Episode 320 | Curriculum Fallacies & Practical Purchasing Pointers (Jennifer Cabrera)
A fun and informative look at the common fallacies we fall for and the practical tips to avoid them when curriculum hunting for the bouquet of courses and material guaranteed to bring homeschool success and possible college scholarships.
Jennifer Cabrera, the Hifalutin Homeschooler, is the writer of homeschool truth, humor, and inspiration. Jennifer lives in Salado, Texas with her husband and three brilliant boys. She is a licensed Physician Assistant/MPH, but set aside that career for her ultimate life's work. She is also the author of Socialize Like a Homeschooler: A Humorous Homeschool Handbook and Revolting Writing, a hilarious writing, vocabulary, and illustration journal for reluctant writers. She is a featured speaker with Great Homeschool Conventions and her memes and witty insights are widely shared on social media.
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Jennifer Cabrera Hello and welcome to the Homeschool Solutions Show. I'm Jennifer Cabrera of the Hifalutin Homeschooler and just one of the many hosts here on the podcast. Each week we bring you an encouraging, inspirational, often humorous conversation from this busy and blessed journey of homeschooling our children. Now, while the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we do not even pretend to have all the answers to every question related to homeschooling. But it is our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ and that you may seek his counsel as you train your children in the way they should go. We are so glad that you have joined us here for today's conversation. But before I start this episode, I would like to thank the sponsor of the Homeschool Solutions Show, MediShare. MediShare is an affordable and biblical health care alternative. Find out more about their ongoing support of homeschooling families just like ours at MyChristianCare.org. And now, for today's show.
Jennifer Cabrera Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. Happy 2 AM. Whenever you are choosing to listen to this, you're probably awake because it's that time of year again when it becomes more fun to plan for next year than it is to finish what we've already started this year. It's homeschool curriculum junkie season. It's like March 1st, something hits the air and then bam! Spring fever is upon us. It's the fever to check out the new goods. What's out there? What else will lead my children to be geniuses in the future, or at least productive adults? So across the country, homeschool moms, homeschool dads are sitting glass-eyed in thought and ravenous anticipation of the hunt before them. Because when the humdrum of the day's work is complete, well, we'll retreat to a corner right to plan our methods and means of attack for next year. What is the prey? The perfect curriculum. Just as the hunt for the elusive Bigfoot, Loch Ness, carb-filled weight loss plans continue, so does the homeschool mom or dad search for the bouquet of courses and material to guarantee success and possible college scholarships. Or at least curriculum within a student-led learning to allow mom time to look at more curriculum while hiding in the teacher's lounge—closet—eating chocolate and/or playing Wordscape on her phone. I mean, if these darn kids would just finish their work chores, activities, and eating frenzies already, I could get to the fun part of this homeschool gig, which, if you're a homeschool junkie, is looking for new curriculum for next year. Yep, we plan to plan. It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Jennifer Cabrera And so this episode of the Homeschool Solutions Show with the Hifalutin Homeschooler, yours truly, is entitled Homeschool Curriculum Fallacies and Practical Purchasing Pointers. Curriculum shopping is contagious, and once you decide to homeschool and you meet other homeschoolers, you will inevitably talk about curriculum with all the parents that you sit down with. And yes, that includes dads. It's in the air. You may have already been infected. Signs and symptoms include 1) are you itching to start filling multiple online carts for comparison shopping? 2) do you simultaneously want to call an early summer break, download printables, and browse microscopes? Or 3) have you woken from a trance confused and drooling an hour after clicking on a history curriculum ad on social media? If you have any of these signs, you may be suffering from curricula mamatosis. Which is a totally made up scientific name for a disease that you can contract the moment you choose to homeschool with or without a mask. Symptoms worsen when sufferers are left alone at home—which doesn't happen very often—but for any extended period of time without human contact and obligations to keep you from buying build-you-own Trojan horse kits and inspirational posters for the dining room. So before you go down the rabbit hole into the curriculum abyss, we should talk about some common things that can trip you up. Some common fallacies when looking into homeschool curriculum. So allow me to use my home school microscope light to shed some light on your common curriculum fallacies. Now, these curriculum fallacies are committed by new and seasoned homeschool moms, and every year in their quest for curriculum. I know because I've committed them all and probably did this past Tuesday, when—in an early morning fog—I began to load a cart filled with things that—after my child woke up—I had to remove, realizing that that was not the kid that I was shopping for. Now I'll show you how to spot these curriculum fallacies and to stop yourself from impulsively and misguidedly purchasing them, and then how to redirect your efforts to the benefit of you and your little pupils, students, heirs, loved ones.
Jennifer Cabrera Okay, so we're going to start with the faulty appeal to the people. Now, the curriculum fallacy here is everyone is using this cool curriculum because it's amazing! A.k.a. jump on the bandwagon. Everyone's doing it. Well, perhaps everyone is using this curriculum because everyone is using this curriculum. Did you ever think of that? If we use a certain curriculum just because everyone else is using it, well then we're going against the very basis of homeschooling and personalized education, which is exactly why we homeschooled in the first place so that we didn't have to follow the crowd so that we could go our own way. And then yet we still tend to have a tendency to ask the other homeschool moms, "Well, do you use Saxon math? Should I use Saxon math? But I hate Saxon math. I guess I have to use Saxon math because everyone's using Saxon math." Now, having said that, Saxon math rocks, but don't use it because I use it; use it because it will make your child better at math. But if it doesn't, there's 7,000 other people ready and willing to sell you a completely different type of curriculum with which will make your child successful at math if that's the way that your child learns.
Jennifer Cabrera So the faulty appeal to the people. How do we fight against this urge? Well, think about it. Maybe some moms don't even like the school curriculum or are struggling to get through it and secretly want to light it on fire, and they're using it anyway. How silly. But they keep on and they don't speak up because it would mean admitting failure and uncoolness. Maybe the whole homeschool clique thinks it's wretched. All the ladies sitting around the coffee table at the co-op may think it's wretched, but not one will speak up and be the first to say so to get kicked out of the kale club. Is there a kale club? Anyway, homeschooling says we rebuke the myth of the cool kids, and therefore we will not be following them, their actions, their fashion, or their educational choices. And that includes other homeschoolers. We don't have to follow the homeschool crowd, okay? But we all know homeschool fashion is personal and all over the place, and so we should be the same way with our curriculum choices.
My son bases his wardrobe off comfort and snarky T-shirts and learns quite differently than his friends who wear a kilt every Wednesday. And that is not made up. My son has a friend who wears a kilt every Wednesday to their homeschool group classes. It's his way of learning, I guess you could say, and that's his choice. So the practical purchasing tip that I have for those struggling not to follow the crowd and thinking that their child won't be good enough if they aren't using the popular curriculum, here's the tip: before selecting 'add to cart', ask yourself, "Am I eating because I'm bored?" I mean, "Do I want this because it sounds like a good fit for my family? Or is it because it has 7,000 purchases in the last 45 minutes and all the moms at the park said it's the best?" And then you'll know: I'm just following the crowd, I'm not really thinking about what will be best for my child.
Okay, now our second curriculum fallacy is the faulty appeal to authority. So we talked about appealing to the masses in popularity. Now let's talk about, well, who knows best, right? The curriculum fallacy is: El Presidente de Co-op swears by her chosen English program, so it must be the best. And so I must use it too. Now, every Monday, she opens assembly with prayer, one hand on the Bible and the other clutching the touted teacher's manual. Therefore, it must be the holy grail of English curriculum. Right? Well, any other choice is probably a form of blasphemy, and you'll be given extra fundraising duties until you've seen the light. Wrong. Now, whether it's the president of the co-op or the country—Lord help us—claiming to know what's best for us all. This is a faulty appeal to authority. Just as we turn away from mass education and its one-size-fits-all and bureaucrats know best agenda, we must turn away from the idea that people in high positions are to be followed at all without question. No, simply no.
No one knows your kids' educational strengths, weaknesses, and needs better than you. If the person pledging devotion to a homeschool curriculum has some training, experience, or special knowledge above and beyond their own use of the product, well then certainly they could help inform your decision. But often these people have no special authority or knowledge on the matter. Maybe they're getting paid to push the product (bloggers like me), or they just like the power trip. Maybe they need to go on and on about the merits of what they are using to convince others of its greatness to reinforce their own insecurities. Maybe it worked for them, but they think there might be something better out there, but they don't want you to use it because then they feel bad about what they chose. Or maybe they couldn't return it for a full refund, and they're sticking to it just to save face. Who knows? But what is my practical purchasing tip to lead you away from this curriculum fallacy? Well, the point is to be selective and discerning from who you take curriculum advice. Do their children learn like yours? Does this person have a background in the subject area? Do they like to hear themselves talk? Are they trying to sell you the curriculum they couldn't return to the store? What authority do they really have? Use that authority if it is actually informed and experienced and knowledge-based authority to inform your decision, but not direct your decision.
Our next curriculum fallacy is a red herring fallacy, which I like to call "red herring shopping." And no, we are not going out looking for fish for dinner. I wouldn't even know where to go to find a red herring. But the curriculum fallacy is: everything that comes up in my curriculum search is fate and worthy of my attention and purchase in order to check all the boxes and keep learning fun. It's kind of like, "Squirrel!" We get distracted because something looks shiny and pretty and new. And what if everyone else is using it? "I really need to find a good middle school history program," says the homeschool mom, resolved to spend the wee hours of a Wednesday chugging coffee and browsing options. "Oh look. Grow your own Venus fly traps!" she exclaims with delight. Squirrel. "I should get this. We could totally study botany this year. I wonder if they have any other growing kits? And then we will definitely need to get these videos on weather and Earth science. Well, because that obviously fits into growing things, right? And this rock collection, so we can learn about the minerals in the soil and this cute little bug catching net. Aw! And we can raise butterflies. Well, we have to do that." Add to cart. She takes a side glance at the clock and momentarily returns from the rabbit hole. "Wait, what was I looking for?" She struggles to remember the person she was when she went curriculum crazy just 10 minutes ago. "Oh yeah, history for middle school. Okay. Focus focus. Okay. These history coloring pages look fun, and the Shakespeare reenactment program will be— ooh, how to make a mummy! And origami zoo animals? Well, that's Asian, which we'll probably talk about in history at some point." Add to cart. "Is it too early to start learning Mandarin? Or should we learn Spanish for foreign language instead? Ooh, I should probably look at Latin primers just to start a good foundation early." She shakes her head and grabs her cold cup of coffee. "Wait, what did I come here for?".
Hello. Back to reality. Have you ever fallen down this rabbit hole? Curriculum squirrels everywhere. But what is our practical purchasing tip for the red herring curriculum fallacy? Have a list of your specific needs for each subject and a plan to stay on track. Do you need a complete program, a simple written supplement, or topic-related hands-on project? Don't get distracted by clever and colorful packaging for things only tenuously related to your search. These eye-catching items can suck your budget dry without filling any of your curriculum needs. And let's just be honest: do you want your 7th grade boy to have a catapult? In the house. Even a small one. Let me tell you what a 7th grade boy can do with a catapult in the house. Two other children, pets, windows. Think twice before you go for that kit. Okay.
Circular reasoning is our next fallacy. Curriculum fallacy: circular reasoning. You can't justify what you're buying if you're chasing your tail to justify it. It is an investment to buy this mega-sized, new expensive curriculum set because secondhand stuff is junk. And besides, I'll use it again and again on all my younger kids. Uh, huh? Did you hear yourself? Well, but the hardcover brand new fully-charged super unleaded version of a curriculum package must be the best deal because obviously you'll use it with your younger kids when they're old enough. Duh. Obviously. Right? Uh. Nervous giggle. Yeah, I mean, get it girl! Who wants to use secondhand curriculum anyway? Wait, what? But that's exactly what it will be when the younger ones get older; it'll be secondhand curriculum because you're already set up and dollars deep and you won't need or get to go shopping for anything new and you already bought the heavy duty version guaranteed to survive daily splashes of second breakfast, spilled cups of coffee—cold coffee—except that you lose the fun of picking out something new.
It is great to reuse what we already have, though, for two reasons. Saving money. And you already know how to use it, and you've tweaked it to your abilities and your kids' needs, and your husband won't growl. And there it is, looking at you from the shelf. However, the practical purchasing tip I have for this curriculum fallacy of circular reasoning is: are you really saving any money if you buy the hardcover version with all the extras and all the manipulatives and reference material? Think practically about your homeschool personality and a typical homeschool day at your house. Will you really use all the extras? Decide how many years you would need to use this curriculum to justify the original cost compared to the less souped up version or another less expensive yet equally effective option? And though you may already know how to use the program, you've likely tweaked it for a different child. Your current student could have completely different needs, and a completely different curriculum may be necessary. I know it was for my third installment. He doesn't learn anything like the other two. The other two actually did learn similarly, only one had to do everything spinning in a circle and beating on his chest, while the other one needed absolute apocalyptic silence. But I could work the same curriculum for each of their learning capabilities. But my third child. Let's just say that I have a stack almost to the ceiling of stuff that I'm really ready to sell at a curriculum sale that hopefully someone's going to set up locally because I will be there waving my flag of surrender on the purchases that didn't make it to the third child.
So the next curriculum fallacy that I'm going to talk about is called a genetic fallacy. Now, obviously, there's nothing genetically wrong in our homeschool. I have perfect children— on paper. Okay. But the curriculum fallacy is: you didn't like the one thing you tried from a certain publisher. So all of that publisher's products must be garbage as well, genetically speaking. It came from the same mothership of publishing, I suppose you could say. Maybe you tried the fourth grade grammar set from Pencil Pushers Publishing, and it left your child in tears and their language skills regressed to grunts and primitive hieroglyphics. Yet now that the same publisher's math curriculum keeps coming up in your search? Eh. And after reading the description and reviews and looking at samples and testing them out on your kid? Well, it looks to be a perfect fit for your math genius, but you just can't bring yourself to add to cart because it came from that publisher that ruined my child in English. Because burn me once, shame on me, but burn me twice, and I'll seriously question my homeschool ninja shopping skills. Many homeschool publishers have their Porsche products, and then they have their Pinto products. You could be using a publisher's Porsche product for years. Decide to branch into their other subject offerings and suddenly BAM. What in the blah blah blah? Who sold this lemon to me? Also, curriculum that seems a worthless Pinto product to one family—you know, not worth the graphite your kid scribbled into it and now you can't return it—well, it could have been the Porsche for another homeschool family and vice versa.
So what's the practical purchasing tip in this genetic mess? Publishing genetic mess, that is. Don't completely write off a publisher because the one product you tried didn't work out. Also, don't assume everything a publisher churns out is spectacular just because your kid thrived with the one product that you tried. No company is perfect, but likely they've got some strong and effective publications if they keep popping up in your search. Homeschooling is all about personalizing education. Tiptoe in to new curriculum. I would certainly go with your instinct on a publisher if it's been full of grammatical errors in a math book that's not even trying to teach grammar, or if there's foul language, obviously, and if the pictures are just not wowing anybody in the history book, or the resources—the links that they give you lead to nowhere when you plug them into your computer. Obviously. But sometimes publishers have good products and bad products. This is why I choose not to pick a whole curriculum set from one distinct publisher. Plus that takes the fun out of curriculum shopping if you just get everything in one click, and this is my time of year. This is my sport. This is my season. I will not rob myself of that. Whatever will I do when they graduate? I'll have to come up with a new hobby.
So other homeschool curriculum fallacies to beware—and these are pretty straightforward, so we'll go through these a little bit quicker—but appeal to fear. Purchasing curriculum out of fear of leaving out something important your kids might need. Fear of not being good enough without all the gadgets. Or because of a warning from another homeschool know-it-all, I mean, parent. For example, reluctantly buying and later loathing a Latin curriculum because you were led to believe that your kids would fail the language portion of the SAT without it. Or buying three combination locks because you were under this false pretense that if you didn't make them learn to open a combination lock in under five minutes and followed by a bell that they wouldn't turn out to be normal adults like you and your husband. Wrong, wrong. Appealing to fear is just like a disaster waiting to happen. You don't have to have Latin to do good on the language portion of the SAT. You don't even have to take the SAT if you don't want to. And there are a thousand ways to skin a cat, but you don't have to get scared before you do it. That is the worst metaphor ever.
Another curriculum fallacy: exigency. I think I said that right. Impulsive purchasing because of perceived lack of time and availability. It's a classic sales pitch. So you go on these curriculum websites or Amazon or wherever, and the first thing it shows you is there's only three left in stock. I mean, you haven't even read the description yet, so chill out, okay? No, but I got to hurry. There's only three left and they've sold like 2,000 in the last three months and— they'll get more. It's a high pressure tactic. See also "Free ruler with purchase today only." Okay, take a deep breath. Step back. You don't need another ruler, probably. You need to be sure you're buying what you truly need. Not just so someone else doesn't get it first. It's not a shopping competition. If you really want it, they're going to restock it if it's worth having. So take a deep breath. Step back. I'm moving on.
My next homeschool fallacy: either/or. Okay. This is mistakenly narrowing yourself to two choices. Okay, so you believe you must choose between the two best-selling history programs in the search results. More likely, you'll have to draw a limit on how many products you're actually willing to peruse and read about after the 78th option and a list of 324. But just because there's two at the top that are ranked "top two bestselling, buy it now," the curriculum that looks appealing to you and your needs, your children, best fit your children, is likely what you need. That's the best curriculum for you. Not the best curriculum for the masses. Because we all know the best thing for the masses doesn't normally fit anyone individually, so find things that work for your kid. Don't go with the two top bestselling. So much gets overlooked— good stuff out there that just never had a chance to sit at the top of the billboard.
So next: post hoc ergo prompter hoc. There again, I have no idea if I said that right, but that's the way I learned it when I read it. So, yeah, that means I'm a reader, right? Translation, though: after this, therefore, because of this. This is falsely concluding that something that happened after you started using a curriculum was because of that curriculum, or maybe because you didn't use a curriculum. For example, last year, we didn't do a formal grammar workbook, and now my seventh grader is constantly making up dumb words to complete his rhymes and wants to be a rapper. And so we're doubling up with grammar this year. It's all my fault because I didn't have a grammar curriculum for him to do, and now I've ruined his life. This is not causation, okay? There's probably another cause for that, but it's not because of the curriculum you didn't use. Now, if you bought a curriculum that taught how to rap in rhyme and yo yo yo yo ma. Okay, well then you might see a connection, but don't go start chasing things to blame for things that aren't connected.
All right, so another curriculum fallacy is proof by lack of evidence. Did you get that? Proof by lack of evidence. Just because there are no reviews on a new curriculum, it doesn't prove it's worthless. Just because there's no purchases shown, don't assume anything. Maybe it's new. You could pioneer new roads. Another fallacy is the snob appeal. Oh, us? Oh well, we only use Platinum Pupil Preparatory products. It's nothing personal. It's just that we're better than you unless of course you'd like to use it too, and then you can join our Nose High club. All right. So, yeah. Clicks. No thanks. Moving on.
Appeal to tradition. High tech. So we're appealing to tradition, the old school way. We look back and we see only what we choose to see in the memories of years gone by. Little House on the Prairie was a great program, and many of us would love to be able to go back to simpler times. But a writing program that begins with whittling your own quill might be a bit much. Don't be wooed and to purchasing curriculum strictly for its nostalgic appeal. And likewise, new and high tech doesn't automatically equal improved, but it does often equate to high dollar. The cool STEM kids and virtual learning programs can add up fast, with little more reward than appealing to a kids want for more screen time.
Okay, so practical planning and purchasing. Now that you've been warned and armed against some common homeschool curriculum fallacies, you're ready to go forth—hopefully unfrenzied and with plenty of coffee—into the abyss of homeschool shopping and planning. By this time of year, shopping for the next is certainly more fun than finishing the current one. And if it's your first year to homeschool, you're almost ready. But here's some last minute tips. Remember whose kids you are shopping for. It's easy to get swept up by the well-behaved brochure children snuggling with mom or learning to reduce equations by the fire and then think, "I so need this. This will fix all of our problems." Heh heh.
Part of homeschooling is picking out your favorite curriculum, but buying what works best for each of your own kids instead. Okay? Remember how your year is currently going and make a list to stay focused. What went right? What went tragically wrong and diverted from what you envisioned? And how do your kids learn best? On what do they need to focus? Can they do two hours of college prep math a day, or is that wishful dreaming? Do they want to knit Celtic war vests? Is the model catapult necessary or a window and budget buster? Maybe. Where did I put my coffee? Do I already have something that I've purchased and said that I would reuse with a younger kid? Remember these things and then go forth and conquer that curriculum, girl— or boy, or sir, or ma'am. You got this! And you don't need everything that catches your eye. After all, the best homeschool tools are loving parents and a happy home and plenty of coffee. So when you decide what you're going to get, and then you've emptied the cart and refilled the cart at least 10 times, and waited a few weeks and thought on it, and then re-interviewed your children to find out who they really are, and then you're ready to make the purchase, follow that up with this little prayer, "Lord grant me the strength to stick with my curriculum, the knowledge to use it only as a guide, and the discernment to ignore my first sentence when I need to try something new." And of course, if you're anything like me, you know that you keep things around that you don't really enjoy all that much, and you have curriculum you use, curriculum you might use, and curriculum you keep around to threaten to use again if they so much as start whining about its replacement.
And with that, thanks for listening. And again, with this long episode, with the Hifalutin Homeschooler at the Homeschool Solutions Show. If you're in town—like, say, in town in Texas anywhere—try to get to Round Rock in July. I'd love to meet you in person at the Great Homeschool Conventions. You can go to their website to register now and use code HIFALUTIN to get $10 off your single or family registration. Hope to see you there. Till next time, stay weird and homeschool on.
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