While the essays in The Language Wars are roughly divided by topic, there isn't a lot of uniformity—Ruth Beechick discusses everything from numbers in the Bible to arithmetic instruction to the sometimes shady deals publishers strike with magazines and book reviewers. A kind of catch-all for essays that don't fit properly into her other books, this is nevertheless Beechick at her best, her most cantankerous, and her most helpful for novice homeschoolers awash in a sea of information.
Not just novices, however; veterans will find plenty to ponder, many good ideas, a few that will raise eyebrows, one or two that might make them want to throw the book across the room. For instance, Beechick demonstrates obvious disdain for encyclopedias in "Curriculum as Servant," and in "Once More on Phonics" she denigrates phonics instruction mercilessly. But it's kind of these moments that make a seemingly disjointed book like The Language Wars worth reading, not just to stir a sluggish blood pressure, but to really get you thinking about important education-oriented topics.
The first essays deal with choosing a curriculum, and especially for newcomers are among the most helpful writing Beechick has ever done. They suggest the things parents need to keep in mind while looking for textbooks (or alternatives to textbooks, as the author encourages), remembering that curriculum exists to serve rather than be served, and how to navigate claims made by authors and publishers concerning their products. She wraps up the first section with an autobiographical piece about her first year as a teacher, explaining what helped and what didn't.
From there, she touches on just about every subject parents are likely to worry about. Should everyone learn the Bible, or just Christians? In the interest of cultural literacy, she says, Bible instruction should be universal. Are educational philosophies helpful, or do they get in the way? Nothing, according to Beechick, beats good old-fashioned hands-on instruction of the practical kind. Do math textbooks try to include too much but in fact teach too little? In short, yes.
Always practical over theoretical, these essays exemplify Beechick's well-known approach to education. While the scattergun approach to the essays may cause some potential readers to balk, the unconventional selection actually serves as a fairly cohesive representation of an attitude toward homeschooling that puts parents in charge while giving children freedom to explore subjects on their own. You won't (or shouldn't) agree with everything Beechick says, and sometimes she's pretty radical, but The Language Wars will doubtless have its desired effect and make you think.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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