Would studying artists and composers who lived during the same time period that we are studying for history be defined as a unit study?
Once upon a time I thought that unit studies were a fantastic way to teach my children. They seemed to provide something that I never had…a relationship among the things studied. But I didn’t realize that I wanted that because *I* myself never experienced in full what Charlotte Mason refers to as the science of relations…at least not in the way that my children will experience this in full.
We are following Charlotte Mason’s principles of beginning studying history where the child is. We study American history first just as she first studied British history with British children. We will add our neighboring/influencing country, British history, when my children get to form II as Mason added their neighboring/influencing country, French history, in form II. An ancient history stream will be added just a bit after that. A Delectable Education has several podcast episodes about history (scroll down to Knowledge of Man), and they have a handy chart here on their website showing how we can follow CM’s principles while adapting the history streams for our specific nationality. Since our family is not segmented into different historical time periods, I choose artists and composers to study who lived in the same time period. And another fun thing is that because we will “cycle” through the time periods multiple times, we will get to know many artists and composers because I won’t choose the same ones the next time we hit that time period! It gives a wonderfully balanced approach! Not everyone wants to do it this way, and as long as following her principles is at the forefront, one should feel confident that they are giving their children a wonderful and thorough Charlotte Mason education!
So would what we are doing be defined as a unit study? When I study Charlotte Mason and what she says of unit studies, I understand that she was not in favor of it at all.
Here is what she says in Volume 6 pg. 115 about unit studies.
A successful and able modern educationalist gives us a valuable introduction to Herbartian Principles, and by way of example, “A Robinson Crusoe Concentration Scheme,” a series of lessons given to children in Standard I in an Elementary School. First we have nine lessons in literature and language, the subjects being such as ‘Robinson climbs a hill and finds he is on an island.’ Then, ten object lessons of which the first is,––The Sea, the second, A Ship from Foreign Parts, the sixth, A Life-Boat, the seventh, Shell-Fish, the tenth, A Cave. How these ‘objects’ are to be produced one does not see. The third series are drawing lessons, probably as many, a boat, a ship, an oar, an anchor and so on. Then follows a series on manual training, still built upon ‘Robinson’; the first, a model of the seashore; then models of Robinson’s island, of Robinson’s house, and Robinson’s pottery. The next course consists of reading, an infinite number of lessons,––’passages from The Child’s Robinson Crusoe and from a general reader on the matters discussed in object lessons.’ Then follows a series of writing lessons, “simple compositions on the subject of the lessons. … the children framed the sentences which the teacher wrote on the blackboard and the class copied afterwards.” Here is one composition,––”Robinson spent his first night in a tree. In the morning he was hungry but he saw nothing round him but grass and trees without fruit. On the sea-shore he found some shell-fish which he ate.” Compare this with the voluminous output of children of six or seven working on the P.U.S. scheme upon any subject that they know; with, indeed, the pages they will dictate after a single reading of a chapter of Robinson Crusoe, not a ‘child’s edition.’ Arithmetic follows with, no doubt, as many lessons, many mental examples and simple problems dealt with Robinson”; the eighth and last course was in singing and recitation,––’I am monarch of all I survey,’ etc.
We see here in this example that literature and language lessons, drawing lessons, copywork lessons, arithmetic lessons, singing lessons, and recitation lessons are all being tied together and wrapped with a bow to be presented from the teacher to the students as a thematic unit study. Whew! That’s a lot of work for the teacher preparing all those subjects to be tied together into a specific theme, and I don’t want to have to do all that! Plus it doesn’t line up with my “Why”…the philosophy of education I have chosen. I’m committed to making sure my “How”, the day to day practices and methods, are always done in view of my “Why”, Charlotte Mason’s timeless principles.
Is choosing to study artists and composers who lived in the same time period that we are studying for history defined as a unit study? I submit that the answer is “No, it is not a unit study”.
Charlotte Mason talked about the coordination of subjects in Volume 3 chapter 21 on Suggestions Toward a Curriculum: Pt II. Be sure to note where she says natural, inevitable, arbitrary, and not inherent.
Another point, the co-ordination of studies is carefully regulated without any reference to the clash of ideas on the threshold or their combination into apperception masses; but solely with reference to the natural and inevitable co-ordination of certain subjects. Thus, in readings on the period of the Armada, we should not devote the contemporary arithmetic lessons to calculations as to the amount of food necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet, because this is an arbitrary and not an inherent connection; but we should read such history, travels, and literature as would make the Spanish Armada live in the mind.
Artist and composer study lends itself to the natural and inevitable connection of history study because those artists and composers are part of history. Studying artists and composers of our time period would not be arbitrary connections. But packaging so many lessons into a “theme” like that listed in the Robinson Crusoe example above would definitely be arbitrary connections. They would not be inherent connections like artists and composers who lived at the time of the events and places and people we are studying in history.
It is my understanding then, based on what Charlotte Mason wrote, that we are not doing unit studies, nor are we violating her principles by coordinating artists and composers with our historical time period. What we are doing, though, is making inherent connections with what we study! And I will say that it has been as enjoyable for me as it has been for my girls! It’s not burdening at all for me as the teacher because I’m not doing all that work of tying all the subjects together that is required for unit studies. We are feasting on dishes at our banquet table that nourish the mind!
What are some of the dishes on your banquet table? What pieces of art have touched your children’s hearts? What selections of music have been so moving that you can still hear it playing in your mind long after you press stop? What places have you been transported to in history because of a story you’ve read? Share with me below in the comments! And I’ll try to remember to share with you sometime soon about my friendship with Capt. John Smith and my thrilling stroll along the grounds of Jamestown settlement thinking how awful the mosquitoes must have been and how nasty the water must have tasted!