Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

If there’s one thing I’ve gathered by learning about homeschooling on the internet, it is the necessity of sharing your homeschool journey online. With only two weeks left in our school year, I realize that I’ve been slacking. It’s time I share something! But this time it will not be about the year we’re in, but the one for which we are planning. Actually, I’ve been in teacher training mode for the last two weeks, attending both a parent practicum/tutor training and a convention. As I’ve been learning more about how to teach, one theme has emerged: education is not so much about imparting information as it is about training students to be able to learn on their own once they have graduated from our tutelage.

First of all, last week, I attended a three-day Classical Conversations Parent Practicum. That’s right: we are a CC family. This last year was our first formal year of homeschooling with our son, who now is finishing up kindergarten. As part of pursuing a classical education, we chose to join a CC community. And, it turned out, our local community was growing and needed another tutor. So I went all in and became a tutor. I’ll have to leave a fuller explanation of CC for another time. For now I will just say that I am returning to tutor next year and, this time, I’ll know what I’m doing! (Sort of.) It is not easy to break out of the habits of a standard, modern education. And that is why Parent Practicums exist. They equip families to put classical education principles into practice. Conveniently, tutor training also takes place during those three days, as well as age-appropriate academic camps for the kids. This year my 4-year-old learned about outer space and my 6-year-old covered geography and drawing.

If all we did each year was attend a CC practicum, we would be doing well. However, we are blessed to have a Great Homeschool Convention nearby. Having attended the three-day event last year, we found it invaluable in introducing us to the world of homeschooling and helping us form a vision and strategy for our own endeavor. In particular, last year, we were exposed to a lot of the key ideas and purveyors of classical education for the first time. We also went around to almost every vendor and got stacks of information. This year, we knew better what we were looking for and and which speakers we wanted to hear.

The first seminar I attended was Building the Perfect Reading List by Adam Andrews from the Center for Lit. Adam is a wonderful communicator: engaging, encouraging, informative, and practical. His main message was that, “You’re in this spot by the will of God. You’re exactly the right teacher” for your kids. When choosing which books to read in a school year, be real. Cover a few books deeply. Teach your kids how to interact with a book using however many books you think you can realistically pre-read and prepare to discuss beforehand. Then they will begin using the tools you teach them as they interact with other books on their own. The goal, after all, is to teach them to read well on their own. Recommended resource: Teaching the Classics.

The next seminar, which I attended with my wife, was How to Become a Classical Christian Homeschooler in a Secular Progressive Age by Leah Lutz from the Circe Institute. Her main message was to stop worrying about covering a large amount of unrelated subjects and start incarnating the truth! The content of her presentation focused on contrasting Classical and Progressive education.

Secular Progressive Education Christian Classical Education
Goal: good test scores, job training, success, adapt to society Goal: transformed soul, knowledge of the truth, freedom, to be fully human to the glory of God
Current trends Eternal perspective
Industrial Organic / agrarian
Unlimited subjects 7 liberal arts
Information, teaching to the test truth, goodness, beauty
Classroom management Socratic and mimetic
Assessment: testing and comparison Assessment: growth in wisdom, virtue, and understanding

I attended one session of Classical Education Unplugged, a panel discussion with Andrew Pudewa (Institute for Excellence in Writing), Martin Cothran (Memoria Press), Carol Reynolds (Professor Carol), and Leah Lutz moderated by Christopher Perrin (Classical Academic Press). Perrin framed the discussion, calling our generation the “bridge-builders,” trying to find our way back to the classical tradition. Another helpful metaphor was that of a shipwreck on which we are all floating in the water on various pieces from the wreck, depending on our background, experience, or interest. Some float on Liberal Arts, some on Rhetoric, some on Fine Arts, some Truth. Though recovering all of classical tradition on our own in one lifetime may be too daunting, we can all start by attempting to embody whichever piece of the shipwreck we find ourselves on. Some helpful comparisons included The Liberal Arts and The Sciences. An art is infinite in its complexity and can never be exhausted. A science involves a finite body of knowledge. An art is something you do; a science is something you know. By art we make, in this case,  a human being, cultivating the soul. Another very helpful distinction made by Cothran was that, while classical education teaches one how to think (wisdom) and what to do (virtue), a modern education teaches one what to think (indoctrination) and how to do (job training). On curriculum: classical education is interested in quality and mastery, not conformity to some teaching timeline in order to avoid falling behind. The idea, again, is to embody the curriculum, to know and to love what you teach. Similar to Adam Andrews’ advice, the panel suggested reading and dwelling on 4-5 books every year with your student, while letting them breeze through many others. Pudewa referenced: A Thomas Jefferson Education.

I attended two seminars by Jay Wile of Berean Builders, Ten Tips to Improve Your Homeschool Year and Teaching Elementary Science Using History as a Guide. In Ten Tips, he shared that, in his experience as a college professor, his most exceptional students came from a homeschool background. As it turns out, study after study shows homeschool students do better than private school students who do better than public school students, from kindergarten all the way through college. In fact, 92% of homeschool students do as well or better than public school students. This takes some of the pressure off of homschooling, knowing that even below average homeschool kids do as well as average public school kids academically. That is not to say that public or private school is bad, or that sending your kids to school is poor choice. Wile insists that each student and family situation will require a different plan of action. Do not compare yourself or your kids to anyone else! The main takeaway here was to not be a slave to a curriculum. Use it as a guide, not a dictator. Follow the rabbit trails because you and your student are more likely to learn and remember those things you discover yourselves apart from any preset curriculum. The goal is not to get through lessons but to teach our kids to learn. In Teaching Elementary Science, Wile surveyed various scientists and natural philosophers, noting the motivation behind many important discoveries (for many, Christian faith) and how many scientific ideas of the day, which made perfect sense at the time, were later proven inaccurate. Studying science with this perspective helps us to understand two things. First, scientific and scriptural knowledge are in harmony, not antithetical. Second, “Science” is not the set-in-stone supreme authority it is often made out to be, but a developing body of knowledge with blind spots that may take time to correct as new discoveries are made. Taking these and other things into account, my wife and I decided we should try Wile’s elementary science curriculum in our academy, starting with Science in the Beginning.

Other curricular materials we purchased or decided on includes:

For our six-year-old…

For our four-year-old…

And for Classical Conversations…

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