About Classical, About Homeschooling, Uncategorized

Sometimes I Waffle About Classical Education, but Then I Remember My Own

  • Welcome to Farrar Williams our first guest contributor since the re-boot

I’ve been homeschooling for a while now, and in the course of educating my kids, I’ve tried on a variety of different styles and methods. My boys have their passions in the arts and sciences, not the humanities. They’re performers and creators. They’re much more interested in creative and hands-on learning. In the end, I’ve educated the kids I have, just like we all do, choosing experiences and styles that meet their needs best.


I’ve really only been classically influenced. However, every time I start to think about moving further away from that influence, I get dragged back to my own education, and I know I can’t let go of that influence.


I was fortunate to have attended a public magnet school where the humanities programs were profoundly influenced by neo-classical ideas. While newbies like Susan Wise Bauer and Leah Bortins and older writings like those of Dorothy Sayers and Charlotte Mason tend to dominate the classical education conversation in homeschooling circles, one of the loudest voices in education encouraging a return to classical thinking and great books was once Mortimer J. Adler. Adler’s work How to Read a Book, originally published in 1940, was a bestseller in its day. He helped solidify the term “Great Books” and proposed a system of classical education in his work The Paideia Proposal.


The school I attended took the idea of reading through the canon seriously, though it thankfully made it a more diverse canon than Adler ever envisioned (Adler’s refusal to include non-Western and non-white authors was one of the things that eventually made him unpopular in academic circles). It started slow, but by the time I graduated high school, I had read a dozen Shakespeare plays, several major epics like The Odyssey, classic works of British literature from The Canterbury Tales to Heart of Darkness, American works from The Scarlett Letter to The Joy Luck Club, and pretty much everything in between. I read Things Fall Apart in tenth grade. I did a deep dive on Native American authors in eleventh. People I know are often astounded by the number of books that I offhandedly mention were required reading for me in high school. I decided not to become an English major in college after realizing I’d spent four years mostly rereading.


In addition to the longer works, we read poems and excerpts of longer works. In history class, we tore through primary source documents in piles. I read The Communist Manifesto and A Vindication of the Rights of Women. We used Adler’s Paideia seminars as a reading approach, discussing everything from creation myths to Candide to Freud. Adler talked about ways to encourage close reading and then bring that knowledge to a classroom seminar for discussion where students would deepen their knowledge through other understandings of the text. The Socratic discussion was encouraged and modeled.


This is not to say that I was always the best student or that I didn’t cut corners occasionally. It was still high school, not an ivory tower paradise. However, overall, I loved it. I was challenged and academically fulfilled most of the time, given real work that was really worth doing. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.


When I look at my own kids, just beginning to be assigned classic literature like The Time Machine and To Kill a Mockingbird, both of which I read in high school, I’m pulled back to just how much I value that time in my own life. I am a better person to this day for having been pushed to read classic literature. I’m more informed, more cultured, more able to participate in that Great Conversation. I have more references, a better vocabulary, a deeper understanding of history, and a better understanding of other cultures from having read literature from Asia, Africa, and South America.


My own sons aren’t the bibliophiles I was as a child. I don’t think they’ll ever read the sheer volume of books I had to go through. Nor would they intentionally choose the harder options like I sometimes did, devouring Anna Karenina as a supplemental read instead of a shorter option. Instead, I find myself picking a smaller selection of those books carefully, looking at the shorter titles and thinking about how to push them toward that ability to read, understand, and most importantly, enjoy what they read. Despite having exposed them to history from start to finish and to as many good read aloud and well-written children’s versions of classical stories, they’re just not ready, even on the eve of high school, to be thrown into the deep end. I’m not letting that discourage me though.

I’m determined to give them a taste of that classically flavored experience to help them become well-rounded, literate individuals who can also participate in those deeper conversations about the world around us that are based in understanding our past.

Farrar Williams has headed the online homeschool community for Washington, D.C.-area homeschoolers, taught theater classes, at different local arts programs, coached Destination Imagination, and helped run a small, family-centered learning co-op. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she writes fiction and blogs about home-based education at I Capture the Rowhouse.

About Classical, Uncategorized

The Link between the Heart and the Mouth

“Training the mind is no simple task!…But in a classical education, we are willing to work through these difficult mental exercises because we recognize that the mind is the vital link between the heart and the mouth.”

I recorded this into my commonplace book some time ago without an attribution. If you know who said it, please let me know, and I’ll attribute the quote.

In any case, I heartily agree with this sentiment. So many times I’ve heard the assertions that homeschooling must be so hard, so time-consuming, so, so, so…

You know it too. If you are just starting out, you’ll soon have a canned answer ready that you’ll whip out without a second thought. I joke that I didn’t want to awaken early enough to get four kids on a bus. I’ll admit that is was partly that and the fact that I wanted my children to know not only how to think, but how to think independently.

If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place in which to live.-John F. Kennedy

I’ve found the classical education method to be the best avenue to achieve our educational goals. We go astray sometimes for months at a time, but always seem to return to our core basics. Reading and being read to are key. The more literature that children are exposed to the better.


Classical education is not all about being able to recite facts. It’s studying the past extensively and therefore having the knowledge to avoid mistakes that have been made again and again. It’s gaining empathy due to reading story after story of tragedy and loss. How can you relate to time you haven’t lived through?


You can get a real sense of history through both historical fiction and fact. Knowing the dates is a bonus as it allows you to have a sort of timeline in your head for what happened when. That doesn’t preclude the student also relating to the point in time creatively. Repeat after me: Classical Education is not boring. The materials and presentation can be annoying. A student will have subjects that he/she prefer over others. That doesn’t mean you skip it.  I don’t think specialization should be encouraged until age sixteen or so.

I’m afraid that this is turning into a generalized rant of how classical education is perceived by most of the homeschooling community. It isn’t meant to be that. It also isn’t intended to say that all other methods of education are inferior. Every family needs to determine their goals and values for educating their children soon after they decide to take on the responsibility themselves. I’m speaking as a classically influenced homeschooler who has been at this gig for over sixteen years.

This then is my actual point. Only through learning about the past and gaining empathy can we link the heart and the mouth thus providing the world with educated souls in what are seeming to be very interesting times.




Jen N. – Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she lives in a world of fandoms. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and reviews books at  www.recreationalscholar.com

About Classical

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ at the Gap, by Courtney

Parents of public school children who are thinking about homeschooling often ask questions like:

“How do you homeschool your child without leaving gaps in their knowledge? How do you know homeschool curricula authors have expertise and their curricula are covering enough?”

The most common answer I see is this: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In words:

“No curriculum is perfect! Students are always going to have gaps! You should just follow their lead and let them study whatever they enjoy! As long as they figure out how to learn, that’s the important thing.”

I have a problem with this, and the following is why I have a problem.

One of the original thinkers in the study of how children learn is Jean Piaget. Piaget came up with the idea of schemas. (East Tennessee State University, 2016) Schemas are the basic building blocks of knowledge. If you spend much time around toddlers, it is easy to notice huge gaps in their schemas—all animals with fur and four legs are “doggy,” for example. Toddlers eventually refine their schemas to exclude all but canines in the “doggy” category.

So what? From my example, most people would point out that everybody has gaps, right? Well, yes and no. The more we learn, the more we refine our schemas. “This has four legs and fur, but it meows, so it is not a dog.” Our schemas become incredibly complex, in fact—and this is a good thing! (East Tennessee State University, 2016) The more refined the schema, the more information inherent in it and the more opportunities a child has to attach more information to it!

In terms of schemas, random facts do not “attach” to anything, which is why they are so difficult to learn. This also explains the phenomenon of “in one ear and out the other”—students aren’t making connections to existing schemas. However, when a student is attentive, with proper background knowledge, refining a schema can be effortless—see also, “meow” versus “bark.” As an instructor, one should be on the lookout for incorrect schemas. Without correct background knowledge in their schema, a student “knows” that gravity does not act equally on bowling balls and feathers (Clement, 1982).

This is where my problem with laissez-faire education occurs. When they don’t have an introduction to human knowledge in a structured fashion, with explicit connections to prior knowledge, students will have enormous gaps in their education of which they are unaware (East Tennessee State University, 2016), (Clement, 1982). Furthermore, their lack of prior background knowledge will actually impair their ability to learn in the future. (Willingham, Ask the Cognitive Scientist: How Knowledge Helps, 2006), (Clement, 1982).

If you want your child to be a good learner, it’s self-defeating to shrug off the “gap” question. In educational research, this is called the Matthew effect (Sanovich, 1986), after Matthew 25:29:

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.

Students with refined, complex schemas—or in other words, well-organized depths of background knowledge—learn more easily (Willingham, Ask the Cognitive Scientist, 2003) and are more likely to draw correct conclusions when given new information. For example, every progressively-educated public school student in a study was gullible enough to believe that a website about tree octopuses was telling the truth (Krane, 2006). Why would we not do as much as possible to “mind the gap” so that our students do not fall prey to tree octopuses?

Classical education is good for all kinds of students, not just students who love to read. For poor readers, background knowledge increases reading comprehension (Kosmoski, Gay, & Vockell, 1990). For students who struggle with working memory, education research has firmly shown that increased background knowledge increases working memory (Willingham, Ask the Cognitive Scientist: How Knowledge Helps, 2006).

One common criticism of classical education is its emphasis on rote memorization. If you want your child to have good problem-solving skills, random, scattered background knowledge is insufficient. “The student must have sufficient background knowledge to recognize familiar patterns—that is, to chunk—in order to be a good analytical thinker.” (Willingham, Ask the Cognitive Scientist: How Knowledge Helps, 2006). Classical education’s emphasis on memorization actually contributes to good problem-solving skills and flexible thought!

On the other hand, schemas are not composed solely of facts—they are also composed of knowledge of how those facts fit together. This allows students to draw analogies between prior knowledge to create new knowledge:

a shark is to a vertebrate as an octopus is to a(n) ______________

Classical education’s emphasis on learning facts in context—history as narrative, for example—helps students “fit” their memorized facts into their increasingly refined schemas.

Will every classically educated student become an expert in every subject? Of course not. But background knowledge of facts and concepts is required for students to develop expertise in their chosen areas of interest (Willingham, Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise, 2002).

Another way to look at this research is to note that the hierarchical, highly structured nature of formal classical education actually lends itself beautifully to the way children learn. We provide them with oodles of background knowledge, diving deep into a particular subject for a year or so at a time, explicitly scaffolding their schemas with timelines, science notebooks, and nature journals. Then we revisit the topics at different age groups, making connections and relationships between knowledge clearer, strengthening schemas until students develop a deep understanding of the material.

Classical education’s overarching view of knowledge, organized into interrelated domains, actually works with the way our minds create schemas. Will there be gaps? Of course—but we’re minding them, providing our students with basic, underlying structures for their schemas, instead of throwing our hands up and shrugging at the inevitable

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. –Edward Everett Hale



Clement, J. (1982). Students’ Preconceptions in Introductory Mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 66-71.

East Tennessee State University. (2016, May 31). Schema Theory: What is a Schema? Retrieved from Faculty Support for Instruction: http://www.etsu.edu/fsi/learning/schematheory.aspx

Kosmoski, G. J., Gay, G., & Vockell, E. L. (1990). Cultural Literacy and Academic Achievement. Journal of Experimental Education, 265-272.

Krane, B. (2006, November 13). Researchers find kids need better online academic skills. Retrieved from University of Connecticut Advance: http://advance.uconn.edu/2006/061113/06111308.htm

Sanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy”. Reading Research Quarterly, 360-407.

Willingham, D. (2002, Winter). Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise. Retrieved from AFT American Educator: http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/winter-2002/ask-cognitive-scientist

Willingham, D. (2003, Summer). Ask the Cognitive Scientist. Retrieved from American Educator: http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2003/ask-cognitive-scientist

Willingham, D. (2006, May 31). Ask the Cognitive Scientist: How Knowledge Helps. Retrieved from AFT American Educator: 2016

Willingham, D., & Riener, C. (2010, September-October). The Myth of Learning Styles. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning.


Courtney is a relatively recent, accidental homeschooler of the secular, classical persuasion. Courtney has been teaching online (mostly community college algebra) since 2000, while working towards a ridiculous number of college credits for teaching certifications in general science, social studies, and visual impairments. Along the way, she’s done substitute teaching, face-to-face college adjuncting, technical writing, web design, public relations, data analysis, teaching in a public school, homeschool portfolio evaluations, providing vision education services for Birth To Three, and a whole host of “other duties as assigned.” In her spare time she enjoys reading, photography, cooking, sewing clothes, and other various domestic arts. She lives in the middle of the Appalachian mountains on the east coast of the USA with her husband, her two children, and her mother. Her family’s menagerie currently consists of a dog, assorted lizards, assorted cichlid fish, and assorted cats.

About Classical

An Autodidact’s Guide to a Classical Education, by Jen N.

*autodidact: a self-taught person

We need more than just a syllabus.  Knowing the how’s and why’s of an education that most of us did not receive ourselves leaves us constantly running to catch up.  The idea of an education that only supplies a student with skills to get ahead in the world is not an adequate preparation for even entry-level employment.  An education rooted in the classics gives each student their own arsenal of information and experiences to draw from. This is where the non-classically educated teacher must accept the responsibility of continually self-educating.

This is the ending of an article I wrote last year. We ran it again last week, and this time  I have messages from parents asking me exactly how you give yourself the classical education that you didn’t receive?  There is no short answer. I wish I could bullet point ten things for you to read or listen to, but the list would be endless so I’ll try to give you ideas of how to squeeze it in and a few books to read. The rest is going to take time and effort on your part.

Here is the bright side: self-teaching is a much different experience from institutional learning . . . thank heavens.  It can be an invigorating, absorbing, inspiring, enlightening and captivating experience, and one that often requires very little, if any, money. Most of the classics can be read free online or are at the library. In other words: it’s worth your time to invest in yourself.

I know how busy we all are, and if you are already homeschooling, simply keeping up with the day to day lesson plans is a full-time job.

Teachers have Institute Days that are an opportunity for teachers to learn new curriculum, materials, techniques and specific knowledge in their area of teaching.

We need them too. Snow days, vacation weeks, and what I term “mental health days” are all fair game for the kids to have no structured school so that you, the teacher, can learn something new. If you school lightly or not at all during the summer, you can get ahead then as well.

Feeling overwhelmed?  The secret is that we all think it is an impossible task. All you can do is your best. Some years will be more productive than others. In the space of twelve years, it will all even out. Slow and steady really is the way to think of this endeavor.

How far do you need to be ahead of your students? 

I’ve read, and someone mentioned in their note, that we only need to be one day ahead of our students.

It is not the optimal situation.

That said I pulled my boys and taught them second and fifth grade with almost zero prep work. I was only barely ahead of them and it turned out fine. Now I’m teaching fifth grade for the fifth time, and I am much more confident. It helps when you have your own base of knowledge to pull from.

A university education ought to follow up by teaching how to read seriously, but many college seniors aren’t much further along than their high school counterparts. Often, they graduate with a nagging sense of their own deficiencies; as adults, they come back to the task of serious reading and discover that it has not magically become simpler. Homer is still long-winded, Plato impenetrable, Stoppard bewilderingly random. Too often, these readers give up, convinced that serious books are beyond them.

But all that’s missing is training in the art of reading. If you didn’t learn how to read properly in school, you can do it now. The methods of classical education are at your disposal.– Susan Wise Bauer How to Get the Classical Education You Never Had

I am going to assume for the rest of this piece that you are using a classical curriculum and won’t try to sell you on it. (If you aren’t but are interested, read here.) Start at the beginning and see where your own education left off. If you are one day ahead now, you’ll be a couple weeks ahead in no time. It really does snowball.

What if you remember reading the classics and just think you’ll never understand them? Or if you have never studied Latin or Greek?

Here is my super secret slacker answer for both: Get the middle-grade version for yourself. Something for kids grades 5-8. I thought I would never get through the Iliad the first time I read it. Once I read the easier version and understood the basic plot I went back and could then grasp the nuances of the original.

One last thing on this subject: Buy the teacher manuals and then read them. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Trust yourself to take or leave the information inside them and teach it to your student in your own way.

How can I educate myself and my child at the same time?

You’ll need to read and take notes whenever you get a chance. If all the kids are school age then you need to read while they read. In math, I often worked problems alongside my students if I needed a refresher. In Latin, I’m two years ahead of my students. I sometimes work in my own workbook while they write in theirs.

Remember, it’s not about buying things. A library book and a spiral notebook full of notes will feed your mind just fine.

“One might begin the day with lessons in Latin and math; follow those studies with fine read-alouds in fiction, history, science, or poetry (perhaps rotating through several books in the course of the week, and having the child narrate some of the readings); and leave the rest of the day open for free play, nature walks, art, music, and curling up with good books.”- Andrew Campbell, The Latin Centered Curriculum 

Our days are patterned after the kind of day mentioned above and I really don’t feel stressed about my own learning. We look at our school days as family learning days where we all are learning on a continual basis.

Classical Education Resources?

Books. I’ll give you a list of books divided into the how’s and why’s of classical education and books that tell you how to read. Whenever you feel ready dive into one of the Great Books.

How’s and Why’s:

The Trivium

Climbing Parnassus

Latin Centered Curriculum  ( I prefer the first edition.)

The Lost Tools of Learning

How to Read:

The Well-Educated Mind

How to Read A Book

The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it means to be an Educated Human Being

I’d like to close with this quote in the hopes that I’ve made this idea of self-education seem not only plausible but possible.

For centuries classical education set about the task of teaching the noble arts of the mind and heart, and it can do so again. Those arts are not dead. They’re merely hibernating. A clever and ingenious world must find within itself once more the humility to learn—and to teach—those noble arts if any semblance of civilization, any shard of inner greatness, is to survive the havoc wrought by generations of aphasia and well-meaning neglect. We can regain our memory and tell its tales to those waiting to hear.– Tracy Lee Simmons, Climbing Parnassus

About Classical, About Homeschooling

Is Classical Education About Curriculum? by Lynne

As a member of an inclusive homeschool co-op, I’m surrounded by lots of homeschooling families with multiple approaches to schooling. I think there is often confusion and misunderstanding about what exactly certain methods of homeschooling entail. For instance, I know some unschoolers are leery of any type of published curriculum. And I know other types of homeschoolers who are leery of any kind of child-led learning. To dispel some of the mystery and confusion, we need to engage in more conversation with our fellow homeschoolers so that we can all recognize the merits of having more than one way of doing things. We have enough polarization with politics in the world; we don’t need more of it in home education. This article is the result of a missed opportunity, in which I wished I had explained that using published curriculum is only a means to pursuing a method.

So – is classical education about curriculum? Consider the definition of curriculum in Webster’s New World Dictionary: “a fixed series of studies required, as in college, for graduation . . .” If we take the part of the definition that says “a fixed series of studies”, then yes, classical education is about curriculum. That curriculum is the trivium – the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. There is also the quadrivium, which in ancient Greece meant the study of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy that followed the trivium.

That’s it, folks, in a nutshell. Now, you can find plenty of articles online that will further complicate matters, but the above is your bare bones definition of classical education. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric make up the core “curriculum,” followed by math and sciences. During the trivium stage, you study the construction and mechanics of language. You learn how to think logically. You learn how to express yourself in a clear and logical manner. You use history, literature, and art to accomplish all of these things.

Some folks will argue that you can’t have a classical education without studying Latin and/or Greek. While I find the study of Latin to be extremely useful for understanding English vocabulary and grammar, I wouldn’t go so far as to say you must be studying it to have a classical homeschool. Some folks will also argue that you can’t have a classical education without certain content, such as the Great Books. Here’s my 2¢ – the world has changed dramatically since Plato wrote The Republic. We have a lot more history, literature, art, and scientific information to include in our educations. I believe the definition of classical education has to expand to include emphasis on things that are of importance to us in our modern day society, as well as covering the canon of work that has maintained its relevance over hundreds of years.

What about our homeschooling perception of the word “curriculum”? I don’t know about you, but I think of things like Saxon Math, Sonlight Cores, All About Spelling, and Story of the World when I hear the word curriculum. When someone asks me what curriculum I’m using, I’ll usually answer that we use a variety of different curricula. By that, I mean that we use a wide variety of published materials.

But classical education is not about curriculum in this latter sense of the word. I could use any different number of math books or grammar books or history books and produce the same results. I could use no “specifically published as curriculum” books and get the same results. Classical education is not about curriculum. It’s using the information we have from the past to learn the skills we need to understand humanity. This can be accomplished by following the methods of classical education, such as copy work, dictation, and Socratic questioning. For centuries students were taught in these methods using nothing but the few published works available to them.

While a particular curriculum may not be necessary for a classical education, there are certainly several curricula that can help you accomplish your goals. Parents are not necessarily trained in the teaching of these methods. Finding a curriculum that guides and directs you through the classical method is quite handy. I’m a huge fan of many products published by the various Classical homeschooling companies and others. Classical education is a time-tested method of producing logically-thinking adults, and if you find that a certain publisher helps you produce those logically-thinking adults that you can launch into the world, be thankful. That is the goal.


Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past 4.5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.

About Classical, Education is a Life, Homeschool Wisdom, Preparation, Reading

Stoking the Fire Within, by Briana Elizabeth

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:

The Schools We Need, and Why We Don’t Have Them by Dr. E.D. Hirsch

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.

About Classical, Education is a Life

Can PE be Classical? by Cheryl

An integral part of a classical education is the idea of the trivium and how it guides teaching methods at each of the three stages of learning – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Can physical education follow this model? As a dancer and dance instructor, I believe  physical education does follow this model.

A student may start dancing as soon as they can walk, but true ballet training typically starts between six and eight years of age depending on how aware a child is of how her body moves. This begins the grammar stage of her ballet studies.

In my classes for 6-10 year olds (grammar age)

, the students are taught terminology. They memorize many steps and basic technical elements of dance. More new knowledge is thrown at them in those first few years than at any other time in dance training. Dancers must memorize the steps, their French names, and sometimes the English translation. The main focus in a performance piece will often be memorization of the steps. Some times the execution is correct, but often you get one or the other – execution or memory.

Somewhere between ages eight and twelve, students cross over into the logic stage of dance. One day you repeat “lift through your center and stretch your legs” for the millionth time, and they think about it. All the instructions you have given finally click. A light bulb goes on. They do all of those little things – engage their abs, press their shoulders down, spot – and they execute an amazing double pirouette.

Those really are the moments I teach for!

The logic stage continues as they go through good days when everything clicks and bad days when they forget what they did in the last class. They are learning to work with their growing bodies and gain control of themselves. They argue with you – “I did lift my elbows!” (This is when a smart phone comes in handy, one quick video and they understand – their body is not doing what their brain is telling it to do.)

Eventually, they reach the rhetoric stage. They now have control of their bodies; they have learned how dance steps connect to music. They can take a simple step and put so much emotion and energy into it that a simple walk is beautiful to watch. They execute the most difficult steps with ease.

They share their art. They perform. They teach. They choreograph. But they never stop growing and learning themselves. There is always room for improvement. They realize that practicing basics with six year olds can improve their dancing as much as the most advanced classes, just in a different way. They understand the long process they have come through.

As with anything – kids move through these stages at different paces. A child with natural ability will excel just as a child who is good at math will progress faster than other kids her age. Likewise, a very determined child will develop faster than the recreational student, but eventually, they all get there.

So many sports follow the same ideas. Each age has a different focus – learn the skills, develop strength and control of body (just as a student develops strength of mind in the logic stage of studies), and then use the strength, logic, and reasoning abilities to develop strategies on the court or field.

A PE class may not seem classical, but the pursuit of a single sport or physical art form will lead a child through the path of a classical education.

I do not think every child should pursue a sport as an elite athlete, preparing for college competition or professional status. I do, however, believe that all children will benefit from the study of one athletic form throughout childhood. That ability will carry forward into adulthood as an appreciation for the game or art as well as giving them a way to maintain physical activity that does not feel like work.


Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

About Classical, Veteran Homeschoolers

Classical Education is Not Elitist, by RCD

A classical education is not elitist because it makes one humble and simultaneously empowers, and builds empathetic curiosity into a tenacious, ethical muscle.

This lovely article was originally posted at Dragons in the Flower Bed by one of our friends in the Sandbox to Socrates Facebook group. She has articulated much of what I’ve wanted to say but have been unable to. Thank you, RCD, for allowing us to share your words with our readers. ~Editor

I enjoyed reading this thoughtful essay at Sandbox to Socrates, and it left me thinking about how work is where infinity really is, and the edifying nature of permanently unfinished things.

That happy thought was tempered by concern for all the many billions of human beings who have toiled at the unfinishable task of keeping themselves fed, never enough margin to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets they worked through. I think about one of my favorite folk songs, a round I taught the boys when they were babies because it makes work go so sweetly: “I believe to my soul I can pick a bale of cotton…” It is a gorgeous, hopeful tune, but it was sung by freed slaves who could never have picked a bale of cotton in a day and had to in order to get paid.

When I worry about whether classical education is elitist, I try to frame it through that social justice lens, as much as I currently can. I have spent many hours in my adulthood, thus far largely lived in a poor city neighborhood, catching myself up on anti-racism movement with the help of many thoughtful bloggers, authors, speakers and activists. I’m learning and there’s so much I still don’t see.

So far, I cling to the classical model of education, anyway. Many times I’ve heard that you can’t disassemble a system with the same tools that built it. I suppose I don’t think it was the formal practice of logical debate, foreign language immersion, and the insistence that everyone read fiction, that built the oppressive, patriarchal system my children will inherit. Those skills are what I put into practice in order to understand the socioeconomically marginalized peers. In order to understand what happened in my own family. Saying classical education is elitist because it has been taught only to rich white straight boys in centuries past is like saying that vegetables are bad for you because pesticides and GMOs cause cancer. It completely skips over the responsibility of the whole society to create an environment in which farmers need not and do not use pesticides or GMOs, and in skipping that over, demonstrates the foundational problem that we all assume an illogical individual non-responsibility to the common good.

As it’s practiced by non-racist, non-sexist educators, classical education is not elitist.

It is not elitist because classical education is like chop-wood-carry-water. It is a task you can never complete, and that very endlessness of it, the hard and tricky endlessness of it, humbles and inspires and keeps one in the moment. This endlessness, and focus on process over product, means that the child chanting enthusiastically and diligently “amo amas amat” is doing the same work in a very real sense as the scholar who has been at it for forty-five years.

It is not elitist because a classical education assumes auto mechanics, pig farmers and the cleaning lady all are living an intellectual life. In classical education, no one is written off as unable to handle something so hard as Latin or Homer, and dissecting bit by bit the ideas inherent in our culture is viewed as irrelevant to no one.

This very dissection is what is changing me and challenging me as I raise three people who are the very picture of The System. Someday my children will be grownup, and then they will be white American men, richer than most of the world’s population across time. But they won’t be imbued with prejudice, because they will have had a liberal — freeing — education that taught them to turn all things over incessantly, to approach something as foundation as the syllables in the words they speak every day with a critical eye of analysis. The whole world needs my boys to be so aware of what silly place, exactly, our mores come from, and how to dig into the heart of a culture — its language — to find the soul of it.

A classical education is not elitist because it makes one humble and simultaneously empowers, and builds empathetic curiosity into a tenacious, ethical muscle. That is my goal for my children, and all children, and if I can seed my white American straight boys with the skill to pass that on, I’ll be taking a step towards a fairer world for everyone.

The original post can be found here.

About Classical, Homeschool Wisdom

The Oldest Trick in the Book, by

In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German-Swiss philosopher and writer.

Apparently cafeteria food hasn’t improved over time. Education seems to be suffering the same fate – look at the history of education in our own country.

In pioneer days a school section (one square mile) was required by law.  An area six sections by six sections would define a township. Within this area, one section was designated as the school section. As the entire parcel would not be necessary for the school and its grounds, the balance of it was to be sold with the monies to go into the construction and upkeep of the school.  In those days a single teacher would typically have students in the first through eighth grades, and she taught them all. The number of students varied from six to forty or more. The youngest children sat in the front, while the oldest students sat in the back. The teacher usually taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. Students memorized and recited their lessons. Sound like classical education? I think so too. Students educated in this way did not often go on to college, yet most ran businesses, farms, and households quite well.

“No, no,” Mr. Darling always said, “I am responsible for it all. I, George Darling, did it. MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA.”
He had had a classical education.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

We still fund public education in this country. We as taxpayers spend a lot of money, yet our nation’s children are behind most of the world academically. There are hundreds of studies trying to explain why and how to improve our situation. Some say we need more STEM; others say there is too much time in the classroom and the kids need more play; still others say the exact opposite. Let me proffer this idea:  that a new and improved classical method along with an age-appropriate workload is the answer.  While not every child will or should attend college, all our children need to be educated to become good, moral, responsible citizens.

Books are the bedrock of a classical education.  The oldest trick in the book is to actually forget the books.  As the popularity of homeschooling has increased more curriculum has become available. A good education does not require a kit or a set of workbooks. Classical education requires a teacher, a willing student, and time. You need only visit a homeschool convention for minutes before noticing the Thomas Jefferson was homeschooled t-shirts. The greatest minds of the ages were educated by reading books, learning to debate ideas, and discussing those ideas with teachers. None of the ancient Greeks ever had “box day.”

In our consumer-driven society it is easy to fall into a “needing the next new thing” mindset.  It all comes down to trusting ourselves. Do we know the nature of our children? Do we understand the nature of education? Are we willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen? A classical education is worth working toward, but it is work. Will a classical education benefit all of us? I don’t know anyone who would argue that a country of children educated to think logically and to know the history they do not wish to repeat would be a huge benefit to all of us.

We need more than just a syllabus.  Knowing the how’s and why’s of an education that most of us did not receive ourselves leaves us constantly running to catch up.  The idea of an education that only supplies a student with skills to get ahead in the world is not  an adequate preparation for even entry-level employment. An education rooted in the classics gives each student their own arsenal of information and experiences to draw from. This is where the non-classically educated teacher must accept the responsibility of continually self-educating.

If we accept the premise that classical education is the best that has been thought and said, then why wouldn’t that type of education be for everyone?

Photo by Thomas R Machnitzki





Jen N. Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she calls her children her horcruxes — each one has a talent for something she might have pursued herself. Jen and her husband have created a family of quirky, creative people that they are thrilled to launch out into the world. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and has started a blog: www.recreationalscholar.wordpress.com

About Classical, Homeschool Wisdom

Classical Homeschooling: Not Just for Christians, by Lynne

If you Google “classical homeschooling”, you might think that classical homeschooling is a method of education exclusively for Christians, since many of the publishers of classical homeschooling materials are Christian companies that publish materials with a Christian focus.

If you Google “classical homeschooling statistics,” you won’t find much information to disabuse you of the notion that classical homeschooling is definitely a Christian thing.

Why is this?

Well, there are many reasons. Christianity has played an enormous role in shaping the history of Western Civilization. In the middle ages, the Church charged itself with preserving the great works of the past and carrying that knowledge into the future. So, for centuries, there has been a Christian tradition of preserving classical education. Although there were certainly secular roots to the modern homeschooling movement, a new group also emerged. A large number of Christian families decided to homeschool for religious reasons. The classical tradition was there waiting for them.

Since there aren’t many detailed statistics on homeschooling in general, I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t find anything reliable about the number of non-Christian classical homeschoolers. Therefore, this article is anecdotal in nature, based on what I have experienced in my homeschooling circles, both in real life and online. I’m here to tell you that classical homeschooling is for everyone, regardless of religion.

My little family is a prime example. Our children receive religious instruction in my husband’s family’s non-Christian religious heritage (which is different from mine), but we are all basically agnostic and do not homeschool for religious reasons. Our homeschool has a secular focus.

I was fortunate to attend a small liberal arts college. At the time, I didn’t understand just how lucky I was. But as I read and researched on various homeschooling methods, I have come to realize just how well my education has served me in life and how much I want my children to have that advantage. I recently listened to The Modern Scholar: How to Think: The Liberal Arts and Their Enduring Value.  It renewed my conviction that I have chosen a sound path for my family.

See, a classical education is all about learning how to learn. It’s about learning to be a productive citizen. It’s about learning how to think for yourself and to work through problems using logic and reason. It’s about learning the steps to becoming an effective communicator. This is what the Greeks taught to their children. This is what the Romans thought their patrician class needed to know in order to run the empire. This is what my liberal arts college thought we needed to be well rounded individuals that could be successful in any direction life might take us.

Many of the Christian classical education enthusiasts like to say that the purpose of classical education is to discover what is good, true, and beautiful. That sounds good to me, too. Subjective, maybe, but nice.

I have met many, many families who feel as I do. They can see the benefits of training your brain with classical methodologies, regardless of materials. You need to learn how language works, how the parts of speech come together to form sentences. It doesn’t matter if you use the Bible to study language or if you use translations of Greek myths. The poetry of language is evident in both. You need to understand how history has affected literature, politics, art, and science. It’s all interconnected. You need to learn the mathematical principles that help us control and use our surroundings. To transmit human knowledge to future generations, you need to know how to put the information down in a logical way. To convince someone to agree with your ideas, you need to learn how to present your opinions in a clear and persuasive way. None of this necessarily has anything to do with religion, although it would definitely help to proselytize if you’ve learned the art of rhetoric.

As a secular homeschooler, I do wish there were more secular materials available. However, I have used materials from Christian publishers because they were excellent materials. And quite frankly, you can give yourself or your children a solid classical education just by utilizing what’s available at the library.

I’m not opposed to religion. In fact, I think learning religious stories, especially Christian stories, will help my children to understand cultural references in the literature and art of the Western World in which we live. Learning religious tenets of other faiths will help them understand where their fellow citizens come down on various issues regarding morality and politics.

While I don’t have numbers to give you, I do have personal experience, and I know many families of all creeds – and no creeds – who have chosen classical homeschooling. So, if you haven’t considered classical education for your homeschool because you think there is a religious bias to it, I invite you to reconsider and read some information about classical education with an open mind. For more information on what exactly is classical education, check out our Classical Ed. Glossary. For further discussion, join our Facebook group – everyone is welcome.

photo by Ian Barnard from freeimages.com


Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past 4.5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.