Tuesday, August 18, 2015

5th Grade Autobiography Curriculum

[I'm trying to catch up on blogging about things from 5th grade before 6th grade starts next week!]

As I've described in many previous posts, Tim and N. begin their "school" time each week day with reading aloud.  Usually this comes from an autobiography or biography.  Why autobiographies?  Primarily because the lives of others are so very compelling, and offer a great medium for learning all kinds of other things along the way.  I've mentioned that Tim read N. Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Brontë, but I wanted to be sure to record the other autobiographies he read aloud over the course of N.'s 5th grade year.

They began 5th grade with an excerpt from Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians, the account of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School .  I don't know if this was a random choice; at any rate, it was interesting to start the school year reading about the educational philosophy of this school reformer.

One Victorian led to another and next Tim read to N. the portions of John Stuart Mill's Autobiography that recount his childhood and young adulthood.  Mill was educated at home by his father, was precocious and academically accomplished from a very young age, but also suffered from the strain of his studies in his early 20s.

Another school headmaster led to their second autobiography of the year.  One of Tim's old friends was, until his retirement in June 2015, the head of Doane Academy in New Jersey and upon hearing of the improvised autobiography curriculum that is one of the foundations of our homeschooling, he gave Tim a copy of The Fire Within, the autobiography of Henry Rowan, the founder of Inductotherm Corporation and major donor to Doane Academy.  I was skeptical that this would be worth reading, but in fact Tim and N. found it engrossing and read it completely through.  It covered aspects of chemistry as Rowan developed induction furnaces, which synchronized well with Tim and N.'s ongoing reading of The Disappearing Spoon and their study of the elements.  They found the accounts of the business side of Rowan's career just as interesting as the chemistry; his travails founding and developing Inductotherm offered an inside view of the challenges of running a company.  He also discussed some aspects of his personal life, including the difficulties he and his wife weathered as parents of disabled children, and he detailed some of his goals in his extensive philanthropy.

Throughout much of the winter, Tim alternated reading Rowan's autobiography with that of Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (1940).  This book resonated with so much of what Tim and N. have studied over the past couple years, and extended those lines of thought as they read of Hughes's accomplished family, his childhood love of books, his father's flight from U.S. racism to a life in Mexico, Hughes's experiences in college, the Harlem Renaissance, his world travels as a crewman on a cargo ship, his growing literary achievements... I am tempted to say that everything you need to know about America in the first half of the 20th century is in this book.

And then Tim and N. turned from Hughes to Brontë to conclude N.'s fifth grade year.  Since I always hear all about their reading at supper each night, I look forward to seeing what they read together in 6th grade.


CMR said...

hmmmm--have to check out the Hughes autobiography.

Adrienne Pilon ("A") said...

So behind on the postings...but just read this and am intrigued by the Hughes autobiography...one of my favorite genres. For some reason, I don't like biographies. Why is that?