I spent last weekend at a large homeschool conference vending for a company we’ve worked with for years. I talked with parents who were trying to sort out the best curriculum for their unique children with homeschooling budgets that varied from stingy to excessive. Some came with lists and were clear about what they were looking for; others needed whatever help was offered. The common denominator was that each of these parents was homeschooling and wanted to provide their kids the best education they could afford.
When I was a younger mother, I remember walking through vendor halls feeling a mixture of anxiety and personal struggle. Would I spend our curriculum dollars well; would my kids respond well to the purchases; would they learn; would we have fun; would this solve the problems we’d had the year before; would the difficult subjects be mastered?
I don’t think I’m the only one who goes to vendor events with that level of anxiety. In fact, when I jokingly mentioned to a harried mom who came to my booth that I was a trained therapist (I am), she breathed a huge sigh of relief and exclaimed, “Good! Maybe you can help me!” I laughed with her, but seriously, don’t you sometimes feel the intense pressure and weight of what it is homeschooling endeavors to do – provide your kids with an individualized, cost-effective quality education provided by…you?
I like themes; I look for them. As I gazed around the vendor hall I didn’t find a theme- just a whole conglomeration of mismatched stuff, thrown out there for people to “eclectically” pick and choose from, hoping that it would all come together – like stew. You know, you just pick out whatever’s left over in your refrigerator, throw it in a pot, add some seasonings, and everybody loves it.
My understanding of the theory of eclectic homeschooling is much like the theory behind a good stew. You throw whatever you have in to the pot and the results will be pleasing.
What about when the stew turns into a gloppy mess, everyone grumbles and complains, and it really is so bad you can’t justify forcing people to choke it down? In my years of “eclectic” and “literature-based” homeschooling, it could go either way. We had some wins; we had some losses; we spent a fortune; and every year it was the same anxiety, the same worry and frustration over choosing the right stuff, and finagling a bit more money for the latest “wonder curriculum” that would solve all manner of problems.
I saw both the beautiful stew and the gloppy mess as I looked around the vendor hall. And frankly, I breathed a sign of relief that my days of “other-than” classical ed were over. We’ve homeschooled for a long time. And we know others who have homeschooled for a long time. Many of the people that we know/knew who have homeschooled for many years have essentially given up on academics and turned their homeschooling attention towards “delight directed” learning (whatever the kids want to learn) or “life skills” (keeping the house running). They quit worrying about their kids understanding math and talked about how they would learn what they needed to know when it was important to them.
My personal testimony is that this is false.
Just because I want to learn something doesn’t mean that I have the skills or ability to learn it. This becomes more true the less natural ability you possess or the more skewed your abilities are. Furthermore, if you don’t spend time building a firm foundation, it’s hard to move on to more difficult subject areas. Basic math is necessary for algebra which is imperative for the study of astrophysics. If I don’t know algebra, no matter how much I want to learn astrophysics, I’m not going to be able to do so. This applies to subjects both simple and complex. Guessing at whole words does not a strong reader make.
As I looked around the vendor hall I did not see what I was looking for. I didn’t see it years ago and I still don’t see it. What we were looking for was an academic pedagogy that guides and directs the training of minds; that affords study as worship; that pushes us beyond our own wants of the moment, that shore up our weaknesses. What I found in the vendor hall was some really great curriculum, lots of information on worldview and religious training and plenty of books, books and more books. Those are all good things. Necessary, but not sufficient.
We continued to seek for an educational method that actually taught people to learn and think and seek, that taught the benefits and joy of discipline, that increased knowledge and wisdom. I found all that in the Classical Model of Education.
Classical Education provides a methodology that is time tested, works effectively, trains the brain to retain, gives your child the gift of knowing what they know, and provides a clear incremental, sequential, logical path that points the way to what’s next. Now, if you are thinking to yourself that you are not a left brain, logical sequential learner or thinker, don’t worry. I’m not either. I’m a big picture, random, global thinker who needs to know the why and where of things. I think in Venn diagrams, not time-lines themes, not specific details. The classical pedagogy is not a formulaic plan for a specific type of thinker. It provides a plan for any type of thinker.
That is part of the beauty of it: classical education works regardless of your abilities or lack thereof.
Using a classical pedagogy has saved us thousands of dollars. Why? I’m not second guessing choices nor am I catering to fun or my kids learning style or the latest homeschooling fad. I’m not comparing myself to the draconian homeschooler or the radical unschooler or the Christian school or the public school. I’m simply following the path and pattern of assured academic success. And we have lots of fun along the way. Furthermore, my children know the deep and lasting satisfaction of sustained effort that bring forth excellent results.
While many pedagogies tend to focus on either skills or content, classical education focuses on skill building and content. Students end up with more tools in their academic toolbox and a better appreciation of how to apply them.
With a clear vision of what I want and how to get it, I look around the vendor hall and purchase very little – some audio books and signed copies from a favorite author – and was totally at peace. I already have a clear plan in place for next year. This plan requires some research and planning on my part but no desperate searching or pressured buying or frantic questioning. I’m just sticking to the plan we implemented years ago and trusting that it’s going to yield the results it’s known for.
Classical Ed, all the way, Baby!
Lisa has homeschooled her 5 kids for 23 years, 3 of whom have graduated. She continues to homeschool her two youngest and has recently re-entered the working world. You can find her blogging at Golden Grasses