The Well-Trained Mind

I finally got around to reading this Bible of Classical homeschooling by Jessie Wise and her daughter Susan Wise Bauer.  If you are looking for a step-by-step, hour-by-hour, day-by-day,  year-by-year blueprint for highly structured homeschooling, this is the book for you.  I must admit, though,  that this method has never appealed to me.  From the first time I read about it, I thought it sounded kind of pretentious.  I could just imagine that this is the method that Rick Moranis’ character in Parenthood would be using to make his daughter a super genius.

I did not walk away from the book empty-handed, though.  Being a truly eclectic homeschooler (my method of choice), I made two or three pages of notes on the Grammar years (grades 1-4) that I am considering how I want to apply.  For instance, I am considering implementing the suggested list of historical biographies for each year.  However, I do not plan to have my daughter make all of the extensive note binders that they recommend.  I also found some interesting suggestions of resources to use for memorizing math facts and history/geography reference, too.  I do not plan to start teaching Latin in the third grade; my kids will just have to settle for working with Latin/Greek Root flashcards every once in a while.  I may start foreign language earlier than I originally intended, in fifth grade instead of ninth.  I am considering purchasing my own copy of the book just for the resource lists.  Besides instructional resources, it has great reading lists for every grade level and subject.  (And I have a slight addiction to reading lists.)

My issues with the Classical Method are three-fold.  First, there is an underlying assumption that you can and should try to teach your child everything in the world whether it will be of use to him or not (thus making Super Genius).  Secondly, in order to teach your child everything you better plan on two hours of intensive study starting in the first grade and moving up to almost six hours of study by fifth grade.  I think the studies show that kids in regular schools only receive like 40 minutes of actual instruction in a six-hour school day by the time you cut out all of the standing in line and administrative stuff.  Obviously schools are the minimum standard, but to me the classical method seems to take things to the other extreme.  Third, the authors are very clear that they do not believe in the validity of child-led learning, except in limited doses within the framework provided.  This just seems like a recipe for turning some kids off of the joys of learning.

Now realistically, most homeschooling parents are not going to  be doing every little thing they suggest how they suggest it.  Every family has to adjust any homeschooling method to their particular circumstances, and I am not sure that this method really lends itself to large families without lots of tweaking.  Most new homeschoolers, though, tend to get a little over-zealous in their initial excitement (as I know from experience), and  I can totally see the first-time parent who just discovered classical homeschooling going whole hog, risking burn-out for child and parent.

This method is probably a really good fit for some parents and children whose temperament lends itself to lots of structure.  I probably would have thrived if I had been homeschooled using the classical method.  I am a visual learner that loves organization and writing and outlines and all of that stuff.  I would have enjoyed memorization and Latin and ten tons of notebooks to fill in.  I probably would not have thought anything of the five to six hours of intensive study  at home every day as opposed to six hours of boredom at school (Ok, I probably would have loved any method of homeschooling as opposed to six hours of boredom at school).  I don’t think this method is very forgiving of those who do not fit the mold, though.  In some ways, it is a very “one-size-fits-all” educational form.  That’s another reason that I am unsure about it.

But I do recommend this book to homeschooling parents looking for fresh ideas.  It saves all of the “whys” of homeschooling for the back of the book, which is very refreshing.  And I have found that I can usually get something out of almost any homeschooling book even if I totally disagree with it.  Just the act of building up a case against it helps me solidify the reasons behind my own chosen methodology.  And sorry, if I’ve offended any Classical homeschoolers out there.  Let’s just say that Classical homeschooling is not a good fit for our homeschooling goals or my kids’ educational needs at this time.

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