(The following is a guest post from Marla Szwast, author and blogger. Find out more about Marla over on her blog, Jump Into Genius.)
Are you looking for great Classical Education books to get you started? Check out our favorites! Also, be sure to check out our Classical Education courses at True North Homeschool Academy.
The Liberal Arts Tradition – A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education – by Kevin Clark & Ravi Scott Jain
This is my all-time favorite book on classical education, in fact, before I read this book I did not think of myself as a classical educator. Although I had read other books on classical education and I taught my kids Latin, there was just something I felt was missing from the explanations of classical education. I still don’t go around telling people I am a classical educator although I fit into in the definition provided in this book pretty thoroughly. The big difference is summed up with this quote:
“Education is not merely an intellectual affair, no matter how intellect-centered it must be, because human beings are not merely minds…A full curriculum must cultivate the good of the whole person, soul, and body.”
In The Liberal Arts Tradition, you will be encouraged to feed the soul with music and great stories, the body with exercise and training (referred to as gymnastic) and the mind with subjects such as mathematics and linguistics. You will be introduced to the quadrivium and be led on a beautiful journey that reveals how all of these things work together to nourish and cultivate wisdom.
This balanced approach to nourishing all the parts of our humanity is what was missing when I read other books on classical education. Reading this book explained to me why I did many of the things I did and why I felt so strongly about them even though I could not logically explain my reasons until after I read this book.
I still don’t tell people I am a classical educator, because the term conjures certain images and I still don’t think I fit the box that most people have defined as classical education. However, if judged through the lens of this book, I come pretty close.
The Well-Trained Mind – A Guide to Classical Education at Home – by Susan Wise Bauer & Jesse Wise
This was the first book about classical education and about homeschooling that I ever read, my oldest was still in diapers when I bought this giant and dove into a way of education I had never heard of before. Many of my ideas about what an excellent education looked like were formed during this first encounter with a classical education. The book is full not only of great ideas but also practical advice guiding you on the various steps of the journey.
Since every time I read another book on classical education, I come across a different definition of classical education I will quote here the definition used in The Well-Trained Mind:
“It is language-intensive-not image focused. It demands that students use and understand words, not video images. It is history-intensive, providing students with a comprehensive view of human endeavor from the beginning until now. It trains the mind to analyze and draw conclusions. It demands self-discipline. It produces literate, curious, intelligent students who have a wide range of interests and the ability to follow up on them.”
The authors consider their book to be a handbook written to give you guidance and direct you towards the tools and schedules needed to create such an education. At over 700 pages it is certainly comprehensive and thorough.
The Core – Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education – by Leigh A. Bortins
I have to say I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book. I didn’t expect it to be very different from the Well-Trained Mind, but although it is coming from a similar framework I felt like I was reading a different story. This book weaves in references to the truth about how the brain learns such as the proven need for repetition. I enjoyed that as I very rarely see how the brain works referenced when I read about educational methods.
Leigh also has a way of taking current culture and weighing it against what we are trying to accomplish with a classical education. This book would be a great read even if you can’t manage to homeschool and just want ideas of how you can foster a classical culture within your own family.
The book takes you on a journey through each subject, talking about what are the most essential concepts and facts to be learned and also pointing out how once they have the grammar, (or facts and vocabulary) of a subject older children will naturally move into dialectic and rhetorical use of the subject.
I also enjoyed the perspective of Leigh as a mother who did not classically train her oldest two children but then did classically train her younger two. She has interesting observations about the differences in her kids who were classically trained but also encouraging remarks for those who don’t start on the journey until their kids are older, as was the case with her older set of boys.
“The purpose of classical education is to strengthen one’s mind, body, and character in order to develop the ability to learn anything.”
“The goal of education is to teach children to become adults who can handle complex ideas, in uncertain situations, with confidence. We feel confident when we can competently manage words and ideas.”
This book made classical education look easy. It sounds simple. Like a back to the basics journey, but without letting go of excellence.
The Latin Centered Curriculum – Home Schooler’s Guide to a Latin-Centered Classical Education – by Andrew Campbell
This book embodies a different definition of classical education.
“Classical Education is a curriculum grounded upon-if not strictly limited to- Greek, Latin and the study of civilization from which they arose.” (Simmons, p. 15)
Other than using Latin and Greek as your most-important spine, this method also considers math to be central.
“Mathematics, along with the classical languages, forms the core of the classical curriculum; math represents the Quadrivium as Latin does the Trivium.”
Andrew adheres to the idea of learning a few subjects thoroughly over learning a little bit about a lot of things. And those few things should be Latin, Greek, and Mathematics. (Later in the book he does mention the importance of music as another daily practice.)
He does not neglect the other subjects and devotes much of the book to details and suggestions of how to treat each subject. The emphasis is on Latin and Greek language, history, and literature, and other things are included with this in mind. For example, there are not as many English literature readings suggested at each age as you will find in other books. However, I found this helpful as many lists simply contain more material than it is practical to cover in a year.
One of the reasons for the limited focus of subjects is to ensure the child plenty of time for free reading, being read to, and the pursuit of the arts. He includes suggested lists of what should be read aloud to children of different ages and these are also refreshingly short.
If you are overwhelmed by long lists this book will give you a good view of what can be accomplished without long lists!
Reading these books may at first seem confusing because not everyone agrees on the details and definition of classical education. Perhaps that is how it should be, after all, anyone interested in classical education wants to have interesting conversations and arguments. Also, classical education is a bit too rich of a philosophy to constrict itself to one exact formula. The lofty goals of a classical education cannot be reduced to one neat formula. But there are many patterns that we can use as a framework for the education we will build in our own homes.
Reading the above books will give a deep and rich picture of what it means to be a classical educator and how you can weave it into your home. Some think classical education is burdensome and overly demanding. But the pictures I see painted before me when I read these books are full of both time to explore and to master the subjects which will enrich and guide our children throughout their lives. This matches my own experience.
Many people think I am crazy if I list off all the things my kids do in a day. They envision children stuck at a desk all day. Yet my kids have plenty of free time. We relax while we learn. They are developing as unique, confident persons. They enjoy a good video game daily, on top of the long list of everything else they accomplish.
It may sound complicated and overwhelming and it is easy to build a schedule and list of must do’s that is overwhelming. But a classical education can be simple, restful, and freeing. It is up to us to dig deep, look at all the beautiful suggestions spread before us, and throw out enough of those suggestions so that the design of our lives is not so crowded that it is ugly. Beauty needs room to breathe.
Marla Szwast lives in Marietta, Georgia with her husband and six children. She is a life-time homeschooler. She has written articles for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. She is the author of Stepping Through History: Starting With You!, and a semester-long fifth-grade science course. Both courses are published online at the Schoolhouse Teachers membership website. She writes about homeschooling, child development, neuroscience, and the history of education on her blog at www.jumpintogenius.com, you can also follow her on Facebook @jumpintogenius, or Twitter @MarlaSzwast, or Medium. She is also a homeschool product reviewer, and yes, you will find reviews where she does not recommend the product!