Posts Tagged ‘homeschooling’

Why Not Christian Classical?

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in which I explore a reformed Christian philosophy of education. Thus far, we are still on the whys. Last time I looked at the Charlotte Mason approach to education. Today I’d like to look at Christian classical. My goal in these couple of posts is to show you why we need something overtly reformed and can’t just take what is out there and spiff it up a bit.

I am much better versed in Charlotte Mason’s method than I am in classical so my approach this time will be a little different. I am going to ask questions and perhaps express concerns more than I am going to make definitive statements.

One difficulty in discussing Christian classical is that there is more than one interpretation of it. I will try to address some of the bigger proponents but what I say may not be true of all sources. My subject today is Christian classical and it is (oxymoron of the day:) modern Christian classical. As homeschoolers, parents, and teachers, this is what is on the table before us so it will be my focus.

Foundations: The Article and The Book

wtm spine

The modern fascination with classical education began in the 1930s. Amajor inspiration was a fairly brief article by Dorothy Sayers entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning” (LTL; originally published in 1948).  I have previously discussed this article in greater detail here. Sayers, as with most educational reformers, was reacting to the problems she saw in her own day. Her solution was to return to the Middle Ages for inspiration. The key to her approach is the Trivium (followed in later years by the Quadrivium) which divides  learning into three stages: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. These stages are sequential. In the first, Grammar, the child learns much through rote memorization. The second, Dialectic, “is characterised by contradicting, answering-back, liking to ‘catch people out’ (especially one’s elders) and in the propounding of conundrums.” Rhetoric, the third stage, “is self-centred; it yearns to express itself; it rather specialises in being misunderstood; it is restless and tries to achieve independence; and, with good luck and good guidance, it should show the beginnings of creativeness, a reaching out towards a synthesis of what it already knows, and a deliberate eagerness to know and do some one thing in preference to all others” (Kindle Loc. 169). To me, these are harsh words (and there are more besides which I quote in that earlier post). As I read her article, my impression of Sayers was that she was not someone who liked children very much. Beyond this, I am uncomfortable with saying, for example, that all tweens are argumentative. Such statements take what is basically a sinful behavior and turn it into a stage which tends to excuse and allow the behavior. In addition, I find Sayers too academically minded in her goals and approach. She relies heavily on fallen human reason, and her approach does not encompass the whole person.

Though Sayers is perhaps the modern impetus, she is not the whole of the movement. The handbook of classical Christian homeschoolers is The Well-Trained Mind (WTM) by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer (originally published 1999; I have not reviewed this book at length but do discuss it in this post on classical education). While Sayers’ article was quite slim, this is a hefty book with lots of practical details. It uses the same Trivium approach which is typical of modern classical education.  The title — The Well-Trained Mind— gives us some clue as to the authors’ goals. The intellect– the mind — is in view and the method of education is one of training (in contrast to unschooling or Charlotte Mason which see education as self-education). Specifically, the mind is trained how to think.  The Well-Trained Mind does not have as clear a statement of purpose as I would like (at least not that I found). But I did find this:

“Remember, classical education teaches a child how to learn. The child who knows how to learn will grow into a well-rounded –and well-equipped –adult . . . ”  (p. 55)

The purpose of education is one area with which WTM rubs me the wrong way. Another is in its view of the child. The authors say that:

“The immature mind is more suited to absorption than argument. The critical and logical faculty simply doesn’t develop until later on . . . Children like  lists at this age. They like rattling off rote information, even if they don’t understand it . . . Don’t make K-4 students dig for information. ”  (p. 54)

The view of the child here seems to be that, at least for younger children, they are less than adults. Now, we will look at what the Bible has to say about children in another post so this point is still open to question. But I think we need to ask: How are children different than adults? Are they, or their faculties, lacking in some way that needs to be developed? [I will note that I teach the littlest kids Sabbath School class, ages 2-6, and my observation is that they can and do make some very good, even theological, points at times.]

So How to We Make it Christian?

My concerns about the modern Christian version of classical education fall under two headings: goals and methods.

The Christian adoption of the classical model is characterized as a re-adoption. The various Christian classical sources often point not back to Greece (and later Rome) but to the Middle Ages as the precedent for their version of modern classical education:

“Historically, the Christian church assumed the mantle of classical education, modified it, calibrated it to serve the Christian gospel and then greatly extended it. Thus a great deal of what we know as ‘classical education’ has been ‘Christian’ as well.” (Christopher Perrin, “Classical Education: Christian and Secular,” from Inside Classical Education, Sept. 9, 2014)

This merely shifts the burden of proof; rather than asking why do we now use classical methods, we must ask why did the church in the Middle Ages adopt classical methods?

Concerning the very beginnings of Christian education, Christopher Dawson says:

“The new Christian culture was therefore built from the beginning on a double foundation. The old classical education in the liberal arts was maintained without any interruption . . . But alongside of — and above — all this, there was now a specifically Christian learning which was biblical and theological and which produced its own prolific literature.” (Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, pp. 7-8)

This synthesis of the classical model with Christian thought and literature persisted through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.** As Dawson, a Catholic, tells it the biggest threat to this mode of learning was the German Reformation under Martin Luther with his crazy emphasis on sola scriptura:

“This revolutionary change [i.e., that of the German Reformation] was even more serious than we can realize today, owing to its destructive effects on the minds of the masses and the education of the common people. In the Middle Ages that education had never been a matter of book learning. The main channels of Christian culture were, liturgical and artistic. The life of the community centered in the Church, in the performance of the liturgy and the cult of the Saints.” (Dawson, pp. 27-28)

Despite what Dawson sees as Luther’s destructive influence, later reformers, including Calvin, continued to incorporate classical learning, at least to some degree:

“Calvin himself fully appreciated the importance of education and study. Wherever the Calvinists went, from Transylvania to Massachusetts, they brought with them not only the Bible and Calvin’s Institutes, but the Latin grammar and the study of the classics.” (p. 29)

What is not clear to me — the first question I would like to see answered– is: Why the classical model at all? Its adoption seems to have been initially a matter of convenience and familiarity. Its lifespan has no doubt been long but that alone is not an adequate justification.  Some modern proponents do argue that this way of educating is God-given:

“The best reason for choosing a classical style of schooling is simply because this is the natural model and method for education – which God wrote into reality. So what if the Greeks and Romans used it to serve their ungodly purposes? We simply take it back, clean it up, and use it to serve God in the way which He originally designed. The classical style of education has been successful for thousands of years because it conforms to the created order of things. It works well because it matches reality. If we ever learned anything, then we learned it by the Trivium method – whether we knew it or not.” (Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, “The Transformation of Classical Education,” from Trivium Pursuit)

However, I have yet to see a good, coherent argument for why it is biblical, or, if not biblical per se, in line with biblical thought and principles (by the way, see this post on how we decide what is good and acceptable). A related set of questions I would like to see addressed: What would the Old Testament/Hebrew/Jewish model of education be, how does it compare to the classical model, and, to the extent that they may differ, why then prefer the classical?

But method is only half the battle; goals are also important. I said above that I was not enamored of the goal of classical education as defined by LTL and WTM. The modern Christian versions of classical do much to rectify this situation. Though their statements of the goal of education vary somewhat, there is no denying that they sound very orthodox. A sampling:

“Classical Christian education’s objective, then, is to shape the virtues and reason so that they will be in line with God’s will. In other words, our objective is to cultivate a Christian paideia in students.” (“What Does It Mean to be a ‘Classical Christian’ School in the ACCS?”)

“The goal of education is to fully prepare a child for adult life. . . A complete education should prepare a child for mature adult life. All elements of education should work toward preparing sons to make a livelihood and to be husbands and fathers, and toward preparing daughters to be wives and mothers and to manage their households. True education will build a genuine family-oriented culture upon the foundation of God’s word. . . . The ultimate goal of education is holiness – to teach separation to God in order to serve Him.” (Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, “The Transformation of Classical Education,” from Trivium Pursuit)

“Classical Christian education is not designed to fit the student for our times. It is designed to transform the student to God’s times (Romans 12:2). It is designed to produce an student with the mental discipline and ability to read an in-depth book (even one with more than one hundred pages), write discerning, thoughtful essays on the book, present lectures or debates on the contents of the book, and evaluate its contents in light of the Christian worldview . . . It can and has produced workmen who can rightly divide the Word of God and who do not need to be ashamed to confront and unmask the idols of our age.” (Ben House, “Classical Christian Education,” from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics)

“The purpose of Classical Education is to cultivate virtue and wisdom. The classical Christian does not ask, ‘What can I do with this learning?’ but ‘What will this learning do to me?’ The ultimate end of Classical Christian education is to enable the student (disciple) to better know, glorify, and enjoy God. Since we are able to know things with which we have a common nature, the more we are like God the better we can know Him. A student gives glory to God when he is like Him. Our enjoyment of God is derived from our ability to see Him and to see His handiwork.” (“Principles of Classical Education,” from The Circe Institute)

While these goals all sound pretty good, they are not identical. What I would like to see is a goal that starts with the Scriptures, asks how they define education, and works from there.

I also have some concerns about how the method and the goal work together. Christian classical — whether in medieval times or modern — seems to accept the method of the Greeks and to add to it Christian goals like holiness and glorifying God without ever asking if this method can be used to achieve these ends. Perhaps we will find in the end that the methods and the goals are not intimately connected but I think it is at least worth asking how the two work together (or don’t).

So Why Not Classical?

Ironically, my main complaint against the Charlotte Mason method was that it follows too closely on its (faulty) principles whereas Christian classical does not tie its principles to its method enough. In truth, I want something that is like the Charlotte Mason method in that the practical details flow from the initial assumptions. But the modern version of Christian classical — and in truth its early Christian version as well– does not begin with Christian principles but takes a non-Christian method of education and adds Christian purposes on top of them without questioning the methods themselves or their suitability to their goals. It is my conviction that in order to build a truly biblical and reformed philosophy of education that we must begin with goals. We must first decide what the purpose of education is and then ask how we are to go about achieving those ends.

This post wraps up the whys of this enterprise. In the coming weeks, we must begin to look at the evidence and to answer the questions.


**Note: Looking for more? I have posts coming out soon reviewing books by Dawson and Van Til; both will revisit this issue. I also recently ran across a podcast from Charlotte Mason Poetry in which Art Middlekauff mentions that the Christian tradition was not as unified as it is often portrayed. I have not had a chance (yet) to listen to it myself. You can find the podcast and related video here.


Association of Classical Christian Schools. “What Does It Mean to be a ‘Classical Christian’ School in the ACCS?” from Classical Moscow, ID: ACCS.

Bauer, Susan Wise and Jessie Wise. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. ??: W.W. Norton and Company, 1999.

Bluedorn, Harvey and Laurie. “The Transformation of Classical Education,” from Trivium Pursuit, 2001.

Circe Institute. “Principles of Classical Education,” from Circe Institute. org.

Dawson, Christopher. The Crisis of Western Education. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010 (originally published 1961).

House, Ben. “Classical Christian Education: A Look at Some History,” from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics.

Perrin, Christopher. “Classical Education: Christian and Secular,” from Inside Classical Education, Sept. 9, 2014.

Sayers, Dorothy. The Lost Tools of Learning. Amazon Digital Services, 2011 (originally published 1947).

Van Til, Cornelius. Essays on Christian Education. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971.




Why Not Charlotte Mason?

Dear Reader,

Thus far we have talked about why we need a reformed Christian philosophy of education, why we need a theology of education, how we should decide on such a theology, and what we can learn from public education in the United States today.

This week and next I’d like to look at two popular approaches to education — the Charlotte Mason method and Christian classical education. [Some would argue that Charlotte Mason is a subset of classical; I am not going to get into that debate as it really doesn’t affect what I am discussing.]

Around the time my oldest (who is now a high school senior) was in third grade, I began to explore the Charlotte Mason approach to education. A lot of what I read initially rang true with me and I began more and more to incorporate that philosophy in our homeschool. More recently, however, as I read even more I have found that I cannot wholeheartedly subscribe to Miss Mason’s approach as there are parts of it which just not in line with my (reformed) theology.

I have written a lot about this, a whole series at the end of last year in fact; I will  not rehash it all today. If you want to get up to speed, the key posts are here and here.

First, the positive — what is there in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education that appeals to the reformed Christian? Charlotte’s approach has been summed up in 20 principles. The first and last of these (in my opinion) serve as a kind of bookends to her method. They are:

“1. Children are born persons.

20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

Simply put, Charlotte recognizes the personhood of the child (see this post for more on what that means) and the role of the Holy Spirit in education (see this one).  These are the ideas which first attracted me to Charlotte’s thought.

Charlotte bases her philosophy on what she calls the divine law — which boils down to special revelation (i.e. the Bible) and general revelation (God’s revelation through creation including what we know through science). In particular she points to what she calls the gospel principles of education. I count this as a positive in that, in contrast to many other approaches to education available to us today, she has a definitively Christian, biblical foundation.

On the negative side, I am not enamored by her interpretation of those passages. I find it plausible but not convincing as I discussed here.

The big negative, however, and the thing that has caused me to abandon Charlotte as my main role model in education and to begin this series, is her second principle which reads:

“2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

I diverge from most of those who write about Charlotte’s ideas in my understanding of this principle. I maintain that she pretty much meant what it sounds like she meant — children have the possibilities for good and evil in them from birth. This is not just a statement about education but about their spiritual state as well. You can see why I believe that in this post.

This conclusion was disturbing enough but more recently, I ran across a quote in her second volume, Parents and Children, which goes even further. There she says:

“But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood to eradicate each vulgar and hateful trait, to plant and foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world.” (Parents and Children, p. 65; emphasis added)

This seems to say that all children are born into a state of grace. As I contemplated this idea, I realized that it is pretty foundational to her thinking. She assumes that the child can not just learn but can, when presented with the good, choose it. If you want to read more on all that see (again) this post or this one.

The problem for me as a reformed Christian is– if Charlotte in her method assumes that the child is capable of good, even bases her approach on that assumption, and I do not believe this, how can I apply her philosophy? [I do actually have a partial answer to that question –I consider my children covenant children and as such can expect them to be able to choose the good. The problem is that if I were educating other children I might not be able to assume this. I want a philosophy that I can apply to all children.]

My goal is to begin to develop a philosophy which is biblical from the ground up rather than to take an already existing approach and tweak it. Nonetheless, I think we can learn some things from Charlotte’s approach:

  1. I want a philosophy which acknowledges the personhood of the child.
  2. I want to be able to say something about the role of God the Holy Spirit in education.
  3. I want a philosophy that is built from the divine law, as Charlotte is, but with a better understanding of/treatment of Scripture.
  4. I want a philosophy that acknowledges man’s fallen state.
  5. I haven’t covered this yet but Charlotte’s approach is profoundly practical. It tells me as a parent  how to educate. This is not something I have gotten from most articles on reformed education but it is something that we homeschooling parents ultimately need. I don’t expect to get there soon but we need more than exalted theories; we need boots on the ground how do I get my child to read, add, learn history, etc.

Next time: Why not Christian classical?





Public Education in America Today

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series on reformed theology and education. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Before we go too far to look briefly at public education in America today.  I am by no means an expert on any of this but I think it is useful as we begin to form our own philosophy of education to see what our culture does and how it got to be the way it is.  My goal is not to give a thorough analysis of all the issues; that could take volumes (and has), but there are few points I’d like to draw out.

I want to be clear from the start that though a lot of what I say is going to be negative, I am not making an argument that public schools are inherently evil; that we should all homeschool; that there is no place for public education; that the teachers and administrators are evil, godless, or misguided. I do think there is a place for public education and that there are a lot of truly caring and even godly people working in the schools. I am very glad they are there.

Having said which, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if the schools were all we wanted them to be. Our goal for today is to look at the history of public education in America and the ideas which lie behind it.  [I am relying primarily on four authors; see the bibliography with my notes on each at the end of this post.]

A Bit of History

Education as we know it today — which is to say universal compulsory education — has only been around in the United States for about the last hundred years. The idea of universal compulsory education began in Germany in the early 1800s as that country moved toward nationalism and away from feudalism (Dawson, p. 49; Gray, p. 61). The German/Prussian model of education was a democratic one in that it extended education to all levels of society. Education served the nationalistic goal and was a unifying force. Peter Gray and John Taylor Gatto both make the case that public education was never about academics as literacy rates were high in both Europe and the United States at the time (Gray, p. 60; Gatto, Weapons, p. 9). Indeed as public education grew, literacy rates only declined (Gatto, Weapons, p. 17). While some still valued education for its own sake, education was for many the tool of social change. As such it included not just intellectual instruction but moral training as well (Dawson, p. 50).

As the movement toward universal schooling expanded geographically, England and America were the lone hold-outs (Dawson, p. 52; Gray, p. 62).  It wasn’t until the mid to late 1800s that the German educational system began to make headway in the United States. Horace Mann is credited with introducing the idea in the 1850s in Massachusetts but even there it was slow to take hold. The various authors disagree on the exact details of when and why public schooling did take hold, but they all place it in the early 1900s, sometime around 1920-1930.

Why Universal Education?

Though there doesn’t seem to be a consensus, it is interesting to think about the ideas and trends that were present in American culture between, say, 1880-1930 that may have contributed to the acceptance of universal education:

  • Darwinian evolution presented the idea that people as well as animals have evolved and are evolving. This is the era of unapologetic eugenics. Wiker in particular draws the connection between Darwinian evolution and liberal politics (pp. 194-97).**
  • Following close on its heels is social engineering, that is, the remaking of society through political means (Wiker, p. 197). “Sociology,” Wiker tells us, “would take the place of theology as the queen if the sciences” (p. 276).
  • Christians were not exempt from this trend. Wiker shows how Christians with legitimate, godly concerns — caring for the poor, for instance — worked with and were ultimately used by non-Christian liberals (Wiker, pp. 284-86). This is the era of the social gospel.
  • Industrialization and a move to the cities brought a trend to mechanization and systemization. Gatto and Gray have a fair amount to say on this — the school as factory assembly line. Children, Gray says, are “passed along , from grade to grade, like products on an assembly line” (Gray, p. 64; cf. Gatto, Dumbing, p. 89). For some context, Ford’s first assembly line was in 1913.
  • Dawson ties the rise of universal schooling to the end of unlimited immigration in the early 1900s (pp. 60-61). America had always been a dynamic place — both filling its borders and absorbing so many peoples from so many places. Now this was on the decline. Americans began to find their own group identity. This is when the melting pot, with less new cheese being added every year, really began to melt (my analogy, not his; never blog hungry). As education in Germany went hand-in-hand with nationalization, so in the United States education was linked to a new sense of national identity.
  • It is odd to me that none of the writers I read on this topic mentioned World War I. My own observation from reading Charlotte Mason’s volumes is that in her sixth and final one, Towards a Philosophy of Education, which was written after the war, that there has been quite a change in focus and intensity. I see a desperation in her writing that was not there before. “The War to End All Wars” (if only it had been so) really threw people for a loop. Perhaps this was more true in Europe than America, but people wondered how, if we are so advanced and civilized, we can yet be so brutal. The answer for Charlotte was a renewed commitment to her own philosophy of education as the means of changing what is wrong in society and ultimately in the human heart.
  • Miss Mason was not alone in this. The early 1900s were a boom time for educational philosophies. Maria Montessori, of the Montessori method, and Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf education movement, were also active during the period.
  • On the political side, the exaltation of the secular schools and the corresponding downfall of the church were aided and abetted by a reinterpretation of the First Amendment creating a new wall between church and state (Wiker, pp. 251-52, 290ff; Dawson, p.84).
  • Trends in education often work from the top down — spreading from the university down to the elementary school. In the 1930s and again after WWII more and more students attended (liberal) colleges and therefore absorbed and perpetuated their ideologies (Wiker, pp. 272-73).

Expansion and Secularization

Sectarian differences among different Christian groups have led them to, at various times, support state control of education in an effort to limit the influence of other Christian groups (Dawson, pp. 83, 142; Wiker, pp. 295-96). This has often been a Protestant versus Catholic issue though Dawson, a die-hard Catholic, also faults “the fissiparous tendency of American Protestantism” (p. 142; your assignment: use fissaparous in conversation five times this week). In seeking to exclude the other’s version of religion, Christians have willingly opted for a “neutral” secular version of education. But education cannot remain morally and spiritually neutral (Dawson, pp. 79-82).

I am not sure education anywhere at any time has ever been about pure academics, but even if it had started that way, education has an expansive tendency. It takes more and more time — the school year in Massachusetts was originally only twelve weeks long (Gray, p. 64). It expands to new age groups “from the university to the nursery school” (Dawson, p. 53). It expands to all areas of life, absorbing not just the academic but the physical, emotional and spiritual (Dawson, pp. 53, 78).

This trend is inevitable but it is not inherently bad. In fact I would say it is as it should be. We are composite people — intellect, body, soul, emotions. We cannot separate out one part and educate that only. If one’s students are coming to school hungry, emotionally broken, or pregnant, they are not going to learn well. A caring teacher naturally wants to see all her students’ needs met, both so they can learn and for their own good. But the end result is that school is not just about the 3R’s but comes to absorb almost all facets of life.

I say “almost” because the spiritual is sadly lacking. As in the German model, education is seen as the cure for whatever ails us (Dawson, p. 48). When problems arise within education itself, the solution is not to reevaluate but to offer more and more education. To the extent that is the answer to societal problems, education becomes a kind of savior. But it is a limited savior, touching the emotional and psychological but denying the spiritual.

In offering a kind of salvation, the schools step into the realm of the church. Wiker argues that this liberalization, which he traces through both politics and education — is not unintentional; it is a deliberate liberating from religion (p. 15). Dawson argues that universal education and secularization feed on each other:

“And in fact there is no doubt that the progress of universal education has coincided with the secularization of modern culture and has been very largely responsible for it.” (p. 78)

The more the school absorbs, the less is left for the church. And as a man cannot serve two masters, one will win out:

” . . .the fact that secular education is universal and compulsory , while religious education is partial and voluntary, inevitably favors the former . . .” (Dawson, p. 79)

“If the Church were one of these compulsory organizations modern man would be religious, but since it is voluntary, and makes demands on his spare time, it is felt to be superfluous and unnecessary.” (Ibid., p. 132)***

As in Germany, education in America is a nationalizing force. It spreads  a common culture; in doing so it also creates a common culture:

“For modern culture is not pluralistic in character, as some social scientists have assumed; on the contrary, it is more unitary, more uniform and more highly centralized and organized than any culture that the world has known hitherto. And modern education has been one of the major factors in producing this, since it brings the whole of the younger generation under the same influences and ideas during the most impressionable period of their lives.” (Dawson, pp. 111-12)

For those without strong church ties, school often becomes the center of cultural life (Dawson, pp. 60-61, 68, 85).

The result —

” . . . the majority of the population are neither fully Christian nor consciously atheist, but non-practicing Catholics, half-Christians and well-meaning people who are devoid of any positive religious knowledge at all.” (Dawson, p. 85)

Dawson argues further that these “sub-religious” people are “also in some sense subhuman” (p. 132), deprived as they are of fully realizing one aspect of their natures.

Logistics and Fragmentation

Conformity to some degree is probably unavoidable in mass schooling. For the sake of convenience, children are divided by age. This is often characterized as a factory-like system as but I think we must also use some charity in our interpretation; it is not an easy thing to come up with a way to educate thousands of children at once. I think there are ways, and Charlotte Mason’s schools seem to have done so without turning children into numbers, but grouping children by age or level seems like a logical first step. What begins as a logical move generates unintended consequences, however. Children who spend six hours a day primarily with their peers and not interacting with adults or all ages and stripes as they once would have been. There is evidence as well that this is not psychologically advantageous; children are more compassionate when not placed with their immediate peers (Gray, pp. 35, 76). But beyond that, the normal bonds of human life are broken. Gatto speaks of networks versus communities and spends some time showing that what we have now are the former, not the latter (Dumbing, pp. 49, 65). The family in particular is down-graded to a lesser role (Dumbing, p. 56, 67; Weapons pp. 41, 100).

Nor can one teacher necessarily teach every subject to the full. So as children are divided, so are subjects; science occupies this hour, history that one. There is a general tendency to fragmentation. With subjects taught separately by different teachers at different times, it is hard to give or see the big picture. With no overarching theology or philosophy [though one could argue, as Wiker does, that liberalism has its own philosophy (Wiker, p. 11)], with subjects taught in isolation, there is no coherence, no unifying principle (Weapons, p. 16). This tendency is enhanced by what Dawson calls “scientific specialization” (p. 101). Wiker describes this trend:

“The rise and ever-increasing authority of the ‘expert,’ too came from the German model of university education, wherein academic study was divide up into ever smaller numbers of distinct disciplines, each focusing on a narrowly defined area.” (p. 275)

This fragmentation is furthered by the need for evaluation. Testing, and in particular standardized testing, contributes to the break down of knowledge into discrete, unconnected facts. “Memorizing the dots,” Gatto says, “is the gold standard of intellectual achievement. Not connecting those dots” (Weapons, p. 16).


What can we learn from all this? First, when we look at the origins of universal compulsory schooling, we should become very wary. The ideas behind this movement are suspect. We should not, perhaps, throw the baby out with the bath water, but at the same time we need to make sure that we are not unconsciously adopting ideas that are without a biblical, God-honoring basis. In another post, I’d like to look at some of the people behind compulsory education so you can see who they were and what their motivations were.

Second, there are some interesting trends here that we can keep in mind as we begin to form our own philosophy of education:

  1. Moral and religious neutrality is impossible. Christians have at times supported “neutral” public education arguing that no religion is better than a religion that is not my brand. But it is impossible to be truly neutral. There is always a worldview behind what is being taught.
  2. #1 is due, at least in part, to the fact that education does not stay purely academic. Man is made of many aspects and one cannot educate the mind without bringing in the body and the emotions and the spirit.
  3. Yet at the same time, education has become fragmented in many ways. Even while it encompasses more and more of life the disciplines are fragmented. Science, history, math, language seemingly have nothing to do with one another. We need a unifying principle that extends through them, explains them and how they relate to one another.
  4. Education as it is usually practiced in the United States today shatters other social institutions, especially the church and the family. It is not inherently bad to have someone other than mom and dad do the educating but we need to keep in the forefront that social units which God Himself has instituted and be wary of undermining them. Jesus tells us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. I am going to paraphrase that — what your time is spent on, there will your heart be. Apart from any other concerns, when schooling takes so much of one’s time, when it is compulsory (and church is not), it threatens to seem more and more important and to consume more and more of one’s life to the detriment of those other, God-ordained institutions.


**Wiker also has a book on Darwin which I highly recommend: The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Washington, D.C. Regnery Press, 2009).

***Side note: This seems like a pretty good argument for Sabbath keeping to me. If we view the first day of the week as our own, we come to resent any intrusion into it, even that of the Church.


Dawson, Christopher. The Crisis of Western Education. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1961. Dawson is ardently Catholic and comes off at times as anti-Protestant. I have some issues with his depiction of education before modern times which I may discuss in another post, but he also makes a lot of insightful observations which really made me think. It is amusing to read his depiction of education in medieval times alongside Gray’s.

Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2002 (10th anniversary edition).

______________ . Weapons of Mass Instruction. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2010. The title of this book probably says all you need to know about Gatto’s take on things. He is a favorite of the unschooling movement and was himself a public school teacher in New York City. Dumbing Us Down is a series of lectures and as such is a bit more disjointed. In Weapons he has worked out his argument a bit more. 

Gray, Peter. Free to Learn. New York: Basic Books, 2013. Gray’s main purpose is to argue for how children should learn (through play). In the process he gives a brief history of education. He is an unschooler, arguing against hierarchical control of children. His approach is essentially the paleo diet of education; i.e. what worked for primitive societies is clearly best.

Wiker, Benjamin. Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2013. Wiker is one of my current favorite authors. If you are going to read any book on this list, make it this one. His primary subject is politics but in the course of it he touches on education as well and makes an argument for Christian education. I believe he is Catholic but you could easily read his book without realizing that.



Living Books on the Ancient Near East

Dear Reader,

We did a mini term between Thanksgiving and Christmas on Mesopotamia and Canaan. As a once and future Hebrew scholar, it kills me to give the short shrift to the Ancient Near East but there is only so much one can fit into a school year. You can find all my booklists here.

Living Books on the Ancient Near East

In our time all together, we concentrated on art and myths. I used Hillyer’s book for the art. Though it can be understood by elementary level, I think it still provides a good introduction for older children as well. Note that Hillyer has a few volumes, on painting, sculpture and architecture. I have the three in one volume, A Child’s History of Art, and we covered all the areas.

The Ancient Near East includes a number of cultures. While they all have similarities, there is also some variation. We tried to include both Mesopotamian and Canaanite myths. I used Padraic Colum’s Myths of the World which I got on Kindle. It is nice because it gives some introduction to what we find in each of the cultures as well. For Mesopotamia, we also got a few of the storybooks by Zeman by tell the epic of Gilgamesh. There are three I believe that they each tell part of the story so you want to read them in order. Though these are picture books, they do a great job. For Canaan, I used Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan. These are tales from Ugarit, a Canaanite town which was destroyed by fire. The destruction meant that the clay tablets on which the stories were written were baked hard and survived. It is interesting to see the similarities and differences here with one of Israel’s close neighbors. What we have is somewhat fragmentary. Coogan gives good introductions to each. I recommend prereading so you can give context and read selections. I blogged on these myths when we studied them previously. You can see one of those posts here.

We also talked about writing together using the book Sign, Symbol, Script. This is one I had leftover from my grad school days. It is actually a catalog from an exhibition but gives lots of info on the history of writing and the alphabet, a topic I couldn’t pass by. I have no idea how easy this is to find. We didn’t use Ancient Israleites and Their Neighbors. I find it a bit cumbersome. It has lots of extras like recipes if you are into that sort of thing.

I’m not thrilled with the historical fiction in this period. I don’t find it very well-written. My high school daughter read Adara by Gormley. My middle schooler read  Hittie Warrior by Williamson. The latter in particular seemed to through in every biblical motif it could (not in a good way). My senior read Silverberg’s Gilgamesh the King. I chose this book partly because he has been studying science fiction for his literature this year and Silverberg is a sci-fi writer. I thought the book would stray farther from the myth but it actually seemed to do better than I expected.

ane 2

My 8th grader read Science in Ancient Mesopotamia. I am not thrilled with this series but it is decent and provides info that one might not get elsewhere. He also read a book I loved for him — Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons by Nosov. I only had him read the portions relevant to what we are studying. I seemed to be a very readable book. My 7th grader read Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian Costumes and Decorations by Houston. There are a lot of picture sin this book. She choose to do drawing of the costumes for most narrations and seemed to really get into it.

Lastly, we get to the actual history books.

My7th grader read The Ancient Near Eastern World by Podany. I’m not sure it’s 100% living but it seemed well-written. She liked that it included a lot of different things, like history and myths and how people lived. My 12th grader read A Short History of the Near East by Hitti. He seems to have really enjoyed it and says that it did a good job of being both broad and specific if that makes sense. My 11th grader read Fairservis’ Mesopotamia. She says it was pretty good. Since Fairservis only covers Mesopotamia, I also had her read The Phoenicians by Pamela Odijk. My 8th grader read the relevant portions of Dorothy Mills’ Book of the Ancient World. I am not thrilled with the book though I see it recommended a lot. It seems overly brief and simple (though her book on Greece is longer and I am planning to use that one). I was supposed to read Maspero’s Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria but life got away from me and I never started it 😦

Next up: Ancient Greece


Living Books on Ancient Egypt

Dear Reader,

We have gone back in time and are studying ancient history this year. We are just finishing up 11 weeks on Ancient Egypt. My kids are in 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th grades this year so most of what we have used will be for middle school and up. I also read some of my own books as well and did written narrations. I have been learning the limitations of my own memory 😉 You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Ancient Egypt

For something different, we did not use a spine book for the whole family this year. We did do Egyptian art, science, and tales together.

egypt 1

We read Science in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Woods together. This is an elementary level book and is not truly living but it is not awful and there is not much else I could find on the subject. Woods has a series of these books and I do think they are worth a look.

For art, we began with The Art of Ancient Egypt by Shirley Glubok. This is very similar to Woods’ book but on at instead of science. Both are elementary level — perhaps even early elementary– and are not  the best quality. Glubok’s also is part of a series of such books. We followed it up wih an old stand-by from my book shelf, V.M. Hillyer’s Child’s History of Art. Though also appropriate for elementary, I found this book so much more interesting and informative so I think we will continue with it alone for art as we move to other cultures. A word of warning– Hillyer has a few volumes on art. Mine is a compendium of his histories of painting, architecture and sculpture. All three are worth having.

We also read some tales together, both myths and legendary tales, from Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of Ancient Egypt.

My middle schoolers each read a number of books.

Both had geography on Egypt as well. My son read L. Frank Baum’s The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt. Baum is the author of the Wizard of Oz books so I was excited to have him try this one. It seems to be a fairly adventurous story of some boys hunting treasure in Egypt and battling various bad guys. From his narrations, I am not sure how much my son learned about Egypt itself. I will say though that he is my worst narrator and probably not as good as others at extracting info from a narrative so others might do better with it. My daughter read The Warringtons Abroad, which we found online here. This is another older book about a family’s journey through various lands and covers much more than Egypt.

My 7th grader read two other books: Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra by Iris Noble and The Pharaoh’s of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne. Both are upper elementary-lower middle school level and are highly recommended. Iris Noble is a favorite author and we always look for books on her. The Payne book is also used by the Greenleaf history guide for the period.

My 8th grader read three books: The Mask of Akhnaten by Robert Silverberg, Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs, and Egypt in the Age of the Pyramids. The first is fiction about a boy looking for the Pharaoh’s mask. I have liked Silverberg’s books a lot and read one myself (see below). The other two are non-fiction and are not truly living books. They were the result of getting what looked best from my library’s bookshelf. Egypt: Land of Pharaohs is mostly about the pyramids and the archaeological side of things. Egypt in the Age of Pyramids tells a fair amlunt about daily life in ancient Egypt and, though it is not the most engaging, is decent for providing that side of things. Another similar book which we checked out but did not use is Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, again not living but our choices were limited.

egypt 12

Because she has a lot else going on this year, I went easy on my 11th grader. The two books she read could really both be middle school level. They are: The Book of the Ancient World by Dorothy Mills and Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. The latter is fiction by an author I often see recommend in homeschooling lists. I am not overly impressed with her writing style but had problems finding good historical fiction on the period. Mills’ book covers more than just Egypt. I only had her read the relevant portions.

My senior read two books I am pretty excited about: In the Valley of the Kings by Meyerson and Isaac Assimov’s The Egyptians. Both could be read by adults, not that they are overly hard reading but that is the intended audience. Assimov’s history goes from the beginnings through Cleopatra. Meyerson’s is again more about the archaeological side. I think he enjoyed both.

egypt 11

As I mentioned above, I also read some books on our time period (and did written narrations!). They are: Akhnaten the Rebel Pharaoh by Robert Silverberg and Beneath the Sands of Egypt by Donald Ryan. I enjoyed both and they could both be read by high schoolers. Ryan is an archaeologist and while his book has much to say about Egypt it would be excellent for a student considering a career in archaeology. Silverberg I mentioned above; my 8th grader also read a book by him. Mine was non-fiction. It covered a fair amount more than Akhnaten’s time though that was certainly the focus. It bordered on being too detailed but didn’t quite cross the line. One caveat– Silverberg has a chapter at the end on Akhnaten and Moses. He makes it clear that he does not accept the Bible as a historical document. If you are not already familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis and biblical interpretation, enough to know what to believe and what not to believe, I would skip it entirely.

caveat–egypt 8Happy reading!


Encouragement for the Crazy Homeschool

Dear Reader,

Rereading Charlotte Mason’s first volume, Home Education, I find encouragement for the crazy homeschool. When things are out of control and your little one is screaming and you can’t get anything done and they are running wild and you worry they don’t have any friends and will grow from little maladjusted hooligans to big maladjusted hooligans, Charlotte has encouragement for you:

When your children are running wild —

“Most of us are misled by our virtues, and the entire zeal and enthusiasm of the Kindergartnerin [i.e. kindergarten teacher] is perhaps her stone of stumbling. ‘But the children are so happy and good!’ Precisely; the home-nursery is by no means such a scene of peace, but I venture to think it a better growing place.” (p. 188)

When you worry they are not getting “socialization” —

“Let us follow the little person to the Kindergarten, where he has the stimulus of classmates of his own age. It certainly is stimulating. For ourselves, no society is so much so as that of a number of persons of our own age and standing; this is the great joy of college life; a wholesome joy for all young people for a limited time. But persons of twenty have, or should have, some command over their inhibitory centres. They should not permit the dissipation of nerve power caused by too much social stimulus; yet even persons of twenty are not always equal to the task of self-management in exciting circumstances. What then, is to be expected of persons of two, three, four, five? That the little person looks rather stolid than otherwise is no guarantee against excitement within. The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life.” (p. 191)

When you worry you are not getting anything done —

“Here we come to the real crux of the Kindergarten question. The busy mother says she has no leisure to be that somebody, and the child will run wild and get into bad habits; but we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline. Health, strength, and agility, bright eyes and alert movements, come of a free life, out-of-doors, if it may be and as for habits, there is no habit or power so useful to man or woman as that of personal initiative. The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer’s day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother’s part, but of much masterly inactivity.” (p. 192)

When you think you just don’t have the knowledge or skill for this —

“The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, Nature is her own mediator, . . .  and the part of the mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted. Mothers shirk their work and put it, as they would say, into better hands than their [kindergarten], because they do not recognise that wise letting alone is the chief thing asked of them, seeing that every mother has in Nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses.” (pp. 192-93)

[And because I want to be clear that for CM “Nature” is not some force that works apart from God–]

“The notion of supplementing Nature from the cradle is a dangerous one. A little guiding, a little restraining, much reverent watching, Nature asks of us; but beyond that, it is the wisdom of parents to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and ‘to a higher Power than Nature itself.'” (p. 186)

A little context– Charlotte here is talking about a popular movement in her day: Kindergarten! It represents pressure for early education, the idea that we need formal instruction and trained teachers for littler children, that somehow being home with mom isn’t enough. Sound familiar?






All the CM Curricula Compared

Dear Reader,

I have done a series of posts comparing various Charlotte Mason curricula. As the number of them has expanded, I realize this has become a bit cumbersome for you, the reader. So this is my attempt to put it all in one place (plus one additional curriculum is included!).


A little background — my goal has been to present what each curriculum has to say about itself rather than to give my opinions. I tried to choose the questions I would have when comparing curricula. Topics range from What does it cost? to How does it deal with high school science? to How Christian is it?

There is a lot out there for homeschoolers these days and the list seems to be ever-expanding. The curricula I have chosen to compare are all from Ambling along Together’s list of CM curricula.  Each purports to be a Charlotte Mason style curricula (as compared to merely “CM influenced” or adaptable). Though I have made use of many of these websites and have taken bits and pieces from various sources, I do not use any of these curricula exclusively. I do have some opinions, but I don’t have one favorite curriculum.

The Curricula

I have gone back and forth on even putting this section in. I don’t want to bias you with my own opinions but I do realize it is helpful just to have some sort of list of everything with brief introductions. Let me say from the start that I am overwhelmed by the work and generosity of all the people behind these curricula. Most are homeschool moms who have taken the time to put together quite extensive resources that they either give away or sell quite affordably (I can’t imagine anyone is getting rich off of any of these). Most are also works-in-progress; even old stand-bys like Ambleside Online are still improving and changing.

Here then are the curricula I will look at, in no particular order:

Ambleside Online (AO) — If you have been at this for a while, Ambleside may have been your first introduction to CM; it seems like it has been around forever. As with all these curricula, you buy the books, but otherwise AO is free online. While they are still updating and perfecting AO, it is a relatively complete curriculum with a reputation for being rigorous.

Simply Charlotte Mason (SCM) — Simply Charlotte Mason is another one that has been around for a while. There is much here that can be used for free but the biggest expansion on the SCM site seems to be in the store where more and more ready-made materials are available. A modular approach, it has a reputation for being a little less intimidating and easier to adapt for families with multiple ages.

The Alveary — A newer curriculum with a lot of buzz (pun intended). It’s big selling point is that it is a CM curriculum for the 21st century. Though the curriculum is newer, the folks at CMI who are behind it have been around for a while.

A Delectable Education (ADE) — The biggest part of ADE is the podcast, but one can also get a consultation for personalizes curriculum help and suggestions. This personalization is one of the big selling points. The other is a commitment being “purely CM”; the ladies at ADE will admit that this too is a work in progress but their goal is to ask how CM herself would have done things and to, in some sense, return to those roots.

A Modern Charlotte Mason (MCM) — As the name suggests, MCM also aims to combine more modern works with the classics in a CM education. Flexibility in terms of use with families or individual students is another big selling point.

Living Books Curriculum (LBC) — A CM approach, living books based curriculum with a vision for and ministry to those in less developed countries as well (especially in Africa).

Higher Up and Further In (HUFI) — Book lists and schedules for CM learning.

Gentle Feast — A newer contribution to the world of CM with a gentle, family-centered approach with personal consultations available.

Wildwood — Still fairly new with a lot still to be done, this is the only inherently secular CM curriculum I know of.

Ambleside Schools International — Despite the name, this curriculum is not affiliated with Ambleside Online. Like Charlotte’s PNEU, it trains teachers and provides curricula for schools as well as homeschoolers. Heavy on training and support with weekly mentoring. Though less well-known, they have been around quite a while.

The Charts

Though the goal of this post is to put everything on one place, I still can’t figure out a good way to put it all in one document. Here then, in three documents, are all the CM curricula compared:

SCM ADE AO Alveary 5-8-17


Gentle Feast Wildwood Ambleside Schools 9-5-17

As always, let me know of updates and revisions. Consider this page a work in progress; I will try to update as there are new curricula available or changes in current ones.


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