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secular/non Christian (or non Western) educators and classical education?


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It seems to me that classical education has a decidedly Christian/Western bent, and I wonder what approach secular or non-Christian educators take to adapt classical education (the question also applies to a certain degree to those from non-Western cultures).

 

For example a main focus of Latin and Greek study is scripture-focused, and the history and literature focus is strongly Judeo-Christian in focus.

 

What do you adapt so that your curriculum more closely reflects your family's background and needs?

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I am not an expert on classical education, but it seems to me that the Story of the World series do include stories about other cultures, e.g. stories from Africa, India, China. Compared to the topics covered in elementary school (neighborhoods, cities, state, and finally country), Story of the World has a much more global approach. I have also noticed that it seems many learn latin or ancient greek to study religious texts, but I don't think that has to be the purpose of studying those languages.

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The methods of classical education can be applied to any content.

 

The four-year history and science rotation, the copywork, dictation, narration, outlining, report writing and debate, the logical construction of arguments, the memory work, etc. can be used to master any body of knowledge.

 

Choose your own source material (though many of the WTM suggestions esp. history and literature have worked for us, science--not so much) from sources that speak to you. For example, find out what the National Science Foundation recommends for science materials. Then study those sources in a classical manner.

 

It is the method that enables a child to develop a deep knowledge base, an ability to reason, and an ability to express their knowledge in writing and speech. This is why classically educated people are able to take part in the "Great Conversation," while the methods used in most public school produce people with an aversion to learning.

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First of all I'll say that I am not a purist about anything - including classical education. I don't think a single person can ever get *everything* right, even if children were all pretty much the same.

 

That said, I am often able to find secular curricula. Once in a while I end up buying something that is mostly secular and easy to tweak. I personally would not buy something that included a lot of religion. I would pull something together myself instead if I needed to.

 

I'm sure if I were willing to buy super religious materials there would be some real gems, regardless of homeschool style. For instance, if I were okay with religious materials and a purist classical homeschooler I would definitely look into Classical Conversations. If I were a purist classical homeschooler and not okay with buying religious materials, I would find it frustrating that there is not a secular counterpart (unless I'm mistaken?). At this point you just have to weigh your priorities. What is more important to you?

 

buying from secular homeschool companies (to support them)

not having to spend a lot of time tweaking

not having to make something up from scratch

doing *everything* classical

following some particular part of classical education

 

So, what I'm saying is, if some particular practice is very important to you, and not buying religious materials is important to you, then you may have to create something.

 

If not creating anything is important to you, and not tweaking is important to you, then you may have to not do some particular part of a classical education.

 

etc.

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It seems to me that classical education has a decidedly Christian/Western bent, and I wonder what approach secular or non-Christian educators take to adapt classical education (the question also applies to a certain degree to those from non-Western cultures).

 

For example a main focus of Latin and Greek study is scripture-focused, and the history and literature focus is strongly Judeo-Christian in focus.

 

What do you adapt so that your curriculum more closely reflects your family's background and needs?

 

But it doesn't have to be. We have used Galore Park materials, which are focused towards history and mythology for Latin, and Classical (rather than Koine) Greek.

 

We used SOTW, which covers other cultures and beliefs in addition to Western and Christian. We did add in a year of Chinese history, and have supplemented with extra American and British texts.

 

Laura

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I had some trouble with the Western elements of traditional classical education too.

 

I'd love to be the type of person who is great at making up my own curriculum and putting it all together, but unfortunately I'm not.

 

So, I'm just taking my thoughts and ideas for incorporating our classical education with an Eastern bent and slowly integrating it with are studies.

 

We're Indian American so I've decided to teach my boys the history of India first, then Western Civ. later and when they are older we will study Sanskrit and Latin. The history of India that nearly all World History texts touch on is so small, almost like a tiny blip on the radar. There is so much more history to know of there.

 

But since there are not a lot of resources out there for teaching this kind of history to really young ones, we are going to wait a couple of years on this.

 

While they are small I'm focusing more on geography and US history (we're in Virginia, so there is a lot of US history around us that they are very curious about).

 

As Kalmia mentioned, what's more important is the method.

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The methods of classical education can be applied to any content.

 

The four-year history and science rotation, the copywork, dictation, narration, outlining, report writing and debate, the logical construction of arguments, the memory work, etc. can be used to master any body of knowledge.

 

Choose your own source material (though many of the WTM suggestions esp. history and literature have worked for us, science--not so much) from sources that speak to you. For example, find out what the National Science Foundation recommends for science materials. Then study those sources in a classical manner.

 

It is the method that enables a child to develop a deep knowledge base, an ability to reason, and an ability to express their knowledge in writing and speech. This is why classically educated people are able to take part in the "Great Conversation," while the methods used in most public school produce people with an aversion to learning.

 

This. The structure of the skills is more important than the vehicle (although there are certain contents that need to be taught, I would guess, like what "classical" means). I would be willing to bet I could design a classical curriculum focused on The Simpsons; it is more the questions and analysis, not the religion.

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Well, I am UU but was raised Jewish. I study classical languages with my kids to study classical history-ancient Greek and Latin, not Koine or ecclesiastical. We also heavily study "nonwestern" history and cultures. So it really varies. I think western culture is important because we are part of it and it's a global world, but certainly should not be studied to the exclusion of other cultures.

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I am not an expert on classical education, but it seems to me that the Story of the World series do include stories about other cultures, e.g. stories from Africa, India, China. Compared to the topics covered in elementary school (neighborhoods, cities, state, and finally country), Story of the World has a much more global approach.

 

Well, I would disagree that SOTW is somehow a very balanced look at world history. It makes a much greater effort than other options, but it's decidedly Western. Also, while SWB has clearly tried to make it palatable to a secular audience and it mostly gets there, it still has a slight Christian bent as well. If you wanted to be equally well-versed in European, Asian, African and American history, then this would not be the right resource to start with.

 

That said, I am often able to find secular curricula.

 

I personally feel like this is not our greatest challenge by far. There are many good secular options now. When I look ahead to high school, I do feel like I hear more complaints from secular homeschoolers about this issue, but not so much at the K-8 level, where there are many good options.

 

The methods of classical education can be applied to any content.

 

 

I would basically agree with this. I would add as well that "classical" education can mean different things. A couple of the basic concepts within many of the ideas of classical education don't have to do so much with content, but with methods of thinking and analysis or with stages of development, both of which I think could be applied to a student learning a very different set of content from what most of the strict WTM'ers are doing.

Edited by farrarwilliams
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Classical may refer to a method, to a content, or to a mix of both WTM-style. WTM is actually closer to defining it as a method rather than as a distinct content (theoretically speaking, you can go "classical" a la' WTM without classical languages, or formal rhetoric, or other things from content-based definition).

 

I define it as a content and I grew up in a system which defined it as a content - and yes, it is distinctly, unbashedly and uncompromisingly Western. An education invented by Westerns for Westerns, focusing on the very roots of their culture and its genesis over the period. Those roots are twofold: those stemming from classical antiquity in one hand, and Judeo-Christian ("Biblical") legacy in the other hand. It has always been that way, traditionally, and even if you can tweak it today a bit to include non some non-Western influences on our (modern) culture, its lenses remain distinctly Western - and in my eyes, that's exactly how it should be.

Of course, that doesn't mean that you cannot incorporate other elements that are important to you, by you can do so only by saving that fundamentally Western basis for it to remain a classical education, as a matrix I mean.

 

Latin and Greek studies are usually, and traditionally, antiquity-based rather than Scripture-based, though some content will of course be religious in nature even if you aren't religious, because those still are the roots of your culture, even if you're a minority voice in it. As opposed to Hebrew/Aramaic, Latin/Greek have a strong secular tradition of learning as well as a bunch of texts that aren't religious in nature and are equally as fundamental as the religious ones.

 

You cannot escape from Judeo-Christian tradition, most of Western art is in some way and form in relation to it. Relating to it doesn't necessarily mean religious in nature, but of course that the writings, paintings, music and philosophy of each tradition will reflect upon, converse with and thematize its own cultural context. I prefer my kids to be "fluent" in it, even if they stem from a minority tradition within that culture.

One doesn't have to exclude the other. I find that we can provide a meaningful (mostly secular) Jewish "supplement" to what we do - as a matter of fact, not only one does not cancel the other, but one enriches the other. There is nothing more valuable to understanding a tradition - any tradition - than confronting it with a serious understanding of a different one... as well as of understanding their complex dialogue and frictions that arise between them.

I don't know what exactly is your background, how "tied" you are to it (whether it's just a cultural/linguistic sentimentality or you're actually living that tradition in a culture that thus results half-"foreign" to you), and I suppose that concrete advices as to how to temper the worlds could be numerous and only given on a case to case basis... But good luck with it. :)

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Good thoughts! Here are some of my thoughts on the above...

 

I think separating out the method and content is important. I do think that what SWB, Harold Bloom, Dorothy Sayers et al mean by classical education is *both* method and content.

 

What I benefited from the WTM is the method part--the rigor of the classical method. As Esther said, though, I think a major part of western classical education is the content, after all it is meant to bring people into the "Great [Western/Judeo-Christian] conversation." I don't think SWB says that explicitly but I think it can be inferred. She does do a good job of making her texts available to a general audience though.

 

I had some trouble with the Western elements of traditional classical education too.

 

 

We're Indian American so I've decided to teach my boys the history of India first, then Western Civ. later and when they are older we will study Sanskrit and Latin.

 

I'm from SE Asia as well so our history will certainly be important. That said, because we live in the US, and because the Western intellectual tradition is important for understanding the world today, we'll still study that as well. But not necessarily from the traditional (Harold Bloom-esque?) classical angle.

 

Well, I would disagree that SOTW is somehow a very balanced look at world history. It makes a much greater effort than other options, but it's decidedly Western. Also, while SWB has clearly tried to make it palatable to a secular audience and it mostly gets there, it still has a slight Christian bent as well. If you wanted to be equally well-versed in European, Asian, African and American history, then this would not be the right resource to start with.

 

 

This.

 

I wondered what the bit about the resurrection of Jesus was doing in a historical text (even if it does mention it as being from the Bible, not fact), so yes, I think SOTW is a bit biased. There were a couple of other objections I read about on the Amazon reviews which made it seem like some religious ideas were in there masquerading as fact.

 

 

I define it as a content and I grew up in a system which defined it as a content - and yes, it is distinctly, unbashedly and uncompromisingly Western. An education invented by Westerns for Westerns, focusing on the very roots of their culture and its genesis over the period. Those roots are twofold: those stemming from classical antiquity in one hand, and Judeo-Christian ("Biblical") legacy in the other hand. It has always been that way, traditionally, and even if you can tweak it today a bit to include non some non-Western influences on our (modern) culture, its lenses remain distinctly Western - and in my eyes, that's exactly how it should be.

 

 

This is a fantastic explanation of what I mean. WTM doesn't go about describing classical ed as unabashedly Western content focused, but I think that for many, it is, and rightly so. If this is your heritage, you would certainly be proud to make it the focus and centerpiece of your education.

 

It's us non Christian, non Westerners that live in the US or other Western nations that have to figure out our role in all of this. :D I for one am focusing more in the method of classical education, but I can see how the Western, Judeo-Christian content is important for many people.

 

I think this is where some hard core classicalists have found fault with WTM in that it is essentially a Western, Christian based classical education made palatable for the rest of us. Watered down, in other words.

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I think this is where some hard core classicalists have found fault with WTM in that it is essentially a Western, Christian based classical education made palatable for the rest of us. Watered down, in other words.

:leaving::D

 

WTM is "watered down" because it attempts to bridge so many things, so the ultimate result - culturally - is somewhat "scattered". But then again, maybe it fits America so well exactly because of that scattered nature, as opposed to insisting on a more "dense" Western matrix which might not even fit well, because America itself, America as a concept, is already more scattered, a result of a more rebellious view of the "European heritage" and all it implies. I find modern American ways of dialoguing with it, which are a result of a tradition that started that way, very interesting, because they usually sound so deeply wrong to me, and I have to remind myself that the shift of perspective, greater universality and flexibility, is something that has its roots in a kind of a conflict with it.

 

I also find it amusing - and very sad - how this new American "tradition" has affected European classical education models in the past two generations, to a point that it's extremely rare to find nowadays "classically classically educated" people in Europe. I know a whole lot of classicists, but classicists... Are much dearer. My husband likes to joke by comparing it to religion, we would probably adhere to an orthodox classical stream, while both WTM and most of European classrooms nowadays would be modern classical streams, conservative classical streams, etc.

It's an interesting phenomenon, this whole shift of classical education, its purpose, meaning and organization - and generally, the shift of paradigm with regards to education as such in the Western world.

And that's all I'm going to say, as I've repeatedly proven too "orthodox" for "conservadox" classical boards, and we all know where those discussions lead.

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And that's all I'm going to say, as I've repeatedly proven too "orthodox" for "conservadox" classical boards, and we all know where those discussions lead.

 

aha, so I was right about the watering down bit. :lol:

 

of course this gets to the whole America as melting pot/pluralism/vs the predominance and superiority of classical Western thought debates... but we don't wanna go there, now do we? LOL... :auto:

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It seems to me that classical education has a decidedly Christian/Western bent, and I wonder what approach secular or non-Christian educators take to adapt classical education (the question also applies to a certain degree to those from non-Western cultures).

 

For example a main focus of Latin and Greek study is scripture-focused, and the history and literature focus is strongly Judeo-Christian in focus.

 

What do you adapt so that your curriculum more closely reflects your family's background and needs?

 

I took Latin and Greek at a Jesuit school and it was not scripture focused at all. We studied and translated ancient Roman and Greek sources such as the Aeneid and The Odyssey. This is how Latin and Greek could have a non-scripture focus IMHO.

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We're Jewish, so we'll probably be skipping Latin and Greek for Hebrew - another antiquity-based Biblical language that probably exercises some of the same muscles (though it doesn't help towards English vocabulary-building the way Latin enthusiasts say that does).

 

I do like the way SOTW touches on history from other areas of the world besides the fertile crescent and Europe. But it really is just TOUCHING. I plan to omit or skim over some of the details of Jesus' life when we get there - there isn't much in SOTW that I can't share with my kids as-is.

 

I also plan to supplement with resources that will introduce Jewish values, prayers, etc., when the time comes.

 

I've done a lot of reading at Ambleside Online, which is technically Charlotte Mason, but very "classic" in its focus... and also very Christian. I like a lot of the ideas, however, and feel that Charlotte Mason's methodologies can readily adapt to almost any cultural background: certainly, I hope they will for mine.

 

As a practical example, rather than centering our week around a "Bible memory verse," we use the "parashat hashavua", the fixed weekly order of Torah readings used by Jews worldwide, to lend a "theme" to the week and possibly also provide lessons in math, art, Hebrew, handwriting, etc.

 

As for adapting these things for a secular orientation, I think it would be much harder than just "converting" it to another Judeo-Christian religion. (much as I hate that term, as I believe it implies more similarities than actually exist)

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For example a main focus of Latin and Greek study is scripture-focused, and the history and literature focus is strongly Judeo-Christian in focus.

 

What do you adapt so that your curriculum more closely reflects your family's background and needs?

 

Well I'm only in planning stage, since my eldest is only doing pre-school, but I've been reading here and planning for quite a while...

 

Latin and Greek could be scripture focused, or it could be to support our knowledge of English. As you say, though, not being Christian, it doesn't seem worth the time to learn Greek. I figure the kids will get exposure to Greek roots along the way, and that will be good enough.

 

I have a few reasons for Latin. First, it does support our English, and that is a Good Thing. Secondly, the Dad Guy is interested in Latin and it is a bad thing to waste a Dad Guy's interests because he only has three. Thirdly, I want the kids to learn French, but I don't know it. I will be sending them to Saturday school for Arabic, and I can't imagine how to do two languages when I know neither, and learning Latin is a far more achievable goal for me. A good knowledge of Latin will give them a platform to jump off into French in high school.

 

I'm not American either ;) so American history is merely a part of world history for us. I imagine I'll take the time to do unit studies on countries we have ties to. That will all depend what is important by the time we get there ;) Guessing from this point in time, that would be Poland, England, Kenya, our Anzac buddies and a brief American government course. I expect Arabic speaking countries will be covered at school, but of course I don't know yet. If not, I think it would be necessary to cover that at home. It would be a kind of dumb thing to omit... We'll use Story of the World, even though Australia only gets about two chapters :p and the Bible stories are important from a cultural knowledge perspective. "Some people believe this" is a phrase kids ought to get used to, anyway ;)

 

World religions will be a big thing here. It is an important topic to both dh and I, for different reasons.

 

We can't cover everything in 12 years and we ARE Western. I don't think the Western world is the be all and end all, but it makes more sense to work at being part of the tradition we were born into than one we weren't. But we aren't Western in exactly the same way as Americans or Europeans, so of course things need to be tweaked to suit.

 

Rosie

Edited by Rosie_0801
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Stick to the origins of classical and teach from a Socratic viewpoint....not very Western, at all. I do see your point, however, when one considers the Judeo Christian history of the US, with her many early leaders being both classically educated and also Christian, even to the extreme of those attending university often doing so with a future in religious office. I refer to the comment about separating content and structure and would agree you truly can teach anything from a classical standpoint, even if my home chooses to bring in the Christian perspective.

An interesting conversation.

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As for adapting these things for a secular orientation, I think it would be much harder than just "converting" it to another Judeo-Christian religion. (much as I hate that term, as I believe it implies more similarities than actually exist)

If I'm reading your post correctly בין השיטין, allow me a few additional remarks for the sake of clarification - it's just that this is such an interesting topic, and the one I thought about a lot, so I'd like to add a thing or two. :)

 

The label "Judeo-Christian" is nearly always used - at least by me - as a blanket term, rather than the one carrying the real weight of its label. It is usually used in a context where European civilization (and, by extention, "Western" in general) is attempted to be tracked down to its "origins" by finding "common denominators" for its cultural influences... So thus you get two blanket terms, the one of "classical antiquity", which in itself covers a huge time span of over a millenium which is all but uniform, and the one of "Judeo-Christian legacy", which covers the influences of the spread of Christianity in Europe as well as partially those of the distinct Jewish presence throughout millenia (I say partially, because of most of the Jewish scholarship is "an internal dialogue with ourselves", rather than actively engaging of the broader culture, but still, there are many definite cultural and philosophical influences, as well as those on the overall sensibility of time and place, that crossed the borders of the ghetto, so to speak). We could challenge each of those labels, especially the "Judeo-Christian" one... on so many levels, both Jewish and Christian ones. We could, in fact, go as far to claim that the whole opposition is drawn incorrectly, that from a Jewish perspective it could be more correct to say that Christianity is just a metamorphosis of a good ol' Hellenism resurrecting in a different "clothing" and that the label "Judeo-Christian" has a value of an oxymoron, and so forth - I'm aware of all those difficulties... :tongue_smilie: Yet I still adhere to a label, at least in the format of the forums, for the sake of simplicity.

 

That's, maybe, one of the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding things about educating children who belong to a distinct minority tradition - transferring the ability to switch entire paradigms, so to speak (even if I loathe postmodern formulations)... To adress both the dominant culture and the minority one on its own terms, rather than through a prism "flavored" by the other one... Though there is, also, much good to be extracted from comparing and contrasting too, as very often the ability to "step outside" of something is equally crucial to understanding it as the ability to understand it from the inside - many things are seen with a completely new eyes when you "step outside". The kind of education that would equipen the children with both - the ability to be an insider and an outsider to both cultures at the same time, to understand on its own terms as well as through comparison - would actually provide them with a very useful tool that can be applied to life and academics all the time.

 

As to adapting Judaism to secular context... That's a tough one, I admit. :) Just as the opposite one is... the question whether Jewish education automatically excludes any other perspective, any other "narrative" (pigs must be flying - Ester speaking in postmodern language :lol:). However, then I go back to what I said earlier... nothing helped me so much to understand the Western culture as did Judaism, even if it holds a sort of antagonistic attitude towards it from the beginning; likewise, nothing helped me so much to understand Judaism as did an old-fashioned, strong classical education in a spirit of a very distinct, yet different national "narrative" and tradition.

 

I suppose it all depends on your goals and definitions on what's "enough", and where lies the not-so-subtle, yet not-so-obvious line between when a Jewish education is a mere sentimentality, an "appendix" to an education in a completely different spirit, and when it provides a very meaningful perspective, regardless of the personal observance level or personal conclusions regarding the truth value of its claims. For me, it's more of an issue of a historical identity that needs to be known and understood, with atheism or religiosity within it remaining a personal choice.

 

So for us, the classics don't have to cancel Hebrew or vice-versa (in a broad sense, not only linguistic one), even if the percentages might not be even... I find that, this way, by handing down some of that "schizophrenic" attitutde, I'm "vaccinating" my children from two evils which they certainly will (have!) come across - the one of "ghettoizing" themselves in a minority tradition and, on the other hand, the once of accepting the "great Western civilization" at face value and be all end all of truths and perspectives.

Edited by Ester Maria
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I took Latin and Greek at a Jesuit school and it was not scripture focused at all. We studied and translated ancient Roman and Greek sources such as the Aeneid and The Odyssey. This is how Latin and Greek could have a non-scripture focus IMHO.

 

Same experience - I took Latin at a Catholic high school and never studied any scripture, but studied ancient works such as The Aeneid.

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