Having used The Good and the Beautiful (TGTB) Language Arts Level 2 for over one semester now with my second grader, and Pre-K with my three-year old, I feel there are some things in its methodology and its basic principle that I need to talk about. It’s a popular curriculum and I’ll readily admit that one of the main reasons that got me to try it out is because of its rave reviews from other homeschooling moms. Not to mention its beautiful art, which I feel will always captivate a homeschooling mom…or any mom, for that matter.
Anyway, I wanted to try it out because I believe in teaching good and beautiful things to my children (of course), though I will never try to mask or pretend something is good and beautiful when it isn’t. In our family, we acknowledge the truth about evil, temptations and shame. These things exist and we teach our children to exhibit, and always look for, goodness but to be aware that evil does exist so they can better fight it.
As we delve deeper into the curriculum, one of the first things that struck me was the rigid, step-by-step method it employs in implementing the curriculum.
Along with the curriculum package came a daily checklist that had these prescriptions for completing the curriculum. While homeschooling, by principle, affords the parent the freedom to tweak and adjust according to their family culture, it’s very telling that there is no mention of that in the Course Companion. It merely says that we make use of the daily checklist to remind us what needs to completed each day. There seems to be an expectation that to reap the fruit of The Good and the Beautiful curriculum, you need to follow it to a T. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a checklist kind of gal. I live my life around my planner. But one of homeschooling’s biggest lesson is to listen to and be flexible to each of your children’s learning style and personality. We have got to go beyond checklists.
But beyond that, as much as I am taken by the beautiful art that is peppered all over the pages, I feel wanting in its lessons on the authentic journey of Christianity. Not that the curriculum ever promised that. In fact, it worked hard to reassure its users that there will be no reference towards a particular set of beliefs or religion, particularly because its creator belongs to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. But, if it’s a curriculum that aims to show what is good and beautiful, then that will naturally point back to God, whether discussed directly or not. Even if used by non-Christian families, the concepts of what is good and beautiful are laid out in its form and appearance, but none really inspires goodness or authentic beauty. The readers offered simple stories, with cute vintage art. For that, I may keep it in my library and my preschooler and I can read through that together to learn simple words and vocabulary. But none of the stories offered anything more substantial in terms of character progression or even worthwhile lessons.
What compelled me to write this review, though is this: As a Christian, homeschooling is an extension, a manifestation of our faith. The two are interconnected. Which is why I decided on this curriculum, because of course I want something good and beautiful. However, I felt that the rigid, prescriptive nature of its implementation was incongruous to the faith journey. Rarely is the Christian life ever a straightforward, lateral progression. The walk with God is not a checklist-directed relationship where, so long as we follow the designated action plan, we would be saved. That is a dangerous thought to allow into your mind and heart. God knows a hypocrite’s heart—always quick to clean the outside and relegate God to a set of rules. And while we should, with all our hearts and mind, focus on what is indeed good and beautiful, the sinner is not always so. Should there be shame, which could lead to a turning away from God, the true source of what is good and beautiful? Or should there be an understanding that while we may fail, while pain and heartache surround us, God is always faithful and His love and will never leave us. Isn’t grace the very characteristic of our relationship with Him? Isn’t that what it means to be truly good and beautiful?
You might say I am expecting too much out of a curriculum. It is still up to us, as parents to teach and instill values to our students, and not the material that we use. That is true, and that is correct. However, the material that we use should reflect the same challenge and grace that we ultimately want to teach to our children. I don’t want a checklist-dominated curriculum (it literally has little boxes on each to-do for when you have finished implementing each one, step-by-step). Open-and-go curriculum can be a wonderful gift to homeschooling families, yet there should always be room to adjust to each student’s personality and pace. Homeschooling is many things, but it is never a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.
Overall, I think TGTB is a well-made, thorough curriculum that offers a wide scope of lessons. Some of its spelling work have been great for my son. Yet, I use it with a lot of adjustments. Some straightforward lessons I intro with a story or an anecdote to make it more relevant to my student. This curriculum is good for instilling and drilling language rules, but I use this once a week so as not to be tiresome and forgettable. We have been using another literature-based curriculum to improve on our reading comprehension, grammar and overall appreciation of goodness and beauty. We have also skipped a lot of their lessons, not just because he knows them already, but because some are too shallow to even bother with. Check out this lesson below.
To summarize, these are what I like about The Good and The Beautiful:
- Beautiful art
- Challenging lessons that help my student learn
- It’s affordable
What I Don’t Like About The Good and The Beautiful:
- Very prescriptive and rigid that may ultimately teach the child that to learn means to follow a set of rules, and to memorize.
- Good and beautiful stories, but are shallow in lessons.
- Very traditional and old-fashioned that it seems to give focus on categorizing things as black-and-white, rather than being more open and progressive in its lessons, which is more respectful of each student’s uniqueness.