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Robinson Curriculum and Henty Collection Review by Heather Jackowitz

It seems most people have heard about the Robinson Curriculum, but few know much about it. It came about when Dr. Robinson's wife passed away in 1988. He and his wife were both scientists who worked at home while homeschooling their six children. After a sudden illness lasting less than a day, Mrs. Robinson died. Dr. Robinson was faced with the task of continuing his scientific work, running a farm, and caring for the children. As the old saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention." The Robinson Curriculum is the result of this family's "experiment" (his word, not mine).

Dr. Robinson has come to believe that the great minds of the past did not rely on predigested material, but rather taught themselves using great books. Basically, there are only three school subjects in his curriculum: reading, writing, and math. All general subjects, such as history and science, are taught through reading.

According to Dr. Robinson, if you follow the rules of his curriculum, you can expect the same success he has had. He says, "These are not, however, 'suggestions'. They are rigorous requirements. I know what has happened here. I do not know what would happen in different experiments under different conditions." His rules are as follows. First, there must be no television, other than an occasional (every six months or so) video. Second, the children do not eat any sugar, including honey. Third, children do their schoolwork about five hours a day, six days a week, 10 full months per year. Next, the children do their schoolwork the first hours of the day with time out only for breakfast and necessary chores. The Robinson family eats only two large meals per day, breakfast and dinner. The school day begins with one lesson of Saxon math. The children correct their own work and rework any missed problems. Once a child works all the way through Saxon calculus, he replaces math with college physics and chemistry. Following math (or science), each child writes a one-page essay on the topic of his choice. Finally, the remainder of the five hours is spent reading the assigned list of books contained on the 22 CD-ROMs. One final Robinson rule - children must not use a computer until they have completed calculus. Therefore, everything on the CD-ROMs must be printed out for children to read. Before a child can begin using the program, he must be taught to read using phonics. He must also master his math facts (all four operations) in order to move directly in Saxon 54 by about second grade. Young children, under age 10, can do handwriting and copy work instead of writing a daily essay.

So, what exactly is included on those 22 CD-ROMs? First, there is a long section called the Course of Study that explains Dr. Robinson's philosophy and rules and gives an overview of the entire curriculum. Then, they include 245 books to be read in order from first through twelfth grade. These books are not to be read on the computer, but printed out. Many books are easily available from the library, such as Little Women. Costs of printing the books can vary from home to home depending on your printer and cost of ink. Also included are the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, and the 1913 Webster's Dictionary. There are also 49 examinations, vocabulary lessons for many of the books, and arithmetic and phonics flashcards to print. The vocabulary lessons can be done on the computer, provided the child has completed calculus. Otherwise, flashcards for over 6,000 words must be printed out and studied. These, as well as the phonics and arithmetic flashcards, are extremely simple. An additional six CD-ROMs are available, including the 99 complete works of G.A. Henty. Some of these are very rare, out-of-print books. It also includes 53 of his short stories, and 216 short stories by his contemporaries. All of the books in the Robinson Curriculum and the Henty Collection look exactly like the originals when printed.

While the Robinson Curriculum is called a "Complete 12-Year Education," there is much missing, in my opinion. First, you must purchase the entire set of Saxon texts, answer keys, and tests from level 54 through Calculus. Second, no phonics instruction, other than some simple flashcards you can print out, is included with the program. The original series of McGuffey's readers is included on the CD-ROMs, which may or may not be all you want. One of the Robinson children made some handwriting pages to print out, however they do not provide any instruction as to how to form the letters, and I do not think they provide enough practice. Spelling and grammar are not formally taught, but rather learned through reading and writing. Parents read the daily essay, circle spelling and grammar mistakes, and then return the essay for correction. Science is not studied until after completing calculus, and then it is only physics and chemistry. You will not find any life science or earth science in the Robinson Curriculum. The 49 examinations cover only 32 of the 245 books, and quite a few of the exams are for books not included on the CD-ROMs, such as the Chronicles of Narnia and two of George MacDonald's books.

One of the potential downsides of this program is that many assumptions are made about the people who are using it. For example, it is assumed that since the children do not watch any television, they will read a lot for recreation. This is where they will pick up everything that is missing from the curriculum, such as how flowers make seeds and who Rembrandt is. Dr. Robinson recommends buying an old set of children's encyclopedias for additional reading during free time. Also, it is assumed that parents can spell and understand grammar well enough to correct a child's writing. Personally, I have forgotten so much about English grammar and find myself having to refer to guides even as I write my reviews! Dr. Robinson discourages any additional subjects, such as foreign languages or art, as he believes they take away from the important subjects. However, his own children run a farm, build ham radios, and take piano lessons, to name a few of their extracurricular activities. These activities are only done after school hours, but this leads me to ask how one differentiates between "unnecessary subjects" and extracurricular activities. I think it must be based on the child's interest. But the assumption is that children have a rich, interesting environment that feeds their minds beyond school hours. I would hope this was so, but I would not assume it if I were offering a "complete" curriculum.

I appreciate Dr. Robinson's goals for his children: to gain knowledge and skills, develop life-long study habits, and learn to think for themselves. His own children have fared exceptionally well, and I have no doubt that children who used this program would learn a great deal. I am concerned about the gaps, however. I would have been sorely disappointed if I thought I was going to have everything I needed for 12 years of school with this one-time purchase. The books are all older books, as Dr. Robinson believes older books have better content, vocabulary, and sentence structure. However, that means that there are no modern "classics." And, as far as I could tell, there is no history beyond the Civil War. Again, I think it is assumed that children will devour encyclopedias and gain all this information, but I would expect modern history and literature to be included in a "complete K-12 curriculum." If you understand that you are probably not going to have a complete curriculum for under $200, then this could be a useful resource.

The cost of printing the books must also be considered. In my own situation, I figured that it would cost me almost $20 to print a single Henty book. And I would still have to bind it somehow! I imagine missionaries overseas or other people living in remote areas would appreciate the access to so many books in such a compact package, assuming they have the means to print and bind the books. Judging from the forums I checked out, many Robinson users have found ways to bring down costs and bind the books efficiently. I encourage those who are interested to check out the Robinson website, where you can read more about his philosophy of self-education. Also, spend some time browsing around Internet forums where you can hear how real families are using the Robinson Curriculum and ask questions. There is one at the official Robinson curriculum website and another popular one at The Robinson Curriculum has filled a need for many homeschoolers, bringing together a self-teaching philosophy that many believe in, as well as enabling some families to homeschool who otherwise would be unable to for lack of a teacher.

-- Product Review by: Heather Jackowitz, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine