Monday, March 30, 2009

Classical Education Part 2: A Personal Note

Most of what I told you in part one could have been written by a college student who never taught a class or home schooled a family; just gleaned it from reading Sayer’s excellent essay. But now I want to mix a little personal experience in to provide some perspective. The reason is because I wish I would have really understood the classical method when I was first home schooling. I thought I did, but I didn’t.

The year before my oldest was to enter kindergarten, I started researching home schooling, reading books and gleaning advice from other home school moms (I don’t think I even knew what a blog was back then, 7 years ago. Did they even exist?) It wasn’t long before I encountered the classical method and decided it was for me. After reading a few different books on the classical method (I like Doug Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning), I was pretty sure I had the gist of it. After all, the concepts set forth in it aren’t exactly rocket science.
Yet somehow, even though I could accurately rattle off the trivium for you, I now realize that I had not truly internalized the principles.

What my home schooling would have looked like if I had really understood classical principles:

I would have been much less paralyzed by fear. The classical model demands first of all that you raise a very strong reader. Everything is secondary to that. Karis was reading well in kindergarten but I felt the need to fill several hours every day with “stuff.” I felt like if I didn’t do this, I was failing and she would be falling behind. So what if she’s reading Little House on the Prairie and the other kindergartners are learning the names of their letters, we still had to “do our time.” A true understanding of the classical model is freeing for a home schooler. You don’t have to be a slave to a 7-hour day.
If you provide them with the tools of learning: reading well, spelling, math, (the "grammar" of learning) and have them read some excellent literature everyday, the rest of your time can be spent outside listening to bird calls, examining bugs under a rock, collecting moss samples, etc. The time will come when they are in junior high and high school when they will want to read Animal Farm and understand about World War II. They will wonder how slavery got started and why the pilgrims left England and why was France and England always at war? But for now, teach them to read and to spell and work math, and let them play.

What it looked like instead:

Because I was paralyzed by fear of failure and didn’t truly internalize the idea of stages, I felt nervous about the fact that they didn’t really understand the why of everything. We didn’t just learn about the pilgrims coming to England, the kids had to sit still for impassioned lectures about religious freedom and the church of England—a 5, 3 and 2 year old. Looking back, I remember blank stares that occasionally glanced over at the window wondering if it was time for recess yet. I was trying to give junior high information to minds that weren’t ready.

What I didn’t understand then, but I do now, is that it’s okay for kids to go through a stage where they do nothing but memorize and parrot back information. The parent does not have to become nervous and defensive when the kids goes around saying, “In the year 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” “But WHY Johnny, why did Columbus sail the ocean blue?” Johnny doesn’t care, he’s just proud of the fact that he memorized. He might parrot back an answer for you; nonchalantly. It’s okay. You’re not a failure with a child that will necessarily grow up with a total ignorance for all things global. He’s just not ready yet. Get him reading well so when he does want to know why Columbus came here, he has the tools to figure it out. This is the heart of Classical Education.


adoptionroad said...

Thanks Leslie for spelling this out. I have been feeling guilty for my lack of structure and not covering all the material she would be getting in school.

Amy Phelps said...

I loved this Leslie - straight from the heart. Many of your comments could also apply to our training of our children on spiritual issues. I've not home schooled, and have no plans to, but many of your comments I've felt as it applied to spiritual issues and raising our kids. I've often reminded myself that it's ok that they are parroting some of the verses learned in various places (Awana and the likes) It's not that important at 5 that they understand the theology or reasons why. I've watched friends (not at our church :) hammer scripture over their kids (obedience to their parents, kindness to their brother - complete with verse and chapter) and just laughed - seemed like a good way to get them to resent the Bible. If we just teach them the principles behind the truths (kindness, service etc) and NOT give them verse and chapter, perhaps when the day comes that they come across it in the Bible they'll remember. Rambling here. But I appreciated your post - a good reminder to us to lighten up a little with our young ones.

Anonymous said...

You probably won't end up reading this, but I had to comment to what you said. I might have misunderstood you, but I would say the oposite of what I understood you to be saying. Kids are great at memorizing, so have them memorize those Scriptures on obeying your parents, loving your siblings, etc. now, and when they are older, they will begin to understand the principles much more. The key is doing so with love, not "hammering". I highly recommend "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp.
~Heather, cousin of Leslie