Posted 20 March 2012 - 11:50 AM
Wow! I'm stunned by the flashes of insight flickering through this thread and honored more than you can imagine that things we've done at CiRCE have spoken to so many of you. You must know that my reverence for the home school mother - her intelligence, curiosity, and devotion - continues to grow.
The question of providing a classical education is an amazingly difficult one, and that is why I am so reluctant to prescribe a curriculum or tell you what you should read. But let me try to say some immediately useful things:
One, the orientation of your instruction is more important than the content of your instruction.
Two, therefore the content of your instruction matters a lot too.
Three, the paths to wisdom that are the classical curriculum are well trodden and well-marked, though they have become overgrown.
Four, therefore, we can and must teach from a state of rest, not a state of anxiety.
OK, let me explain myself.
The trouble with conventional education is that it is oriented toward the wrong goals. It is about power in one form or another. Classical education subordinates power to the quest for virtue, especially wisdom.
That changes everything. So if there is one practical thing I would urge you to do right now, it is to examine your purpose in teaching your child at home. If it is to get into a great college, impress the neighbors, change the world, or secure a fantastic job, I'm afraid you need to reconsider. You are shooting too low.
It's not that these things don't matter (if they didn't "The gentiles" wouldn't seek them); it's that they aren't the purpose of a classical, especially not a Christian classical, education.
On the other hand, if you seek wisdom and virtue, the odds of securing these things in a fitting and just way are much better than if you seek them directly. But beware: they will always tempt you from the true path.
Two: the content of your instruction matters, not because you need to know it to pass tests, but because you need to know, understand, and be able to do certain things if you want to walk the path of wisdom.
However, there is no reading list that everybody should follow. So here is my second immediate application:
Ask yourself what duties your specific children in their specific contexts will be taking on. It is the assuming and fulfilling of our duties that makes us wise and virtuous, so we can't make this an abstract study for everybody, but a specific study for our own children.
Here are some things to consider:
What duties will they assume because they are human and what virtues, knowledge, and skills will they need to fulfill them? For example, being an effective human requires effective use of language, geared to blessing and not to cursing. How are you teaching your children to optimize their language skills to think, make decisions, and communicate?
Being an effective human also requires effective use of shapes and numbers. How are you cultivating those faculties?
Next, where do they live and what duties are implied in that location?
For example, do you live in the USA? They will need to vote wisely. Do they know how to choose a leader? Do they know their role as a citizen? If they go into politics, will they know their job description (we call it the constitution)? Will they know how to make decisions in community? What are you doing to enable them to assume their responsibilities and prove themselves men and women as citizens?
What is your spiritual tradition? When your children mature, will they be able to accept its flaws and uncynically assume their role within the tradition? Do they know the teachings and how to live them out? What are you doing to enable them to assume their responsibilities and prove themselves men and women in the life of their church?
Are you on a farm? In a suburb? In a city? What do they need to learn to prove themselves men and women in the local community?
Will they marry? What do they need to learn...
Will they likely be parents? What do they need to learn, and when should they start learning...
What family will they be a part of? Will they pass on the traditions and wisdom that your family has accumulated over the centuries?
In sum, is the content of your curriculum enabling your students to fulfill the roles that life will give them? It is in those roles that they will become men or women, and it is in the concrete realities of everyday life that God will bless them into who they are. Our role is to prepare them to be humans, Americans, community members, family members, and virtuous persons.
Could I give you a list of books to cover these things? It depends on your circumstances. Certainly I would urge classical languages taught rigorously, great books (if they're great, who cares which ones you read?), and artifacts that turn their gaze to truth.
But the most important thing is not to read great books, but to learn how to read great books. Or better, to learn how to perceive truth embodied in artifacts (books, paintings, music, etc.) and to learn how to embody truth in our own lives (through actions and artifacts).
So while what precedes might make you feel the earth shifting under your feet and thus anxious, I would urge you to embrace this approach because it enables you to teach from a state of rest, purposeful and not driven by anxiety.
And that leads to my third point:
we don't need to discover the classical curriculum. it's been followed off and on for almost three thousand years. People disagree about details, but it's not the details that matter so much as the end. Set your face to Jerusalem, as it were - set your path for virtue, and go back and see how it was done for all that time. It was simple. They set aside the myriad distractions that arise from the lost curriculum of the 20th century and focus on a few things:
Perception of truth
By strengthening some absolutely core human faculties, the cultivation of which IS learning:
1. attentive perception
2. recollection (ie. a trained memory)
3. contemplation (the ability to note, recall, and compare - slowly)
4. Apprehension (the Eureka faculty - that God-given ability that knows when we have found the truth or how things fit together)
5. re-presentation (the ability to embody a truth we have learned in actions, words, or artifacts).
So what can you do right now with this third point?
Grab a note book and give it one page each for the five faculties above. Take one minute each day for the next while and describe how you will cultivate each faculty in your child, one faculty per day.
For example, you might think about how to cultivate their faculty of attentive perception on Monday. Start, if necessary, by writing "I'm not sure what he means..." and then think about that. "Attentive - that has something to do with attention. He is saying we should teach our children how to pay attention. I dont' know how to do that. If I tell them to pay attention, that should be enough."
OK, fine. You have begun to think about it. Your teaching will improve as a result. You know why? Because you have begun to give your attentive perception to something you need to attend to.
Everything begins with the ability to pay attention. All learning is grounded in attentiveness. Don't let this go slack. Just ask: how can I help him develop this SKILL of attentiveness.
On Tuesday, write about recollection. FOR ONE MINUTE. No more, or you'll be overwhelmed.
We have to learn bit by bit, inch by inch, row by row, question by question, note by note. The path of wisdom is a path we need to walk. There's no helicopter ride to the top.
Above all, I entreat you to note the fourth point: we must teach from a state of rest, not anxiety. if we are anxious, we will pass our anxiety on to our children. Anxiety does not lead to sound decisions or careful thinking.
Shuck off the failed expectations and theories of the world you home school to escape. Obey the laws with joy, but don't let the establishment intimidate you. Even more, don't worry about the neighbors and their children or especially about this awful average quasi-child, non-existent child who you are supposed to use as your standard to assess your own child.
Take your time.
Don't even try to catch up.
Identify the core skills you want your children to learn and find the best way to teach them (yes, Memoria Press is excellent for this).
Identify the knowledge you want them to know and teach them. They won't remember what is in a text book anyway, so don't worry so much about which text book you use. There are hundreds and thousands of good and great books.
Identify the ideas you want them to think about (you could include this on the page about apprehension above) and think about them.
You'll make a thousand mistakes, but not as many as I have. But you'll learn so much you won't be able to stand the pleasure and you'll watch your children's souls flow to overflowing.
And chances are, they'll pass the SAT test too.
I hope I've given you something actionable/practical. I also hope you can see why I'm reluctant to prescribe more than is fitting. You get to decide what your child will learn. Keep seeking wisdom and enjoy the privilege.
And keep it simple!
WTMCassandra, Kathie in VA, Faithseed and 19 others like this