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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Connotations, Definitions, and Inferences

Words have different connotations, which can cause miscommunication. For instance, if I were to say, "Would you leave a comment on my blog, please," that could be taken as a genuine cry for help or as a mean/whiny demand for attention. (Please feel no need to express which you think I tend to employ <smile>)

Words often have different primary definitions for people as well. For example, if I say, "It's time for bed!" I think, 'Hurray, we get to go to sleep,' but Brittany thinks, 'He's rushing off to leave me laying awake and alone all night.'

It's a significant area of tension in our relationship.

But even knowing of these different approaches to words, sometimes I'm still thrown off when I read other blogs. Today, while catching up on Pamela's blog, I read the following:

I don't have all the books we need [for this semester of school]. I do have the curriculum and all the teacher things, but not the books.

I re-read the sentence because there had to be a typo. How in the world can you have "curriculum" and your required teaching tools and not have books?

And then it hit me: Some people define "curriculum" in a completely different way than I do.

Shocking. I know. But for me, with my Sonlight background, "curriculum" is a pile of books. Sure, curriculum also includes the science kits and the Instructor's Guides, but Sonlight's curriculum is books.

And this is the first time that I've been able to understand why places like Ambleside bother me so much: They claim to be "free curriculum" without giving you anything more than a schedule and a booklist. "That's not curriculum!" I retort.

Yet, for some people, it is. That's their definition. The connotation of curriculum for many families is the method/approach/system they will use as they educate their children. And I can see that. In fact, saying that we're a "Sonlight family" means exactly that. So it's really not that Ambleside provides great schedules and resources for so many families that gets under my skin. That's not it at all. Rather, it's the inference that can be drawn when you read about "free curriculum" that bugs me.

See, if you can get "free curriculum" at this site or you can pay for your curriculum at this site... why would you pay for curriculum at all? That inference bothers me because that's comparing apples to oranges (to borrow the colloquialism). One is an outline with recommended resources, the other is a package of books and materials. The inference is all wrong.

If we were comparing, say, Office to Open Office... well, then we could make such an inference: They are very, very similar--just one is open source and free and the other is not.

I guess I don't really have anything else to say about this. I just made a connection that I hadn't quite been able to put into words before now. Thanks for reading.

The vocabulary lesson is now over. The words we learned today are:

and, um... linebacker

"You know, education at its finest."

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I'm thinking "scope and sequence" with list of materials used is different from "curriculum kit," which is to me translated best "all the stuff you need." But maybe that's semantics.

I like buying ALL the stuff I need right off the bat. I want everything I'll need but the pencils. I do NOT want to get halfway through a unit and find that I need a net and some pizza sauce to do a demonstration the next day. (Or whatever weird thing is called for LOL!)

I expect surprises like that in science and buy "kits" ahead of time. But in English class or Bible, it drives me nuts. I look ahead about a unit in my teachers' manual, but it still irks me if I need that net and pizza sauce because I'm buying my curriculum for convenience so I don't HAVE TO PLAN ahead. I work very hard and feel I'm going to spend for convenience to be lazy in that area.

Don't I have enough to do? I have pencils and erasers and paper. Everything else I want right there. I have to ask bunches of questions to make sure... is there a supplemental workbook ("supplemental" is like "optional," it just isn't a real word with me)? A "recommended reader" or "companion book?" A "tie-in" unit?

For cryin' out loud, just tell me all the stuff I need. I'm ready to spend the zillion bucks, but if I spend 99 million and then need to spend a penny more and place another order, my husband will flip and ask me didn't I already order stuff just before? It's like a hobby or something.

Better to get all that ordered and tucked away once a year, maybe twice. I'd rather spend a little extra and get a small overpriced can of pizza sauce and a net or whatever I need to go with the lesson.

I know for science, they can't always do that, or your shipment of baking soda and vinegar could prove problematic for the postman en route. :] I like that DVD idea you have there. The "Justin" character is really funny. He goes through this whole thing about safety and etc. and wear your gloves... and then he doesn't in the video LOL! He'd have heard it from my kids. For days.

Megan said...

Last fall when I did a whole bunch of research for God's World News, among both homeschoolers and Christian schools, it took me a month before I realized how drastically those two dominant groups define curriculum (for the most part). Most homeschoolers DO define curriculum as everything they need to implement their plan. Most schools define curriculum as the plan (scope and sequence and such).

Figuring that out made a world of difference in getting answers to the questions I was asking. Indeed, it helped me ask better questions! Wish I had realized it at the beginning of September, though, instead of the end.

Tried to get in with you all too to ask questions and bounce ideas, but never got a response! I'm guessing I'd have better odds if I were doing it this year since you are in an internet maven now. *grin*

Kim & Dave said...

As a person with an elementary ed degree, I like curriculum & scope & sequence.

I tend to agree with Mrs. C, that partly, it's just smeantics, too!

Anonymous said...

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Unknown said...

Interesting train of thought today, Luke. My daughter just brought me her Worly Wise booklet. We've found [our first] glaring mistake. (And it wasn't operator error, either.)

Add to that my consternation of a keyboard refusing to consistently type the letters on the keyboard that I strike, resulting in atrocious spelling mistakes which can result in completely distorting the texts' intent.

Why do I bring all this up? Because one cannot control the response of the reader to the content. Case in point: Your main point is understanding different points of view regarding terminolgy.

However, I, the reader, heard nothing less than vocabulary.

It's all between the ears, I tell ya. One never knows what synapses will strike . . .

Unknown said...

*eta: Didja see that? Huh? No "d" on WorDly Wise.



Anonymous said...

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Luke Holzmann said...

Mrs. C, I love your rants <smile>.

Hmm... I don't recall thinking about the gloves issue in Discover & Do. We did have to do multiple takes to get Justin to stop tossing a sharp knife around in one of the videos <laughing>. Ah, good times.

Megan, I'm sorry to hear that no one got back to you. That's not how we're supposed to do things here. I can't guarantee that I can get you answers to everything, but feel free to drop me a line if you ever have questions in the future <smile>.

Kim, I almost included "semantics" in my title too, but it was already too long. <smile> But I agree; and semantics are super important.

Angela, we keep talking about digital schedules. In fact, for a while there we were working on them. But for many reasons we have not yet decided to go there. It is very much something we are thinking about, but it's not happening yet. Sorry. I like saving on shipping as much as the next person <smile>.

Sorry, Angi. I had hoped the vocab would be an added bonus to my post. And, yes, I noticed the typo too. It happens to the best of us, not just me <smile>.

Jan, I was careful to shield Nevil's eyes <smile>. I think I ran across your blog when I got a Google Alert when you mentioned something about Sonlight or homeschooling, or something. I try to be an encouraging presence out there in the homeschool blogosphere.


Sue said...

I think one could compare Ambleside's "curriculum" with Sonlight's catalog. That would be apples and apples, right? (That is not meant to be a diss of Ambleside at all. Just trying to group the fruit properly.)

Meg_L said...

Interesting point and for the record, I'm with you. I'd read that statement and went WTF?

As I've had it described to me, the point of Ambleside is that you "should" be able to find everything you need at the library.

I try to get everything I need at the same time. I want it here, on hand. In fact with Girl's Japanese history this year it drove me nuts when Hubby said to take what we put together for 2/3 of the year and we'll find something indepth to cover the last couple hundred years later. (for the remaining 1/3). We don't need the book for another month or so, but over break I made us find something and get it ordered.

Luke Holzmann said...

Sue, Ambleside offers more than just a booklist and grade recommendations, so it is much more than Sonlight's catalog. I haven't spent a ton of time on their site, but they do have lesson plans and other notes. So it's kind of a cross between Sonlight's catalog and parts of the Instructor's Guides.

I think that's a fair comparison. Any AO people want to chime in and tell me how far off I am?

Meg, that makes sense. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who was confused for a minute there <smile>. Way to keep on top of everything!

Thank you all again for your comments. I love 'em!


Unknown said...

Excellent post. Interestingly, my daughter JUST learned about connotations in language arts (2 intermediate) within the last few days.

Luke Holzmann said...

Thanks, Butter! Sounds like your daughter is getting a great education <smile>.


Carolyn said...

A very large percentage of the literature included in the Ambleside Online curriculum is in the public domain, and can be obtained at no cost aside from paper and ink. It isn't even an arduous task to do the printing, as volunteers have reformatted many of the books for ease of printing.

Those books that are not in the public domain are typically easy to borrow from the library. Alternatives can be found for OOP and hard to find books.

So in my view, Ambleside really can be a free curriculum, if that's how you choose to use it.

Luke Holzmann said...

C, that is a great point. I had overlooked the Public Domain selection when I wrote my post. Thanks for the reminder!

My only comment would be: Printing is cumbersome and expensive. In the end, you don't have a book, you have, at most, a binder with printed pages. And, granted, printing at home is much cheaper, but to print just one title from the AO resources would cost $73 at Kinkos for the stack of pages compared to $7.30 for a similar title in book form from Sonlight. <shrug>

Great points, though. And I'm very happy to hear that more and more older texts are becoming available online for free.


Carolyn said...

$73? Good grief. What book is that? Or maybe you need to find a cheaper copy shop. Most of the public domain books in Ambleside are not filled with color illustrations, nor are they 1000 pages long, so $73 is not a realistic estimate.

(And besides, I print B&W for well under 5 cents a page at home, and printing a full page of color illustrations costs me about 10 cents a page. Thank goodness for! *grin*)

"In the end, you don't have a book, you have, at most, a binder with printed pages."

Now that's a little bit snobby, don't you think? ;-) Bound book form may be your preference, but I can imagine a few advantages to loose leaf or spiral bound form.

Rest assured that families using AO have lots of wonderful books in their homes. I doubt books-in-binders here and there are going to ruin their children, LOL.

~ Carolyn

Luke Holzmann said...


The book was one I grabbed at random: Prophets and Kings. And, yes, Kinkos is one of the most expensive options out there <smile>. I tried to cover that fact with my "printing at home is much cheaper" clause.

But even with your estimate, that book would cost you $6.03 to print... <shrug>

Not trying to be snobby at all. I just know, from my experience, that bound books have been generally easier to read than reams of paper... and bound books tend to hold together longer. But, yes, other forms of binding can be very effective for certain needs.

I mean absolutely no disrespect, disparagement, or disdain for those who use Ambleside. I'm sure it is a great fit for them and their families, and I wish them all the best.

This post was more of realization that I had a different definition of "curriculum" than others, and I thought that was interesting enough to warrant writing about. But as you, Carolyn, have well pointed out: AO offers several digital texts for free as well, a point that is well taken.

I'm sorry that my writing has come across inflammatory. Please forgive me. That is not my intention at all, and I fully support your homeschooling endeavors, no matter what style, curriculum (or lack thereof) you have found works best for you and your loved ones.


Unknown said...

I've used ambleside for a number of years. I've never looked at it as "free" curriculum and I'm sure that is not the reason it was developed. I buy all my books for any given year and prefer the physical book to read. I use the schedule that suits my family from a number of different schedules available. I use the website as well. Are you suggesting it is not a curriculum because it doesn't have a detailed guide? Maybe you haven't looked beyond the booklist.

Luke Holzmann said...

Dianne, you don't think AO was created to be a free option for homeschoolers to utilize? I always figured it was an "open source" kind of option for the homeschool world. Why do you think it was developed if not that (since it is stated in the first sentence on their homepage)?

And, as I said in my post, my problem with calling AO "curriculum" was because it's not the books and only a guide <smile>. And the point of the post was to share a realization that struck me that day. I'm glad you continue to keep your eyes open to find the tools that work for you and your family!



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