Trivium Pursuit

Classical Q & A

Question: Our oldest son (in fifth grade) has been anxious about public school from the time he started kindergarten, so now we are thinking about homeschooling him. Our youngest son (in third grade) loves school and is at the top of his class, so we're leaving him there. This seems to make sense to us, but we'd like another opinion.

Answer: In our culture, government school has somehow become the default setting for education, while homeschooling is considered an alternative for special situations. We don't need to discuss how this came about. We only need to determine whether these default settings should be changed. We suggest that these settings should be reversed, particularly for Christians. Consider the following observations:

A. Ten reasons for avoiding the government school experience:

1. The Scriptures give authority for the education of children to their parents. Biblically thinking, the government has no original jurisdiction in the matter. The more we participate in activities outside of God's order, the more we empower these activities while we weaken God's cause.
2. The God-less curriculum inculcates the habit of ignoring God in everything all day long.
3. The curriculum often omits important facts and includes distortions, and falsehoods.
4. Children are expected to absorb humanist, socialist, and other philosophies in order to do well in class and to be accepted by the students and teachers.
5. Children are continually exposed and subjected to an environment of worthless language and habits.
6. Children are subjected to psychological testing, labeling, and treatment, often without parental knowledge or over parental objections.
7. Children are instructed in perverse lifestyles which are treated either positively or "neutrally" in the curriculum. (Neutrality toward perversion amounts to passive advocacy.)
8. Children are threatened by physical abuse and violence at alarming levels even with the day-long presence of law enforcement officials.
9. Children are at risk for exposure to dangerous diseases.
10. Oh, yes, and the quality of instruction is often dubious.

B. Ten reasons for avoiding the classroom school experience:

1. Bonds are forged among children and with teachers which often divide attentions and alienate affections from the bonds of the family.
2. Peer partitioning and peer dependence creates an unnatural culture which weakens character.
3. Classroom cultural values often interfere and conflict with family values.
4. The gender mixing often creates inappropriate situations and encourages wrongful attitudes.
5. The school atmosphere often breathes of jealousy and rivalry.
6. The school draws order and commitment of time away from the family.
7. The classroom is an artificial environment separated from necessary models for the habits of life.
8. The one-size-fits-all curriculum really doesn't fit any and causes many things to fall through the cracks.
9. The tug-of-war between the lowest common level of the class and the various levels of individuals pulls many students down.
10. Much time and many resources are wasted. 

C. Ten reasons for choosing the homeschool experience:

1. The parents directly exercise their original jurisdiction in education.
2. The homeschooling model fits most closely to the model for education in Scripture.
3. Homeschooling is the only model which does not interfere with and abuse the moral instruction and accountability between parents and children.
4. The family is designed by God to educate children and it functions best when it is engaged in that task.
5. The direct parental instruction and modeling is best fitted for establishing Biblical values.
6. The daily family model of interaction with children and adults of various ages is best fitted for positive socialization and character building.
7. The one-on-one parent-child model of education is best fitted for academic excellence.
8. Children grow up in a "greenhouse" environment under those persons most interested in their physical, mental, and spiritual development and protection -- their parents.
9. Children are given the time and opportunity to experience and participate in real day-to-day culture and to genuinely develop their own interests.
10. The homeschool experience is well fitted for the mental and spiritual development of the parents.

In our opinion, the negatives of government and classroom schools are greatly reduced if not eliminated in the homeschool. The default setting should be homeschool, supplemented by private tutoring where necessary or advantageous. For situations where this simply will not work out, a small well-regulated private class on special subjects serves as another option. The government school -- or anything resembling it -- is a very high risk option which, by its very nature, works hard in the opposite direction of Christian faith and values. We believe homeschooling should ordinarily be the first choice because it is the best choice and, as Chris Klicka says, "the right choice."

Question:I am interested in classical education, but I am concerned about a few things. I have heard several speakers recommend books by heathen authors. One classical educator even recommended reading Hitler's Mein Kampf. There also seems to be a large focus on mythology. It seems everyone I know who teaches classically uses books or materials which have questionable material in them. My children are young, and although I want them to be well educated, I also want to protect them from evil influences. Is there a way to teach classically without exposing children (or ourselves) to what God says is an abomination?

Answer:You are not alone in your concerns. We must distinguish the classical style of education from the classical humanist literature which is often associated with it. The classical humanists are not the source of all wisdom. Indeed, they are the source of much sophisticated folly and pernicious perversion. The only true source of wisdom is Holy Scripture. It is true that the classical humanists have greatly affected the world we live in. It is also true that a certain knowledge of them can be useful. It is not true that an easy familiarity with them is necessarily good or desirable. A few people may be called to this degree of knowledge, just as a few people are called to special knowledge in other areas of learning. Sadly, some have sought such knowledge out of classical snobbery and parental peer pressure. This should never be our motivation.

The ancient historians, geographers, and biographers are the primary sources for what we know of ancient times. They are written from a pagan point of view, which must be countered, and they contain occasional statements which many parents will not want their children exposed to, so we need to pre-read these in the same way that we might preview a movie. The ancient philosophers are clever men filled with many vain thoughts. Lest someone become entangled in one of their labyrinths of reasoning, we recommend that only mature Christians be guided on a tour through the philosophers by someone who is well grounded in Christian thought. The ancient poets, satirists, tragedians, and comedians are, with few exceptions, filled with questionable and graphic content. To handle these, we must first put on our chore boots, and afterwards take a good shower. Generally speaking, they are better left alone.

Whatever we do, we must remember that the classical must always submit to the Christian. We must be prepared to take captive every category of knowledge including classical knowledge and make it serve our Lord Jesus (Second Corinthians 10:4,5). Remember, these things were originally written in order to propagate a non-Christian worldview. Unless we take appropriate counter measures, this is exactly what they will do

Question: How do we teach Latin or Greek to a child when we don't know the language ourselves? In fact, having attended public school, we feel as if we lack a healthy grasp of the English language!

Answer: When we first learned English, did we construct sentences based upon a conscious knowledge of Subject-Verb agreement? No. Such categories of grammar were beyond your understanding. Nevertheless, in a short time, we mastered the art of constructing understandable sentences which were usually grammatically correct. Mastering a language is not the same as mastering its formal grammar. Many persons communicate quite well in English who have never mastered textbook grammar.

Imagine yourself in a classroom where you must at the same time master both the basics of a language and its formal grammar. Not a good idea. Yet that is exactly what is done in seminaries. The seminary student is required to master Greek grammar before he has any familiarity with the Greek language. There are a few sharp and diligent students who can handle this, but most students half-fake their way through it, then promptly forget most of what they temporarily planted in their short-term memory.

Here is a better course to take, one which will work for everyone. First, learn to read and to write the language. Spend a good long time mastering the alphabet and the phonetics. Use an interlinear text and practice reading. (The interlinear will show you what each word means in English.) Memorize portions in Greek (or Latin or Hebrew) and in English. Become familiar with the look and the sound of the language. This way, when you begin studying the grammar, it won't all be Greek to you even if it actually is Greek!

When it comes to studying a foreign language grammar, it will be to your advantage to know English grammar. If you don't know English grammar, then you'll have no choice except to learn it right along with the foreign grammar.

In summary, it's best not to try to master both the language and its formal grammar at the same time, and one cannot master a foreign grammar without mastering English grammar, so it's best not to try to master both at the same time. Unfortunately, that's exactly what most grammar texts require. You'll probably do much better if you adapt the text to the reality of how we learn first knowledge (the basics), then understanding (the logical structure), then wisdom (the polished practice).

Question: How can children be self-taught in art?

Answer: It's in the area of art that homeschooling can show itself to be especially valuable. Here are some of the things we have learned.

Provide children, especially those below age ten, with the space, the tools, and the time for their art work. Don't load up their schedule with too much academic work and outside activities. They need plenty of time to develop their creativity by experimenting with art and crafts. In the main room of your home where you read to your children and spend the most time, reserve a space where your children can work on their projects. Dedicate a low shelf for your children where they can easily reach their art materials. Keep the shelf well stocked with whatever materials interest your children, such as good quality colored pencils, crayons, markers, paints, paper, scissors, glue, clay, wallpaper sample books, fabric sample books, matting board scraps, or sewing, knitting, and crocheting supplies. Next to this shelf, maintain a small table with chairs where your children can quietly work on their projects while you read to them. While you're helping older children with math or science, your younger children can be working on their crafts. Some children could spend one or two hours a day on arts and crafts, while other children won't be able to give it more than a few minutes of attention, but if you sit down and work beside them, they'll spend more time.

Provide them with plenty of good examples. Our children primarily learned to draw by copying. They copied famous drawings and paintings, pictures out of old art-literature readers, or the McGuffey's Eclectic Readers, books from Dover Publications, or just anything we had around the house.

One of the most useful things we ever purchased for our girls was a bag of fabric scraps from a lady who did sewing and alterations. The bag cost only five dollars, and was filled with scraps of silks, satins, velvets, and wools. The girls were very young at the time, and they had only elementary skills at sewing, but those first few efforts at turning the scraps into doll clothes fed their desire to learn more. They quickly passed mother's abilities, and eventually taught themselves tailoring and pattern making, such that now they make vintage clothing reproductions, give sewing lessons, and sew for others. This all came out of a bag of scraps. We made sure that they had all of the time and the materials which they needed for their projects, and we provided the place for them to work. The sewing machine, the art shelf, and the tables were always handy and accessible for all of our children. Their projects could be left setting out until finished. Creativity can be easily discouraged by the prospect of having to put away a half finished project, then pulling everything back out and arranging it all over again. Which do you want: your house featured in Better Homes and Gardens, or your children developing skills in arts and crafts? Sure, they should tidy things up now and then -- you determine how frequently -- but don't burden them with putting their projects away every day.

Homeschooling allows us the freedom to use our resources to best accommodate the natural development of our children. When we provide them with the right tools, space, time, and structure, they will develop artistic skill and creativity. They may not be another Thomas Cole or Rembrandt -- but then again, they might!

Question: What makes a classical style of education different from other methods? – Linda in Michigan

Answer: We think the classical style provides a framework which shows us how to use all of the other methods – unit study, scope and sequence, Charlotte Mason, principle, etc. – to the best advantage. With the classical style there will be deliberate emphasis on language skills, reasoning skills, formal expression, and good literature. – H.B.

Question: Will homeschooling with the Trivium be more expensive? – David in Illinois

Answer: Using the Trivium does not necessarily make homeschooling any more expensive than other approaches, and it is probably cheaper than some. It will not necessarily take more hours than other approaches, and may take less hours than some. Remember, you’re teaching your children how to learn, which means you are working yourself out of the teaching job. – H.B.

Question: My children are twelve, ten, and eight. Is it too late for us to begin the classical approach? – Brenda in Illinois

Answer: It is never too late, but the later it is, the more you may need to do some catching up, and the more obstacles you may have erected in your way. For example, if your fifteen-year-old has been largely raised in the public schools, fed television and such like for 3 to 4 hours per day, seldom exposed to good literature, and generally not trained to think – or worse, trained not to think – then homeschooling with the Trivium will be a challenge – somewhat akin to going through detoxification treatments. A classical style of education is not just adding Latin and logic to the curriculum. It’s a whole way of living. But if the student and the parents are motivated and willing to make changes in their life, then anything can be accomplished. – H.B.

Question: I have just finished reading your book Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style, and I now realize that I need to learn some things myself before I begin teaching my four-year-old son. What would you recommend? – Jodi in Michigan

Answer: Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Turn off the television, and keep it off.
  2. Begin reading. If you don’t like to read, then learn to like to read. And begin reading aloud to your children – not just the ten-minutes-before-bedtime-let’s-read-Green-Eggs-and-Ham type of reading, but the let’s-read-Treasure-Island- (unabridged version) -this-week-to-the-six-year-old type of reading.
  3. With the children, investigate the world around you. When our children were little (and when they were older also) we explored everything, from the men black topping the road outside our house, to listening to all the visiting artists who came to town, to searching through all ten libraries in our area. Ask questions and learn from the experts. Ask the Lord to give you an inquiring mind.
  4. Talk with your children. Argue with your children (not in the sense of fight, but in the sense of dialogue and debate).
  5. Don’t talk baby talk to the children. Throw out the “grade level” mentality; in fact forget which grade they are in. Children are capable of understanding much more than we give them credit for. Read to them books above what you think their level is. Encourage them to listen to adult conversation.
  6. Make sure the children obey you. Expect first time obedience.

Don’t think in terms of “well, I need to take a course somewhere to prepare myself to give my children a classical education.” It is in the process of teaching your children that you will be teaching yourself.– L.B.

Question: What languages do you recommend? – John in Michigan

Answer: If you are only going to study one classical language, we recommend Greek, because it is the language of the New Testament. If two languages – Latin and Greek, because Latin serves well as an intermediate between English and Greek, and because Latin is basic to English. Latin is the base of all of the Romance languages and is very useful in so many other fields of knowledge such as Science, Medicine, and Law. If three languages – Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, because Hebrew is the language of the Old Testament and the bridge to Hebrew culture. – H.B.

Question: The reading lists of some of the classical educators are slightly intimidating to me. Dante, Chaucer and Beowulf in the second grade? I didn’t read these until high school. – Debbie in Texas

Answer: The question I would ask is: do I want to require my children to read Dante, Chaucer, and Beowulf at all? Some of the principles to consider as we choose and study literature include:

  1. I want to do what is pleasing to God. “Be not conformed to this world...” and “Keep yourself unspotted from the world...”
  2. There is only so much time in the day.
  3. Just because something is “old” doesn’t mean it is good. Much of Canterbury Tales is dusted with things gross and profane. I don’t believe it is fit for the eyes of a child, even in its abridged form. I’m sure there probably are sections which would be of some value, but I have better use for my time than pulling on the chore boots and wading through the muck for a few pieces of corn.

Last year I had the children read Beowulf, in its unabridged form, and then they had to write a paper on it. Hans’s paper was entitled “Beer-wulf: A Story of How God Used a Monster to Rid the Land of the Beer Halls.”

Do you have a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in your house? I suggest putting it on a very high shelf.

There is no neutrality. If a piece of literature cannot be used to build Christian culture in my children, then it will be used to build something culturally anti-Christian in my children. Wasting time is anti-Christian. But I can hear someone protesting, “But, the Bible is filled with descriptions of the wicked sins of men.” True enough, but the Bible also tells you what to think about all that wickedness, and nevertheless there are sections of the Bible which we simply don’t read to young children because they are not ready to handle it. The Hebrews wouldn’t allow young children to read the Song of Solomon.

Have you ever read any of the works by John Bunyan? These are wonderful pieces of literature you will want your children to read over and over. And how about Robinson Crusoe – unabridged? The Waverly Novels? Or the histories of Herodotus and Josephus, or Xenophon’s Anabasis? (For more about this, see our book, Ancient History from Primary Sources.) For more modern literature, stick with what is of good form and lasting value. (For specific lists, see our booklets, Hand That Rocks The Cradle (fiction), and Lives in Print (biographies).)

There is good literature and there is bad literature, there is worthwhile literature and there is worthless literature. Just because something is old and it is required reading to enter college does not necessarily mean it’s good or that it’s worthwhile. I would suggest that your family list the principles which it should rely upon for choosing literature to read, then stick to those principles. Don’t be swayed by peer pressure – even classical homeschooling peer pressure. – L.B.

Question: Won’t following classical education turn my children into snobs?

Answer: Classical education will neither make someone a snob, nor will it keep him from becoming a snob. Snobs are attracted to things that make them feel they are better than others. It is wrong to be a snob. But it is not wrong to pursue those things which are most excellent, and it is you alone who must learn to maintain a humble composure regarding your own educational attainments. The best way to avoid snobbery is to teach a humble servant attitude toward others. – H.B.

Question: With young children in the Knowledge level, how important is it to study history in a chronological order? – Laura in Florida

Answer: Probably most families will find it difficult to pursue a strict chronological study of history. Most families would like to, will plan to, and will begin in that direction, but the distractions which confront the normal homeschooling family in the course of a typical homeschooling year often interrupt the best laid plans. My goal for the study of history would be to give my children the tools for learning a new subject on their own. The subject of history is good material for forging these tools. I want them to be able to study history on their own, even when they are grown and have children of their own. If, for whatever the reason, I am not able, during the short time in which I have them, to take them through all of history, from ancient to modern times, then they can fill in any blanks using the tools which I have given them for learning on their own. But they will only pursue studying history on their own throughout their lifetime if they have first learned to love the study of history. And this is where following a strict chronological study of history might interfere. Imagine that you are following a plan to study the ancient Greeks in your first semester and study ancient Rome in your second semester. However, you discover that your children are wired for a different plan. Your lads spend all of their spare time making swords, armor, and castles, or your lassies are busy sewing Civil War costumes. Ancient history may be a wee bit boring to young children who are interested in medieval times or Civil War times. You may be able to redirect your children’s interests to ancient history, but should that fail (or you clearly see it failing before you begin), then you may choose to strike while the iron is hot, and redirect your own studies to meet their interests. – L.B.

Question: I have four children ages ten, seven, four, and seven months. I can read aloud for about an hour when the seven month old is with us, but it is a very challenging hour. – Marty in Nebraska

Answer: Imagine this scenario: Mother calls up the stairs, “I’ll be reading in five minutes.” Instantly five little munchkins come tumbling down, ever anxious for the next installment of Island of the Blue Dolphins. Nine-year-old Nathaniel quietly sits down at the art table Mother has positioned next to the art shelf in the living room, intent on working with the new markers Uncle David bought him. Seven-year-old Johannah picks up her cross-stitch project she is attempting to finish for the 4-H exhibit at this year’s county fair. Five-year-old Hans plays quietly in the corner with his Legos. Three-year-old Ava happily sits near Mother on the couch sucking her thumb and holding Mother’s hair. And last but not least, little Helena crawls around examining the furniture, then counting her toes, and finally falls asleep on the floor an hour into the reading. All the children work and play quietly, never causing Mother a moment’s worry or distraction. She never has a need to tell anyone to be quiet or stop fighting. All is peace and calmness. Mother reads for two hours, stopping occasionally to call for narrations, and then stops to prepare dinner. Is this reality? I think not.

I determined long ago that if I waited for the perfect time to read aloud, then I would be waiting forever. But I really do think that by the time the youngest is twenty-four, he will have finally learned to be quiet while I read. Of course, by then they will all be married off and living in their own homes, and I’ll be left alone reading aloud to the empty chairs.

In the real world, when the children are small, you will have interruptions. The smaller the children and the larger the number of children, the more the interruptions. But what is motherhood all about but a training of these children, and it is a training process which seems never to end.

Although we would like no interruptions when we read, even more important is the training process on the road to no interruptions. The children remember how we mothers did things, not necessarily the end result. The children may not remember that everyone was quiet while Mother read, but they will remember that she was always gentle and kind in her training – well, almost always. – L.B.