small pool of water as an attraction.



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