I often hear homeschoolers ask others which curriculum they use, and I’ve answered such questions, but I wonder if my answers are misleading. For example, I told someone today that we use Glencoe’s U.S. Government: Democracy in Action for teaching American Government, but that doesn’t mean that we started at page one and will work through a majority of the book. (We certainly won’t use all of the book. Even schools almost never use all of a textbook. Textbook publishers include more than any teacher could use in a year so they can easily adapt the curriculum to their students or their own interests or such as they can skip some chapters or sections that aren’t a good fit and spend time on others that others may not get to.) Nor does it mean that we sit down every day and work with the textbook as the major focus of our lessons on government.
So, no, I’m not a faithful textbook user; instead, I’m more of the adventurous type who sees the textbook as a resource. We’ll use some sections, jumping about the book as I see fit, but I’ll use other materials, too. I don’t see the textbook as something to cling to nor as a drill sergeant whose commands must be followed. I see the textbook as a servant whom I put to work where and when I see fit.
Before the beginning of our school year, I took time to consider which topics or ideas or sections of the text I wanted my kids to cover. For government, I thought about what they should know as adults about our government. I wanted them to understand basics about how our government was set up and operates (in theory and reality), how our government differs from others, how to petition government officials for assistance if needed, how to work to change government when necessary, etc. I thought about possible ways to teach these sorts of things using materials in the book as well as other community resources, too, and in the process came up with a list of possibilities for us for this subject for this year. I knew I might not be able to carry out all of my ideas and that other ideas or opportunities might arise as the year progressed, but this list is what I really view as my curriculum rather than the textbook we utilize.
The textbook we use is a piece of my curriculum, but the curriculum is much more than the textbook (and much of the textbook will not end up being used in my curriculum). Thus, we have read some sections of the book and discussed them, but we’ve spent a lot of time on other activities, and I’m not worried that we will only cover a small percentage of the text. We’ve gone to local government meetings to see how government actually operates. We’ve watched movies such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to learn about corruption in government and interesting details about the government works. We’ve watched political debates and discussed some of the terms and concepts being tossed around. We’ve analyzed some political cartoons. We’ve spent time reading the Constitution and analyzing what it says and discussing different interpretations of its words. We’ve read up on several Supreme Court decisions and discussed their impact as well as how cases reached that level. We’ve studied, through a Debate Club, how trials work and have worked on a mock trial which will be acted out (in appropriate costume) in an actual historic courtroom.
These activities help us cover the subject in a more interesting, hands-on fashion than simply reading through a dry textbook and writing answering to the book’s questions. We’ve focused on discussing the material we’ve read (or encountered in some other fashion), analyzing it and discussing it thoroughly. I haven’t worried about the chapters in the book that we won’t cover. I don’t feel compelled to use all of the textbook, but try to make it work for us. I’ve used the textbook as a jumping off point rather than a prison cell, which I hope makes the lessons more interesting and more likely to stick than if we spent most of our days reading from the textbook and writing out answers to the exercises in the book.