Monday, January 11, 2010

TOS Review: Eclectic Education Series

I define myself as an eclectic homeschooler. I draw from different approaches. I handpick resources according to needs, not party lines. And while I've got a very defined educational philosophy in place in our homeschool, I'm not afraid to try something new to see if it enriches the learning environment I try so hard to nurture.

That's not what this product is about, so just get it out of your head. :-)

The Eclectic Education Series has next to nothing to do with homeschool methodology. In fact, I'm actually hard-pressed to define specifically where it would fit on the unschool to school-at-home continuum that makes up the landscape of modern home education. Perhaps part of the problem is that this product has nothing to do with modern education.

Dating from the mid-1860s (just as the Civil War was winding down), this all-encompassing series of textbooks was once the single most popular curricula in the United States. Classrooms (and small schoolhouses) all over the nation used the series; EES is as close to a national curriculum as our country has ever come. Entire generations (through 1915) were educated with some of the series' components. Ray's Arithmetic, McGuffey's Readers, and Harvey's English Grammar were so widely known that allusions to them made their way into popular culture.

The standards upheld in these textbooks were demanding, exacting, and thorough. Designed for a time when a handful of years in a formal education setting was all one could reasonably expect to be given, these titles had as their goal as full an education in as short a window as possible. No fluff. No nonsense. No busywork. Just direct explanations, practice until mastery, and move on.

The winds of educational progress soon blew in favor of a different style of teaching, and the Eclectic Education Series was abandoned. Some in the homeschool community look back on the time when EES was still in use and picture this as the golden age of public schools--a time when education included God, was patriotic, and didn't compromise on demanding quality. This mindset has triggered a renaissance for the series. Once again, children are sitting down to a lesson from Schuler's Principles of Logic ... and learning, just as their great-great grandparents did.

I received a complete series as ebook downloads (available on cd for $159 with free shipping) from Much of the charm of the series is, I think, lost in this format--the weathered texts, the linen-bound covers, the quirky type-setting. In terms of use, however, you just can't beat the electronic versions. While I still sink in my heart when I ponder e-products, I have to admit, they're growing on me. Being able to print out just what I need, or multiple copies of a single page, or re-use a product with a younger child ... well, that's priceless.

An added benefit when using EES in this format is that by printing out the sections, you turn what is designed as a textbook into a worksheet of sorts. For example, math sections where problems are presented and it is assumed that a child will copy it onto a separate sheet of paper (or a slate, if you're getting into the spirit!) can be solved right on the print-out. I don't know about your kids, but mine certainly appreciate that feature.

There's so much here that really, I can't do it justice. Here's just a taste of the overall flavor of EES, as observed by my family:

It's not easy. Seriously, it's no wonder that earlier generations were able to function well with as little as four or five years of formal schooling, as opposed to our average of thirteen. The very basic, primer-level arithmetic presented here is enough to give my mathematically advanced second grader a run for his money. Complex, real-life application is the norm. What we know today as "story problems" are the watered-down version of what these books expect from students. Forget the number of books Amy sold at the book sale. Try calculating the rate a cistern empties through two possible sets of pipes over the course of four days, then get back to me.

It will make you think. While we may look back nostalgically to "simpler times," let me just assure you that life as a student in the elementary grades with EES certainly was anything but simple. How about these exercises from Harvey's First Lessons in English, designed to be done on a single day:

1. The teacher should read ballads, and require them to be changed into prose from memory. 2. The pupils should be permitted to read ballads, and then to change them into prose without quoting the language of the author. 3. Write a composition about keeping bad company, as suggested by the stanzas below ... .

One day. One subject. On the fly. First or second grade. Sobering, eh?

Children who learned with EES didn't just squeak through. They had to think, and think hard.

There's just nothing objectionable here. Reading these books makes you wonder why there's such a push today to sanitize everything to the standards demanded by the PC police. While I didn't read every book cover to cover, I actually did a search of each book to see if any outdated, negative terms cropped up. No hits. So, while the rest of the United States rushes to replace every potentially offensive word with a kinder, gentler version ... there's EES. Which yes, requires reading skills that far outpace what's taught in our schools today, but is still superior to most of what's marketed as "culturally sensitive" today.

There's enough here to cover everything under the sun, and then some. If there's a subject you're teaching, considering teaching, or wondering if you ought to teach, there's an EES textbook for it. Astronomy. Book keeping. False syntax. Physics. It's entirely possible, if this method tickles your fancy, to spend less than what many people put out for curriculum for a single year to educate all of your children K-12.

I highly enjoyed sampling this series. Mr. Blandings and I were pleasantly surprised at how well our children did when presented with the far more complex order of thinking required in some of these books, and it's certainly challenged me to stay away from the twaddle creep that invariably noses its way into our homeschool. Children are, quite often, far more capable of rising to challenges than we give them credit for. EES assumes that greatness is lurking in your child. That's something worth checking into, no matter what the date on the original copyright.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.


Sandi said...

This looks very interesting.

Nikki said...

Great review! I absolutely agree with you - this truly does make your children THINK more deeply and critically. We are enjoying using EES also. When you said "twaddle crap" it made me literally laugh out loud!

steve joj said...

Bookworm is a wonderful company. I appreciate the individualized approach they have toward our bookfairs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all affair. Teachers and parents browse with smiles on their faces because the books are beautiful, diverse and engaging