January 31, 2024
How We Choose Books - Specific Subjects
Hi! I’m Dr. Shannon Whiteside, Alveary Program Director, author, and homeschool mom, and I’m excited to talk more about how we chose books for Alveary. I hope that by talking about some of our goals and the questions we ask ourselves it will help you not only understand Alveary better but also support you as you make decisions for your own students. Finding the best books for students is not easy, so if you’re finding it hard to sift through all the options and figure out which books are best when and where, you’re not alone! One of the reasons Charlotte Mason published her programs three times a year for decades was because she was constantly evaluating the books chosen in light of feedback from the students and the books available as some went out of print and others came available. In fact one of the best things we can do is to let our students know that we’re on a journey together. We choose the best books we can find and then we continue to evaluate, and the students are a significant part of that process!
One of the best things we can do is to let our students know that we’re on a journey together.
In a previous video on this same topic, we covered some questions like “what is a living book?” and “what does it mean to evaluate a book in the context of the whole curriculum?” and “what do we do if we can’t find the perfect book?” If you’re asking some of those questions, you might want to pop over now or after you finish this video and listen to that one. We put a link in the video description so you can find it easily.
Questions for Every Book
In this video, let’s dive a bit more into choosing books for specific subjects. Some questions we ask ourselves for every individual book: Is the author an expert on their subject and is the information accurate to the best of our knowledge? Is the book engaging and well-written? Does it reflect something true about the world in a developmentally appropriate way - whether in showing the reality of suffering or evil or the beauty of God’s creation and redemptive work in the world. Does it communicate those “vitalizing” ideas that Mason talks about and warm students’ imagination?
Choosing History Books
But in addition to these questions about individual books, we have a bit more to think about when thinking about a particular subject within the curriculum.
Although we can’t cover all the subjects in this short video, let’s start with history. Charlotte Mason said
“It is a great thing to possess a pageant of history in the background of one's thoughts. We may not be able to recall this or that circumstance, but, 'the imagination is warmed'; we know that there is a great deal to be said on both sides of every question and are saved from crudities in opinion and rashness in action. The present becomes enriched for us with the wealth of all that has gone before.” Toward a Philosophy of Education, p.178
We are sometimes asked if we have an “agenda” particularly for history, and the answer is that we do not have an agenda in the way that word is used in our current culture. Instead, here are some of the questions we ask ourselves about history in order to follow what Mason was saying. Do the books in history give students a varied perspective of the time, stir their imaginations, and encourage students to see the complexity of history? In US or Canadian History, do the books chosen help students develop a relationship with events, people, and ideas significant to our past?
In world history, how many different parts of the world are students exposed to in their books? Are there books such as biographies that will immerse students in a particular aspect of the times and help them to walk in other’s shoes? Especially as students get older, is there a good balance of primary sources along with books about the time period?
We also ask: how well do the books chosen reflect the makeup of the people living in the land during the time period in focus? For instance, if we studied the 1600s in American history and only talked about Native Americans and never mentioned the European’s coming to the country OR vice versa if we only talked about Europeans without considering the Native American peoples and cultures, we would probably all agree that was out of balance.
Most importantly, will the books help students learn to love their local and global neighbors well and become thoughtful citizens of their country? And will they help the students to see all people as fellow image bearers?
Choosing Literature Books
Next, let’s talk about literature. Charlotte Mason tells us
"A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader." School Education, p.228
One question that sometimes comes up is whether it is ever appropriate to sacrifice some literary quality for the sake of a wider breadth of topics and perspective in the curriculum. The answer is that we have to look at the subject and the program as a whole and think through all these questions holistically.
For instance, if all the best books (literarily speaking) we’ve found for a particular time period are mostly by American authors about happenings in the US and we don’t have any historical fiction or texts giving students a sense of things happening in Europe or Africa or Asia or particular genres popular there for instance, then yes, we’re going to have to find a book either written during the time period or more recently about those people and places that will work.
Other questions we grapple with when choosing books for literature are whether the books chosen reflect a variety of genres and writing styles. Will they develop students’ general love of reading as well as stretch them? Is there a good balance between poetry and prose? Do the selections provide students with a wide vocabulary and beautiful sentences which could lend themselves well to copywork, dictation, and commonplace passages? It’s a tough job to hold all these questions in tension and find the right balance for each grade and history rotation!
Choosing Science Books
In science we ask questions about whether a book nurtures a child’s relationship with the wonders of the natural world. Will they see that science is an unending unfolding story of discovery of God’s creation? Do they inspire awe and wonder in God’s creation and ground students in their relationship with the Things of the Universe as a created being. Do they foster a developing familiarity and comfort with these Things in grades 1-3? Do students discover a personal ownership or ‘friendship’ with science and the awareness that science is an active part of our world in grades 4-6? Do they start to grasp that science is a process that changes with time and in the context of humanity in grades 7 and 8? And finally do the books foster their relationship with science as a pursuit of and for the love of God in high school as a citizen and creature meant to steward the earth and love their neighbor? Do the books progressively help students grow in understanding the different scientific disciplines? As with all subjects, we seek to follow Mason’s progression of relationship building.
We hope this has given you a few insights into how we choose books. If you have other questions, feel free to contact us at the link in the video description. Charlotte Mason's philosophy guides us through a journey of constant evaluation and discovery. As we weave each individual book into a robust curriculum, our goal is to ignite the flame of curiosity, empathy, and a lifelong love for learning. As Charlotte Mason reminds us,
"The question is not––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?" School Education, p.170-171
Thank you for joining me, and may your days be filled with the joy of learning together.
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