- Reviewed on Sunday, November 4, 2012
- Grades Used: Nursery-8th
- Dates used: 2011-present
I am a teacher at a Christian school that uses exclusively A Beka Curriculum. I have a degree in education, and am certified to teach in Illinois. Last year (my first year at this school) I taught 5th Grade, and I am teaching Nursery and 8th Grade History this year. I have been largely unhappy with A Beka curriculum for several reasons.
A huge problem is that A Beka does not require or teach higher level thinking skills. All of the material simply requires memorization and recollection of facts and information. This may work out ok if all your only goal is for your child or students to be able to score well on a standardized test, but it will give them a huge disadvantage if they want to go to college or when they enter the working world. Critical thinking and reasoning skills are what enable you to take the things you learn and put them to practical use. If you use A Beka, you MUST supplement the provided curriculum with activies that get your students to think about, apply, and problem-solve with the material they have learned. The majority of my experience and training is in early childhood education, and I have seen this problem as far down as A Beka's Nursery curriculum (which is designed for 2 and 3 year olds). It is especially important to include problem-solving and higher-order thinking activities with such young children because fostering it at a very a young age will make it second-nature for them. As they grow, they will think about things more thoroughly withought being prompted to do so, and will therefore develop a more thorough and meaningful understanding of the things they learn.
On the same note as my last point, A Beka does not leave room for creative thought or expression -- at least not in the Early Childhood art program. I have not had the opportunity to see the art curriculum for older students as it is not included at my school. The Nursery art curriculum is severely lacking. The only thing that is covered in the art books is learning the colors and shapes. You teach a color, and then they color in a page that has several objects outlined in that color. Now, this does help them develop hand-eye coordination, but it does not allow for any level of creative thought or choice (the most significant part of art!). Students would be better served by activies that let them think and make choices. To make that even more meaningful, the teacher needs to get involved and talk to the students about their work, asking them questions about how and why they chose the materials and colors they did, and other things like that. Further, I am a strong believer that language is acquired naturally, not learned through direct teaching. Therefore, students acquire the names of the colors through being exposed to them in everyday speech. For example, if a student is playing, talk with them about what they are doing. You can ask questions like, "What does this orange gear do?" or you can expand upon the language that the child is already using by using descriptive words like, "The small red gear is closer to you than the big yellow gear." Children pick up language through exposure to it in context. Spending time directly teaching things like colors, then, is just taking away from time that could be spent developing more valuable skills and concepts.
A second problem that I see specifically in the preschool curricula (Nursery-K5) is the inclusion of developmentally inappropriate activities. Now, this may not be as big of an issue with homeschoolers as it is when this is used in a classroom as more individual attention can be given, but most children simply do not have the fine motor development required to write in cursive by age 4 -- a large portion of the K4 curriculum. Before this can happen, children need to develop those small muscle groups by doing things like playing with playdough or stringing beads onto yarn. That way, when they do actually start writing (probably about a year later) it will not be as big of a struggle for them. Another developmentally inappropriate activity that I see in Nursery and K4 is the inclusion of workbook pages. Play is the medium by which children learn. Talk to your child or students as they play to help them develop the vocabulary to describe what they are learning. This puts the learning in context, making it more meaningful and productive than independantly coloring workbook pages.
Another problem with A Beka curriculum is that the provided lesson plans involve extremely outdated teaching methods. For most of the day, the students are required to sit silently at their desks and listen while the teacher is talking, or they are working independently on workbook pages. Yes, these things have their time and place in a learning environment, but educational theorists have known since the late 1700's that a more successful approach to learning is an active one where students are working hands-on with materials, discussing observations and questions with the teacher and with other classmates, and then making these new ideas and information more meaningful by applying them to real life contexts. A Beka's inclusion of these sorts of activities is painfully limited. There are many different kinds of learning styles and intelligences, and different students understand things by learning them through a variety of media. A Beka only caters to students who learn well from reading or listening. It misses most others who don't understand things well through those ways.
My final issue with A Beka is the theology that it teaches and the manner in which it is included in the material. I understand that many will agree with what is taught, but I do not. This is an issue of your church background and conclusions that you have reached through personal study of the Bible. A Beka does not simply include the broad ideas that all or at least most Christians agree with. Rather, it is very Baptist in its interpretation of Scripture. More than that, A Beka is strongly slanted against the Roman Catholic Church, which is made especially obvious in the History curriculum. It is also makes disrespectful and inaccurate remarks about other religions. I strongly encourage you to evaluate the religious messages conveyed through the curriculum before you purchase it. You may be ok with it, or you may take serious issue with it, as I do. Apart from my issue with the theology, I frequently feel that the religious things included in the material are not done so in a very fluid manner. They are usually just sort of awkward and cheesy. Frequently, it even pulls attention away from important events and people to focus on a Bible verse that was pulled out of context and actually has nothing to do with the material, or on a Christian figure in history whose actual contribution, while significant to Church history, had little bearing on world history as a whole. In the Science curriculum, there is very little inclusion of the Bible ouside of a random verse here and there or the inclusion of phrases that tell the students that things are the way they are because God made them that way. The only Biblical material in Math is the occasional Bible verse on the page.
In conclusion, A Beka is not the best choice for use in the classroom or at home. The content has a lot of holes and misses significant information. The students learn a lot of facts, but don't learn how to think and actually apply what they learn. For your child to get a truly valuable and well-rounded education, you would have to do hours of additional reseach on the material and supplement it with additional activities on a daily basis. The theology is also objectionable and included in a poor manner. I attended a Christian school from preschool through college, and we did not use any religious curriculum series outside of the actual Religion class. This did not mean that religion was not taught throughout the day. My teachers' interactions with me, my classmates, my parents, and other teachers are what taught me about the person of Christ, what He did for us, and how we go about our lives knowing what we do. They explained to us when something in the textbook was not Biblical and what the Christian understanding of it is, but they recognized that it is still important to know what different theories are. After all, it is hard to minister to a world when you have no idea what it is that they belive. You, as the main Christian adult in your child's life, are the best resource for your child's Christ-centered understanding of God's world. No textbook can do what you can't do on your own.