Homeschool Indecisions: or Tapestry of Angst

For several years we sort-of-happily used Tapestry of Grace as our main humanities curriculum. Until the sort-of became not-very and slid into not-at-all. What is Tapestry (TOG) and why did we use it/discontinue using it? So glad you asked.

TOG is, in a nutshell, all the humanities at once (hist, soc studies, geog, writing, reading, lit, art, music) - or it CAN be, if you put the time in. And for a time, we loved it. Because ... it's great for schooling a bunch of kids at once. Much/most teaching is done all together, but on different levels. The oldest might be reading different books than the youngest, but they'll both be learning about the same time period. Plus the depth of content quite simply cannot be matched. It's truly astounding. Which leads to the problems that drove us all batty (and the reasons we're not using it now).

There is just too much. Not options or activities. Too much prep for me - I was spending easily 5-hrs/week just on prep. Like finding books, printing maps and sheets, finding youtube videos (not part of TOG but my kids love them and I love the break!), determining which resources to use. Because I discovered that once we moved beyond the fabulous picture books in the grammar levels, the uppper level books were hit or miss. Some were awesome. Some mind-numbingly boring. TOG uses a lot of very very old books that are virtually impossible to find at the library and are not really ones you'd want in your permanent home library because "Old" does not equate with "Better." Many were free or nearly free for the Kindle, but I don't enjoy using a device for reading and found it impossible to keep track of which child was at what point in the book. You can't stick sticky notes in a Kindle. 

Anyhow, back to hit-or-miss, the Dialectic books made me want to cry at the thought of having to read them (snoreville!), and made St. Nick do more than want to cry. So I ended up sticking with the grammar level books, even for middle school, because it just wasn't worth the battle. I also spent a lot of time finding more contemporary books that might be more engaging or AVAILABLE than the older ones. The curriculum would call for Pride and Prejudice, for example, so after laughing at the thought of my young teen reading Pride and Prejudice, I would find a graphic novel version. (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is NOT an adaptation. Just FYI.)

Likewise the weeks themselves were hit-or-miss. Egypt was fabulous, fascinating, fun. Abraham/some of the stuff between Egypt and Rome was tedious. The war of 1812 and Napoleon were interesting and there were ample movies and books to supplement our studies. Simon Bolivar, on the other hand, made me want to stage a rebellion. And YouTube videos on him, what few I found, were largely in Spanish.

The final and most important irritation that drove me away from TOG is that I found the digital edition and layout/organization to both royally suck. First, why the digital edition? If I want a physical copy, then why not buy the print version? I learned from experience: It's huge. Four gigantic, unwieldy binders. Four phone-books, most of which I'd never get a chance to look at. It seemed like a tragic waste of resources and an unnecessary expense. Plus the digital edition would be continually updated as the already-hard-to-find books went out of print and were replaced.

So, on to the the DE (digital edition). TOG uses a program called Lock Lizard for the digital edition. It's quirky, works only half the time, and doesn't work at all on an ipad (they released some sort of fix for that, for a fee, but I never got it to work. I did not, however, ever get the $$ back). I had hoped to have a PDF, something I could take onto my iPad and import into one of my note-taking programs where I could mark the margins, check things off, record books I wanted to add or subtract, etc. Nope. TOG staff takes copyright very, very, insanely over-the-top-our-documents-are-worthy-of-CIA-level-clearance seriously. In short, they're paranoid. Yes, if your digital product is not on severe lock-down, people WILL pirate it. Yes, homeschoolers are sometimes prone to bending the "rules" to save a buck, to share with friends, to pass down resources from generation to generation, to burn "Archival backups" of DVD's borrowed from the library. Wait, that last was my brother and lawd knows he'd never homeschool. Anyway, the creators are rightfully trying to protect their content. But the means by which they protected it made it virtually unusable. Pages didn't print correctly, whole week-plans would mysteriously disappear, I had no way of taking notes, or pulling out the pages I wanted to use, or anything else that would make it not a severe headache that left me comatose on the floor after planning-day. 

And now, not related exclusively to the digital edition: for a curriculum that prides itself on being ultra-complete and richly deep (which it is), the organization was truly and appallingly awful. Like a PC when you're used to a Mac - no grace, no elegance, nothing was intuitive, every week's planning forced me to re-learn their moronic organizational method anew. The way the week plans were laid out required me to flip to ten or twelve different pages to get the info that I needed. All without the help of sticky notes or bookmarks or the ability to copy-and-paste the parts I needed to a word document (I tried. Lock Lizard was not happy). Each week-plan was at least 20-30 pages long with background info, discussion questions, activity sheets, answers to activities and whatnot. But half the items were burried in the page-after-page of single-spaced small print "teacher notes." I killed a small forest printing a few week plans because the answers to the Upper Grammar Literature sheet might be on Teacher's Note page 10, while the answers to the Geography sheet wouldn't show up until page 22. The Upper Grammar craft instructions might be on page 543, for all I knew, if I hadn't given up on finding them by then. Why, oh why is it necessary to have a reading list (two pages), alternate reading list (another page), activity list (another couple pages), group activity list (another page) etc. all on separate pages. Some items would repeat from one list to another, others wouldn't, and I could NEVER remember which items were on which list. Some might fault my memory in this case. I spent a year faulting my memory. And then I gave up.

It's like the baby monitor we owned for a week, the one designed by some childless man with a pocket-protector in a cubicle. The designer who never considered how annoying it would be to navigate through eight menus to switch cameras or adjust the damn volume at 1am. In the end, it didn't matter how clear the picture was or how perfect the reception. The monitor went back to the store. And likewise, TOG is no longer a part of our homeschool life. It still saddens me, but not enough to mess with eight levels of menus at 1am.