Designing a Catholic High School History Curriculum – Cycle Length

With thirteen years, maximum, of elementary and secondary education, several possibilities present themselves for determining the pace at which to move through the study of the past. The conventional kindergarten year, from age 5 to 6, is best removed from the sequence, (and indeed from all efforts of formal learning),* leaving only twelves years of elementary and secondary education, which may be evenly divided into two cycles of six years, three cycles of four years, or four cycles of three years. Cycles need not be equal in length, but moving through the past at a steady and even pace will cultivate a keener sense of chronology and periodization.

Ambleside Online follows two six year cycles, which really can only work optimally – that is to say, from my vantage point, covering all the periods equally – if you begin homeschooling from either the first or the seventh year. Even if you begin at the optimal years, with such long cycles, the capacity for historical understanding will develop at a faster pace than the chronological progression, so that engagement with the earliest periods in years 1 and 7 will not be equal to engagement with the latest periods in years 6 and 12, hence unequal with regard to understanding. And while the second encounter with the earliest periods in year 7 will be similar to the first encounter with the latest periods in year 6, the earliest periods will never be approached with the same maturity as the latest periods in year 12, and I believe that to be a profound loss of learning.

I have taught one year of history in a program that follows a three-year cycle, and while the six-year cycle is too long, the three-year cycle is too short. To cover all the periods of the past in only three years demands a pace that is rushed and encounters that are shallow. And three years, I believe, is too soon to return to previously studied material; a process of at least partial forgetting is good for a renewal interest.

Cycling through the past over four years, even at the greater depth that high school should encourage, is reasonable, and the three resulting cycles generally correspond to three developmental stages (as conceived within a variety of pedagogical systems) – 1st through 4th grade (ages 6 to 10), 5th to 8th grade (ages 10 to 14), and 9th to 12th grade (ages 14 to 18).

Although I will begin by focusing on the third cycle for high school students, the lower-years cycle from 1st to 4th grade would well move slowly through American history using stories of great men and women (16th & 17th century in the 1st grade; 18th century in the 2nd grade; 19th century in the 3rd grade; and 20th century in the 4th grade) . The middle-years cycle could expand to two streams – one devoted to American joined with contemporary British history using spines such as Henrietta Marshall’s This Country of Ours and Our Island Story, and progressing through centuries at the same pace as in the lower-years cycle; and the second adding ancient Greek and Roman history using stories of great men and women alongside mythology. The upper-years cycle would expand the modern stream to a more global approach, extend the ancient stream to the beginning of recorded time and also from a more global perspective, and add in a third, medieval stream. I will write more on the upper-years’ streams in my next post.

* Kindergarteners may be read legends or folk tales from their country as well as from countries from which they may claim heritage, whether through their Faith, their, nation, or their ancestry.

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