In the Sixth Grade, the harmony and balance often experienced in the previous year fades, and pre-adolescent struggles begin to appear. Physically, the child's limbs are suddenly growing. Emotionally, the child is at times feeling critical, uncomfortable and longs to be part of a group. The 12-year-old witnesses what may be described as the death of childhood and the birth pangs of the individual. At this age, the teacher aims to work with the children's growing orientation towards the outer world. As new capacities for thinking emerge, the children can be led to understand causal relationships at work in the world. The students can be challenged and are capable of high standards in their school work.
Ancient Rome is chosen as a response to the stirrings in the Sixth Grader that cause him/her to begin to move decidedly towards the beginning of the post childhood phase of development. The Romans did not stay in their city. They moved out of its confines and spread out into the world. They built incredible roads, bridges, aqueducts and other monumental buildings. They tried their strength against many other peoples.
The challenge sent to the gods by the Ancient Greeks takes a new turn. Man becomes a god and God becomes a man (a Roman emperor calls himself a god and God becomes man in the figure of Jesus). The transition that goes on in the experience of the Sixth Grade child can be compared to this shift in relationship between man and authority as reflected in Ancient Roman history. The Forum, where people tried out their skills in rhetoric, is very reminiscent of the Sixth Grader arguing for what he/she perceives to be justice. The study of Roman Law and Laws created in other cultures helps the student see how laws work and what the consequences are of having laws. How does punishment work? Is it always justified? Does it help?
Speaking about these themes and hearing the stories is a fruitful and meaningful way of giving the pre-pubescent child a sense of clarity and a training ground for her/his own arguments for more freedom and more authorship in her/his own story. By this time, the student will have watched the teachers extrapolate, deduce, make connections, characterize concepts and so, hopefully, the Sixth Grader will be able to think and abstract, will be able to think logically and to more independently describe concepts that are being introduced.
The language arts blocks continue to refine and expand on writing skills. Both orally and in written form, the children practice creating arguments for and against a theme, learn how to justify an argument and so on. The grammar blocks address themes such as the “passive form” of the verb, indirect speech and continue to practice awareness of grammatical phenomena. An Origins of English Block also adds a new dimension to the understanding of the English language and gives a new quality to the children’s writing.
Business math is introduced. The children learn how to do simple bookkeeping and learn how to calculate interest and percentages. Work is continued with all four processes.
Pre-algebra is introduced.
The children learn to construct geometrical forms exactly with rulers, compasses and protractors. They learn to work with angles, areas of geometrical forms and continue to expand their knowledge of geometry.
For the first time, the children are introduced to the idea of physics as an area of study. Now that they have thoroughly experienced and observed the world, learned how to be a scientist and philosopher in their study of Ancient Greece, Ancient China and so on, they can begin, with their teacher, to describe and put words to theories about reality.
Optics is an important theme in Sixth Grade. As the children move into puberty, it is important for them to have a beginning understanding of how we see, how things are perceived and how things really are. Again, this lawfulness, this exactness of explanation, gives a certain security as they move towards the “un-securing” of puberty and hormonal changes.
We study cultures around the world that run parallel to Ancient Rome and Ancient Rome itself as a cultural phenomenon. U.S. citizens of European descent can understand their cultural heritage by studying Roman Britain. English speakers also benefit from exploring Latin. This ancient language is studied to the extent that it helps the student understand the origins of English.
A study of Medieval Europe is also part of the history blocks.
Just as the Romans spread out beyond their own city limits, the children leave the U.S. and move to the Americas of the South. Students choose a country to study in depth and share their knowledge with the rest of the class, thus giving the class an opportunity to get to know the countries of Central and South America as thoroughly as possible. Canada is also part of this work, of course.
The idea of humans looking at the sky and seeing stars and planets rather than gods or goddesses that are governing our lives, is important as the students begin to get a sense of how they can rely on their observational skills and their ability to understand theories. The children will have heard many stories of how people in ancient times studied the stars and drew conclusions about their lives from the movement of the stars. They will know that there were movements, which were seen as good omen and others as evil omens.
As the children sense the huge changes occurring in their bodies and emotional lives, it is important for the student to see that although the stars and planets influence many aspects of our lives, through our own stability and balance and with clear thinking, we can navigate situations which seem to be pulling and pushing us in many directions. Again the regularities and predictable movements of stars and planets gives a sense of stability in a life that is becoming “un-anchored.”