Monday, February 18, 2008


This is a note I wrote to my homeschooling mentor and greatest helper in this homeschooling endeavor:

Dear Nita,
I’ve been thinking of you this evening as I put together a binder of worksheets and handouts for Jacob’s Health class. It took an hour and a half to photocopy all those pages from the teacher’s handbook. Then I had to three-hole-punch and collate them and put little dividers to separate out the chapters. It was quite a project. Suddenly, when I was done, I realized that I should make at least one more clean copy of my work - which includes a schedule of assignments that I worked on all afternoon and evening Sunday - before Jacob begins to write in it. And that’s when I thought of you. I’ve put so much work into this, I feel like sharing it or at least offering it to you for Peter. I’m having Jacob read the book and do the worksheets, but I picked and chose the ones I thought were appropriate, especially since this curriculum was designed for a classroom, not as a self-teaching course.

I had a breakdown earlier in the evening after Jacob took his first Biology test. Nita, the tests are SO HARD. It just doesn’t seem right to make Jacob memorize 15 or so definitions in order to regurgitate the definitions of three words on a fill-in-the-blank test. And to memorize phylums and classes of bacteria – it’s just too much! I don’t remember having to do that in school, not even in college when I was a Biology major! To recall them on a multiple choice or matching test, maybe; but not to remember the names of the classes and phylums and write them down after describing a bacterium!

Jacob got a 56% on the Apologia test. When I threw out two questions I thought were insanely hard, he got a 71%. So I’ve decided to rewrite ALL the tests in format I think is more fair. Jacob even suggested I then post the tests on the Internet. I don’t know if the publisher would like that, but it’s a thought.

Anyway, that’s my venting for tonight.


Georg Monrand said...

One of the biggest problems, IMO, with the public school system (including private schools) is the idea that is drilled into students, deliberately or not, that everything they are studying is so that they can score high on a test. The idea of studying for a test, working for grades, etc., is not what true education is about -- learning -- and can often be harmful. On the other hand, tests CAN sometimes be helpful, and (in my experience as a student, anyway), students can learn even from the test itself, especially if the test is well-written. Even if they don't get the answers right, they know what to go back to later and review. Of course, the student has to become motivated to actually do this, which many students are not.

Memorize-and-regurgitate tests do seem inordinately silly sometimes, especially in practice. The students sits down and stares at the material, remembering a bunch of words, then later writes them down. Better if the student knows what they all mean, understands their context, etc. I do love facts, though, and some part of me thinks there has got to be something useful in knowing lists of phyla and such, but just straight memorization of names is less likely to be remembered than learning about the things the names stand for, and in the latter case the student is at least likely to remember enough 10 years later to find material to refresh his memory.


The Reluctant Homeschooler said...


Learning and memorization are indeed different. I can't throw out tests altogether, but to give Jacob such hard tests only to demoralize him seems silly. He's not a Biology enthusiast and will most likely never take another Biology course (unlike me; I took dozens of Bio courses in college and loved them). It's a real struggle to balance true learning and memorization.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)