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Our Children Use the Robinson Curriculum

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Robinson Homeschool Curriculum
More Rules and Procedures
 • 10. No child is allowed to use a computer until 16 years old.
 • 11. They read whatever interests them from our library
 • 12. Each child is asked to write one page each day
 • 13. We have a family Bible reading before bed
 • 14. What the Curriculum does not contain
 • In Summary, the Children Educate Themselves
 • Self-Taught but with Parental Discipline
 • The Robinson Curriculum is Conceived

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10. No child is allowed to use a computer until 16 years old.

10. No child is allowed to use a computer until after he or she has completed mathematics all the way through calculus. (At one point Saxon calls for a little use of the hand-held calculator. I permit this, but only on a very few occasions.)

It is important to realize that one cannot insert a calculator or computer into one's brain. Quantitative thought requires mental mathematics. Introduction of machines before the brain has learned to do this work by itself weakens the development of the ability to think.

I recall years ago explaining to the children some ways in which they could recognize a real scientist in contrast to the many imitations they are likely to meet. One thing I mentioned was love of quantitative thought. Real scientists often revel in inventing small problems and calculating solutions mentally with whatever facts are at hand. These things continually dribble into their conversations with occasional efforts to impress each other with the relative vigor of their imaginations or the speed of their mental arithmetic.

The kids listened to all of this with toleration and dutifully participated in my games to see who could mentally calculate our auto gas mileage at each fuel stop to four significant figures in the shortest time.

Then one day Professor Martin Kamen, then 77 years old, visited our home for dinner. Professor Kamen was the discoverer of Carbon 14, the originator of much of the radioactive tracer methodology upon which biochemistry is based, and a major figure in the understanding of photosynthesis. He talks twice as fast as a normal human; yet it is still obvious that his mouth cannot keep up with his brain.

All evening he continued as he has whenever I have seen him over the last 30 years. During the evening he posed and solved numerous small problems involving mental arithmetic. When he had gone off to bed, the children looked at me in awe. "That's exactly the way you told us scientists behaved," they said.

People who can think do so with their brains. Surely their thoughts often lead to problems that require experimental test, and often computers are essential equipment in those experiments. The thinking, however, is done with the brain. The arithmetic ability involved in that thinking must also be in the brain during the thought process.

For almost 30 years I have used advanced computer systems in my research work. Laurelee was, herself, a superb computer systems programmer. When we were involved in university re- search work, our labs were known as among the most highly developed in the world in terms of their computer technology. We used computers as word processors a decade before the general public had access to them.

Nevertheless, we were in total agreement that none of our children would ever use a calculator or computer of any kind until their brains were fully developed in ability for quantitative thought.

Laurelee did not live long enough to see that point come in any of the children. We both thought it would probably not come until college - at the age of 18.

As a result of the Saxon math and self-teaching work, Zachary finished all of his math through calculus before he was 16. Therefore, at age 16 I gave him his mother's computer - an older 386 model. Although he has done quite well with it and is, therefore, a substantial help to me in our research work, I still worry that I gave it to him too soon. There is a very dangerous temptation to substitute computer manipulations for real thought.

Some people will say that computers are becoming such a pervasive influence in our world that children need to learn how to use them at an early age. Besides the mental development issue, there is a simpler response to this idea. Computer technology is advancing so fast that, long before a child reaches the point in life where he or she really needs to use a computer, the machines will be so different that early practice will have been irrelevant.

Recently Zachary and Noah have been helping a colleague of ours who is a talented electrical engineer. They are repairing the electronic circuitry of some computer equipment that Laurelee and I used here 10 years ago. We need the equipment for a special project. This educational entertainment looks, however, more like archaeology than technology. This equipment is quite valuable in teaching the boys about computer engineering, since the digital logic in older machines is provided by discreet components that are more easily studied than are the components of current machines. These machines are, however, of little use in learning about the programming and utilization of modern computers.


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11. They read whatever interests them from our library

11. Since they have no television, the children are prone to spend a substantial part of their non- school hours reading. They read whatever interests them from our library - which Laurelee purged of all books that she thought it best for them to avoid. By recreational reading, the children pick up most of their vocabulary and grammar and most of their knowledge about the world. Regarding current events, they do not listen to the radio, but it has become increasingly difficult to maintain control of my copy of the Wall Street Journal.


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12. Each child is asked to write one page each day

12. Each child is asked to write one page each day about any subject that interests him. I read these pages and mark misspelled words and grammatical errors that the child must then correct.

Sometimes I fall many weeks behind with these corrections, but the children just keep writing.

There is an unusual bonus in these short essays. Sometimes the student will write things that he or she would not (and sometimes should not) say to the parent otherwise. These essays have educational value, and they also open a new line of communication with the children.


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13. We have a family Bible reading before bed

13. The Bible is not a required part of our formal curriculum. We have a family Bible reading before bed each evening, and we discuss elements of Christianity as they happen to arise in our everyday lives.

Like Isaac Newton, no one in our family ever questions the truth of the Lord's Word as provided to us in the Old and New Testaments of the King James Bible. We only seek to understand these truths by repeated reading. That reading is rarely accompanied by interpretive comment.

Each of us must understand these things for himself and build his own relationship with God.


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14. What the Curriculum does not contain

14. This curriculum is important for what it contains and also for what it does not contain. It contains about two hours of math or science problem solving followed by about two hours of directed reading and a short essay each day - all self taught by the student. What it does not contain is also very important.

Although the children take piano lessons and engage in a rich variety of extracurricular activities oriented around our farm and laboratory, their formal curriculum consists of "reading, writing, and arithmetic" and nothing more. It also essentially has no teacher - a fact that I have come to realize can be an advantage.

The brain is never asleep. It continues to work and think 24 hours per day. If a brain gets used to the fact that it will actively work math problems for two hours at the same time each day and that it can understand and work those problems without error, it will also allot a significant part of its time during the other 22 hours to thinking subconsciously about mathematics. In this way understanding and performance are reinforced.

Each additional subject that is added to the curriculum creates a demand upon the brain's 24 hours of time. If an unnecessary subject is added, it wastes not only the curricular school time, but also a fraction of the extracurricular time. It is therefore important to be very careful not to add unnecessary subjects.

Our public schools and also many of our home schools have so many subjects in their curricula that the children's brains do not have time to give adequate attention to the fundamentally important subjects.

In the formative years, it is absolutely essential that children learn how to think and how to learn independently. They have a lifetime to accumulate facts and will do so more effectively if they acquire a correct foundation - not of facts, but of ability to read, think, and evaluate for themselves.

The ability to think is the most important. A very large percentage of our public school graduates lack the ability to think. Most of them can, however, articulate acceptably. When we give the brain a small number of the most important tools to learn and use, we give it an opportunity to learn to think.

Always remember that when you add a subject or activity to a child's schedule, you are subtracting from the time for something else. Is it really more important, for example, for the child to learn a foreign language than it is to learn error-free applied mathematics?


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In Summary, the Children Educate Themselves

In summary, in this experiment, I have watched a group of children educate themselves in a far superior manner than I could have done for them if I had spent every waking hour teaching them in the usual manner. I am convinced that, had I done so, their progress would have been far less.

Although I have occasionally helped them with specific questions, that help has been so infrequent that they would have advanced almost as far if I had not helped. Moreover, the level of academic accomplishment that they have achieved is truly extraordinary.


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Self-Taught but with Parental Discipline

This is not to say that they are not typical kids. If I had not set the rules and provided the curriculum, they would not have done this work. If I did not keep order and provide a reasonable environment in which they can work, they would cease to advance. When I ask them to do something, they do it - always. It is just not thinkable that it should be otherwise.

If I say quiet down, they do - for a while. Then I may need to say it again more forcefully. If I say spend five hours at their desks, they do - but I need to keep an eye out, or over a period of weeks the time may slide to four hours or whatever level they think credible. They are normal.

Nevertheless, open defiance by refusing to do whatever is asked by the parent is just not tolerable in any home. Perhaps we were lucky. I cannot remember any differences between Laurelee and me concerning discipline. In families where such differences exist, they should never be resolved in front of the child. Parental orders must always be followed - without exception (and without argument or complaint).

Children learn by example and by doing. They do not learn effectively by being lectured to or by vicarious involvement as in television viewing. Our educational method works, and it involves almost no parental time once the school room and curriculum have been provided and the rules have been established.

If I could make one further advance, it would be to provide a reading curriculum that is structured like the Saxon mathematics curriculum. There is an order in which literature should be read just as there is an order in which mathematics should be learned. With the children's help, we are now working on the development of such a literature curriculum. I would like to have it available, while there is still time to help these children with it.

Although this approach to education is unusual today, it is much closer to that utilized by many influential Americans of the past. Many of America's greatest citizens were largely self taught.


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The Robinson Curriculum is Conceived

If I could make one further advance, it would be to provide a reading curriculum that is structured like the Saxon mathematics curriculum. There is an order in which literature should be read just as there is an order in which mathematics should be learned. With the children's help, we are now working on the development of such a literature curriculum. I would like to have it available, while there is still time to help these children with it. (Ed. This has now been done and the Robinson Curriculum is the result.)

Although this approach to education is unusual today, it is much closer to that utilized by many influential Americans of the past. Many of America's greatest citizens were largely self taught.

The public schools have not always been with us. Only recently have we had the resources to subject our children to the miracles of modern educational procedures. The principal miracle of the modern American educational system is that it can turn out citizens who are more poorly educated than they would have been if they had worked individually with no school whatever.

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