Myth Busters: “Is Tapestry too much work for the average student?”
As with other myths in this series, the statement “Tapestry is too much work for the average student” begs for close definitions of the terms we use. Specifically, we need to examine “too much work” and “average student.”
But I want to start by reiterating a significant feature of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum: it was designed from its inception to be an educational buffet. Tapestry year-plans are guides for parents that provides a variety of suggested reading assignments, hands-on activities, writing assignments, read-aloud choices, and upper-level electives. No one family will utilize all that Tapestry offers–at least, not with any one student. Parent-teachers are meant to select–week to week–from the buffet for their children, according to the child’s tastes and abilities to digest each “meal.” This gives them amazing flexibility and control over their children’s educational diets. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that Tapestry itself is “too much” since parents are firmly in the driver’s seat with this program!
Furthermore, this statement is almost always in the context of upper-level students. For these, Tapestry of Grace aspires to provide a rich, deep introduction to the classic works of humankind down through the ages. Why? For several good reasons:
- Reading deep thinkers teaches one to think deeply oneself. The corollary is also true: if all you do is think and speak shallowly, you grow shallow yourself. Want proof? Listen closely to the working vocabulary of the average high schooler today, and then compare (by reading books from previous centuries) what it was in our grandparents’ generation, or even more drastically, in our great-grandparents’ day.
- Especially in our modern American culture, youths are often simultaneously cocky and unaware of how much they don’t know. Wrestling with the Great Books is both humbling and enlightening. It shows youths that there ideas that are beyond their current mental capacities for mastery, and are both complex and nuanced. For many young people, the challenge that the Great Books present is mentally invigorating as well.
- Knowing where others have trod and what results they had from their experiments in living enables us to live our lives with far greater wisdom and (one sincerely hopes) with greater effectiveness. Learning by example is valuable for Christians (1 Corinthians 10:6), for workers in all industries, for scientists, for parents, for leaders and for voters. Those who study history can avoid past weaknesses and imitate past strengths. Youths who study the Great Books in high school enter college classes with an astounding depth of perception about the ideas that college professors put forth. They are typically able to argue more effectively, write better, achieve higher scores on tests: but most of all, they are thinking people and will be for all their lives to come. Isn’t this what education is for?
For younger students (K-8) we almost never hear of Tapestry being “too much”!
In all labor, there is profit. What kind of work are we talking about here?
For high schoolers, then, reading “deep” “whole” books takes time and effort: more time than reading textbooks (which predigest ideas to make factual intake faster, but do nothing towards teaching students to reason or solve problems). An analogy can be made to swimming. A person will not learn to swim well no matter how many videos he sees about swimming, or how many books he reads about it, until he gets wet! You have to get in deep water in order to swim.
Similarly, you need to work through the thoughts, vocabulary, and syntax of people more advanced than you in order to grow your reasoning and communication abilities. Like swimming, thinking takes active work and practice in order to master the subject; this is how we develop strong mental “muscles.” Students who read through the Great Books are working hard!
The converse is again true: couch potatoes don’t exercise, so their muscles grow weak and their bodies flabby. Those who can’t, watch! If one doesn’t want to put on their intellectual sweats and exercise their brains, those brains will not develop as much as they could. In profitable education, there is a degree of trudging. Some of the work of education is not “fun” or “easy.” The question for the parent is, “Are the rewards of a given kind of work valuable?”
Too much work?
Having defined what kind of work we’re all talking about here, we can now get a handle on the statement about “too much work.” Again we are back to comparisons, and to the differences in values and standards that unique families necessarily have. The question becomes, “How do you define ‘too much’?”
A realtor might show one person an old house on a beautiful lot that is priced to sell, and hear him say, “It would be too much work to bring it back. Show me another house to buy.” But, he might show someone else, who perhaps has experience with renovations, the same property and have this second person buy it on the spot. The first person values the finished product and is awed at the work of fixing houses, while the second accepts the work of it because he can “see” the value of the finished product.
It’s the same amount of “work” in both cases. The difference is in how each customer measures the return they get on the work being contemplated. To read the Great Books and discuss them is work. Is it too much work? That’s up to each family!
Let’s talk about time limitations
One reason that people say that a meaty program such as ours is “too much work” is because they are aware that their students only have so much time. In addition to the other standard classes that high schoolers must take (math, science, and foreign languages) outside of Tapestry studies, there are sports events, clubs, and family activities to be fit into each weeks.
This concern is fair! We can’t do everything. Again, it comes down to a family’s priorities. Perhaps the family is sports-minded and wants to leave lots of room in their weeks (and weekends) for sports practices and events. That’s their prerogative, but let’s recognize that this is a choice, and not the result of a fault in the Tapestry program per se. Someone who doesn’t value athletics highly might well say of team participation: “It’s too much!”
Thousands of people who use Tapestry find that it is both doable and satisfying within the time constraints of modern teenagers if one values the benefits that saying “yes” to challenging Humanities studies and “no” to other options that compete for their time and attention.
Let’s compare ourselves with those in past generations, rather than this one!
We believe that today’s “average” American high schoolers are uniformly under challenged academically. We look back to previous generations and see that human minds are capable of understanding and absorbing far more than our modern technological society’s traditional schools demand. Clearly, if the “average student” today is under challenged and doesn’t know it, then our program would seem like “too much work.”
We believe that parents who care enough about homeschooling to undertake the work and sacrifices involved want to have the best possible return on their investment. They want to help their children be the best that they can be! For many students, the difference between “average” and “above average” is directly proportional to the challenges their parents place before them!
Looking back, we also see that the focus of higher education has shifted during the last 50 years or so. Colleges have gone from places where the elite learned to lead, think, and govern to places where students master advanced information on specialized vocations. In other words, by and large, students today attend colleges hoping to come out with a marketable skill that will give them a job that provides a living wage. This is different than getting a more general degree focused more on skills like complex analysis, written and spoken communications, problem solving, etc. Such were the fruits of the liberal arts degree that was the norm for your child’s grandparents, which had concentrations for majors (science, art, history, etc.) but required students to gain proficiencies across the spectrum of educational disciplines as well.
In the Middle Ages and on down through history until the time of rapid industrialization, young men went to colleges in their late teens. Often, privileged youths studied at home with tutors, and read many challenging books before they attended university. We know that young people can read, learn to enjoy, and profit from these time-tested treasures while in high school. So, for older students, Tapestry of Grace is designed to give modern high schoolers the opportunity to gain a working knowledge of the Great Books of history and literature–studied interdependently and in context because of supporting studies in geography, philosophy, and the arts–so that their curiosity and intelligence need not wait for college to be stimulated into enjoying a thinking life.
Not only is this content introduced, but students use the content to practice key reasoning skills, gaining the ability to analyze arguments critically, to compare and contrast claims and counter claims, to form and defend arguments, to listen well to opponents, and–most of all–to consider all worldviews in light of biblical teaching, and thus gain a deep value for the biblical worldview as they compare it with others. Thus can students learn to articulately give reasons for the hope to which they have been called as Christians (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 3:15).
Is your “average student” college bound?
As you begin to do your college-prep research, you may find that it is common for students who are bound for competitive colleges to switch from the homeschooling program that they grew up with, to a more rigorous college-prep program, or dual enrollment. This typically occurs in 11th or 12th grade, because what was a pleasant and stimulating workload in their younger years turns out to be not enough work to prepare them well for college. There is no such problem with Tapestry: it has proven its ability to carry students all the way through high school, position them advantageously for college entrance, and often help them win scholarships, all of which saves parent-teachers time and money.
In fact, our approach has enabled many students to CLEP out of college courses (again, saving both time and money). If desired, students with a sound, working knowledge of the humanities and sharpened thinking skills can take the college years to freely focus on gaining marketable skills without compromising the depth of life that is open to those who have a strong background in the liberal arts.
We have quoted this before, but it bears repeating here. High schoolers who use Tapestry can gain both high school and college credits for the same amount of work:
My daughter tested out (through CLEPS) of her college literature classes and she certainly could have tested out of history. As a matter of fact, she is planning to come home in December and review to CLEP Western Civ. (I wish there was a CLEP for Bible!) It’s possible for students to take Tapestry, study for CLEPS, and avoid many of the first 2 years of general ed. classes at a liberal arts college.
Anna and Christina (my oldest two) are on track for getting their bachelor degrees in 2-3 years as opposed to 4. I love Belhaven University so much that I considered using their high scholar’s program (a dual-enrollment humanities course) for my 15-year old daughter for her last two years of high school. However, I looked at the topics week-by-week. She is getting the very same thing through our co-op and Tapestry and it isn’t costing me thousands of dollars. (For her, it’s actually costing nothing since I own all the materials.) I’ve decided that for my 15-year old kids ongoing, we are going to use Tapestry and then CLEP for end-of-year exams.
One thing we have found over the years is that students with a sound, working knowledge of the humanities and sharpened thinking skills can spend their college years specializing in marketable skills, without compromising the depth of mind and heart that is traditionally considered the greatest blessing of a liberal arts education. We think that’s wonderful!
Maybe Tapestry is too much work for your student, given your priorities for him. That’s fine! We deeply respect the fact that God has given your student to you, and will guide you in making decisions for his education. However, we would hate to have you turned away from exploring Tapestry before you even begin because you haven’t had a chance to stop and ask yourself what the work of a liberal arts high school education is worth to you, and what exactly you mean by “too much” for your student.
If you now have an interest in exploring what we can offer and have never visited our website, please start here.
If you are specifically interested in the experiences of others who have used Tapestry for college prep, please read these posts:
Poetics Goes to College With Anna
A Journey I Loved: Rodney Dowty
A Journey that Prepared Me: Matt Spanier
There a host of posts from private bloggers using Tapestry that might interest you. Start here.
Finally, if you have used Tapestry with older students and can share experiences, we’d love to hear your story! Please feel invited to comment below.