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05 July 2012


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Barbara C.

It sounds pretty cool, but it also sounds like a lot of work to my currently pregnant brain. LOL

Actually, I already do combine history with literature (and science) a bit at the elementary level. I do the four-year classical cycle and include a brief mention of famous literary works during the time periods and sometimes I get juvenile versions/movies for supplementation.

Assuming we homeschool, through high school the plan is a literature/history combination using primary sources and books combined with a history spine.

You might consider looking at the eleventh and twelfth grade history/reading lists in The Well-Trained Mind as a starting point.


"It sounds pretty cool, but it also sounds like a lot of work to my currently pregnant brain. "

Certainly more work than relying on a prepackaged curriculum, but maybe it would be satisfying and interesting work. A big portion of the work (for the teacher) would be in (a) selection of pieces to read and understand and (b) paring the list, or otherwise economizing, to fit into the available time. Selection of pieces can be driven by the pieces that are mentioned or quoted in your history spine.

Once the list was generated, the teacher would have the responsibility to have read and understood each piece enough to engage it with the student. That is, of course, work, but it can be interesting and fulfilling work.

If you choose a low-effort way to evaluate your student's understanding, I don't think it would be so bad. E.g. oral discussion of key points; an assignment to convert a text into an outline of the argument's key points; having your student deliver a short speech in character or alternatively a longer, flowery speech in more modern, terse style.

I imagine you could also have some fun re-imagining yesterday's rhetoric in today's media (The Federalist Papers as a group blog? Fisking yesterday's opinion pieces?)

Christy P.

Can't believe I haven't sent this to you before:


Courtesy of my friend David who also happens to be a history professor (and married to Ruth)


Seems like an interesting idea. It would have the virtue of getting you a lot of comparatively short pieces to work with (though as Barbara says, selection would obviously be the big task) and focusing on primary sources.

Some of the difficulties would likely be how much time you'd have to spend balancing that with context (since rhetoric isn't always a very honest medium -- whether intentionally or due to the limits of the speakers knowledge and objectivity) and focusing in on the topics which, from hindsight, actually look significant rather than those that loomed large at the time.

Or, on the flip side of that, maybe the challenge is to look at what loomed large at the time and really focus on why, as opposed to the quick shrug off that a lot of topics often get in textbooks. (For instance, it would be a lot of work, but looking at William Jennings Bryan's cross of gold speech through the lens of folk economics and the pressures on the, then large, agrarian voting population would probably make an interesting unit, which if done right would actually give some insight into the folk economics enthusiasms that people get off into these days.)


On the whole, I think this is a very good idea, not just for history, but for every topic. But the groundwork in understanding and analysis would need to be well laid for it to work.

Primary sources are much more attractive to a teen than dry in depth analysis, I think because they stir up the heart and demand a response. Which is what makes them tricky, of course. I think incorporating a smaller number of pieces, from a variety of subjects and examined in greater detail, as part the general study of rhetoric might serve better. Simultaneously, it can supplement the understanding of other subjects.

Rhetoric has become so intensely manipulative today, that learning how to respond to it, instead of being jerked around by it, seems to be increasingly important.


Alternatively, how to craft it.


Well, yes, but not everyone is strictly up to crafting it.


I think it sounds very, very interesting, but also very time-consuming! Definitely different than the textbook approach from my high school history class, but I can also imagine that what you're considering would be extremely difficult with a class of hooligans who mostly don't care. We had a textbook and some posters on the wall with over-arching themes in American history, of which the only I can remember is Westward Expansion (but then, I did go to high school in CA). Also, we only made it to 1900. Again.

But I agree with the previous commenter that learning how to recognize and respond to rhetoric is really important, in the critical thinking sense. I'm sure that this could be the actual backbone of some of the high school curriculum and many of the other subjects could use this as a jumping off point. Like science. (What I mean, in my completely unintelligible way, is I went to high school, community college, and I have a BA from a nice college, but it wasn't until I got to Denmark and went to nursing school and had to take epidemiology and statistics and nursing theory that I even started grokking critical thinking. I'm sure part of it was that I was older, but they didn't want us to just regurgitate the info - they wanted us to consider whether or not it was good enough, too. It was an epiphany.) But, yes - understanding agendas is very important, especially when anyone and everyone has access to media.


Yes to primary sources for history! I'm a history TA at a Wisconsin university and it's amazing how few students can read a piece of rhetoric from history--they find them too convoluted and confusing. Textbooks are fine, but they're the twice-simplified version of the tensions and issues of a certain time/place. Most professors prefer to use primary sources, but hate doing the catch-up work required to help their students delve into them. It will teach your kids excellent skills they'll need for college (assuming that's part of their goal) and will help them decisively find and analyze the essential points of any piece of rhetoric.

Barbara C.

I should confess that I have been putting my own history curriculum together for the past three years, including finding all of the resources. Normally I do find it very intellectually stimulating. I've just been currently struggling to put together things for the upcoming school year (Modern History 1850-present). Maybe it's the pregnancy or the heat or the volume of material to be covered.

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