Posts Tagged ‘homeschooler’

The Socialization Question

Dear Reader,

Since reading The Hurried Child by David Elkind (my review here), I have been thinking more about socialization. If you have even considered homeschooling, you have probably had this word thrown at you. The first thing I always recommend when someone asks the dreaded question “What about socialization?” is to ask them what they mean by that term.

Socialization means different things to different people. I’d like to suggest that there are three main categories. Socialization can mean simply social time, i.e. time spent with peers. It can refer to specific habits and practices which people are expected to learn and use. I am thinking here of things like standing in line, saying please and thank you, and more subtle social skills like how to participate in a group discussion. Lastly, socialization can refer to one’s ability to be relational — to form,  build, and negotiate relationships. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

For some socialization just means time to socialize. It is spending time with peers. It is hard to deny that most school kids get way more time with their peers, but I would like to suggest that when discussing what is best for a given child that we consider the following:

  • Quantity is not the same as quality. Many school kids have to be told not to socialize in the middle of class. Homeschooled kids may have less overall time (probably do) but their interactions tend to come in contexts in which they are allowed and even expected to chat and play.
  • The need for social time varies, both among individuals and over one’s lifetime. My own very unscientific observation is that little kids really don’t need much social time with people other than family. The drive for social time at this age often comes from the parent’s need and expectations, not the child’s. Middle age kids (maybe 7-11) seem to need a bit more and teens are even more peer-focused. But there are also individual variations. I have one child who just sick of being around people very quickly. (She is quite happy in quarantine right now.) Again, parents need to distinguish between their own needs and that of their child. If your child is happy, you don’t necessarily need to push for more (though there may be separate issues when there are developmental concerns). In a family, even with just one parent and one child, there may also need to be some compromise here. Until you can leave a child home alone (or let them drive to a friend’s house alone), the more social may need to do with a bit less and the less social to get out a bit more than they like.
  • How much social time happens naturally as a part of your family life? If you have 9 kids, odds are your 8-year-old already has someone to play with. If you have an only child, you may need to make more effort to find him playmates once in a while.
  • We don’t always want what is good for us. Another very unscientific observation: the teens who seem to crave a lot of time with peers are also those who are most insecure and most easily influenced and led. Of course, in these days of social media, homeschooled kids are not protected from this kind of social mania just because they stay within their own four walls.
  • Which leads us to — not all social time is good social time. Peer pressure is a thing. The time your child spends with other kids may either a) make him unhappy or b) make him happy but teach him things you don’t want him to learn.
  • Peer social time is not the only option. Peers are good. I am not suggesting we isolate our children from other kids their age, but homeschoolers are more likely to get social time with people not born within 12 months of them.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of a little loneliness and boredom. Being forced to be on our own sometimes helps us become who we are (and perhaps a little less of just who we want our peers to think we are).

The second kind of socialization is the learning of skills. What the important skills are could be a big discussion  but here again are some points to consider:

  • Some skills can be learned, and perhaps learned better, in real world contexts. Homeschooled kids below a certain age have to go places with their parents. Places like the grocery store and the bank. Here they will learn valuable real-life skills like waiting in line. And they will do so in real world contexts.
  • Not all school kids are well-socialized. I have watched the socialized school kids in tennis camp with my kids. They are awful at waiting in line. Just sayin’.
  • Some skills are harder to learn at home. In this category I would put things like participating in group discussions. This doesn’t need to be a deal breaker, however. Being aware of the gaps, of what your homeschooled kid might be missing out on, lets you know what you might need to seek out or work on.
  • Some skills are better not learned. Oddly one of the big ones you hear is “how will your kids learn to deal with bullies if they don’t go to school?” Personally, I would rather my kid not have to deal with a bully. Not that there aren’t bullies in the adult world but knowing what is normal and acceptable behavior is hugely important. Thinking that bullying is normal and regular is not good IMO. My oldest said one of the hardest things when he went to college was dealing with all the drama his peers were wrapped up in all the time. It was new to him. But I would rather he is able to see the drama for what it is and know that human relationships don’t have to be that way.
  • On a related note, there are good skills and bad skills one can learn. Both are available on the playground.

Lastly, we come to what is probably the most important kind of socialization: Being able to build and maintain relationships. Here I would refer you again to Elkind’s The Hurried Child. He lays out his theory of how parents socialize their children which boils down to: we relate to one another through social contracts. The parent-child one is multifaceted and subtle. It is about freedom and responsibility but also about trust and loyalty. Elkind argues that this primary relationship is unequal and that kids need peer relationships too because they are equal and require a different kind of negotiation. I think he goes a little far on this point but essentially what he says makes sense. But it also means that it is in these close, long-term relationships that we really build relationship skills. My dad was a grouch at home but he was always very friendly and chatty with grocery store check-out ladies. My mom said it was because there was no depth there. You chat for two minutes once a week and nothing more is asked of you. It is the long-term relationships in our lives that challenge and stretch us. Elkind implies that a young child going from home to school to daycare is hurried and suffers for it emotionally. He has too many relationships to juggle and they don’t come with the loyalty and trust that the parent-child relationship does. I would argue that the homeschool environment is much better for being able to build these long-term relationship skills that are really the most essential type of socialization. The relationships a child has may be fewer but they have depth.

So the next time your mother-in-law says the S-word to you, ask her what kind of socialization she means and hopefully you will have some arguments to show her that homeschooled children are not inherently disadvantaged in this area.


The Hurried Child: How Socialization Happens

Dear Reader,

If you are a homeschooler, you are probably sick of the “S” word  (if you are not, that word is “socialization”). Often used as a weapon by mothers-in-law and doubting friends, it is a slippery little word with so many possible meanings that it becomes hard to defend oneself against the “they won’t be socialized” accusation.

But it turns out there are actual scholarly definitions of socialization and theories about how it happens, or fails to. I recently picked up an older book, The Hurried Child by David Elkind, Ph.D (Cambridge, MA; Da Capo Press, 2007; 3rd edition). Elkind is a professor of child psychology who originally wrote this volume in the 1980s to argue that America’s children were being hurried into growing up too fast to their detriment. Even the revised revised volume I have is somewhat dated, but there is still some meat here which is worth considering.

Elkind does not start from the same place I would. There is no evidence he is a Christian; his view of human nature seems to be entirely physical, ignoring any spiritual element. He relies heavily on thinkers that I would consider suspect: Rousseau, Freud, and Piaget among them. And his idea of the child vis-a-vis the adult is not mine.

Yet a lot of the scholarship here supports and adds to some of the ideas about education which we have been discussing. A small example: I have argued, along with Charlotte Mason and others, for a broad education that does not allow the child to specialize too early. Elkind provides arguments from his clinical experience to back this up:

“Premature structuring is most often seen in children who have been trained from an early age in one or another sport or performing art. What often happens is that the child becomes so specialized so early that other parts of his personality are somewhat undeveloped.” (pp. 198-99)

Some other ideas Elkind presents with which I would agree:

  • Multi-age groupings of children are beneficial (p. 69).
  • Standardization in education is detrimental (p. 50).
  • Sex ed in the classroom does not work (p. 65).
  • Children confronted with tasks for which they are not ready blame themselves for failure and develop a “learned helplessness” (pp. 57, 131). [We also saw this idea in The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard; see this post.]

There were also a number of ideas I got from this book which I had not considered previosuly but which make a lot of sense:

  •  The motivation for learning to read is primarily social (p. 38).
  • A certain amount of repression is a good thing. Kids need to learn the rules, for instance the rule of romantic relationships, before they learn to break them. Thus movies and the like with adult themes do damage to kids. They see the breaking before they learn the rules (pp. 95f).
  • Grammar and algebra are best taught after age 11 or so. Both these subjects require is to think about thinking. Until that time kids are not ready to learn them (pp. 132f). [I need to think more about this one; I have generally resisted delineating stages in education.]

The biggest topic which made me think here is the one that seems to be uniquely Elkind’s theory. It is about how kids are socialized. He does not offer one clear definition but Elkind’s working definition of socialization seems to be that it is how children learn to live within a society (p.142).  Much to my pleasure, he places the primary locus of this teaching squarely within the family. After reviewing a few models of how socilization happens, Elkind presents his own which incorporates the others but is broader. His theory is that parents and children interact through a multi-faceted social contract. This contract has three axes which might be called the achievement-support axis, the responsibility-freedom axis, and the loyalty-commitment axis. Over time on each of these there will be change and renegotiation. Parents initially control the whole contract and set it terms but over time children are given more say in the contract (p. 147). When parents break the contract, or ar perceived to do so, children have problems. It is important to note as well that the elements of this contract are often implicit; they are not laid out or communicated verbally but are nonetheless understood on a number of levels (p. 155).

The responsibility-freedom axis is perhaps the easier to understand. The child is given more freedom over time in proportion to the responsibility he is able to take. This axis of the contract in particular prepares the child to be a responsible member of society. He learns that there is a trade-off between freedom and responsibility (p. 148).

I am a little looser on my understanding of the acheivement-support axis (pp. 149ff). Elkind argues that parents need to give their children support for their achievements (such as going to recitals and sporting events)  while also acknowledging that the child should not be made to feel that his success is for the parent’s gratification — which is all well and good. It does not seem to be as much of a trade-off, however, as the child’s achievement is not for the parent’s benefit and is certainly not something he owes the parent.

The loyalty-commitment axis is particularly interesting.  It says that parents expect a certain amount of loyalty and give their commitment (pp. 152ff). I think Christian parenting books especially are prone to identifying the responsibility-freedom axis accurately but to omitting the other axes. I haven’t thought of all the implications of this yet but I wonder if and how our strategies would change if we took this definition of social contracting between parent and child and applied it in a Christian context.

For Elkind the contract between parent and child is the primary means of socialization but it is not by itself sufficient. The parent-child relationship is a hierarchical one. The child also needs relationships with peers, those on his own level, with whom he has more equal contracts which also require much more negotiation (p. 155). And as he grows, he will also likely be the parent to a child. Elkind argues that he cannot learn the parent side of a contract directly from his parent (p. 155).

Overall I think there is a lot in this theory that fits well with Christian theology, and particularly with reformed covenant theology. Covenant theology says that God relates to us through a covenant which is essentially a contract. That we would also relate to our children in this way makes sense to me. For Elkind the parent-child contract does not actually teach the child how to be the dominant party in an unequal contract. I would argue that our contracts are actually mutli-tiered. We parents do our parenting as agents of God. We do so by divine, delegated authority. Thus even as we are authorities to our children, we are under authority to our God. Our children learn from us both how to be in authority and how to be under authority (if we are doing it well).

Elkind does not draw the lines he might between this theory of social contracts and our educational system He does at times say that requiring young children to move from daycare to school and back to daycare hurries them by forcing them to make more transitions than they are capable of but he does not go much farther than this. I would argue that every relationship is in some sense a contract. Asking young children to make too many contracts, particularly unequal ones in which they have little or no say, is dangerous ground. These kinds of contracts are in some sense in loco parentis. That is, because of the young are of the child, they mimic the parent-child contract, They can’t help but do so. Yet they offer some of the axes — responsibility-freedom and achievement-support — without offering all of them. Loyalty-commitment in particular is left out. And while I agree with Elkind that is is good and necessary for children to have peer relationships that require them to make equal contracts, I also wonder if throwing them into situations in which they are around 10 or 20 or more peers for long hours requires them to do too much negotiating. The deepest, most regular relationship, like those with siblings, are often the hardest to negotiate but can also be the most rewarding. Perhaps we were not meant to make so many “contracts” at a young age.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I am fairly pro-homeschooling. I understand, however, that this is not always a possible or even the ideal choice. I have concerns about how this social contract theory plays out when young children in particular are placed in the typical public school environment. But that does not mean that these problems cannot be overcome. If we are aware of the hazards, I think we can prepare our children for the many relationships they will have to negotiate. The main way to do this (that I can think of) is simply to be involved, to be aware of the relationships one’s child has, especially the unqueal ones which put the child in the subordinate position  and to make sure they are good relationships. And to always make the child aware that the parent is still involved and will have the commitment to them that they require.

As for that socialization argument that your mother-in-law badgers you with — Elkind’s theory provides is with some pretty good answers. If to be socialized is to learn to live in society, then the family is the first and primary society in which to learn this skill. Though it is a smaller classroom, it is an intense one and in it a parent can do more to ensure that the lessons learned are the right ones. It is a question of quality versus quantity. Better a few good relationships which involve all the axes the child needs than a large number which are yet only partial contracts.



Homeschool Curricula by Approach & A Quick-Start Guide

Dear Reader,

Where I am at least, the number of people considering homeschooling in the coming year (2020-21) has skyrocketed. With them in mind, I created this list of homeschooling curricula by subject. If you need direction in what approach to choose, please see this page in which I list all my posts on the various philosophies of education including questions to ask yourself and a quiz to help identify your style. There are two versions of this list. The full one lists the curricula by approach and the quick-start guide narrows things down even more if you are still overwhelmed.

Homeschool Curricula by Approach (opens a Google doc)

Quick-Start Homeschool Curriculum Guide (opens a Google doc)

I am sure there are inaccuracies and curricula I have missed so feel free to comment and I will try to keep the documents updated.


Book List: Bible and Theology

Dear Reader,

One goal for the summer is to get out a series of booklists with titles we have used over the years. I thought that I had at one point given a list of Bible and Theology books we have used but upon searching find that doesn’t appear to be true. For this topic, more than any other, I think it is important to know where I come from. My approach to education has been largely influenced by Charlotte Mason though I have my own philosophy of education. Most importantly, I am a Reformed Christian (aka Calvinist). If you come from a different theological perspective, this list may not fit your needs. I would recommend consulting your pastor or older (homeschooling) moms within your church for their suggestions.

You can find all my booklists here.

Bible and Theology Resources


This may seem obvious but one of the best books you can use to study the Bible and theology is . . . (wait for it) . . . the Bible. I myself am pretty comfortable with just opening up the Bible and reading and discussing  [1], but I realize others may not be there yet.

The Beginner’s Bible — I am not a huge fan of children’s Bibles. In general, my advice would be to try to move tour kids to the full Word of God as soon as you can. But little kids are little kids and sometimes a children’s Bible can be helpful. My husband in particular read stories from this one to our kids. I am less comfortable than I used to be with the depictions of Jesus in the New Testament. This one is at a picture book or preschool level.

The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos —  Vos has another children’s Bible. This one is more at an elementary level. I tried to use Vos’ volume with my preschool Sunday school class thinking it would be easier and found that often the stories were actually longer because of the commentary interspersed in them. If you yourself are uncomfortable commenting on the text, then this might be a way to go as it provides some interpretation along with the text (though as it is written you might not know what is text and what is interpretation).

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study by Starr Meade — This is a workbook-y series for children which guides you through reading the Bible itself. Again for my tastes it was too workbook-y but we did it aloud and I didn’t have my kids fill in all the blanks (or any of them for that matter). I do like that it divides up the Bible into manageable chunks.

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola — This is a thinner volume that guides you through reading the epistles as well as sections from the book of Acts. Viola has his own slant — he is very pro-house church — but it gives some good background to the epistles and their contexts. I would use this one with older children (middle school +).

What’s in the Bible by R.C. Sproul — This is more of a reference book. It could be good to use yourself to get some background on a biblical book you plan to read (part of that getting more comfortable with that text yourself) or to give to an older child to aid their reading. Another similar book is How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Fee and Stuart.

The Life of Jesus Christ for the Young by Richard Newton — I ran across this two-volume series after my kids were beyond the age for it. I actually stumbled across Newton’s work because Simply Charlotte Mason uses quotes from him frequently in their copywork series. I don’t know a lot about Newton’s theology. He seems to have been an Anglican minister (which doesn’t narrow it down much, but they say Spurgeon recommended him. I’d say these are elementary level. A similar set which Charlotte Mason used but which I would not recommend are J. Paterson Smythe’s guides for teachers. You can read about why I don’t recommend them for reformed people here.

Herein is Love series by Nancy Ganz — Though I have not used them, I am including Nancy Ganz’s series of commentaries on the Pentateuch. I have heard very good things about them and Ganz is a member of my denomination. Elementary level again.

General Theology

Bible Doctrine for Younger Children by James Beeke — Beeke goes through basic doctrines at a child’s level. His take on things is not identical to mine. He is King James only (I edited the verses he gives as I read them) and his denomination uses the three forms of Unity which mine does not. But the basics of the theology here pretty solid. Topics covered include sin, the covenant of grace, Christ as mediator, etc. It is a bit workbook-y for my (Charlotte Mason-y) tastes but again I edited a but as I went. We did it all aloud as a family. There are also older children versions of these volumes which seem to cover the same material just at a higher level.

What is a Christian Worldview? by Philip Ryken — This is a thin book, practically a pamphlet. The title is a bit misleading. Basically, this is an explanation of the five points of Calvinism. I gave it to my kids in middle school. It’s a great volume to give to friends interested in what Calvinism is as well.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis — A classic on why one should believe in God. I had my kids read this one mainly because it is a classic and I felt that they should be familiar with it. Of course, Lewis has a number of other volumes that could be good as well.

31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God by Rick Stedman — This book is similar to Mere Christianity in some ways. It is fairly basic. I believe I had my children skip some chapters as it gets a bit repetitive. We used it in middle school.

Introducing Evangelical Theology by  Daniel Treier — I picked up this newer book recently and read through it. It is not designed to be read cover-to-cover, but I did so and decided I would have my two high schoolers read is, or selections from it, next school year. My plan is to have them read a couple of pages at a time and then to discuss it with them. This is an introductory book (as its title suggests) and does not go in-depth on any particular topic. Its strength is that it gives the lay of the land, outlining possible positions, on a number of issues. I will post our reading schedule when I have it typed up (likely in the fall). You can also see my review here.

Calvin’s Institutes — At some point we should all read the quintessential Calvin. I found it much more accessible than I had anticipated (for me) but it is not an easy book. This one is definitely high school level and probably upper high school (though if you have a range of kids as I do some may be getting it earlier than others). I read it aloud to my kids in short chunks over a three year period. I would read a day ahead of time. We skipped some sections and some whole chapters. Calvin often argues against the other opinions popular in his day and/or gives a number of biblical verses as evidence so I did find that there were bits we could skip.  Once you get the hang of how he constructs his arguments, it makes more sense. Don’t feel you need to read the whole thing in order. The last chapter on the Christian life is one of the most accessible and wouldn’t be a bad place to start. One project I have in mind is to arrange the Institutes much as Plutarch is laid out on Ambleside Online in short readings with some notes and questions so if that is something you would use please let me know.

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof — Of course there are a lot of systematic theologies out there. I happen to own Berkhof’s and to find its concise style fairly accessible as a reference work when I want more information on a given topic. I wouldn’t read this one from cover to cover but it is nice to have such a resource on hand when questions arise.

Personally, I listen to a lot of podcasts and sometimes this can work better for children too. I had one high schooler do a series on theology/apologetics by listening to podcasts, the primary one being the Reformed Brotherhood. You can find the schedule for that here.

Christian Living and Encouragement

A Handful of Stars and other books by Frank Boreham — Boreham is one of my favorite authors. He was a pastor in the early 1900s (I believe) in Australia and New Zealand. His books are collections of short essays. He was not reformed but I still love a lot of what he wrote. He is more pastoral than theological, For kids, I’d recommend the volumes that give brief biographies and talk about the passages that influenced particular people’s lives. Many are available free or very cheap on Kindle.

A Little Book on the Christian Life and Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin — Though he is known for his in-depth theology, Calvin has a few volumes which are brief, pastoral, and very encouraging.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken — The story of a man’s spiritual journey after the loss of his wife. A tear-jerker.

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss — Another tear-jerker. This one is the spiritual journey of a young woman into adulthood and motherhood. Probably not for boys (not inappropriate, just girly). You (moms) should read it yourself if you haven’t.

Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper — This book is essentially an abridged version of Piper’s Desiring God. I have a few reservations about Piper’s view, called Christian hedonism, but I also like the encouragement this little volume gives to delight in God.

Specific Topics

The Hand of God and Satan Cast Out by Frederick Leahy — I believe Leahy was an Irish pastor. His work is solid and fairly accessible for middle school and up. The Hand of God is about God’s sovereignty and Satan Cast Out  is about, you guessed it, Satan. My kids really liked reading about Satan. I think it’s one of those subjects they have a natural curiosity about but aren’t likely to get a lot of preaching on.

Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson — It’s been years since I read this book but Ferguson is a solid author and the topic is a very timely one for teenagers.

A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker — Wiker is Catholic but he is one of my favorite authors (you will see him a few times on this list). This volume is about how things from physics and chemistry to Shakespeare show the Creator.  High school level and up.

Worldview and Philosophy

God-Breathed by Rut Etheridge — This volume is written to teens and young adults who were raised in Christian homes but have become disillusioned or never really gotten what true Christian faith is. I was not crazy about this book but there are some good bits, particularly those in which Etheridge discusses philosophy. My full review is here.

The Deadliest Monster by J.F. Baldwin — I am not crazy about this book but there are some good parts. I appreciated his comparison of Frankenstein and Dracula and, if I am remembering the right book, the French and American revolutions.

How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer — This is the don’t-miss book for this section. We do both the book and video for this book to make sure my kids get it. Schaeffer traces western thought from Roman times to 1980 or so (when he lived) and shows how it played out in the arts as well.

Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner — I am not a huge fan of  the term “worldview” and how it is used in Christian circles. Even less so of “worldview education.” Yet if that is a thing, it should mean not just learning the “right” worldview but learning how to discern the worldview of others on their writing and art. Horner’s Meaning at the Movies is a good, short book for helping one learn how to discern the view behind a work of art. Movies are short, quick glimpses into another’s mind and kids like watching them. I have my high schoolers do one year of “movies as literature” using this book (see this post for some specifics).

On that note I also used Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone in middle school. The book is the story of their book club for kids. You could have high schoolers read it but it is better to read it yourself and then read the books they sued and discuss them. Along the way you will both hopefully learn something about delving into the ideas behind a book. I like that the Goldstone’s use fairly simple books. My opinion is that it is easier to start with books that are too easy for your kids. I have a number of posts that narrate out book studies based on Deconstructing. The first one is here.

My oldest son also did a year on political philosophy. You can find the full booklist for that here. A couple I would highlight that you might want to use and which come from a Christian perspective are Benjamin Wiker’s 10 Books that Screwed up the World and 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read and The Consequences of Ideas by R.C. Sproul.


Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion by Benjamin Wiker — Another Wiker book. Very well done. High school level plus.

Founding Sins by Joseph S. Moore — This is a wonderful book. Again, one everyone should read. If you think the US was founded as a Christian nation, you need to read this book.

Messiah the Prince by William Symington — This is the classic Reformed Presbyterian work on Christ’s Messianic Kingship. I usually have my kids skip some chpaters as they don’t really need to read about Christ’s rule over the church. There is a simplified and updated version called Messiah the Prince Revisited but I think it loses something.

Creation and Evolution

The Darwin Myth by Benjamin Wiker — Wiker does a great job of showing how Darwin’s personality and beliefs affected his famous theory.

We usually cover this topic as part of high school biology. I have my kids read books on a couple of sides of the issue and then for their exam for the term write what the various views are and what they find most convincing. I also have a post on dinosaurs in the Bible here. 

Gender Related Issues

It is hard to avoid these subjects today and your kids will encounter them (of they haven’t already) when they go to college. My gender and marriage booklist is here. I have my teens read Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion story in her Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and the position papers of the RPCNA, The Gospel & Sexual Orientation and Gender as Calling: the Gospel and Gender Identity (published by Crown and Covenant).


I have one child who is particularly interested in art and it is one of those subjects in which one needs to think a bit about how to do it Christianly. Two books I would recommend for that are:

Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken (my review here)

The Christian, the Arts and Truth by Frank Gaebelein (my review here)

Church History

History Lives series by Mindy Withrow — A four volume set with manageable chunks on church history from the earlier times on. I did find it a little bit undiscriminating in who it calls a hero of the faith but overall it is very good. Begin reading it aloud in the elementary years.

Sketches from Church History by Houghton — There is also a student workbook which I would skip but the book itself is not badly written. Middle school level I believe.

Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken — A wonderful, fair book on Purtian life and belief. We included it in history but it could also be read with theology or church history.

Here I Stand by Roland Bainton — Classic life of Martin Luther.

The Reformation 500 Years Later by Benjamin Wiker — A Catholic writing on the Reformation = I don’t agree with everything here but it is a well-wrtten, easy to read book and may make you think. It does a good job of showing all the threads that played into the Reformation. I gave my kids specific questions to answer in place of straight narrations. You can find those here. My review is here.


[1] My degrees are in biblical Hebrew though I think that ultimately every Christian should be or get comfortable with their Bible, while acknowledging that we do not read it apart from our interpretive traditions.

Living History Books, Settlement and Native Americans

Dear Reader,

Last year in our homeschool we covered the Middle Ages so this year we are up to the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Exploration. In term one our emphasis was more global as we looked at the big ideological trends. In terms 2 and 3 we looked at the settlement of the new world and Native Americans respectively.  You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living History Books: Settlement

There are relatively few selections in these sections as I mostly had my two kids read the same books. If you are looking for books for younger kids, check out my lists from the first time we covered this period of history: this one on Colonial New England and on the Settlement of Virginia and on the Colonization of America more generally.

Sweet Land of Liberty by Charles Coffin — My oldest son actually used this book years ago when we covered settlement (see links above). It covers quite a span of time and does so fairly thoroughly without having overly long chapters. A great spine book for this period. 

Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken — I really like this book on the Puritans. I think it gives a very fair portrayal of them. 

The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster — I read this one (or sections thereof) aloud to them in our time together. Foster’s books are wonderful and are often used at younger ages but I find they still have quite a lot to tell to high schoolers. They contain a lot of info. I chose this one mainly because it gives an international perspective and brings in events in Europe (and beyond) from the time period. And frankly, I couldn’t find anything better for that.

Living History Books: Native Americans

We ended the year with a term on Native Americans and the various wars and battles involving them. I had dated going right into the Revolution but didn’t think we could miss the French-Indian Wars entirely. I had them both continue with Sweet Land of Liberty (see above).

Flames Over New England by Olga Hall-Quest — This is a nice, not too long volume on King Philip’s War. You might skip over these events if you live elsewhere but we are in new England and actually quite a lot of things around here are named for Philip. (My son took drivers’ ed at King Philip High School.)

The Struggle for a Continent by Albert Marrin –Marrin is one of my favorite authors for this age because he covers so much ground in a readable way. This one is on the French and Indian Wars. 

Nine Years Among the Indians: 1870-1879 by Herman Lehmann– I was looking for something on Native American life for each of my kids. I had my son read this one. It is about a boy who was originally kidnapped by Native Americans and later decides to stay with them, joining a couple of different tribes. Amazon had a few books with titles like this one but this seemed the most readable. 

The Tracker: The True Story of Tom Brown, Jr. by Tom Brown — My daughter expressed an interest in “how Indians know how to do what they do in the woods.” I am not sure this book is what she had in mind but I read it myself first and thought it was fabulous. It would be a great nature lore book even apart from the Native American element. The author was actually a white boy who learned Native American ways from a friend’s grandfather. There is a bit of a pantheistic/nature-is-God element but I did not think it was too obvious in this book (though it appears to be in some of his others) and I don’t worry too much about my kids getting messed up on that point at this age. 

Happy Reading!


Living History Books, 1400-1600

Dear Reader,

Last year in our homeschool we covered the Middle Ages so this year we are up to the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Exploration. Next term we will focus on the settlement of the New World which will take us into early American History. This term our emphasis was still more global. I am down to two students this year, a ninth- and a tenth-grader. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living History Books, 1400-1600

There are three big topics within this time frame: the Renaissance brought cultural and philosophical transformation; the Reformation changed the religious landscape; and the Age of Exploration and particularly the discovery of the New World had profound political consequences. I tried to give each of my children at least one book dealing with each of these three areas.

History: The Age of Exploration

Around the World in a Hundred Years by Jean Fritz — This is more of a middle school level book but it provides a good overview as it covers some 10-12 explorers. I had both my kids read it so I would feel that they had both at least heard of all the major figures of the period. Because each figure is given a chapter, it divides up very nicely in a typical 12-13 week term. I know some have concerns about Fritz’s portrayal of Christianity in this book in particular. Honestly at this stage of life I feel my kids have a solid enough foundation that I am not too worried about it.

Albert Marrin is one of my favorite authors for middle and high school history because he covers a lot of ground in a book on a single person. He gives you the feel for an era. A perfect example is the book my 10th grader read: Marrin’s The Sea King: Sir Francis Drake and His Times.  For something on the Americas, I also had him read Inca and Spaniard (Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru). There are a lot of good stories from this time and place and he seemed to enjoy reading them. My 9th grader read his Terror of the Spanish Main: Sir Henry Morgan and His Buccanneers. She was thrilled to read about pirates.

I also had my 9th grader read Iris Noble’s Spain’s Golden Queen Isabella which again could be a middle school book. Noble is another favorite author.



The Renaissance brought a lot of new ideas. We began a study of philosophy with Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live. As I did with my older kids, I have them both read the book and watch the video series. They contain the same information but I like to reinforce it. To date, we have only gotten through the first two-thirds or so of the book but this covers the relevant portion and we plan to continue with it and to do a full-year course on philosophy next year. Schaeffer, while a wonderful resource, is mainly for us an introduction to the concept that there are ideas out there define an age and affect its art and politics.

We also read the relevant sections of Hendrik Van Loon’s The Arts. This is a wonderful, thick book of art history which also covers a fair amount of history and culture along the way. If you haven’t stumbled across it yet, I highly recommend getting a copy.


Schaeffer’s book addresses the Protestant Reformation but I also had both my children read Benjamin Wiker’s The Reformation 500 Years Later. Wiker is a favorite author of mine. I am a little more hesitant with this book. As he is Roman Catholic and I am Protestant, this is the area where our differences are most apparent. Nonetheless, The Reformation is an accessible book that covers a lot of topics and gives one a fair amount to think about. Rather than having my kids merely narrate it, I gave them a list of readings and specific questions to address for each section. Think of it more as a guided narration. You can find that assignment list here (opens a Google doc). You can find my review of the book here.

Happy Reading!


Specialty CM Curricula: Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Secular

Dear Reader,

I have a few posts now looking at the various Charlotte Mason (here) and Charlotte Mason-inspired (here and here) curricula out there. My goal in all of this is just to provide you with resources for narrowing down your choices. Personally, I tend to put together my own thing and while I do have some opinions, I don’t have a horse in this race.

If you have found your way here, you probably already know a little bit about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of education.  (If you’d like to read way more on her than you’ll ever need, check out this page which lists all my CM-related posts.) My own belief is that any philosophy of education is inherently theological — it must ask and answer questions about the nature of man and of knowing. It is not irrelevant to CM’s approach, then, that she was Anglican (see this post on Anglicanism in CM).  If you are not Anglican, or even Protestant, this does not mean that you cannot use CM’s ideas, but it does mean that you should put a little more thought into how you might want to adapt and apply them.  It may be that there are particular resources others use that you want to avoid; it may be that there are whole areas you want to change.

As the CM world expands, there are more and more resources out there that adapt CM to other religious traditions. My goal today is to give you a fly-over look at these. Many of these curricula I have looked at previously (but one is entirely new to me).

Specialty CM Curricula 

Roman Catholic

What’s out there? The Catholic CM curriculum is Mater Amabilis (find the chart I did on it preciously here).

What’s included? It is a free curriculum and covers K-8. As with a lot of the CM resources out there, it is still a work-in-progress so more material is being added. Book and material suggestions are given; lesson plans are for some subjects. Math is not included. There is a prep level for 4-6-year-olds.

How CM is it? In the spectrum of CM-ness, this one strives to be fairly purely CM though it also says it can be used in a more “CM-inspired” way.

What’s Catholic about it? There is an extensive religion section including subjects like Bible, catechism, the saints, and the liturgical year.

Latter Day Saints

What’s out there? The Good and the Beautiful (TGTB) is LDS (aka Mormon)-owned though it does not bill itself as a specifically Mormon curriculum (see this earlier post).

What’s included? It seems to be a fairly comprehensive curriculum for k-8 and is designed to be “open and go.” The high school curriculum goes under the name Greenleaf High School and is still in-progress.

How CM is it? TGTB emphasizes literature, nature, and beauty as well as short lessons.  It doesn’t push curriculum in early grades. Its read-aloud books are often good, living book choices. In other areas it combines subjects and borders on Unit Studies (which CM rejected). In language arts, it uses some non-CM methods and it tends to use readers rather than whole, living books.

What’s LDS about it?  The curriculum itself does not seem to be distinctly Mormon. It emphasizes family, values, and a general Christian deism.


What’s out there? Wayfarers (from Barefoot Meandering)  and Build Your Library (BYL; see this post) and Wildwood (see this chart) bill themselves as secular CM resources.

What’s included? Wildwood is free. It seems to include form I (through age 9) and family studies for all ages; I do not see materials for ages 10+ (yet). It seems to consist mostly of booklists and often refers one to outside resources. BYL refers you to other publishers for some resources (like science) but does offer laid-out lesson plans.

How CM is it? Of the three, Wildwood is most purely CM while Wayfarers and BYL are CM-inspired. Wayfarers does emphasize literature and sticks with living books and not textbooks for high school science. It also borrows from the classical tradition, however, and adds materials for language arts and makes heavy use of notebooking. BYL also uses literature and narration but mixes things up with narration notecards. It has some eclectic elements as well and adds on unit studies.

What’s secular about it? Wildwood aims to be “as nonreligious as we can make the curriculum.” Science is evolution-based. Its intent is to be religion-neutral. Wayfarers and BYL also aim to be non-religious but not anti-religious.

EDITED 1/15/2020:

I have learned that there is another secular CM-inspired curriculum out there: Ursa Minor.

What’s included? Ursa Minor starts with year 7. Unlike most CM curricula, the later years are available rather than the early ones. It seems to be mainly lists of books with notes like “keep a book of centuries” but not a lot of explanation. Those new to CM may need to read up to understand what is expected of them.

How CM is it? Ursa Minor bills itself as CM-inspired and acknowledges that it is not CM but includes aspects of classical as well as Montessori and Reggio Emilia. One added element from classical (as an example) is a logic curriculum. despite their disclaimer, much of what I see looks actually quite CM to me with nature journaling, composer study, etc.

What’s secular about it? A primary goal seems to be to provide a scientific curriculum which they define as one that “uses the scientific method to discover facts about the world.”  Books may discuss religion but they avoid books that are designed to convince or indoctrinate (their words).


What’s out there? One of my very helpful readers has recently let me know that there is a Jewish CM curriculum. It is Ani-ve-Ami (which translates to “me and my people”).

What’s included? At the moment it seems to be mainly booklists. They mention you may need to add more literature. A planning guide is in the works. Consultations are available. The curriculum guide seems to include history, literature and the arts, but not science and math. Lists of other resources are provided for those.

How CM is it? Ani-ve-Ami bills itself as a living CM curriculum. It includes mapwork, copywork, and living books and seems to merit the CM label.

What’s Jewish about it? Judaic studies are included in the curriculum. You can choose how much Hebrew you want to incorporate. Time periods are divided according to Jewish history. History and literature are both divided into Jewish and secular sections.


What’s out there? Our Muslim Homeschool (OMH) offers an Islamic CM curriculum. Middle Way Mom (MWM)also posts on her CM, Islamic curriculum choices.

What’s included? The main products sold by OMH seem to be those which focus on Muslim distinctives (see below). Life of Fred is offered for math. There are lists of what curriculum the creator has used in the blog portion but I found it hard to navigate. You can see one such post here. MWM seems to just have lists of what the author has used.

How CM is it? The creator of OMH says she is guided by CM principles. When she lists what she has used for a given year (see link above), it does seem to be pretty CM. It is not clear to me to what degree CM’s philosophy influences her original curriculum offerings (all of which seem to focus on Islamic subjects). MWM seems to make good CM choices as well.

What’s Muslim about it? Arabic, Quran, and Islamic studies are included and are the main unique offering in OMH. MWM also includes Islamic studies, Quran, and Arabic in her lists.


Those are the “specialty” Charlotte Mason curricula that have come to my attention. There are always new resources out there, so if you know of others, feel free to comment below and give me a heads-up to them.


Veith and Kern on Classical Education

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

Recently we talked about the variety that exists with the modern classical education movement. Today we add one more piece to that puzzle.

In  Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America (Washington, D.C.: Capital Research Center, 2015) Dr. Gene Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern give an overview of the movement. I know of Andrew Kern from the Circe Institute and I had wanted to include  Circe that earlier post. I could not find one concise statement of their take on classical online. I picked up this book in the hopes of getting a clearer idea of their view. I do not know that this book presents the view of the Circe Institute, but at least we can say that it is the work of Kern who also heads up the Circe Institute (along with Veith, of course).

Classical Education is not primarily written to promote a particular view of classical education but as a polemic in favor of neo-classical education and an overview of its major branches. The authors’ views do come through to some extent, however, and it is these I would like to focus on.

Veith and Kern are accepting of all forms of modern classical education. They do not analyze presuppositions and they do not judge which school of thought is best or most true to its classical roots. Though their book shows that there is a lot of variety within modern classical education, they tend to gloss over differences, choosing instead to emphasize commonalities. In order to do so, they provide a list of what they consider the salient features of classical education. For Veith and Kern the distinguishing features of classical education are (pp. 13ff):

  • Classical education includes a high view of man. Included in this is the goal of classical education: to cultivate virtue (p. 14).
  • It is logocentric. That is, it believes there is a unifying principle and that truth can be known. For Christians, the unifying principle is Christ, the Logos (pp. 14-15).
  • It prioritizes western tradition. Veith and Kern are concerned to make clear that they do not idealize western culture. Yet they just as clearly see the West as the culture that “can sustain the political ideals of liberty and human rights” (pp. 15-16; see below).
  • It has a pedagogy that sustains these commitments. This pedagogy is connected with the Trivium, a three-fold hierarchy of learning popularized in modern times by Dorothy Sayers in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” (see my review here).

I’d like to look at each of these in turn.

A High View of Man. To have a “high view of man” means three things:

  1. Man is more than an animal and more than material. The components of his nature may be delineated in various ways but it all boils down to: there is a spiritual element.
  2. We must take man as a whole, recognizing and addressing all the components of his nature.
  3. Man is able to interact with and to know things which are themselves of a higher nature — the good, true, and beautiful.

My over-riding goal is to propose a biblical philosophy of education. To some extent, at least, all three of these propositions are biblical. I think we need to be careful in how we apply them, however, especially the last one. I also think we need to address not just the nature of the man but also of the child.

In a boots on the ground, practical way, every philosophy of education must deal with the fact that things don’t always go well. People don’t always appreciate the wonderful things we put before them and they don’t always learn the lessons we want them to learn. In our Christian understanding, the root of the problem boils down to sin. Man is alienated from God and on his own he cannot do or choose or be good. As Christian educators, we need to ask how we can educate sinful and unregenerate people. But even as we do so, we recognize that the primary problem and therefore the primary solution is not educational. Sin is a problem only God can solve.

Every non-Christian philosophy of education sees education as in some way salvific. That is, education solves man’s problems.  Most equate wrong with ignorance; if we only knew enough or knew the right stuff or understood it in the right way, we would be and do good. Some, like Rousseau, see traditional, formal education as the problem rather than the solution. But either way, education is wrapped up in salvation.

As David Hicks shows in his Norms and Nobility (see my review here), the classical education of the Greeks starts with this assumption: that education can solve our fundamental problem. I don’t want to caricaturize classical education, but it is a bit like a machine. The expectation is that if we have the right input, the machine will spit out the right output. The problem is that the machine does not work the way we expect it to because it is not a machine but a sinful person. Like the famous joke about the physicist who assumes a spherical cow, we assume a perfect person who is able to react appropriately to all the good stuff we give him. If the desired results aren’t produced, we change the input — the content and the methods — and hope for a better output. But ultimately we fail because it is the machine that is faulty (which is not to say that content and methods don’t matter).

As far as I have yet seen (and I have read a fair amount I think) Christian classical does nothing differently. It either, like its non-Christian counterpart, assumes the best, or it chooses to use only those “machines” which will give it good output. Which is to say, it educates the children of believers but ignores the unsaved.

All of which is a very long way to say that classical education — Christian or secular — assumes the ability of human beings to appreciate and receive the good and true and beautiful.

The Nature of the Child.  While classical education assumes too much about the man’s ability, it assumes too little about the child. Though it has a high view of man, classical education often seems to have quite a low view of children. This is something I first noticed in reading Sayers’ infamous article (again see that review here). For the youngest children in particular, the assumption is that they are memorizing machines but that they are not inherently creative, thoughtful beings.

I have looked at what the Bible has to say about children and my conclusion is that they are fully human. They have body and soul, mind and heart. They are capable of sin and they are capable (by the grace of God) of having a relationship with their Creator. They are not blank slates to be written on or lumps of clay to be molded by us. They are, in short, human, and I agree with Charlotte Mason that in intellectual matters we need to give them a varied, nutritious, human diet.

Sayers’ main argument for the confining young children to the grammar stage with its emphasis on imbibing facts was her own experience (see below) so I too will appeal to my experience — I have four kids (now all teens) and I have been teaching two- to six-year-olds in Sunday school for a few years now. My observation is that even the youngest children are quite capable of grasping ideas, of employing well-reasoned arguments, of understanding more than mere facts.

The Purpose of Education. For classical educators, the end goal is to inculcate values. As David Hicks explains so well in his book Norms and Nobility (again, see this post and this one) there is some vision of the Ideal. The goal is conformity to this Ideal, while acknowledging that this will be an ongoing process. On the surface, this sounds Christian. The problem is that our goal as Christians is not ultimately to be moral. Yes, we are called to live moral lives, but the Christian ideal is something more than virtue or even holiness. It is union with Christ. It’s more about relationship and less about morality. Education that aims for morality may achieve it, but it also may not go beyond morality to that something more.

A Unifying Principle. I may have more to say on this topic as I am currently reading another book which touches on the question of unifying principles. For now, I am going to concede the point that a unifying principle to all of knowledge is a good thing. My problem is that there is no one unifying principle across classical education. Can we say that all these approaches — from the ancient to all the modern variants — are truly the same if they have different unifying principles?

Western Tradition. One thing that unites the various classical approaches is a common foundation in Western civilization (by which is meant ancient Greek and Latin writers and thinkers and everyone in Europe and the west who comes after). For Douglas Wilson all but baptizes Western civilization, saying in essence that, as God allowed His Church to grow in the soil of western culture, it is superior to other cultures.

The take of Veith and Kern is a little different. They acknowledge that there is no golden age of Western civilization. Rather, we stand in a stream which continues to flow. We must know what came before us but we also adapt what comes out of us. The phrase “Great Conversation” is used to indicate that this is an ongoing communication in which we also participate.

There is a level, however, on which Veith and Kern do unquestioningly accept the values of western civilization and thereby idealize it. Specifically, they hold a liberal ideal which exalts political freedom above all else. “Truth alone,” they tell us, “can sustain the political ideals of liberty and human rights” (pp. 15-16). There is here an exaltation of individual liberty (human rights) and of political liberty which is very western. I am not at all opposed to liberty but we must be careful that we do not read the ideals of our own civilization back into our theology.

Eastern cultures, for example, tend to value the community above the individual. Douglas Wilson would argue that Christianity grew up in the West because its ideals matched those of western culture. But this is not necessarily the case. There is also a lot about the community in the Bible. We all fell in Adam and all believers are raised in Christ. The Church is called both a building and a body. Conversions and baptisms in the early church seemed to have been done on the household rather than the individual level.  There is here a very good argument for studying other cultures; perhaps there is something in there understanding which we are missing because we are so bound by our own western ideals.

Veith and Kern find their ideal of political liberty in the Bible — but they do so with some bad exegesis. “Christ,” they say, “formulated the essential political doctrine of the West: ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free'” (p. 15). The problem is that this verse is not about political freedom. They are quoting John 8:32. In the next verse, the Jews — like Veith and Kern — misunderstand Jesus; they think He is talking about slavery. But Jesus goes on to make clear on verse 34 that they are not free because they are slaves to sin. The freedom He offers is freedom from sin. It has nothing to do with whether they are slaves and it has nothing to do with political freedom.

The Trivium. Veith and Kern claim that all classical education is united by a pedagogy which they equate with the Trivium as Dorothy Sayers presented it. There are a few problems with this. The first is that not all the approaches they discuss do rely on the Trivium. As far as I can tell (and I have read both their books) neither David Hicks nor James S. Taylor (author of Poetic Knowledge) makes uses of the Trivium.

A second issue is that the Trivium itself, as conceived by Sayers, has been largely discredited. In an article published by the Circe Institute (Kern’s organization), Shawn Barnett argues that Sayers largely made up the modern understanding of the Trivium [1]. The term itself is older, going back to the Middle Ages, but Sayers particular interpretation, which equates each element — grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric — with a stage of child development is her innovation. Though Doug Wilson tries to make a biblical defense of this three-fold division (which I will address in another post), the main argument for this three-stage Trivium is observational. Sayers admits that it is based on her perception of her own personal development.

Though they tout Sayers’ Trivium as the classical pedagogy, when initially describing the Trivium Veith and Kern give a much more, well, classical description.  Theirs is actually one of the best descriptions I have read of the Trivium. As they describe it, it is not about developmental stages but more about how we understand a subject, particularly language or any language-based subject. (Likewise, their explanation of the quadrivium, which is about mathematical knowledge, makes a lot of sense, though it is less filled out.) Having once given this description, however, they seem to forget it and favor a much more rigid, again developmentally-based understanding of the Trivium when it comes to the nitty-gritty of pedagogy and how we educate.


My short take on Classical Education is that it is a useful little book for some things. It begins a quick fly-over of education in America, its history and its flaws. The bulk of the book provides an introduction to the many varieties of modern classical education.  If what you are looking for is a survey of what is out there, this is a very handy little book.

For my purposes, I find Veith and Kern’s take on classical education too broad. They gloss over differences and tend to remain on the surface, describing approaches but not delving into presuppositions. Where the authors’ own ideas come through, they exhibit a somewhat surprising degree of attachment to Sayers’ Trivium and an uncritical adoption of western traditions.


[1] Shawn Barnett, “Dorothy Sayers was Wrong: the Trivium and Child Development,” Circe Institute (Aug. 9, 2019).


Bavinck on the History of Classical Education

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I have done a couple of posts already on topics from Herman Bavinck’s Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008; see here and here). Today it is time to get to my main topic: Bavinck on education. 

The biggest contribution of “Classical Education” is to show just how widely this term has been applied. Bavinck shows that “classical” can refer not only to practices in the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds, each with their own distinctives, but that even in the ancient world, there was not just one model of what classical was. Some of this is material we have covered previously. I am going to try to focus on what Bavinck adds that we have not already seen in other works.

As we saw when we looked at Barclay’s Train Up a Child, the early Church struggled with how to respond to the educational system of the day with some like Tertullian arguing for a complete separation between Athens and Jerusalem and others like Origen and Clement seeking a unity. The long-story-short version is that a compromise, middle position became the default, with the Church acknowledging and making use of the “natural gifts” of art and science while still considering them of a lower level than the supernatural subjects (pp. 211-12).

The fall of Rome brought chaos to Europe. Classical learning was preserved in monasteries which copied texts. Under Charlemagne (c. 800 AD), empire once again meant peace and that learning could begin again. The goal was an educated clergy and the seven liberal arts, divided onto the trivium and quadrivium, were taught as precursors to theology (p. 213).

Another stage began around the year 1000 AD with the rise of Scholasticism. Aristotle, as transmitted through Boethius, was a major influence. The process known as dialectic was rediscovered (see this post for more on dialectic). As John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus in spiritual matters, so Aristotle was said to have done so in natural matters. It is important to note, however, that few people read Greek. What was known was known through commentaries and translations. What was learned was learned through books, not through experimentation or first-hand study (pp. 214-15).

Scholasticism was rigid and it was perhaps inevitable that there was a rebellion against it. This came in the Renaissance through the rise of humanism with its emphasis on the individual (see also this earlier post). When people began to actually look at Aristotle for themselves, they were disappointed. Dialectic as a rigid system was abandoned. The beauty of ancient culture was re-discovered and it was held up as an ideal (pp. 215-17).

This was followed by a period of realism which turned its back on the past (p. 218). But as the pendulum swings one way, so it swings back the other. Around 1750, Rationalism was replaced by Romanticism and neo-humanism, which elevated Roman and Greek culture respectively. Antiquity was elevated to such a degree that Jewish culture, and Christianity which arose from it, were expected to fade into oblivion.  It was the ancient, classical cultures which embodied the purest form of humanity (pp. 218-21). At the same time, classics became a field of study in its own right and related fields like archaeology and philology took off. As a result of these developments, people discovered that the ancient world was more far-ranging and less uniform that they had imagined (pp. 225-27).

At this point we enter the modern era with its emphasis on science as the way to know. Two Bacons played a role: Roger Bacon said that we know through observation and experience. Francis Bacon said that we must reject preconceived notions. Learning was no longer done primarily through books but through experimentation and experience. More practical goals were also put forward; learning was valued for what it could do to advance the condition of humanity. Our sights were turned from the past to the future (pp. 231-32).

Bavinck goes on at this point to address a practical educational issue of his own day in the Netherlands. The specifics of the battle he was fighting do not concern us. He does, however, close with his own estimation of the value of classical learning which I will leave you with as well:

“Classical antiquity is no longer the ideal of education for us, and it will never again be that . . .But the great cultural and historical value of that antiquity has never been realized as well as today. The influence of Israel and also of Hellas and Latium on our culture is much more clear to us now than in previous centuries; these are and will remain our spiritual forbears.” (pp. 241-42)




Bavinck on Art

Dear Reader,

As a part of my series in search of a reformed theology of education, I have been trying to read all I can on the topic by reformed writers. I recently picked up a selection of essays by Herman Bavinck entitled Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). I was a little intimidated to dive into Bavinck but am pleasantly surprised to find that, though I can’t understand everything he says (a lot of it has to do with not knowing the people he is talking about),  for the most part his writing is pretty accessible.

There are some great essays in this volume and I will certainly get to the ones that deal directly with education. Today I’d like to look at “Of Beauty and Aesthetics.” What follows is my narration of Bavinck’s article. As such it has fewer direct quotes and page numbers.

To understand art, we must understand beauty. Beauty precedes art. We know this because there is beauty in nature which predates art. But beyond this, beauty exists apart from Creation with God Himself. Bavinck equates Beauty (capital “B”) with God’s glory. We often think of beauty as a sensory thing, because we appreciate art or nature through our senses (sight, hearing, etc.). But animals have these senses and they have no appreciation for beauty. So we know that there is something more to it. There is a spiritual aspect to beauty.  

In this beauty is like truth and goodness, other things which animals, amoral creatures that they are, cannot grasp. In fact, these three, though distinct, are related in that they all proceed from and are defined by the Godhead. As God is Truth (John 14:6) and as His character defines what is Good (Mark 10:18), so His glory is the definition of Beauty. The beauty that we see in nature is a reflection of this Beauty. It is meant to point us beyond this world to its Creator. 

They say art imitates nature and to some extent this is true. But it is also more than a derivative of a derivative. The connection between art and the beauty of nature comes from their common source (again, in God’s Beauty).  

The ability to create art is a gift from God (Exod. 36:1-2) and while we all have it to some extent, it is different in each of us. Some are certainly more gifted than others. 

Art is different from science or craft in that its ultimate purpose is not utilitarian. It exists for its own sake. 

Modern approaches to art tend to focus on the material, on what we can experiment with. They talk about the artist — his social and historical situation, for example. And they talk about psychology — how we perceive art and how it affects us. We can analyze what elements of a painting affect us and make us call it beautiful. We can devise lists of criteria having to do with colors and lines and what makes one piece “beautiful” and another not. Bavinck acknowledges that there is some value in all this. It is worth doing, but it is not and should not be the whole of our study of art because it ignores the very real, spiritual element.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Bavinck on the value and purpose of beauty in our world:

“Beauty thus discloses us to ourselves and also grants us another, new glimpse into nature and humanity. It deepens, broadens, enriches our inner life, and it lifts us for a moment above the dreary, sinful, sad reality; beauty also brings cleansing, liberation, revival to our burdened and dejected hearts . . .

“Beauty is the harmony that still shines through the chaos in the world . . .it is prophecy and guarantee that this world is not destined for ruin but for glory — a glory for which there is a longing deep in every human heart.” (p. 259)



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