I'd definitely love to hear more about "traditional humanistic literary education." I'm in the middle of Climbing Parnassus right now. I am sure that the author is correct about the importance of Greek and Latin but I have serious doubts about my ability to teach the ancient languages to my daughter. Andrew Kerns says to have your child taught by someone who knows Latin but how realistic is that?
You don't have to start teaching Latin for a while! I started trying to teach myself Latin with some adult level materials like Wheelock's and then decided to just buy ahead a Middle School video curriculum...it is working great, just the level of instruction I need at this point in between laundry and teaching etc. I started it slowly for my advanced in grammar and Language Arts daughter in 4th grade, I will probably not start my son in Latin until 6th.
So, Latin Alive on DVD, teach yourself Latin with it then use it, for $140 you get self teaching and a curriculum!
Yes, I think it's feasible for many families to become fairly competent in Latin, at least.
The challenge, from what I've been discovering, is that teaching in the traditional way requires a lot of things:
- excellent Christian character, and a love for the students;
- an understanding of the pedagogy, which was something that was learned by experience (as a student of this type of teacher), more than taught explicitly from books;
- familiarity with the nuances of the language and literature;
- familiarity with the precepts you're teaching (e.g., grammar and rhetoric).
My feeling is that I could use a lot of improvement in all these areas. I do have some foundation in the first and second ones (because to some extent, good traditional teaching is really just "good teaching," and I think we've all experienced at least a bit of that ). And the last one can be picked up from books, like the ones I've linked above.
But I'm more doubtful about my ability to get the hang of #3, on top of all the rest (and running the household, etc.). If I were just trying to teach about the language and literature, then maybe. But to use that language and literature as the context for the teaching of the precepts -- that seems like a bigger fish entirely. And I'm not sure that there are a whole lot of tutors around here who could do it, either.
In other words, I might be able to pull off a "Latin-centered" version of a modern secular or Great Books education (which, IMO, is pretty much what LCC is; it's more antiquarian than part of any real tradition). Or I could aim for an English-centered humanistic Christian education, with some branching out to other ancient and modern languages when possible. That's an approach that has a solid tradition of its own (especially for women), and it seems like a more realistic choice for our family.
As for "perfection," from a Catholic perspective, probably the perfect education is the one that makes your child the greatest saint. Even with academics, it's relative. For instance, the most highly regarded of the early Jesuit schools were known for their triple curriculum of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. But we don't tend to go around bewailing the fact that the typical classical colleges only taught two of those languages.
It's possible to make an idol out of this, and I've certainly done that at times. This is the point where I tend to find it helpful to re-read Ecclesiastes.
I could go back to work to pay the tuition at a top notch private classical school but then my daughter would be in school all day long and our family life would be non-existent again.
So I think I've got to find a way to give her the benefits of that lofty classical education without mastering Greek and Latin and I think what you are getting at here is possibly the solution to the problem. I think this is one of those perfection is the enemy of the good situations. Most of us can't provide the "perfect" classical education ("perfect" according to Circe or LCC or Tracy Lee Simmons) so we have to find the "good" instead of throwing in the towel.
Private Christian classical schools -- at least, the ones I've seen -- are based more on the old-time American schoolhouse. It's a solid education in the 3Rs, but it doesn't have the literary and aesthetic aspect that you'd find in traditional Catholic schools, or in classical schools in France and the UK. I think this might be because so much of the movement in the US (both in colonial times, and in the recent revival) grew out of a Calvinist background, and they tended to be suspicious of anything but "plain style."
Cambridge University Press just republished this 1958 history of British classical education, which is very informative. (I wish it were in the public domain!) These were the roots of the system that produced Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, Belloc, etc. While the religious aspect and discipline were different in the Catholic schools, the academic emphasis seems to have been quite similar. I was surprised to learn that, in the mid-19th century, the study of the classics at Oxford was pretty much a straight continuation of what had been done at the secondary level -- with the study of grammar, translation, the writing of Latin verse, etc. -- sometimes at a lower level than the students had been doing in the top public schools. The curriculum did change a lot in the next several decades, but I think much of the underlying culture stayed the same.
It was during their experience as Rhodes Scholars, in 1919, that Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr realized that something was missing in American education. But they knew they couldn't reproduce the Oxford tutorial system, and this led them to experiment with the Great Books seminar approach. So that sort of brings us full circle.
The GB program that Barr and Buchanan founded -- at St. John's in Annapolis -- does give some attention to the traditional emphasis on eloquence, in their language tutorials.
"The Senior language tutorial, like the language tutorials of the preceding years, is the visible presence in the Program of the liberal arts of the trivium: logic, grammar, and rhetoric."
This long series of interviews with Scott Buchanan is really interesting, both for the look at the history of the Great Books, and for the look into Buchanan's own thinking. For one thing, it's clear that he had respect for the Catholic worldview, but he resisted actually becoming Catholic.
"I told [Sister Madeleva] that with all my backslidings and everything else, I thought I knew where the center was and on which circle I existed, and I wasn't too concerned, like some of the lower orders in heaven, about being closer. I accepted my position- It was distant from the center but I knew where it was, and to push this with me, in the sense of joining the Roman Catholic Church -- which in some sense I ought to do -- would be hypocrisy, a self-deception of a bad kind."
So did Adler, for a very very long time. He was baptized as an Episcopalian in 1984, but didn't accept some Catholic moral teachings. He became a Catholic at age 95, practically on his deathbed. Some people like to trumpet this ("Famous Philosopher Becomes Catholic!"). But it's deeply problematic, to me, to base our children's education on the ideas that he developed when he was full of intellectual knowledge, but hadn't experienced a conversion of the heart.