From birth to adulthood, we have an innate desire to seek the Truth, to find the Good, and to realize the Beauty. This is natural, healthy, and central to be a fulfilled human being...
Two years ago, I happened upon a life-changing conversation during my son's swim team practice. While sitting on the bleachers, I looked up from my phone and noticed another mom reading a book. From where I was seated all that I could make out of the book's title was the word "Education." As a public-school employee, parent, and, admittedly, unimpressed with my Facebook news-feed, I felt obligated to ask the mom what she was reading.
"Oh," she replied, "it's A Charlotte Mason Education, about homeschooling."
She then shared with me her plan to begin homeschooling after the upcoming school break.
She continued, "Charlotte Mason's teaching philosophy..."
I don't recall learning much about Charlotte Mason at this point. I directly began asking the same questions I've now heard numerous times: "You're taking your kids out of school and you're going to teach them? Can you do that? Do you know what to do? How do you know what to teach?" I also wanted to ask about Charlotte Mason, but my other questions took precedence.
I was more concerned with this mom's plan than she was. Sure, she seemed a little anxious about her decision, and rightly so: homeschooling is not only a giant step into uncertainty on its own -- and, indeed, it is -- it's also a giant step into uncertainty that impacts our children. The twinkle in her eye and contagious excitement about her kept me curious and interested to know more, though.
It turned out that this mom was inspired by an approach to teaching and learning that I had yet to learn about, and her decision to begin homeschooling was motivated by a reality that I had yet to acknowledge. A conversation that lasted well beyond our kids' swim team practice followed, and ended with kids tugging our coat sleeves, wanting to go home.
This life-changing conversation introduced me to Classical Education, an approach to teaching that this mom was readying herself for, to give to her children at home. She was unhappy with the school options in Billings and simply wanted more for her kids than a Common Core education. She wanted literature, language study, Bible study, reasoning, understandable arithmetic, less testing, more learning, and a better sense of safety...
I immediately began to wonder if I was unhappy with my (then) seven-year-old's education. Was there something else "out there" that he was missing out on? What was happening in his school classroom that might cause me to question? He did only have P.E. every seventh-or-so day of school, and that bothered me. On occasion he brought math home that I struggled to help him with. I knew the answer, but why was it so difficult suddenly to show the answer? In his reading program, he read books earmarked for a computerized test, which he would take after finishing the book. Sometimes he would tell me that his book didn't "count." How could a book not "count"? Evidently, the kids read books in order to answer questions correctly and earn points. If they scored below an 80%, no points were earned, and the book didn't "count." Reading had become a means to accumulate points, an extrinsic reward. Then, there were the sight words. Luckily, my son had little difficulty making sense of tricky letter blends, but what about other kids who struggled with words because they never received phonogram instruction after the Alphabet? Then we had writing, and I questioned it. My son's writing, or "creative" stories -- no clear distinction between that and a jumble of misspelled words with no corrections -- was not "creative." My son's writing was wrong. Today kids are allowed the freedom to learn writing as if it were a developmental skill, like learning to walk and talk; the spelling is "invented." What he wrote merely revolved around what he knew that day or of the immediate future. He couldn't write creatively, or write period, because he didn't know how.
Yes, I was unhappy with my son's education. Yes, there was something "out there" that he was missing out on.
Back to the swim-team mom, I learned from our first and subsequent conversation that she was embarking on an incredible journey with her children -- a journey into Classical Educational. This was going to place her and her family on the path to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and away from the Common Core classroom and the standardized testing. From our talks and the personal survey I took of my son's schooling, it took little time for me to realize that I, too, wanted more for my son's education; specifically, I wanted more from him. I also realized that this would have to come from me, and my research and re-education began. Were he around when I made this decision, I believe that the wise Jedi Master would have told me, in person or via hologram:
You must unlearn what you have learned. ~ Yoda
Classical Education indeed requires a person to unlearn 100 years of "Progressive Education," the form of education that swept through the country's schools after World War I. I delved into Latin, began study in a Classical Educator program, read selections from authors who contributed to this educational tradition, listened to podcasts, and watched any and all lectures that I had the time for. I do this daily -- I learn something new every day -- and I absolutely love it. I feel as if I found something new, but Classical Education is nothing new; basically, it is education. The education we see in the United States over the past 100 + years is new, but Classical Education pre-dates the birth of Jesus Christ by almost 500 years. It began in Greece with our most favorite philosophers and was then loyal to the Romans (and their invaders)! Classical Education managed to stay alive and healthy during Europe's "dark" Medieval Period, and it emerged afresh with the Renaissance. It remained neutral during the Reformation, moved around with explorers, and even crossed the Atlantic with colonizers. Our Founding Fathers received a Classical Education, as their great-great-great-great-great grandchildren most certainly did, too. The methods, means, and content have evolved slightly over the centuries, but the goal of Classical Education has remained the same: it seeks to make the person a better person, a good person: disciplined, orderly, virtuous, formed, and, as expected, learned.
Classical Education focuses on the Classical Languages (Latin and Greek), and learning from those who have come before. Thus, reading the classics, or the "Great Books" of Western Civilization, is imperative in a Classical Education. If we are to participate in this tradition that seeks to make the person "good," we must understand the tradition. To understand the tradition, however, it must be taught and learned.
The trivium is frequently cited as the foremost method from which we may impart a Classical Education. The trivium consists of three stages that guide the teacher and the student. The Grammar stage (sometimes distinguished as Lower and Upper Grammar), takes place for approximately six years from the ages 6-12. This initial stage concerns itself with the child's mastering of facts and the basic rules of their academics. It also serves as the opportune time to grow and sustain a child's wonder for and curiosity of the world. This leads the student into the Logic stage (sometimes called the Dialectic), when student ages range from 12-15. This stage witnesses the onset of questioning, arguing, and disagreement. Students will take the knowledge absorbed as a grammar student and learn how to order and understand it. The Logic stage begins the study of informal logic, and later, formal logic, as well as reasoning. The third and final stage of the trivium, Rhetoric, typically spanning the ages 15-18, moves the student away from argumentation and toward contribution. The student's writing is now polished and his speech, clear. Communication is naturally persuasive at this point.
The trivium-based approach to Classical Education provides students with the ability to think and learn through distinct stages, effectively leading them from wonder at age 6 to wisdom at 16. Learning the Classical Education tradition has not only enabled me to share it with my son, but it has transformed my way of thinking with respect to what kids can learn. They can begin learning what I never really thought possible until much later, perhaps even until college. I embraced History, specifically, when I went to college; and while I didn't like the roadmap our kids were on, I accepted that they didn't have a real "introduction" to History until high school: five centuries taught in 10th grade in one year, and then another year devoted to two centuries of United States History. So yes, I accepted that History would happen later, along with foreign languages and philosophy. I was wrong, and I think we underestimate what our kids can learn. So, each day I continue to learn, and I learn alongside my son. I can't imagine anything more fulfilling. It's been an arduous task and will continue to be, but it's also been an enriching journey, and one that I want to help others realize.
Hello! I'm Lindsay Bell-Martinson, creator of Classical Learning Adventures: Scholé Group for Care and Classical Education. I hold a bachelor and master’s degree in History, a master’s degree in Education, and a Montana Educator License. I also have more than ten years of experience with children in the classroom, and worked at a child care facility and nannied in my younger years. I've devoted the last two years to studying and researching Classical Education at all age levels, including teacher training (yes, Latin, too!), the “Tradition” itself, homeschools, various curricula, methods, groups, and trends. Classical Education has so much to offer. See if Classical Learning Adventures might have a place in your family's home!
*We're now enrolling children for care and preschool, just in time for the new school year!*
We hope to hear from you!
Enjoy the Journey!