The Pros and Cons of Classical Education at Home
Why I Was Attracted to Classical Education
Eight years ago, when we started this journey with my eldest daughter, I had no idea how homeschooling would go. I did feel God tugging on my heart to make the commitment, but I did not know where to start. I just knew that she was bright and that I wanted her to have the "best" education.
Honestly, I did not know exactly what that meant, but I read so many books and articles, my mind went numb. Then I read The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer because my cousin, who owned the first edition, told me read it.
At first, I wondered why she was holding onto it so tightly. Then I checked it out from the library. Three weeks later, I was sold on the possibilities it presented and found myself buying my own copy (the second edition).
Now I totally understand why she did not lend hers out to anyone. To this day, the second edition is my favorite, and I do not lend it out for fear that I will never see it (or my notations) again.
The Third Edition of the Famous Homeschool Guide
A Little History to Put Many Ideas Into Perspective
From the beginning, I want to put your mind at ease. We all love backstories, don't we?
The modern Classical education movement has an intriguing history, which has sparked debate and even a little controversy. Anything worthwhile often does.
Certain scholars, to this day, claim that certain people aren't doing it right. That some people are too relaxed with it. Others are too stern.
Depending upon the books you read and YOUR interpretation of the author's message, you will derive you own flavor of neoclassical education.
Why did I say neoclassical?
Since we are living in a totally different time and place than Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Classical education will not look exactly like their implementation of it. Even during the Renaissance--when it was revived after the dark ages--it looked different.
It continued to evolve with the great thinkers of the "early modern period" and "enlightenment" periods of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Then it "died out" again and was recently resurrected with Dorothy Sayers essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning", which inspired Bauer to convince her mother Jessie Wise to co-write the book so many parents loved immediately and sparked the popular homeschooling movement.
Today, you'll see more technically minded home educators like Leigh Bortins share one approach-- or private school purists like Douglas Wilson share another-- and still others like the Bluedorns will shun the pagan influences and opt for certain techniques over content. Even the Core Knowledge Foundation, which is the basis for the common core has it's own take on "classical" education.
Homeschool Before Classical Conversations
Let me preface this section by saying that our family never participated in Classical Conversations cohort or community. I had friends tout the benefits. They truly enjoyed the fellowship with like-minded families, but I prayed about it and never felt lead to shell out the money.
For many reasons, I didn't think it was for us. I had research other curricula like Tapestry of Grace and of course TWTM recommendations. We had already begun the classical education journey at that point and I did not want to repeat a cycle--or skip a cycle-- or basically get off the four year cycle laid out in Wise and Bauer's book.
Ultimately, I knew that God would empower me to provide a good education at home that would be tailored to my children.
That was my reason for homeschooling after all--well tailored education to suit the individual needs of my children. Something gets lost when you have to negotiate with other families who may have slightly different goals.
However, something is also gained. Join a homeschooling co-op of any kind to see what I mean.
If you are looking for the pros and cons of joining a Classical Conversations Community, you really will need to take a long hard look at your family and the actual cohort you want to join in your area. From what I understand, they vary widely.
This leads me to the pros and cons of classical education on your own terms in your own home.
But before we begin, do you mind answering a question?
Why Are You Considering Classical Education for Your Children?
Pro # 1: It is an Excellent Model in Theory
The rigor, the robust amount of content, the depth and breath of learning techniques provides an ideal platform for learning the nuts and bolts of the three R's (and then some). Ideally, your children will be able to see what good writing entails. They will be able to discern fact from fable and virtuous ideas from fallacious ones. They will be able to dissect words to comprehend their meaning. They will grasp the history behind why certain political laws were created and why certain scientific ones were discovered.
Con # 1 It Can Be Limited by a Singular Worldview
Many of the ideas in the great books "cannon" look at the world from one cultural perspective: a white male one. I admit there are many merits to great books education. African American greats like Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglas, and W.E.B. Dubois were inspired by the intellectual rigor found in Latin and Greek culture and the values of the Judeo-Christian traditions, both of which are the foundation of Western Civilization.
These books, particularly in the case of Wheatley, gave them a perspective beyond their own experience. That's what books do. They have the potential to broaden your mind and enable you to see the world through someone else's lens.
If there is no room for the voices of people of color and women, if we say that the only good stories are the ones told by Europeans and their descendants, the classical movement is DOA because the world is not monochromatic and it is not monotone. God has given intellect across the spectrum.
Pro # 2: Learning How to Think, Not What to Think is the Goal
This skill is so desperately needed today. Often times, students want to take the easy way out and regurgitate the ideas of their teachers to curry favor. This is not education. This is brainwashing, and it has happened for generations. Sadly, only a small remnant of American students has escaped the throws of this intellectual handicap.
There are very few people who know how to hold a conversation for enlightenment's sake or how to respect the ideas of others.
Finally, while college and university professors deserve respect for the hard work they have performed cultivating their ideas, many of them also close their minds to receiving knowledge from anyone without the Ph. D. designation. Although they know very well that Ph. D. does not equate to intellectual capacity, but rather the willingness to work hard, there is a propensity to snub ideas that do not reflect or synergize with their own.
There is a certain humility to Classical education--in the right hands--that says, "I can not possibly know it all, but I will learn what I can-- and apply what I know to enrich, not only my life, but also the lives of the people around me."
Con # 2 It Can Be Overwhelming
If you seek to follow some one else's plan or formula for "success", you can burn yourself out. Classical education on someone else's terms or ideas can either lead you off course or frustrate you.
There is a tendency in the homeschooling community to compare our family's journey with the journeys of others. This is not healthy. You may find yourself foregoing that field trip or activity because you haven't finished learning all of your Latin declensions. This can be a problem at any age, but if your children are only 8 and 6, you need homeschool help STAT!
If you want your children to enjoy this time with you, keep the competitive comparing spirit outside of your home and outside of your circle of compadres.
Pro & Con #3 The Use of Technology (or the Lack Thereof)
Depending upon who you talk to in Classical Education circles, technology should only be reserved for older children after they have mastered the basics of the Grammar stage. Sometimes I find this expectation to be unrealistic, given the fact that there is so much excellent programming out there for preschoolers--Peg + Cat and Little Einsteins come to mind--and that people can wear computers on their wrists now.
I personally think Socrates would be excited about this development. But we'll never know will we?
Used in moderation, technology can be a friend to your preschoolers. But if it becomes the Master of the House, forget about it.
Pro # 4 It Can Be Adapted
You don't have to feel pressure about doing it "right." I've found that homeschooling in general is very forgiving if you and your children make an effort each day to learn new things and sharpen your skills.
"Doing it right" basically means making it work for you and your family. Homeschooling is like that. You get to choose your own adventure. Like the words of the U.S. Constitution, some things are left to your interpretation. Nothing is written in stone.
Con # 4 You are often left wondering: Am I doing it right?
And that's just the way parenting is... It is a big social experiment, where you hope that everything will go well.
Please pardon me... there is a short humble brag coming on. If you don't want to read it, skip to the video below.
As of today, both of my children have scored in the "gifted" range on standardized test. The oldest was recognized by Duke University's TIP program for her outstanding achievement on the SAT as a 7th Grader. She is eligible for the summer program and is applying for academic scholarships specifically designed for high achieving middle school students.
My son was reading at three and has the vocabulary of a 15 year old.
My youngest daughter--only two-- is a mystery. But she is a talker... full and coherent sentences.
Does this mean we're doing it right? I don't know. If they leave the faith--as so many college students do-- I think I will have failed them. I see their intellect as a gift from God to be used for His purposes. In this way, the jury is still out.
Perhaps you need a little more guidance regarding this style of homeschooling and it's benefits and detriments. The video below, debates the pros and cons of Classical Education for Christian homeschoolers in particular.