In another article, I shared some good summer reading material that we’ve enjoyed. Now I want to share my own summer book list. Now, this isn’t my leisure reading, for that I actually read the books on Hick’s Norms list, and I try to stay a book or two ahead of my oldest student. Instead, this is a list of books about education or classical schooling that I bring out to the pool to read as I play lifeguard or when I don’t want to knit anymore. Usually I will fill a basket with about four books (no, I will not pick just one – heaven forbid!), my Bullet Journal, my commonplace book, a clipboard with paper, pens, and my knitting.
Over the last few years I’ve read some amazing books on classical schooling. Looking back, I sense a certain order that they should be read in. That list goes like this:
Yes, this is about public schools in America and we are homeschoolers, but in this book Dr Hirsch brilliantly lays out the history of school and teaching pedagogy, and gives insight and criticism as he goes along.
Why this one first?
Some of us may start home educating with no knowledge of the history of schools or pedagogy and then homeschooling itself has its own pedagogies that can be a quagmire, so it’s a wonderful overview of where we are on the continuum. You can’t know where you are going unless you know where you are. It’s great if you want to decided between unschooling and classical home education, for instance. This book is like the huge amusement park map with the big yellow arrow that says, “You Are Here.” Now that we know where we are, we can figure out where we want to go and why.
(If you’ve decided to classically educate from the beginning, I still urge you to read this book so that you can sniff a very old, bad idea if it appears wearing a “Classical Education” costume. And those ideas do try and wheedle their way in. Choose them if you like, but at least having read the book, their mask will be off. )
Caveat Emptor: if you are an American, this book will make you mad. Not because it shines a spotlight on the ineffectiveness of our current educational system, but because we ourselves have been raised and taught in this system, we’ve become inadvertently indoctrinated about education in so many ways. I remind you of Aristotle’s saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” So, don’t throw the book with great force. Consider his ideas; you don’t have to accept them.
The Great Tradition by Richard Gamble
Now that you’ve read about the history of educational ideas in schools, you might decide you want to classically educate your child, and this is a great place to start learning about classical education. What were the best ideas about educating human beings from antiquity to now? What is this Great Conversation that so many classical educators speak of? Why do I care? What does it matter? This is the book to read when you want to answer those questions. In this book you can view the arch of classical education through the centuries. It’s like standing far back from Monet’s “Water Lilies” and taking in the beauty of the whole.
Climbing Parnassus by Tracey Lee Simmons.
Now that we know where we are and why classical education is so important, it’s time to consider Greek and Latin languages, the nucleus of Classical Education. For this we need a good romance and argument to convince us. This is that book. Mr. Simmons calls it an apologia for Greek and Latin; I call it dinner and wine which lure us into making a decision we will surely rail against in one point or another in our studies. Climbing Parnassus is a long, arduous journey, but with Mr. Simmon’s book, we remember why we fell in love in the first place (this is often why I reread it – the bloom is off the rose and I need a second date).
Lastly in that summer reading basket is Poetic Knowledge by Dr. James Taylor.
It’s another romance. Classical schooling is not all about Rote Drill, Slapping Knuckles, and Chanting. Aristotle said, “Education begins in wonder.” In this book, Dr. Taylor shows us how and why wonder is so important for us as humans and in home education. In Poetic Knowledge, Dr. Taylor quotes Dr. Dennis Quinn, co-founder of Integrated Humanities Program, “‘Mistake me not; wonder is no sugary sentimentality but, rather, a mighty passion, a species of fear, an awful confrontation of the mystery of things.’” What a beautiful education wonder brings us.
These books (and others like them) keep my heart afire for educating my children. They romance me. They remind me of my love for doing this hard task year after year. They give me hope for the world and prepare me to go back to the salt mines of the every day to save our little plot of civilization. I hope they do the same for you.