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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Confession of a Classical Homeschooler

Bless me Father Henle, for I have sinned.

It has been four weeks since our last lesson. Your books and those of Saxon sit upon my shelves unopened. I lack the discipline to continue forcibly teaching Homer's stories.

For these and for all the sins of my past didactic life, I am sorry.

Once upon a time I was a card-carrying, true blue Classical Homeschooler, not a neo-classical educator, but one who understood that the trivium, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, were subjects unto themselves, part of a larger picture that along with the studies of the quadrivium made up a true liberal education, rather than being mere stages of childhood development. After intense research and planning I boiled down our curriculum to Latin, math, The Iliad, and The Odyssey along with a handful of other classical authors. I was astonished at the beauty and simplicity of my plan, the depth, the interconnectedness, the inexpensiveness.

Then I thrust my children into public school. And it wasn't so bad. The girls, being bright eager learners ahead of their peers, were there primarily to socialize.

Eager to hang on to my hard-won title of Homeschool Mom, we entered a new era of home education, Complementary Homeschooling. The girls were doing very well in class and were enjoying the benefits of lessons I could only dream of effectively teaching: Art, manual arts, sports, Japanese, science... The basics however, math and English, were being covered in only a most elemental way. The full-blown original plan metamorphosized into enhancing what they were learning in school at home, keeping up with advanced algebra, grammar, and Latin lessons. Like Icarus, I ignored common sense and the warnings of others and my high flying plans were brought swiftly back to Earth: There were horses to ride, creeks to swim, cubby houses to be built, woods to be explored, birds to be watched, flowers to be picked...

So here I am. With a new plan.

Leaving the adequate, but very fundamental mathematical instruction to the paid professionals, and acknowledging that higher concepts will eventually be taught in future years' elective (but mandatory, for my students) courses, I am now endeavoring to teach only those courses I deem absolutely necessary for scholarship: Logic and rhetoric. Are there any subjects more important than being able to think analytically and to express oneself with precision in spoken or written language? More important than creating sound arguments and identifying fallacies?

What about Latin? Great stuff, no doubt. I have taught myself more than I learned in high school and my hopes are that my children will be inspired one day to teach themselves as well. I've certainly got all the books. I've read Climbing Parnassus and I get it, I appreciate it, I believe it, but for practicality's sake, the focus will be on critical thinking and proper communication. Those are life skills no matter what language you specialize in. Skills that can be worked quite naturally into daily life.

What about Homer? There's no way my kids won't have a familiarity with, if not deep down understanding of, many great authors and their tales. It's who we are. Like I said before, I've got all the books, at least to get them started. We are a family of voracious readers, books left around get read and then discussed, not formally, but over dinner, or in the car, or while watching television.

Actions speak louder than words. If our children see their parents continually challenging themselves and continuing to learn, they will follow suit. It's simple, really. My kids still think it's fun to take out their math books from time to time and do a few pages. I'm resigned to not forcing the issue. Learning autodidactically or by instruction should be enjoyable.

In my heart of hearts I am still a Classical Homeschooler though I no longer have that beautifully coordinated, educationally dense, minimalistic curriculum I started with, the portable schoolhouse resources brazenly posted in my sidebar, but the information I wish to impart to my students, based purely on the trivium and quadrivium, no matter who is leading the lesson, is still in keeping with the objectives of classical education.

Excelsior, for ever and ever, amen.

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