Watching the recent examples of the abominable behavior of Wisconsin and New Jersey teachers makes me realize someone needs to take to the highest mountain, put a megaphone to their mouth and shout: “Attention, parents of America! Put down the public school registration form. Step away from the teachers’ unions. They are destroying your children’s futures and stunting the growth of their minds.”
With their emphasis on teaching navel exploration and peer relations over language and math skills, teaching politically corrupted history and multiculturalism over logic and rhetoric, government-run schools indoctrinate your kids with touchy-feely nonsense that eschews independent thinking skills and leaves them ill-prepared for life.
What can you do to save your children? Home school them—or supplement your child’s education with after-school home schooling.
Many parents grow extremely nervous and intimidated when thinking about not just the time commitment it takes to home school children, but they also worry whether they have the knowledge and ability to teach their kids on their own.
If you are interested in finding out what a well-founded home-school curriculum includes or are actually considering the possibility of taking control of your kids’ educations, there’s one book that will show you how and why you must: The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, a mother-daughter team who write from their own experiences as the home-schooler and the home-schooled.
In it, Jesse writes:
My own children were faced with teachers who brought them down to the level of the class; teachers who thought it was more important to teach social skills than academic subjects; textbooks that had abandoned grammatical rules and mathematical logic in favor of scattershot, incidental learning. They were surrounded by peers who considered anyone good at learning to be a geek. They spent seven hours every day sitting in desks, standing in lines, riding buses, and doing repetitive seatwork so that their classmates could learn what they already knew.
To rectify the problem, the Wise women present a complete “classical education” program that can take your child from birth through 12th grade to emerge with a “well-trained mind.”
General guidelines are offered to prepare a child for education between birth and kindergarten, but a complete syllabus is offered for first through twelfth grade. The Well-Trained Mind program is based on “the classical pattern of the trivium,” in which the 12 years of education are broken into three groups of four years.
The first years of schooling are called the “grammar stage”—not because you spend four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid, just as grammar is the foundation for the language. In the elementary-school years—grades 1 through 4—the mind is ready to absorb information. Since children at this age actually find memorization fun, during this period education involves not self-expression or self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts: rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics—the list goes on. This information makes up the grammar for the second stage of education.
By fifth grade, a child’s mind begins to think more analytically. Middle-school students are less interested in finding out facts than in asking “Why?” The second phase of the classical education, the “logic stage,” is a time when the child begins to pay attention to cause and effect, to the relationships among different fields of knowledge, to the way facts fit together into a logical framework….
….The final phase of a classical education, the “rhetoric stage,” builds on the first two. At this point, the high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and expresses her conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant language. The student also begins to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts her; these are the years for art camps, college courses, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and other forms of specialized training.
That’s the three stages, but…
A classical education is more than just a pattern of learning, though. First, it is language-focused: learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television).
Why is this important? Language learning and image learning require very different habits of thought. Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can “sit back” and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to roll its sleeves up and get to work.
Second, a classical education follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of those faces and images, and finally equipped to express conclusions.
Third, to the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. Astronomy, for example, isn’t studied in isolation; it’s learned along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church’s relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history. The reading of the Odyssey allows the student to consider Greek history, the nature of heroism, the development of the epic, and humankind’s understanding of the divine.
In the classical education program, every four years of a 12-year education follows the same pattern and repeats in the next: Ancients (5000 BC – AD 400), Medieval to Early Renaissance (400-1600), Late Renaissance to Early Modern (1600-1850) and Modern (1850-present). The cycle begins simply for the first round and advances into full complexity in the final repetition.
The other subject areas of the curriculum are linked to history studies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodotus, Virgil, Aristotle. She’ll read Beowulf, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare the following year, when she’s studying medieval and early Renaissance history. When the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are studied, she starts with Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and ends with Dickens; finally, she reads modern literature as she is studying modern history.
The sciences are studied in a four-year pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery….
….This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature—subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the student matures and learns. For example, a first grader listens to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture-book versions available at any public library. (Susan’s experience has been that first graders think the Iliad is a blast, especially when Achilles starts hauling Hector’s body around the walls of Troy.) Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations—Olivia Coolidge’s The Trojan War or Roger L. Green’s The Tale of Troy. Four more years go by, and the ninth grader—faced with Homer’s Iliad itself—plunges right in, undaunted. She already knows the story. What’s to be scared of?
And so the program goes. How I wish I could have been taught in such a manner…and not still reading books for the first time that I would have read by the end of high school.
Therefore, for showing parents how they can break free of teacher unions whose primary concern is how to meet the needs of teachers for more perks and free time instead of how to educate children, the Prudence Prize for Best Book of the Week goes to Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise’s The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home.
Click the title of the book above and order a copy for every parent of school-age children you know. Let’s take back our country, one well-trained child’s mind at a time.
I’ve had a couple of questions about the contents of The Well-Trained Mind. It is a fast and convincing read, laying out the hows and whys of a classical education program with such simplicity that it makes me want to set up a little classroom for my nephew and niece this very instant.
The program the book suggests is flexible. It’s not a collection of rigid daily lesson plans. Instead, for each of the 12 school years, it
- tells what topics should be covered,
- provides large lists of recommended books in each subject (available both for sale and in libraries) along with workbooks and other study materials, and makes clear that parents may use other books they find if they prefer,
- suggests types of notebook organization each student can use,
- gives estimates of time that should be devoted daily or weekly to each subject,
- offers hard-earned advice on teaching those subjects/topics from the authors’ own experience, and so on.
It also makes suggestions for how and when to supplement the basic four subject areas (language, history, science and math) with complementary learning in art, music, Latin (beginning by first grade!) and other foreign languages, computer skills and so forth.
There’s also an entire segment in the book devoted to the basic home-school concerns: “classroom” setup; schedules and socialization; organization, record-keeping and standardized testing; athletics and extracurricular activities; and, of course, college preparation.
The appendices have long lists of home school organizations that can provide additional assistance and guidance, national science competitions and other resources.
All in all, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home is a home-schooling manual that can reassure and guide you and your child through 18 years of excellence in education, whether you start the program on day one or come into it well into a child’s academic career.
The “Look Inside” preview on Amazon is indeed fairly limited, but the Table of Contents offers a glimpse of at least the structure of the book. Beyond that, I can confidently say it’s well worth the slightly over $25 to learn ways you can improve your child’s education, regardless of whether you actually end up home schooling him or her.
Plus, it has the Prudence Prize seal of approval. There’s no higher recommendation.