When I began teaching college, I was absolutely thrilled to get a tenured position as a humanities professor. This meant that I could use my background in history, anthropology, and art history while teaching my courses. Up until that point, I had taught either history or anthropology for different colleges as an adjunct professor. And while I would integrate all of my knowledge and pull in readings from different disciplines in everything I taught, I realized that doing that was not common. Education has become siloed, and although there are some interdisciplinary programs these days, most professors and teachers do not collaborate or even bring in materials from other disciplines to help students integrate their knowledge.
I think one thing that we as teachers can do is to help our students integrate knowledge and ideas. And collaborating with other teachers is a great way to do this. For instance, if a literature teacher plans to teach Moby Dick, it would be great to work with the science teacher to talk about sea mammals and the history teacher to teach New England culture and commerce in the 19th century. This would be a wonderful way to make all three subjects more interesting and relevant. However, most public and private educational programs do not work this way.
The nice thing is that if you are homeschooling you have the opportunity to teach thematically and across disciplines. In fact, some homeschool co-ops are even doing this. We interviewed Jen Casey of the STAC homeschool co-op near Atlanta, Georgia and she shared how their teachers talk to each other and actively integrate their lessons across multiple disciplines. You can listen to the podcast episode by clicking here.
Yet, even if you are not part of a homeschool co-op you can teach in this multi-disciplinary way. That is the great thing about homeschooling! You choose what you teach and how your children learn, and since you know your children best, it can be the most rewarding experience for your children. So, how do you do this? Well, I will let you know how we pull together each of our units for our middle and high school curriculum.
When we begin working on a unit, we first choose the literary work, typically chosen because its theme has some relevance to the overarching themes that we explore for each level: heroes for middle school and thinkers for high school. From there, we find historical sources from the time period of the novel or author or cultural elements that tie to the novel and theme. From here, we write out our lessons, create our readings, write original works to tie everything together, and create exercises and quizzes that allow the student to really engage in the material. So, the result is that every work of literature also becomes a history lesson – a lesson on a particular culture or era which ultimately allows the student to better understand the novel and the world around them. As George Santayana said, “if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.”