Welcome to the third 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. (should such a conversation ever materialize 😉 ).
Chapter three is my favorite chapter in part one of the book in which Leigh Bortins builds a case for classical education in today’s world. It fleshes out what such an education might look like on a day-to-day basis:
Few of today’s parents were raised in a culture of home-centered education, so expect it to occasionally be frustrating to develop. The classical model proves that it is hard to recreate something you haven’t seen before. Sometimes we have to get used to being with our children. (They don’t behave like adults.) Home-centered education is natural education, which means that, naturally, nothing will go quite as planned! The spontaneity of life with children can oftentimes seem fruitless, and there’s never a paycheck to help soften the hard days. The rewards come in small moments of progress and success shared as a family. This is true no matter how you school your children, but the emphasis on learning to love academics together makes home-centered education different than other forms, in that the parents are intentional in ensuring that academics are mastered. (64)
I think that passage and this statement should be required reading for all new homeschooling parents:
For many parents, just reestablishing the authority required to teach one’s own child will consume much energy. Proceed with purpose and clarity and your whole family will rapidly advance into the dialectic and rhetoric stages of learning. (67)
Of course, some might argue that there isn’t much that’s rapid or natural about a classical education, especially, as Bortins mentions, when we parents weren’t educated in that way. Indeed, it feels downright strange, wrong even, in the beginning to employ different methods. (I remember feeling that way a little bit in the beginning when it seemed like we had so little to actually show in the way of written work for all the work we’d done!) What I’ve learned over the few years we’ve been officially homeschooling is that this is as much about my education as it is theirs; I’m learning (and re-learning) right alongside my children, which is as it should be.
I identified with the anecdote that Bortins‘ shares of her young son’s knowledge of the presidents when he was only four years old: he knew them well enough to realize one might be missing from the lineup. The DLM has been able to recognize most of the numbers 1-10 since before he was two years old (most of the time–not always and not perfectly, but pretty well), and I had no idea how or when he learned them that well. Then I realized one day that in addition to the board books that we had read about numbers, he had sat in my lap for countless math card games with the girls. He had seen me hand each girl the numbered card she asked for and had made his own connections between the number and the symbol. I have no doubt that this type of learning will continue into the various stages, from grammar to dialectic and then to rhetoric, and back and forth as we learn new things.
I also identified with Bortins‘ discussion of making connections across various subjects (or in this case, languages) during the dialectic stage:
The easiest way to teach dialectic or logical thinking is to re-present the students with rules and examples they already know, help them see the relationship between the new and old ideas, and then give the scholars the opportunity to form their own conclusions about additional rules or logical outcomes. For instance, when I’m tutoring in Latin, I use the grammar rules the students have already learned in English to help them discover the rules of Latin. At the same time, they are memorizing Latin grammatical rules to facilitate the “Aha!” moment when they see how the rules from both languages intertwine. The student who has memorized many rules when young has a head start on the student who has to both memorize the rules and think about the logical connections for the first time. (72)
Unfortunately (perhaps?), I had memorized few English grammar rules, so my “aha!” was in reverse: I realized after conjugating verbs in Spanish that something similar happens in English, though it had never been presented to me in that way. Somehow I had missed a systematic teaching of English, so my awakening to it was rather slow and late, but it happened, and I remember being astonished and happily amazed at the sheer predictability of it. (Well, except for those exasperating irregular verbs, and I even learned later about the much older rules by which some of those verbs operate.)
One part of this chapter that gave me pause as I read it is Bortins‘ assertion that having “like-minded friends” with which to tackle academic endeavors. As a homeschooling parent I tend to the more extreme end of independence, and I really consider the quality (or what I perceive as the quality when I have never experienced the classes first hand) of any long-term group learning situation to which we commit. On the other hand, though, I also do know from having taught high school that when students of that age are capable and passionate about their subject matter, magic things can happen. There really is something to such students being able to experience this stage of learning with engaged peers, so I am praying now that a community like this will come together as my children grow, and that I’ll have the forbearance and humility to realize its importance when the time comes.
The thing that I’ve appreciated most about this book in general and this chapter in particular is the long view Bortins takes of education. I know that looking at things in this way will be imperative for me as a homeschooling parent and the primary teacher/tutor/mentor in our homeschool to make it successfully for the long-haul. What we’re doing now is for the future, and it may not have obvious short term results. While the volume of memory work we’re endeavoring to master as a part of a Classical Conversations community this year is daunting, I am trusting in the end result. I have a few ideas about how to make some of the things we learn a bit more relevant and contextualized (mostly through reading books 😉 ), but over all I’m going to be at peace this year with the process.
I’ll close this already lengthy post with my favorite passage from the chapter:
Time will grow [children’s] bodies even if children are utterly abandoned by adults, but too many adults behave as large children rather than mature men and women. THe best way to train up a child to maturation is to have boys spend time with men and to have girls develop strong relationships with women, just as an apprentice spends time with a master. Families are designed to implement this important task by spending time with one another. (85)
We have a big task ahead of us, we parents. By God’s grace, let us do it well.
What did you glean from chapter three?
Links to previous bookclub posts:
(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.)