Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Homeschooling, a Classical Education, and College

My son took his first history test at his classical education college...the test we always hear is the fearsome one! I've been on pins and needles. How did he do?  I went to Purcellville this morning to submit my Row by Row Quilt for a prize (more on that in a later post) and then to have lunch with my son. It was wonderful! Like old times, we discoursed over history while eating lunch. This time we discoursed on all that he has studied about 17th century history!
When I asked him how the test went, he grinned and said he thinks it went quite well! He told me about the essay prompt he chose to write about. Something about politics, colonies and mercantilism. I told him I could never write about that. He laughed and said of course I could! I was taught it all to him, especially the mercantilism! My daughter told me the same thing when she studied mercantilism in her history and western civilization class in college.
Mercantilism can be the single most difficult thing to learn, so I took my kids on a research field trip to Colonial Williamsburg and later I designed an interactive activity for them, in costume of course!
While at Colonial Williamsburg someone asked me why we were asking so many questions about  mercantilism. I told him we were studying it. He asked, "But why is it so important for you to teach it?"
Well, just because it's difficult doesn't mean we should ignore it. We have drawn from our lessons on mercantilism many times. It is our history. It has helped us understand our past. It helps us understand our present. From mercantilism to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, to free enterprise, and socialism.  Understanding basic economics helps us to vote. It also helps college to go a bit smoother!
On a different tangent, my son's experience at college was a test of our homeschool. We began our homeschool journey with textbooks. Feeling disjointed, I started using real books by my oldest child's second grade year yet I felt something more was needed. Although I had a great toolbox of education with my teaching degree, there was a missing ingredient.
A couple of years later we were able to take our kids to Colonial Williamsburg for the first time where we met the infamous Patrick Henry with his fiery rhetoric that roused me to action. I couldn't join the local militia, but I could join  the ranks of those who made a difference in history...through the avenue of classical education.
Mr. Henry told us he was classically educated at home by his father and grandfather.  I have since learned that in his day, his peers were all classically educated.  Most were classically educated at colleges. A few were self-taught, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin after their grammar years due to various circumstances. The location of their schooling did not make their education classical. Instead, the reading material was the common element. They all read the same books, the Great Books, written by the great thinkers, from the Iliad and Odyssey of the Ancient Greeks, Plutarch of the Romans, to Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau and Montisquieu and many, many, many others in-between.
They did not merely read these books. They discussed these books with each other...which eventually led to the application of many of the theories in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, which many nations have since copied to fulfill the erstwhile desire of humankind.  The desire for freedom.
In our homeschool we read many of these books. We discussed these books. We wrote about these books.  You can see some of our booklists for history/literature/government:
My daughter's Freshman through Senior Year book list as submitted to her college for admission to the honor's program
My son's freshman year
My son's sophomore year
My son's junior year
My son's senior year
Our classical education has been huge in helping my kids in college, because it laid a huge foundation upon which to build. We did not learn everything. We did not do everything. There simply wasn't enough time.
Also my daughter struggled from huge learning delays. During our weekly discussions we found out she did not fully comprehend her history readings, so my son and I helped her fill in the gaps. We showed her proofs from the books. She never quite made all the connections herself while in highschool, but in college, she knew all the answers in history and western civilization classes!
Whereas my son was genius in remembering all the historical details and  making nearly all of the connections on his own, he was painfully slow in accomplishing his reading. I struggled with this. In the end, I kept coming back to the fact that he was working on muscle memory. Just like the  muscles of fingers learn fine motor skills of cursive writing through daily practice and also through gross motor development, the brain is likewise a  muscle, building memory from the daily practice of reading, thinking, and writing. Speed would eventually come. Well he was a commended National Merit Scholar and did well on his SAT's. All things in good time.
In literature I gave my daughter who struggled with lots of reading, a subscription to audible. She listened to the Great Books of Literature on tape...then she taught my son and me the nuances of literature during weekly discussions.  Whereas my heavily factually detailed oriented son excelled in history, she flew in literature. Now she is one of the few students in her literature classes who has read any of the Great Books, and none of them has read as many as she has. She has inspired  her classmates to read Great Books when group work is required in literature. They seem to gravitate to her to be in her group. When each student brings a poem, but only one poem per group can share, her classical poem usually wins the majority vote of the group over the modern poems they brought.
My daughter even brought it all together in her Renaissance class when she became a Renaissance lady herself. 
Oh writing was a chore, then we discovered IEW. At first they wrote weekly. As their courses became more complex, their papers took longer to write, but at the same time they internalized their checklist so I released them. Now they wrote with the ultimate intent: cohesion, variety and interest.  We wrote and rewrote so that they could see what a properly written paper looked like. Gone were the days of my public school education where I was handed a paper of a response to literature that was never discussed, with red-inked "why?" and "how?" scattered about the page. There was no discussion later either, just the repitition of reading new literature selections, then writing about that which I did not know. I vowed that when I became a teacher, I'd never assign work that I had not first taught.  Students need a foundation to build upon. They need to pull stuff from their brains when they write. How can they do that unless we put the content in there? And where does that content come from? Great Books...that are discussed...and then written about.  Did you know this is how Benjamin Franklin taught himself? It is also the teaching style of IEW! (See my other links about the Institute for Excellence in Writing here.)
Through it all, my son excelled. He earned a scholarship to a private classical education college, Patrick Henry College. Through it all, my daughter struggled. She is attending a community college near us, where she takes honors classes and has a 4.0 gpa. During that time, we discovered she needed vision therapy. A year later, what a difference!  There continue to be a few struggles that we are working on, but learning struggles do not mean a child cannot have a classical education. It simply means they might take it slower. Also they will also use their other modalities more. Recently I read a story from HSLDA that even Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, had a classical education! The author of the e-mail I read was Cheryl Swope who also wrote Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child. I've not read her book, but she recommends many of the same things that I did for  my daughter! I've met Dr. Gene Edward Veith, who wrote the forward. He is definitely is an expert on Classical Education. I've recently bought a couple of his books which I'm looking forward to reading and sharing!

1 comment:

  1. I love hearing your perspective, looking back from having kids in college already. Thanks for sharing!