Core v Electives

It’s a classic dilemma for anyone who’s cast off the yoke of traditional schooling. I’ve got the freedom to design my curriculum in whatever way I’d like. And yet, for a variety of reasons—college requirements, local rules, family priorities—I need to ensure that my child is covering the core.

What is the Core?

Four courses comprise the core curriculum in high school: English language arts (ELA), math, science, and social science. A lot of people will argue that foreign language and the arts are also a part of the core. But, to keep things simple, let’s limit it to these four courses.

Colleges generally want to see four years study in each subject. If your student is limiting herself to five subjects—a normal high school workload—then this means 80% of her curriculum is dedicated to the core.

Core Problem

The problem with this framing is that we’re thinking monolithically about the core as unchanging, evergreen subjects. Math is math. History is history. But, that’s not how it has to be. Let’s say, for example, that your son is really into building things, likes to draw, and reads mostly nonfiction. Why can’t his science and social science courses merge into a single course on architecture that over indexes on engineering (science) and urban planning (social science)?

This is exactly what we cooked up in the architecture course that we originally designed for a middle schooler.

Freedom Dilemma

One of the great things about homeschooling (or boatschooling, or worldschooling, or whatever you call yourschooling) is that it gives us the freedom to be creative, and blur the lines that were drawn in traditional schooling decades ago. Why can’t math blur into art? Why can’t ELA transmogrify into psychology? The point is, they can. It just takes a bit of ingenuity and a model that allows for that flourish.

Putting it that way makes it sound easy. But, it’s not. Creativity takes work. In a traditional school environment there is very little room for creativity. The day is massively structured; curricula even more so. A recovering public school teacher told us recently that she was allowed only forty books to select from in designing her high school reading lists. (Talk about a huge banned book list….)

In a lot of things constraints like this can be good. In poetry, a skilled poet works off the form and amateurs drown without rules. This freedom dilemma is particularly bedeviling for families who are homeschooling—especially eclectic homeschoolers who are building or cobbling together their own curriculum. In the absence of rules, a parent can flounder and revert to the mean. But, this is exactly where creative thinking and critical thinking comes to play. It takes work and time, but it is completely possible to design courses for kids—middle schoolers and high schoolers—that are interdisciplinary, project-based, and experiential. The look and feel like an “elective” while nailing the core.

At Cicero, we’re doing this day in and day out with parents. Let us know if we can help.

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