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Monday, March 21, 2005

Elementary, my dear

Take a deep breath. Remember all the advice from practical educational books I've read recently. Repeat: Less is more. I can do this.

What really made a strong impression on my homeschooling plans was reading Ben Franklin's autobiography last year. Ben taught himself for the most part, and the description of his education is a virtual blueprint for autodidacts and homeschool teachers. A few great books, a thirst for knowledge, and writing by imitation were all he needed. Again and again I've read how simplifying and streamlining your studies is key to a basic, solid education: Tracy Lee Simmons in Climbing Parnassus, Oliver Van DeMille in A Thomas Jefferson Education, Mortimer Adler in The Paideia Proposal. I get it. I agree with it. I advocate it. So why am I still not practicing what I preach?

I was trying to justify my decision to use Rod & Staff along with Classical Writing next year because integrating Harvey's Elementary Grammar would require more prep work on my part. Rationalizing a fear of leaving some critical gap in my children's understanding of grammar, I now believe my reluctance to stick to my initial plan of CW + Harvey's has more to do with laziness.

After our first year of homeschooling spending a small fortune on texts and enrichment materials trying to cover every single possible area of study, I started to realize I could condense many of these lessons. Art, music, philosophy, science, all these fit neatly into history; that's what The Well Trained Mind taught me. I already knew that, but for some reason I still felt the necessity to focus more attention on each subject and have separate sets of books for each discipline. Classic literature and art books are never a waste of money or bookshelves, but most of the rest probably were and could have easily been done without. The advantages of paring down were obvious, but I was still trying to cover at least thirteen different courses.

It's time to put my plan to the test. As comfortable as I am with Rod & Staff, I am not going to spend the extra money on a new set of books for each child. I will not rely on a book just because the answers are right in front of me or the tests are neatly packaged or because determining credits for transcripts is easier when you can reference the publisher's official graded title. I am not going to start adding unnecessary separate courses. I will not fall back into that trap again.

Classical Writing can incorporate writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, logic, rhetoric, and can be applied to science, history, and literature. That was the number one attraction. And even that is overdoing it according to Climbing Parnassus. Simmons explains that just studying classical languages makes learning English grammar redundant. Why worry about it?

No more whining. I can simplify and streamline, but I must not make it any less challenging.

Like all Holmes's reasoning the thing seemed simplicity itself when it was once explained. -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The Stock Broker's Clerk)

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