A Purposefully Selective Curriculum: Literature, Language Arts, History, Mathematics & Science
At LePort, our goal is not just to churn out erudite scholars who may happen to excel academically but are otherwise inefficacious and unhappy. Our goal is to enable our students to develop themselves into young high-minded individuals, individuals armed with the abstract knowledge, thinking skills, character traits and practical life skills that they need to become mature, capable and happy adults.
When faced with the question, “What should we teach?”, we realized that if our goal is to help our students become successful adults, and not merely academicians, some knowledge and skills are more fundamental to this goal than others. The tree of knowledge has a trunk, and it has many branches, leaves, and flowers. When deciding what to include in our curriculum, we hold that it’s the trunk that is the key—because it is what makes the rest possible. If a student has the trunk, a strong foundation in core academic content and core thinking skills, then the branches, leaves, and flowers—the child’s interests, hobbies, activities, forays into specialized knowledge and specialized skills—will naturally grow and extend upwards.
Our core curriculum focuses on language arts, and on five essential subject areas: literature, history & geography, mathematics and science.
- Literature: contemplating what could be. Reading great literature gives children the opportunity to enter exciting worlds, to meet heroic characters, and to consider what’s possible in life. While studying the classics of yesterday and today, students not only improve their thinking and communication skills, but also learn important moral lessons, lessons they can use to guide their own choices. Our students learn about independence from To Kill a Mockingbird, integrity from Antigone, and heroic perseverance from The Miracle Worker. We don’t belittle our student’s intelligence by using basal readers (collections of excerpts of novels), which would rob them of the joy of reading a whole work (it is like watching just 15 minutes of your favorite movie!) We take care to choose great works of art with universally relevant conflicts and meaningful themes, works that will deepen our students’ understanding of history, our world, and other people, works that dramatize the fact that one’s choices in life have consequences, all while elevating their skill levels and broadening their interests.
- History: understanding what was and what is: Studying history chronologically, from the ancients to today, enables children to experience the colorful cultures of the past, to follow the steps of heroes and villains throughout time, to discover the causal factors that make or break civilizations, and to appreciate and understand what has been. Our students are immersed in rich historic worlds – and learn not just to compare Egypt’s fascination with death with Greece’s glorification of life, but to observe carefully and argue logically from the concrete historic evidence to broader conclusions. We do not substitute a grab bag of “social studies” for history, nor present history as a dry and boring collection of facts to be memorized and regurgitated. For us, history is an exciting story that needs to be told beginning to end, with lessons that demonstrate the cause and effect relationship between human choices and effects. We make the events and the lessons of history real to the child – to equip and inspire him to “remember history, to avoid repeating it.”
- Geography. Just as in history, students study cultures, heroes and causal factors over time, so in Geography they learn not just the physical features of the world and its political maps, but also discover the wide range of cultures and societies which exist today – and how different fundamental choices people make shape the types of lives they live. Historically, many of mankind’s greatest thinkers were travelers. Through their travels, they acquired a deep interest in landforms, physical features of the world, cultural institutions and political societies. This knowledge, gathered through experience, formed the foundation for their later work in history, science, literature, economics, art and technology. So it is with the LePort student. The geography curriculum offers each child the opportunity to “travel” and explore the world from within the classroom, and to thereby acquire the knowledge base that will make the world a truly familiar place, and that will inform, motivate, and ground their studies of literature, history and science.
- Mathematics: learning to measure the world. Mathematics serves a dual purpose: it is a critical life skill each child needs to function as an adult, to complete such tasks as balancing a checkbook or planning for retirement – and it is also training in conceptual thinking. Whether or not a child chooses a field like engineering or physics that presupposes advanced mathematics, all children benefit from the careful, logical thinking required to succeed at core math topics such as geometry and algebra. At LePort, we are careful to avoid the two common pitfalls of math instruction: mechanistic skill drilling (without conceptual understanding, which leaves children unable to apply math in real life), and “constructivist math,” which abandons skill practice in favor of using a calculator and engaging in “creative problem solving” before the child has developed the indispensable tools that are the means to solving mathematical problems. Our program instead consistently follows the principle of moving from concrete, specific materials and examples to conceptual understanding, integrating extensive fact retention along the way to enable children to internalize key skills and thus to free up their minds for more advanced operations. From the early exposure to quantities and arithmetic with the Montessori bead materials, to our demanding high-school level program derived from the acclaimed Singapore Math series, our systematic math curriculum instead equips children to succeed in demanding high school math courses – and develops young mathematicians who have discovered the joy of using their well-trained minds to solve challenging quantitative problems.
- Science: discovering the physical world we live in. Our students learn to observe the natural world, to classify their observations and then, following the footsteps of history’s greatest scientists, to discover the underlying natural laws. Our science program cultivates a joyful discovery of the physical world and an informed appreciation of the scientists and technological innovators who have enabled us to understand its natural laws and to use this knowledge to the benefit of mankind. The result is a child who feels intimately familiar with his world, who is comfortable acting in that world, and who actively and personally enjoys its endless wonders. LePort’s science program also imparts the implicit ability to apply the scientific method. Through their observations and simulated field studies, our students become sensitized to the external world—they learn to notice the things going on around them. They learn to draw inferences on the basis of what they observe—to engage in evidence-based thinking and thereby abstract principles from their acute, perceptive observations. The result is a habituated capacity to take in information about the world of nature and technology, and the cognitive power to ponder implications, exercise the discipline necessary to evaluate data, and draw evidence-based conclusions.
We avoid busy-work experiments that merely keep the child occupied, or excite him with flashes and bangs he does not understand. By contrast, when there is a flash or bang in one of our science classrooms, the students know exactly what causes it and where it fits in with the integrated content they are learning. We also avoid the opposite error of severing science from the real world that interests children, by demanding that they memorize scientific terms and laws disconnected from real understanding. We ground each science lesson in observable facts (including hands-on experiments integrated into a systematic overall curriculum) – and enable our student to fulfill their natural need to understand, over years of systematic study, how the world around them works.