Welcome to the first virtual meeting of The Core Bookclub here at Hope Is the Word. You can read more about the bookclub, as well as find out the schedule, in this post. Be sure to like Hope Is the Word on Facebook to participate in the discussion over there, too. Let’s get started!
As the title indicates, chapter one sets the stage for why alternative educational practices are needful. Although this might be just so much preaching to the choir, I did glean a good bit of encouragement from this chapter, as well as reminders of why we’re undertaking this countercultural thing called homeschooling. Here are some of the things I want to remember from this chapter:
The purpose of a classical education is to equip students to discover the way our universe works. (13)
The purpose of a classical education is to stengthen one’s mind, body, and character in order to develop the ability to learn anything. This requires consistent discipleship or mentoring by a concernred adult over a long period of time with very specific goals. (15)
I read with great interest Bortins‘ assertion that schools are trying to replicate or become substitutes for familial life. I have never really thought about it like this, and in fact I’m not sure I agree with it totally, but I can say this with a great amount of certainty: society has done more to force this than educators may have ever intended for it to happen. I’ve been closely associated with public education for the past fifteen or sixteen years, and the breakdown of the family and parental neglect is not just something the American Family Association harps about–it’s simply the truth. I agree with this statement:
Children are designed to be nurtured, taught, and loved by two adults within a supportive community for an extended period of time. Instead, we put children in a situation where they are consistently molded to depend on their peers. Children are taught to value the other students more than their teachers, for at least their classmates follow them on the age-graded conveyor belt from class to class, year after year, whereas teachers come and go. (16-17)
But what of the children whose parents are not interested in fulfilling even the smallest, most mundane of their responsibilites, much less the big ones? This whole issue is really outside the scope of this bookclub and what I usually discuss here at Hope Is the Word, but I see the problem as much bigger than just a problem of educational choice. I’ll just leave it at that.
I really appreciate Bortins‘ discussion of the benefits of memorization. This passage gives me a lot to ponder:
Yet somehow, in recent years educational theory has come to reject repetition as a good educational tool when it comes to mastering our multiplication tables or identifying geographic locations or learning the correct spelling of words. We accept that to be good at sports or music you must practice over and over until your fine motor skills become your gross motor skills, meaning that you can play Tchaikovsky in your sleep! Over-practice implies enough repetition to make new skills seem easy and natural. yet contemporary educational philosophies consider large amounts of rote pratice to be unnecessary in academics. And so our modern educational system is weak. (15)
I get the purpose for memorization as classical educators: we’re attempting to get our students familiar enough with the grammar of the disciplines that when they move into the rhetoric stage they are able to discuss, synthesize, debate, etc. the material without having to learn the basics all over again. I can see with great clarity now how the lack of a knowledge base affects students’ abilities and interest in academic pursuits just as they are entering the stage of development that academics should become most interesting. However, I think I’ve swallowed just enough of modern education’s disregard for memorization that I struggle with really buying into it wholesale, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m just a bit confused about how much is enough. (By the way, I’m glad we’re joining a Classical Conversations community this year and that we’ll be using the CC materials to guide us.)
Bortins addresses the main issue that keeps our family on this homeschooling path: that “getting good grades in school no longer means a child is educated” (30). And this:
Many parents may dismiss my message because their kids are getting A’s, enjoy going to school, and are learning basic skills like multiplication. In general, parents acknowledge that modern education is in crisis, but few believe that their children attend a school with real problems. My response is that our standards of even basic literacy are too low. (28)
Although I was educated in the same highly-ranked public school system that my children would attend were they to enter public school, I still want more for them. Looking back on my own education (and I was the valedictorian of my class!), I realize that while I did have many excellent teachers, overall the philosophy behind much of what we did was weak and faulty. What comes to mind after reading this chapter is just how dependent we were on pre-digested bits of information, particularly in history. My plan for my own children is this: to help them develop their intellects so that by the time they are high school students, they can wrestle with the big questions and read and understand the words of the Great Thinkers for themselves. It’s a daunting task, but I am confident that with the help of the Lord we can do it.
What did you get out of this chapter?
(Rather than put up a linky each week, I’ll just ask you to link up your blog posts in the comments. If you’re reading along and would prefer to just share your thoughts in a comment or on Hope Is the Word’s Facebook page, that’s good, too.)