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Classical Christian
Classical Education
at Home

Christine Miller

Classical Christian
Homeschooling FAQ:
Getting Started with Classical Education

This page last revised:
February 2003


Getting Started

Christine Miller

Someone just beginning the classical homeschooling journey probably falls into one of two categories: those who are beginning homeschooling, and are starting their homeschooling journey with classical education, and those who are not new to homeschooling, but are new to classical education. For the former, it would be wise to research homeschooling in general, then classical education in particular. CCH includes a page of favorite homeschooling resources in its online catalog, and the CE Loop has also posted a page of most helpful homeschooling materials. These resources will help answer general questions about education, teaching, learning, and the logistics of managing a home and homeschooling at the same time.

The Institutional Mindset

Next, the biggest challenge to new homeschoolers, and especially to those pursuing a classical education at home, is breaking out of the institutional mindset. Since all of us, as parents, were educated K-12 most probably in a public school, we bring our own experiences and expectations of what school ought to be to our homeschool. Some of those experiences and expectations are valuable, for teaching us what to include and what to avoid. But we also tend to bring to our homeschool an “institutional mindset”, meaning, a picture of what homeschool should be based on what public school is. Public and private schools are based on the same educational model, and that model should be examined before bringing it home. That model is what I call the institutional model. If you believe that a proper school experience takes place in a classroom, with 10 or 20 other children of the same age together, learning 6, 8 or more subjects per day in blocks of 20 to 60 minutes each, using a different textbook or workbook for each subject, for 6 hours per day, then congratulations! You have an institutional mindset about education.

All of us do, because that is what we have been conditioned to accept as “real” education. To understand the weaknesses of the institutional method, please study Dumbing Us Down and The Public School Nightmare by John Taylor Gatto. If you become interested in this topic -- the pitfalls of the institutional method -- you should continue with Richard Mitchell’s works: Less Than Words Can Say, and The Graves of Academe. In between, try to fit in For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, which describes an educational experiment outside of the institutional box.

The biggest reason that homeschooling is growing so fast in this country is homeschooled children learn far better than their public-schooled peers, with less angst and emotional trauma, and more stability and familial harmony. Homeschoolers have been blessed to have the freedom to discover what works, as always happens when monopolies, such as the government’s educational establishment, are opened up to free market competition. Government schools and educational experts -- who are funded by the government monopoly -- have a vested interest in suppressing free market competition and in continuing the lie that only they know how to teach and only they know how children learn. It isn’t true. As a homeschooling parent, leave your mind open to the possibility that others have something valuable to add to the educational debate, and trust your calling: God appointed you the primary teacher of your children, and whom He calls, He equips.

Educating Ourselves

But on to classical education. A proper understanding of the theory itself is a good place to begin. I recommend Introduction to Classial Education by Christine Miller and its links, On the Trivium by Christine Miller and its links, Preparing Younger Children for a Great Books Education by Wes Callihan, The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers, Motivation in Education by Fritz Hinrichs, Classical Education and the Home School by Doug Wilson, Wes Callihan, and Doug Jones; and the rest of the articles in the CCH FAQ section. All of these are essay-length and can be read in an hour or two, but each add some vital pieces to the puzzle that forms a complete picture of classical education. Other valuable resources are the classical education books recommended in CCH’s online catalog, and the About Classical Education links in CCH’s CE Links section.

Most homeschool parents did not receive a classical education themselves. Thus their obligation to continue to educate themselves, not only on what classical education is, but to give themselves a classical education: to teach themselves the tools of learning, to read the literature and history that they may not have had in school, that is so much a part of western civilization and our classical tradition. The tools of learning -- grammar, logic, and rhetoric -- can be learned with your children. Do the exercises, the Latin, the diagramming, the building logical syllogisms that your children are doing, and if you can do their work in advance, or even while your children are toddlers before you begin formal schooling with them, so much the better. Then you will have a basic knowledge, and to that knowledge the understanding of the subject grows as you go through their lessons with them. And if your children are already school age, teach yourself during the summers.

The body of knowledge of formal grammar rules and such is a small one, and need not take years and years for an adult to master. Going through a good handbook, such as Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, will suffice, as well as doing the diagramming exercises in The Complete Book of Diagrams. Mastering the first three chapters of Wheelock’s Latin will provide a good foundation for most grammar stage Latin programs, or going through the children’s Latin or Greek lessons themselves. If you would like to learn New Testament Greek anyway, then Homeschool Greek is an excellent independent-study course that will teach an inflected language (Greek), English grammar, and diagramming together in one fell swoop.

Logic is a more difficult subject, just because most of us likely had no exposure to it at all in our own educations. Grammar at least is familiar. Traditional Logic by Martin Cochran is the best course I have found for self-study and ease of understanding. Working through Euclid’s Elements is also a good exercise in teaching yourself logical thinking. If you have had algebra, then you can teach yourself logic using Euclid. If you have had geometry in your own education, do not be fooled into thinking that Euclid’s Elements has nothing to teach you. Euclid teaches geometry in a much different way than most modern geometry courses; and you might be surprised at how much you grow in your thinking by working your way through it. Abraham Lincoln prized Euclid’s Elements, along with the Bible, as one of the two most valuable books he ever read, because it taught him the razor-sharp logic for which he was famous as a lawyer, and later, as president of the United States.

Teaching yourself rhetoric is more difficult, because there is no course of study out there which takes the material to be learned and packages it in an independent study way for homeschooling families, as there is with Latin, Greek, grammar, and logic. I would practice writing every day, copying along with your children. I would join a discussion list and use the excuse of making posts to the list as practice for expressing yourself clearly, persuasively, elegantly, and briefly, on a wide variety of topics. I would play word games and work to increase my vocabulary. I would study How to Read a Book by Dr. Mortimer Adler, and practice its principles of becoming an active reader with every book I read while educating myself. I would read a wide variety of history and literature to teach myself the culture of Western Civilization (such as is listed in CCH’s grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stage history and literature suggestions).

I would study the Bible daily, read it cover to cover religiously, and examine the weaknesses in my own inner biblical worldview. I suggest The Lie: Evolution by Ken Ham as an excellent place to begin. While the book does discuss evolution, it does so in a much broader framework, of challenging what we say we believe about the Bible, and why, and then walking us through the establishment of a biblical worldview in one area, which, once learned, can be applied to other areas as well. Ken Ham’s ministry, Answers in Genesis, is another valuable resource for helping build a biblical worldview in today’s secular culture.

Just remember, when you begin to feel as if all this is too much, educating yourself is something on which you have the rest of your life to work. No one learns everything they need to learn in thirteen years, from ages 5 to 18, and then they are done. Learning is a life-long adventure, and the best we can hope to give our children, is not all the knowledge and understanding they will ever need in their lives, but the means to acquire that knowledge and understanding for themselves for the rest of their lives. We did not have the benefit of a classical education, and we may not, in fact, will probably not, give our children a perfect classical education, either. But we can at least start down the road. We can walk together with them, and set their feet on the good path, so that when they go about teaching their children, their foundation will be that much more sure; they will have less to make up than we. And that will be a great benefit and help to them.

Educating our Children

So far, we have learned about homeschooling, are breaking out of the institutional mindset, and are studying classical education. We are educating ourselves. Now we are ready to begin classically educating the children. Read the articles for each of the subjects in the grammar stage, the dialectic stage, and the rhetoric stage. Go through the online catalog to get an idea of the curriculum that is available. More information and tips for practical application are sprinkled throughout the curriculum descriptions and reviews. Study the essays in this FAQ section, and the essays in Classical Homeschooling to begin forming your own picture of what subjects you will include in your children’s education, and how you will go about it. Seek the Lord’s guidance, and be open to His leadership. Listen to the still, small voice. If everyone you know is diving into Latin, but you just aren’t ready for that, that’s okay. Don’t be pressured to follow the herd.

Take it one year at a time. Once you know what you want to accomplish for this year, look into the different curricula recommended. Try to visit curriculum fairs to see and compare for yourself before buying. Or at the very least, buy from someone that allows returns (such as Barnes and Noble, through whose affiliation CCH’s online catalog is made possible.) It is okay, if you have been used to homeschooling with a canned institutionalized curriculum, to make just one change at a time, to ease yourself into classical homeschooling. See Changing to Classical Education for more help on that topic.

And be patient with your children, who may also need to ease into another way of learning if they are used to the institutionalized, textbook or workbook crutch. Real learning and real thinking is harder than regurgitating sound bites from the textbook. But it is so much more rewarding and fulfilling, and so much better preparation for real life.

Important Links:

Homeschooling Resources from CCH and the CE Loop Moms

The Public School Nightmare by John Taylor Gatto

Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian

The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers

Classical Education & the Home School

Preparing Younger Children for a Great Books Education

Classical Education Links, Books, and CCH FAQ

Homeschooling Classically

Classical Christian Curriculum

Classical Christian Homeschooling Discussion Board

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