Friday, September 9, 2011

Teaching the Classics

              As I put in my last post, I love what I am reading in the book A Thomas Jefferson Education.  It is almost exactly a compilation of all of my smaller theories and putting it together in a way that is supported by research, facts, and experience.  In short, it is a method to Teach Diamonds – meaning to focus instruction on what is truly important and chip off the “junk” that doesn’t really deserve our time and energy in learning.  So, according to this book, what does it mean to teach the classics?

              I am still reading, so I still don’t have all the answers yet.  One thing that professional educators do that I do not see many homeschooling parents doing is to continue to develop your skills.  Teachers in every state have a specific required number of hours that they have to spend developing their professional skills.  I don’t see as many homeschooling moms out there reading books or going to seminars or taking classes to learn how to teach skills to their children.  As a result, many homeschooling moms continually question their abilities to teach their children effectively, though what they are doing continues to show that it is much more effective than today’s public school’s methods.  Just imagine how much MORE EFFECTIVE homeschooling would be if each homeschooling parent would commit himself/herself to take one class or read one book on how to educate every quarter.  There would be no stopping them!  Even if the book or class shows them methods that don’t work (or that don’t work for their family/situation), that knowledge is valuable.  And yet, so many homeschooling parents do very little to try to find more information on how to improve their skills.  My reading A Thomas Jefferson Education is one of my numerous efforts to keep my educating skills sharp, so I can be the most effective teacher as I can be for my daughter.

               Now back to the topic – Teaching the Classics. 

              As I explained in my last post about this topic, titled “Read,Write, Discuss,” this book suggests that education used to occur from a mentor to a student, not from a teacher to a general class which changed annually.  This mentor and student would spend years together.  The mentor would show the student how to accomplish specific skills, but would also have the student read “The Classics,” and then discuss what the student is reading to make sure he understands what is read and help develop the concepts taught in the books further.  Reading the classics, writing notes about what is read, as well as recreating what the authors of these classics are writing about, and then discussing them with the mentor is basically the method used by these types of mentors.  In my article today, I want to specifically list authors that Van DeMille says is valuable.  I don’t want to give you this information in place of reading this marvelous book, but to tease you into reading it.   It is also a reference guide for ME when my daughter gets old enough to read these texts (and a “suggested reading list” for me to read BEFORE she gets there!).

              To simplify matters, I will just list the suggestions Oliver Van DeMille makes for each topic of study.  Remember, as the student reads a book, the parent/teacher should be reading it at the same time.  If it is truly a classic, having stood the test of time, it is worth reading over and over again!  Also, most of what I will list is authors who wrote classics – many of them have many books for you to read.

Literary Classics:  The Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen

History Classics:  Plutarch, Gibbon, Toynbee, Durant, Declaration of Independence,

Math Focuses:  There are 13 skills which Van DeMille says a student will learn from the math classics: seek and recognize patterns, explore the relationship between things, see similarities and distinctions, analyze logically but with a deep sense that there is a right answer and a set ideal worth detecting, compare and contrast, see things in black and white, see infinite shades of grey and therefore avoid jumping to conclusions, seek evidence for conclusions and check opinion with first-hand research, put his own pen to paper before accepting what society tells him, seek for absolutes, and remain open to surprising new information which makes past conclusions limited though perhaps still accurate

Math Classics: Archimedes, Descartes, Newton, Sophie Germain, Einstein, Euclid, Newton

Science Classics:  Copernicus, Galileo, Agassiz, Einstein, Darwin (even if you disagree with an author, find out about them!  You might find that you know them better than those who say they support them, and they may not even be saying what you have heard they say!)

Foreign Languages: Read classic literature that you have already read (see Literary Classics) in the language you want to learn.  Read the Bible or Shakespeare in the other foreign language, with English side-by-side with the new language.  Also, have 2 dictionaries – a translation dictionary and a dictionary fully in the other language.

“The Arts” Classics:  Study the Masters of that medium (Music, Art, Sculpture, etc.).  Read biographies, as well as study the medium the master used. 

Business Classics:  Peter Drucker, Edward Demming, Stephen Covey

Government Classics:  Locke, Madison, Tocqueville

Psychology Classics:  William James, Freud, Skinner

Biology Classics:  Hippocrates, Agassiz, Darwin

               Looking at this list, I wonder if we will be able to “cover” all of this the 6 years my daughter will be in middle and high school.  The answer is, we probably won’t be able to cover it all.  We will focus on her interests, while throwing in topics that I feel are important (like how to live a Christian life).  The fact is, education should not end after 12th grade.  Van DeMille says that even if you only study one field, but you know it extremely well, you will have a better rounded education than most students who go through what he calls “conveyer belt” style of schools that most students – in most cultures, not just America – get today.

              Focus your education, and teach the true diamonds!

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