August 12, 2004

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer

About 3 or 4 weeks ago, my husband and I made the decision to pull our 14-year-old daughter out of school and teach her at home. Not lightly or easily either, I might add. We made up long pro and con lists, talked to homeschoolers in the area, looked at the local school's curriculum for high school and counted the cost, literally. We debated, argued and reasoned with each other. Then we gulped and decided to give it a shot. That's when the discussions really began in earnest. Then we had to think about exactly how do you homeschool a kid in high school and do a good job. And what is good job anyway? Are grades important? What is important? Yikes!

Fortunately, homeschooling has been around for a long time and going really strong the last 20 years or so. There are a plethora of books out on the market, most of which I either own or have read. Many are tales of happy homeschoolers blissfully teaching their kids the love of learning. Bleh. Most espouse their own favorite "approach" to homeschooling. They range from a "unschooling" with no defined structure at all to classical schooling with a prescribed 4 year cycle of learning. None of them is a perfect fit for my daughter. So I am picking and choosing.

One book that is incredibly helpful in some sort of method is the mother/daughter collaboration, [btitle "A Well Trained Mind"]. They outline a Classical Approach based upon the grammar/logic/rhetoric sequence outlined in an essay by Dorothy Sayers on education. The premise is that you start children out learning about history/science/literature with the ancients and move in a 4 year sequence thru modern times, repeating it for the entire 12 years of school. Each stage of the cycle has its own learning objectives; facts come first, then logical analysis, then synthesis into a personal opinion. Latin is begun early on, in 2nd or 3rd grade, with modern languages added in after the basics of Latin are learned. Readings become progressively more advanced as the child grows and matures. Writing progresses until the child is doing a long thesis in the senior year of high school. There is a great deal of emphasis on writing to learn and independent study on the child's part in the later grades. Especially helpful, the authors outline books to use if you choose or programs that are well-written with homeschooling or school resources listed as suppliers of materials. If begun early on, this whole book would have been my guide to teaching my daughter.

Unfortunately, I have gaps to fill and skills that need teaching before I could begin this method as written. I have, however, gleaned a few useful items. We'll be studying Latin rather than a modern language for now. With my daughter's language deficits from her learning disabilities, having a solid base of word roots will help her enormously and the program I found teaches English grammar very well. I will follow the general idea of a history cycle with Western Civ, American History, 20th Century History and Civics/Government. She'll be doing the note-taking and-book outlining they suggest, keeping notebooks by subject and reading many of the works outlined in the text, if in an abridged version. I am using the math program they suggest, published by Saxon and based upon an incremental direct-instruction method of learning math.

We did have one hurdle to get over mentally before we made the decision. It's the big question that homeschoolers get about socialization of the children. Will a kid learning at home be as well socialized as a peer in school? My husband and I struggled with this. It's a tough one.

On the one hand, being around other kids may teach them valuable skills for getting along with people. I am a little dubious about that one, especially after my son came home from kindergarten proud as a peacock because he learned to play "smear the queer" on the playground that day. It's a form of dodge ball, in case you are wondering. But there are some useful skills learned about give and take in having friends your own age whom you see daily. On the other, there is peer dependency and "the looking glass self" mentality where kids define who they are based upon who they are with. In high school, that gets really scary with things like drugs, sex and rock-and-roll out there.

In the final analysis, I agree with the authors when they say "in this age of endemic family breakup, teaching your high schooler to live peacefully in a family is probably the most important feat of socialization you can accomplish." That made a huge amount of sense. Family life is the heart of life as I see it and living well in the family is almost a key to a fulfilling life no matter what your occupation or work is. And my sister, ever good with the advice, pointed out that the last time she was in a room full of people exactly her own age was at her last class reunion. She also reminded me, the wretch, that neither of us went to prom so my daughter won't be missing anything there either.

It's going to be a journey for all of us. I am frantically reading books trying to put together a Western Civ course that will challenge her and still teach very basic skills. I realize that this won't always be rosy. There will be times when I want to chuck the whole thing and send her off on the bus to let someone else deal with because I want to wring her wretched little neck. There will be times when I want some time just to myself without having to go into the bathroom to get it. There will also be times when we get to giggling together over something or decide to take a break and go for a walk. We plan on taking good weather days off rather than snow days. Why not stay home and learn when the weather is yucky and go for a horse ride or to town on a nice day. We'll see.

Docendo discitur
-- Seneca (One learns by teaching)

Posted by Deb English at August 12, 2004 07:59 PM

Daryl Cobranchi said:

Congrats and good luck.

Tim Haas said:

Not sure whether you've decided on a Latin program, but there's a free online self-study list using Wheelock (a venerable introductory college text) at half the normal pace for just this sort of situation. I'll be coordinating a new cohort starting in October; please feel free to e-mail if you'd like details.

Will Duquette said:

FYI, Deb's incommunicado until the end of the week.

steve h said:

I'll have to say, I'm surprised to learn that you weren't already homeschooling...

Perhaps I should say, I don't often meet adults who are so interested in the lives of their children, and spend so much time reading books with their children, outside of the home-school community.

(Perhaps I'm a bit wrong there, but I was home-schooled during ages 8-18, and I knew many home-schooled parents who didn't read with the family as much as my parents did. And your comments about family life and reading here remind me of my parents.)

Best wishes in your endeavors.

Will Duquette said:

In case there's any confusion--Deb and I both spend a lot of team reading, and reading to other family members. Deb lives in Wisconsin, and is married to Brent; she'll be homeschooling their daughter Abby. I live in California and am married to Jane, and we are not homeschooling anybody.

Jane Duquette said:

Deb, I am in awe. If I had to homeschool David at this point both of us would be hurting. I honestly would rather deal with the ethics, discipline, and character issues and let some one else deal with convincing David that handwriting is important. I was very proud of myself for getting James and Anne to half-day preschool this morning without murdering either of them. I will keep both you and Abby in my prayers.