Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Classical Education

My mom is finally beginning to clear out some of her homeschooling resources (with her youngest kid now 21, the need is clearly past, and with over 5000 other books, space is limited) and so during my recent visits I've taken home some of the potential discards that we plan to use ourselves eventually.

Among these is a copy of Laura Berquist's book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum. Right now MrsDarwin and I are looking for ideas on good resources for teaching reading and very basic arithmetic, as the oldest monkey approaches four and it seems like time to get started on such things before too much longer.

We may well end up using some of the resources she mentions in those earlier grades (one of our challenges is that we mostly only have opinions about education in the later years, say 4th grade plus.) However, reading through the rest of the book, I'm reminded of some of the issues I had with the book when I read parts of it back when it came out ten years ago, reading it as a homeschooler in the latter years of high school.

Berquist's aim is provide a basic classical education that will then allow the student to go on to a small Catholic liberal arts college, specifically Thomas Aquinas College in California, which has a program based solely on the Great Books model. (Berquist herself went to TAC and she mentions in the book that her oldest child had just been admitted there.)

I think there's a lot of good to be found in reading the Great Books at a college level. (MrsDarwin and I both took part in Steubenville's Great Books-based Honors Program, which made up one of our five classes every semester throughout college and got a bunch of our core requirements out of the way.) However, doing nothing but the Great Books in college seems to me to be a mistake. I think it's important to have an academic major, belong to a department, and do at least a little bit of in-depth study (a thesis or senior project) while getting your bachelor's degree. It's especially important to do independent research and become more expert on a few specific areas of study within your field than your professors are.

The approach that my parents took, which we hope to emulate with our own children, was to provide a solid basic education by the end of eighth grade (essentially doing in K-8 what Berquist does in K-12) and then work through a unified humanities (history, literature, philosophy and theology all rolled into one) program in 9-12, while doing college prep math, science and foreign language as separate subjects. Certainly, a 14-year-old isn't old enough to get all there is to get in Homer, Plato, Virgil and Cicero, nor is a 16-year-old going to understand all there is to know about Aquinas, Dante or Thomas More, but they are old enough to give it a decent shot, and if they encounter those authors again in a more advanced setting, they'll be able to get much more out of it on a second go-around.

Indeed, I think you're pretty much guaranteed not to "get" these authors fully on a first read (in college or high school) so it's best to get the first, unenlightened pass out of the way early. And although I may not have come out of the humanities program knowing everything there is to know about the works I'd read, I certainly think I was far better off for having read them.

Now clearly, your kid needs to be a reading powerhouse by 9th grade to push through stuff like the Iliad in a reasonable period of time, but if you've been homeschooled through eighth grade that shouldn't exactly be a problem. (It helps to be already familiar with the story, either from hearing it read aloud or from reading an abbreviated version at a younger age.)

Right now, however, we're mostly in search of good materials for teaching reading in the first place, plus some added inspiration on chapter books that would be interesting read-alouds for the monkeys (Little House in the Big Woods was a big hit, but we're not sure if the other Laura books might still be a bit over their heads, so we're looking for new ideas, since nothing currently on my self seems to be a good fit, unless perhaps Charlotte's Web.) and in that regard Berquist's book looks like it may have some good leads.


Anonymous said...

So...does this mean you're looking for suggestions?

Rick Lugari said...

I thenk the hole-languige modil iz best<

espesially the inventave speeling part" thatz gud for a kid.s selph esteam.

Darwin said...

I feel your pain, Rick.

Indeed, to compound the problem, I attended three schools in the K-2 period, switching from phonics to whole word and back again. Which I like to say is responsible for my problems to this day. But it's probably just an excuse...

If you have suggestions for chapter books to read aloud to a nearly-four-year-old, Barb, we'd be glad to hear them!

Anonymous said...

Somehow, I think a classics-only based education would not have helped a guy like me get into my engineering career.

Mrs. Tex and I would most certainly be open to using some of the great books in the education of our kids. However, some may excel in mathematics and science, and therefore I must be the official administrator of such advanced coursework.

See you tomorrow, Darwins.

Anonymous said...

Is she beginning to read on her own yet?

Darwin said...


I think the ranges my siblings I and did were probably about right: 4 years humanities, 2-4 years math, 2-4 years foreign language, 2-4 years science, 1-2 years computer science, 1-2 years religion. To my mind at least, doing a "classical curriculum" shouldn't stand in for your entire curriculum, but instead replace all the tripe most people get put through under the headings of English, history, government and social studies.

Darwin said...


No, not really. But she definately retains what she hears day to day. She worked up a lot of excitement hearing Little House in the Big Woods over the course of a couple weeks, and we want to do more stuff about that length and comprehension level (we think it's probably good for her to have to remember the characters and plot from day to day) but it's tricky finding books she'll understand (as a read-aloud) at her age yet are still book-length and won't bore us out of our skulls (or offend our intelligence).

Anonymous said...

I don't think doing a Great Books program is a mistake. Most Great Book programs (I know of 2...St. John's and TAC) use the socratic method of study which in my opinion is a better vehicle for learning than the lecture method. Both also have a senior thesis requirement that allows for in depth study of a particular question. I went to TAC and even though there isn't an official major, I could go right into a graduate philosophy or theology program without trouble. With a little more effort (a couple courses at a university), I could have a major in math.

We also read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. My oldest son is 8 years old and he still loves them.

Anonymous said...

I started reading the Ramona Quimby books to my daughter when she was around 4 years old. We had them all finished when she started kindergarten. She thought they were funny, and they are to a child that age, so I knew she was paying attention. Plus, she was anxious to start the next in the series when we finished one. So, it obviously kept her interest.

Amber said...

I'm not sure if you're looking for suggestions from the peanut gallery, but here's my two cents!

Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little were both big hits with my daughter (she'll be 4 in Feb). We've gone through them both twice - once with me reading, and once as an audiobook in the car. I'm also reading her the Narnia books (on Voyage of the Dawn Treader now) and she's picking up on quite a lot of it and enjoying the books. I'm sure we'll read them again when she's a little older and she'll get more of it, but she's getting enough of it that I think it is worthwhile.

My husband has been reading the rest of the Little House books to my daughter, but she hasn't been as enthusiastic about those. She did enjoy Little House in the Big Woods a good deal, but I think she's having a little trouble keeping track of the overall story in the later Little House books.

Let's see - we also read the Ralph S. Mouse books by Beverly Cleary, which were entertaining and reasonably enjoyable for both of us, but not exactly to the same caliber as the other books I've mentioned. I've also read her a couple of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books this year, which she seems to like but I find rather boring and repetitive.

As for learning to read, I recently picked up a copy of Alpha-Phonics by Samuel Blumenfeld. I've read a lot of good reviews about it on Amazon and elsewhere. We're still working on the alphabet so I haven't done much in the book (and frankly I haven't been spending the time on it that I think I should...) but I have looked through it and it looks promising.

I really like your thoughts on the homeschooling path you're thinking of following and it sounds a great deal like what we hope to do. My husband has cousins who were homeschooled in that fashion and I've always been jealous of their education! (sheesh, was this comment long enough??)

alicia said...

I highly recommend (for basic reading and math) two books by Glenn Doman - You can teach your baby to read, and Teach your baby Math. (I may have misremembered the exact titles but you should be able to find them).
All of my children were reading by themselves (with help on occasion) by the age of 3.
Glenn Doman and a guy name Delacato developed some unique and controversial therapies for brain damaged and learning disabled children. Their techniques work even better on normal or above average intelligence kids.

Anonymous said...

Our oldest daughter (just turned 6) is now on lesson 45 of How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which is used in Laura Berquist's syllabi. She's really starting to take off with it, enjoying the thrill of decoding, though we only do about 15 minutes' worth of lessons at any one sitting. It also has the virtue of not requiring much in the way of prep by the teacher -- very helpful with small siblings around.

Have you looked at any of the Charlotte Mason stuff? We've also enjoyed the little bit of Five in a Row that we've done as preschool/K.

Hope you're all on the mend soon.

I hope you figure out my identity....

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to mention one book our girls have loved as a read-aloud: Happy Little Family by Rebecca Caudill. The protagonist is a 5yo girl who is the youngest of 5 siblings, growing up in rural Kentucky about a century ago.

I have just happily discovered that there are at least 3 others in the series: Schoolhouse in the Woods, Schoolhouse in the Parlor, and Up and Down the River.

I have just requested that our library acquire these (blessed online ordering option for when all are asleep) and will also request them via ILL.

I highly recommend these.

mrsdarwin said...

'Allo, Mrs. Dr. Dave! Hope your family is well, including all those lovely girls. We admired you folks so much we had to have three girls too -- it looked like too much fun to miss.

I just started reading 100 Easy Lessons (literally, as in this evening), and it looks quite interesting. I need to get a bit further in to form a full opinion, but I think it may prove a useful resource. We'll see if Noogs agrees with me.

Haven't seen Charlotte Mason, but I've been perusing The Well-Trained Mind.

bearing said...

Have you seen this?

The Robinson Curriculum

Jon said...

To help make learning to read fun and engaging, our reading program includes lesson stories that are matched to the progress of your child's reading abilities.

These lessons stories are part of the learning program, and comes with colorful illustrations to make learning reading fun and engaging for you and your child.

These are the exact same stories and step-by-step lessons that we used to teach our own children to read!

Find out here: Teach Your Child To Read?

Best rgs