Monday, December 21, 2009

Thoughts on Joy Hakim In-Depth Show

I was thrilled to see that Joy Hakim was going to be on In Depth, a three hour long interview that airs on CSPAN's BookTV. I set my DVR to record it immediately!

I first heard of Joy Hakim years ago when reading homeschool magazines. Parents recommended the use of her series "The History of US" in homeschool history studies. They are for middle schoolers or high schoolers (and as an adult I could learn a lot from them also). I kept my eyes peeled for these books and finally did buy the entire series (ten volumes plus an eleventh book which is a sourcebook and index). They are told in chronological order and the telling is a 'narrative format' meaning it reads like a story. This is a style of writing that is NOT currently in vogue but if you read some hundred year old nonfiction books for children you will find many were the narrative format (even textbooks to be used in schools in the elementary grades but they are not for only the young as the high school texts also used that format).

Later PBS had a series about The History of US and a companion book was published (currently out of print) called "Freedom: A History of US". I bought that book too. I have not seen the televised series.

Later Hakim published three volumes about science "The Story of Science" ("Aristotle Leads the Way", "Newton at the Center" and "Einstein Adds a New Dimension"). The science books again uses the narrative format and covers the topic in chronological order and includes information about the scientists and life in those times not just teaching the topic in isolation. I bought those for our use as well.

To be honest we have not yet used Hakim's books in our home studies. I am feeling overwhelmed at the number of books we own (over 8000) and feel I own too many on the different topics so we can never read them all. However after seeing Hakim on In Depth I'm thinking that I should pull out the history books and begin using them for the US History portion of our world history studies (we are at about year 1680 right now in our chronological study of world history).

Anyhow about the Joy Hakim interview, I encourage you to watch it. Look to see if it will rerun soon so you can record it. You may also watch it free on the BookTV website here.

Here are some of my thoughts on the interview, in no particular order.

1. Homeschooling was mentioned three times on the show. A caller near the end who identified himself as a railroad engineer asked if homeschooling parents can really prepare their kids for 'the college entrance exams'. I found that interesting as he didn't ask about preparing them to 'attend college' but was worried about how they'd fare on the SAT or ACT apparently. Hakim gave praise for homeschoolers each time homeschooling was mentioned. She said, "homeschoolers love my books".

2. Because it was a call-in show for a portion sometimes the answers were brief but then the topic was re-visited later. This is a bit confusing especially when I was not familiar with the details of the issue. For example Hakim kept discussing the problems with the textbook industry and schools. I don't know a lot about this topic. Hakim takes issue with the process. Apparently publishing houses divide out the business that is for textbooks and that that is 'trade' books and the two do not mix. Her publisher categorized her books as 'trade paperbacks' and markets them to private citizen consumers in bookstores. No one in the publishing industry with 'trade' markets to schools (except Scholastic maybe). So although Hakim's books are desired by some teachers the publisher is not marketing them to schools OR the schools will only buy from the textbook divisions and thus wind up forced to buy boring textbooks instead. Thus some teachers who want to use Hakim's books cannot use them as their school systems will not purchase them.

3. Someone other than Hakim wrote the teacher manuals that can be purchased that helps school teachers use the books in the classroom. Tests are available also, she said.

4. Hakim has worked as a teacher in schools so has the inside scoop on issues facing teachers. For example, the teacher wants to teach a certain way or use certain materials but is forced by administrative rules to comply with certain standards such as submitting detailed lesson plans. A teacher who called in  said that their school is so strict they do not want the teacher deviating from the lesson plans at all. She said that some spend a lot of time dealing with these lesson plans, like red tape I guess.

5. Hakim said that textbook companies are getting more and more pressure to remove content from history lessons that might offend members of certain ethnicities such as certain minority groups. For example in Los Angeles they wanted nothing controversial or upsetting to the Latino population. In effect then history is being sterilized and the truth not being told in an effort to not upset certain people. If that were being applied across the board then discussion of slavery should not happen because as a Caucasian I don't like the idea that some with my same ethnic background were former slave owners and I don't like people lookinng at me wondering if my ancestors were some of the 'bad slave owners'.

Also discussed was that textbooks are often boring. They are written in a way that is sterile and uninteresting. They make history seem impersonal and distant. Hakim has tried to counter this with her books by making the stories about the people and telling interesting stories that kids enjoy hearing. When they are engaged they learn.

6. Hakim praised Amazon customer reviewers asking "have you read them" and saying some are great! Wow! The question was asked if she was offended by what some reviewers might say about the content of her books if they did not like them. My take-away was you can never please everyone all the time, so expect some will not be happy with 100% of what is written. She also mentioned one man who didn't like some ideas in her books was stalking her by phoning her at home. This kind of thing does not surprise me based on some experiences I've had with Amazon Vine reviews I've written.

7. Hakim said to her mind history is about ideas and teaching ideas and discussing ideas with students is important. Ideas are not always clear cut or easy, there is a lot of gray area. History is seldom black and white. Life is complex as is history. Students can and do learn when allowed to discuss ideas and to see the complexity that exists. Oversimplification and simplifying content down sometimes gives the impression that the issue was not complex but was simple and neat, which is usually false.

8. Hakim said that she feels that very young children want to learn 'content' and are interested if the adults will only expose them to it. I totally agree with this. Hakim knows this from her own parenting experience and also from working with children teaching them. She also has children read her books before publication to seek their input so changes can be made.

Of the parents who do expose their toddlers and preschoolers to good solid information many or all find their children curious and interested. This was my experience with my very young children too. Some then think their kids are gifted or smart. I always thought that it might be the case that if only all children were exposed to interesting information not dumbed down content that maybe most or nearly all would learn and would benefit form it. I don't know if that is true though.

Anyhow the shocking thing to me that I didn't know was that Hakim said that basically 'content' has been removed from nearly all elementary schooling and most if not all of middle school. That in elementary and middle school the schools focus on teaching 'skills' like math, how to read and reading comprehension. So little nonfiction information in science or history is taught which is disappointing and problematic. She said usually real 'content' is not taught until the high school level.

9. Hakim is not a 'Young Earther', in case that information is of interest to you.


Side Note: A few days later I watched the E.D. Hirsh talk, it aired on 12/12/09 but was recorded on 10/21/09. Some of the same things were said about not teaching 'content' and the effect of focusing too much on teaching 'skills'. I will blog about that talk separately. I saw parallels between what Hakim and Hirsch were saying that I didn't expect would exist.

I do plan to pull out Hakim's ten volume set of books and will being using it with my twelve year old seventh grader. I will be reading it along too and will be forming my own opinions of her books.

I have not yet figured out a good way to combine Hakim's science books with our science studies. This year we have dedicated so far, 60 hours of direct instruction in an astronomy class taught by a homeschool father-engineer-astronomy enthusiast. My kids also did 60 hours of direct instruction in an experiential nature class although the older child had a bit more of an Outward Bound experience this time than studies of botany and wild creatures. I had my kids do between 2-6 hours of reading of science nonfiction books per week starting on July 1. Our science this year has wound up being a kind of mish-mosh that doesn't quite smoothly segue to reading a chronological study of science with Hakim's books. Yet, I do want to make that happen. I'm going to think about a way to fit this in.

Also I plan to watch this interview again, since it is recorded on my DVR. Maybe I'll jot down some notes and quotes to share again.

If you watched the show or have used Hakim's books consider leaving a comment to share your ideas. I'd love to hear your reaction to them.

External Links and Books Mentioned in This Post

In Depth BookTV CSPAN to watch free online

Freedom A History of US PBS website

Joy Hakim's official website

The History of US 11 volume set (ten books of content plus book 11, a sourcebook and index)

The teacher's manuals are referred to with "teaching guide" in the title, and one is published to match with the book of the same title (ten volumes total), too numerous for me to link all here (available on at a discount). I see also there is a "student guide" for each volume.

Freedom by Joy Hakim (she said this was ideal for high schoolers)

The Story of Science --three volume series (books, no teacher's guides at present)

Technorati Tags: Joy Hakim, The Story of US, The Story of Science, narrative format nonfiction books, homeschooling.


Karen said...

Thanks, I'll have to look up the program.

I can't remember if you do much with audio books, but in case you do, The History of US books are available via audible. We've enjoyed them, especially in the car.

Angie Phipps said...

I found the History of US books at the bookstore a few years ago and wrote down the title. I paged through them at the bookstore and loved her style. I've been waiting to figure out how/when to implement this into our history studies. We are following Story of the World, but I'm thinking about taking two years off to do strictly US History when my boys are in grades 5/6 and 7/8. Then return to SOTW.

I also love The Story of Science series as well. I'm planning on adding that to our science studies as a supplement at some point.