I have six children from ages seven to sixteen. Over the last two years I have been learning and studying about classical education and have been trying to implement it. My problem is that I’m very unsure of myself in accomplishing this. My children seem to be very behind in some of the areas (like grammar and math). I’ve been using Writing Strands with my 12 and 13 year olds, and at an early level. We’re using the Veritas Press History Cards along with The Kingfisher World History Book. I’m using the Latin video and Primer by Martha Wilson. The younger three do the chants and the 12 and 13 year old are doing it all. I’ve been trying to use Building Thinking Skills with the oldest three. In between we are doing The Red Herring Mysteries, which are great fun. I’m trying to do a lot of reading with them, but by the time they get their math, spelling, handwriting and other stuff completed it seems like there isn’t much time. I’m thinking of asking my husband to take over their morning Bible study to help me out. Anyway, lately I’m feeling overwhelmed that I’m not doing this education thing right. My oldest is doing A Beka video this year and I’m spending half my time taking care of his things. I feel like I need to be more organized, which is my weakness and wonder especially with my sixteen year old how I can make sure he’s where he needs to be. Is there a test I can give him? Sometimes it seems like the people I read about on the e-mails here have it all together! MBB
Your letter is similar to many of the letters, phone calls and convention conversations which we have had over the past seventeen years. Parents are perceiving some ideal picture of what classical education in the home should be like, and when they can’t meet that ideal, then they become discouraged, they often give up, and worse yet, they send their older children to a full time private classical school or a two or three day a week classical homeschool co-op/private school.
Here are a few observations and suggestions. With a classical method of education we seek:
1. To enable our children to think for themselves (not be ruled by peer pressure or tied to educational systems, such as the government schools);
2. To enable our children to logically think through arguments and to speak and to write with clarity and force;
3. To enable our children to read and to understand the great and worthy literature of past years (the definition of worthy is another topic for discussion).
4. To enable our children to master a new subject on their own.
These are goals which come readily to my mind. There are others. We also want our children to be free from the baggage which we parents brought with us into our marriages — such things as the addiction to pictures (TV, videos, computer games), the dependence upon continual entertainment (sports, music, and the “shop till you drop” mentality), and the continual desire to surround ourselves with our peers. How we accomplish these goals can be done in any number of ways with any number of materials. We are not tied to any one method or curriculum.
I hear the word overwhelmed quite often. I remember the year our oldest was sixteen — or maybe he was fifteen. That was a very hard year for me. He was in algebra 2, chemistry, logic, Latin, plus other subjects. Since he was our oldest, it was the first time I had studied most of those subjects (Latin and logic), and it was a long time since my own high school days when I had studied some of them (the math and chemistry). I had to give up a hobby which I had been enjoying for a number of years — studying genealogy. That year and the next were academically hard, but then it eased up. This may be the reason that many mothers give up on homeschooling when their child reaches the high school years. The subjects are unfamiliar to them, and it takes real perseverance to get through that period of one or two years. That’s where your commitment to homeschooling is tested. We are committed to homeschooling, as I think you are also.
Some of what you read on classical education forums may be more wishful thinking and idealizing than cold hard reality and the norm. Women often tell us what they would like to do, not what they actually do. We have visited and talked with literally hundreds of families all over the country, and rarely are things quite like what you read about. Many are in the same boat as you, even the families with only one or two kids. We all have our own weaknesses. May I share with you what I’ve learned in our travels?
Keep children away from TV, computer stuff, and rock and contemporary type music — it deadens the mind, which is exactly what you don’t want to do if pursuing a classical education. Limit children’s contact with peers, especially groups of peers. Require first time obedience from all the children. Resolve conflicts as they arise — even if it takes all day. Avoid leaving the house too often during the week (I add this after our visit to California where it seems homeschooling families there must not like the houses they live in since they are gone from them so much). And last, but certainly not least, do lots of reading aloud.
We are often asked this question, What books should I buy to make my curriculum more classical? Some define classical education by the materials used. We define classical education by the model and method used, and we find materials to fit the model and method (or we make them fit). We believe classical education to be more than simply adding Latin grammar to the schedule and reading through the Iliad. It is a developing of the mind. If you are a Christian pursuing the classical approach, then classical education is also a molding of the morals.
If your child’s schedule consists of two hours a day with pictures, unlimited exposure to contemporary music, unnecessary contact with peers, and unresolved conflict in the home (notice I said unresolved — we all have conflicts), then simply learning Latin or Greek roots won’t do you much good. Classical education is a way of life.
EDUCATION, The bringing up, as of a child; instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties. — Noah Webster