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by Stacey Carpenter

Pics & Papers

Category: Philosophy of Education

Two Points about History

I’m currently reading through Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning by Robert Littlejohn & Charles T. Evans. A great deal of the book certainly has to do with the proper design of a Christian private school, but the sections on curriculum design have much to offer for homeschoolers. One quote about history, in particular, inspired me to write about two very important and yet very obvious requirements for a good history curriculum.

1. The study of history must be in chronological order.

“That history is, in fact, a story seems to have been lost on many [curriculum publishers]. Instead, we are served with ‘thematic’ studies, in which various cultures and civilizations are compared on the basis of social values, almost irrespective of dates and historical context.”
- Wisdom and Eloquence, p. 100.

History is not merely the study of cultures and daily lives in the past (though that is certainly a part of it). History is one big story–the very longest story we have. If we do not wish our high school students to wonder if Abraham Lincoln was a part of the Revolutionary War or whether WWII occurred in the 1860s, history needs to be studied chronologically.

2. In order to cover history in depth, its study must be spread over several years.

Those history curricula that are not a muddled mess of social studies are covered too frequently and briskly for students to truly grasp. The idea that the entire story of the world can fit into one book the size of Homer’s Illiad and can be studied over and over each year is unfortunate. The result is a cursory understanding of history and an extreme boredom at being told the same exact story 12 times over. If, as homeschoolers, we do not have state standards or Common Core directing what we need to cover each year, or some sort of year-end ancient to modern world history test, then we do not have to repeat world history every year for twelve years. We can spread it over 3 or 4 or 6 years and cycle through it, increasing the depth of study each time. By doing so, we have time to read lots of living books and biographies.

Classical Education Resources


  • The Lost Tools of Learning.” Sayers read this paper at Oxford in 1947. Since the 90s, this essay has been the major inspiration for neo-classical education.

JESSIE & SUSAN WISE BAUER are homeschool authors, publishers, and all-around inspirational people. I highly recommend anything they have written or published!

  • The Well-Trained Mind. This book is on its third edition. I cannot recommend it enough! It is so practical, well-explained, and detailed that you will have plenty of confidence to homeschool after you read it. Because it is so practical, don’t get caught up trying to follow it exactly. Use it as a resource and a guide.
  • The Well-Educated Mind. Use this for educating yourself, or use it as a guide to use for high school literature. The value of this book is its in-depth teachings on how to analyze and think about books. You will be better equipped to discuss books with your logic and rhetoric aged children after you read this.
  • Peace Hill Press. Invaluable resources!
  • The Well-Trained Mind Forums. Best place to discuss classical homeschooling with other parents and get advice and resource ideas.
  • If you can hear Susan speak at a homeschool convention, it will be well worth it!

HARVEY & LAURIE BLUEDORN are homeschool authors.

CHRISTINE MILLER has a huge website with a classical homeschool scope & sequence and tons of resources.

  • The old Classical Homeschooling website has tons of great ideas and resources.
  • She has been updating it here. Keep watching her site for more!

LEIGH BORTINS is known for starting up Classical Conversations, a sort of classical co-op for homeschoolers with branches all over the United States.

  • Classical Conversations. These groups have been taking off in the past several years. Parents pay to have their children tutored one day a week. In the elementary grades, this mostly involves the tutor introducing memory work through chants and songs and the parent reviewing the material throughout the week. In the upper grades, the program is even more thorough and involves research, rhetoric, and debate. The website has valuable resources, even if you don’t join the program.
  • The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education
  • Leigh Bortins’ website.

DIANE LOCKMAN is a homeschool author.

  • Trivium Mastery: The Intersection of Three Roads. Lockman disagrees with most neo-classical educators. She argues that grammar, logic, and rhetoric are various subjects to continually work on. She says that they do not correspond to childhood stages. Nevertheless, her book is an interesting argument, and contains much useful information for the classical educator.

OLIVER DEMILLE is a homeschool author.

LAURA BERQUIST is a homeschool author.

ROBER LITTLEJOHN & CHARLES EVANS are proponents of classical, Christian private schools.

DOUGLAS WILSON is a proponent of classical, Christian private schools.

MORTIMER ADLER was a twentieth century philosopher who proposed the study of Great Books in high school and college curricula.

  • Any of his works would be useful to the classical educator.
  • How to Read a Book is a great resource for understanding how to go about studying and thinking about the Great Books.

SISTER MIRIAM JOSEPH wrote a useful book on the trivium.

VERITAS PRESS is geared toward both private schools and homeschools.

MEMORIA PRESS is specifically geared towards classical homeschoolers.

BOLCHAZY-CARDUCCI is a publisher with a focus on classical language studies.

  • Bolchazy-Carducci publishes a wealth of texts and supplemental resources for Latin and Greek studies.

CLASSICAL TUTORIALS are teachers offering online correspondance courses in classical languages and Great Books. Some of these are no longer offering classes. They are useful in that they often have articles or course outlines and booklists.

My Philosophy of Education

Many people who find my homeschool posts might find them by searching for specific content, but I think I have at least several readers who are family and friends and have been following this blog all along. Before I dive into certain topics, I want to give a bit of introduction on my homeschool philosophy and style as a background to my future posts. Each point is going to be brief, but hopefully they will make sense!

My Influences

I was homeschooled myself and think my mom did an excellent job, so the biggest influence in my homeschool ideas is without a doubt, my mom. Some of the best things she did for me were to give me firm foundations in grammar and phonics, to teach me to write well, to get me to love books and learning, and to teach me how to teach myself. Because of these things, my education has never really ended. I am on a constant quest to learn more, whether it be about photography, philosophy, or psychology, home renovations or home education.

During college I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to homeschool my future children. I got really interested in all sorts of educational philosophies and read a wide variety of books. There are lots of really interesting theories that apply to classroom environments, and often homeschoolers will try to replicate a classroom scope and sequence at home on a smaller scale. My interest was piqued, however, when I found The Well-Trained Mind in the college library. Susan Wise Bauer and her mother wrote the book to describe an ideal classical education in detail.

The classical education movement has been gaining momentum since the 90s. A major source of inspiration has been Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” There have been private schools developed around these ideas (by people like Douglas Wilson), and even some colleges. Anyway, I’ve read most of the books I can find on the topic and there are several things I really like about the modern classical education style. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can get a little non-traditional with your structure, as long as you still meet all state requirements.

After studying classical education for a long while, I learned about another education theorist from the 1800s and early 1900s named Charlotte Mason. She ran a unique school in England and founded the Parent’s National Education Union (PNEU). I like many of her theories as well and would describe my own philosophy of education as a cross between Classical Education and Charlotte Mason. The lines between the two are fairly blurred in the homeschool world, anyway. :)

What follows are some of the main points I like about Classical Education and Charlotte Mason.

What I Like About Classical Education

The Trivium. Twelve years of education are usually divided 1-6, 7-8, and 8-12. Instead, homeschoolers and classical private schools often divide this into three 4-year segments to correspond with the traditional “Trivium” of subjects almost all students used to study from the middle ages through the late 1800s. Grades 1-4 are the grammar stage. The major emphasis here is laying a good foundation of knowledge and facts in all subject areas. They learn the “grammar” or basics of each subject. In history, for example, students would read lots of biographies and get really familiar with the overall timeline of history. Grades 5-8 are the logic stage. The emphasis in this stage is learning to reason about things and understand connections. Kids of this age group are naturally argumentative and the idea is to put this to use in teaching them how to argue and analyze arguments, how to catch logical fallacies, etc. In history, for example, students would be making more connections and doing things like comparing two revolutions or analyzing primary sources. Grades 9-10 are the rhetoric stage. The emphasis in this stage is on reading the classics, writing, and public speaking. Students move on from analyzing arguments to creating their own arguments or doing original research.

Long Cycles of History. This is not necessarily classical, but most classical educators like doing this. Instead of studying American History each year or switching between American History and World History, students study history in much greater depth by cycling through it three times over 12 years. They study ancient history through the present in the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages, each time a little differently depending on the emphasis of that stage.

Emphasis on Reading the Classics. There is an emphasis on reading the classics–not only classic novels, but also classic non-fiction that has influenced our world like Adam Smith, John Locke, and the Federalist Papers. Some, but not all, classical educators propose reading the classics in the order in which they were written, along with history studies.

Emphasis on Latin. I took three years of Latin in high school and it has continued to benefit me. I could write a whole other post on why Latin is a great first foreign language to study.

What I Like About Charlotte Mason

Education is Not Just Book Learning. Charlotte Mason considers education to be responsible for much, much more than just book learning. She argues that students need to be taught good habits and raised up as kind people with good manners. Education is about the whole character of the child.

Living Books. Charlotte Mason was not a fan of dry textbooks or junky children’s fiction (which she called “Twaddle”). She believes that children should read a wide variety of books, written by people who are enthusiastic about their subjects. A homeschooler using living books might have a basic textbook for history to fill in the gaps, but would use stacks and stacks of biographies and other library books so that students can truly connect with the subject and study it in more depth.

Nature Study. She also considered nature study to be quite important. Just studying about birds, rocks, insects, and flowers in a textbook is not sufficient. Charlotte had her students keep nature notebooks and go birdwatching and draw birds or insects in their notebooks and identify them. In this way, students can actually connect with what they are studying and learn to love and appreciate nature.

Education Ideas I’m Not a Fan Of

Unhelpful, Extra-Complicated, or Detrimental Fads. Ideas like there-is-no-need-to-memorize-math-facts, dates-are-not-important, English-is-not-really-a-phonetic language, etc.

Really Dry Textbooks. I can’t stand textbooks that read like one long, strung-together collection of facts.

An End Goal of Getting an “A.” The real goal is to learn, to be well-educated, and to do one’s best in all endeavors. :)

I know this is quite brief, but I’ll be talking about most of these things in more detail soon. I just wanted to have an introduction handy to link to for new readers.

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