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The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition) Hardcover – May 4, 2009
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“An excellent resource for any family.”
- Educational Freedom Press
“[Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer] are thorough and pragmatic, offering a detailed curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12, as well as opinions on everything from Latin (an indispensable language) to the Internet ('a mixed blessing').”
- The New Yorker
“An A for Home Schooling... a remarkable compendium of information designed to help home-schooling parents give their children a traditional liberal education.”
- City Journal
“This book would be entertaining simply as the story of how Jessie, then a schoolteacher, decided to teach Susan, who now teaches literature at the College of William & Mary, at home.... But it's so much more than a good yarn. It's a mind-stretching tome.”
- Robert Holland, Richmond Times Dispatch
“Has caused a revolution within the homeschool community.”
- The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
“Homeschooling parents on a mission to find the ultimate resource―or parents of traditionally-schooled children interested in an excellent supplement―are all well advised to peruse the pages of Wise and Wise Bauer's classy guide to classical education at home.”
- The Boox Review
“An invaluable road map.”
- The Daily Democrat
About the Author
Susan Wise Bauer is an educator and academic who has worked with parents and students for more than twenty years. She taught at the College of William & Mary in Virginia for fifteen years. Her previous best-selling titles for Norton include The Well-Trained Mind, The Well-Educated Mind, The Story of Western Science, and the History of the World series.
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But please, please, please use common sense when reading this book. Take the principles and apply it in your own way. Some of the reviewers here missed that point. For instance, don't be scared by the schedule the author recommends...it's just a recommendation! You can figure out your own schedule. The same goes for the curriculum. If you find a book that suits your family better...by all means use it. I feel certain the authors would say the same thing. They are only laying out a framework which needs to be adapted to suit your own family. I believe education is an atmosphere and this book gave me great ideas for creating an even better atmosphere for my children at home.
To the readers who assert that this book is for rigid, obsessive parents, I would urge them to read it again. It's not about rigidity, but about fostering excellence, which does take some hard work. I'm sure that this style of homeschooling is not for every child and every family, but it provides hundreds of resources, and I think there's something here for everyone. Granted, if you're not interested in a Classical approach, you may want to look elsewhere. But I would urge you to consider it, even if it sounds foreign or daunting.
And now for my snotty asides: the reviews that are rife with spelling and grammar errors, and insist that the methods in this book are too demanding for children, are a bit hard to take seriously, you know? Other reviews are clearly written by parents who are intimidated because of how little education they themselves have... but the wonderful thing about homeschooling is that you get to learn WITH your children. It should be exciting to you, and if it's scary to confront all of the science, math, history and literature that you don't know, so much the better! Don't we want to teach our children to seek knowledge, and to try things that are difficult? And what better way to do that than to model it ourselves? If you are a lifelong learner, your children will be too.
I have the greatest respect for those deeply religious Christians who indicated that while this book has much to offer, it's lacking in religious education, and they make up for on their own with Biblical study, many of whom include Biblical languages in said study.
I have less respect for the reviewers who are worried that the lessons of "those evil Pagan Greeks" will teach their children to question. Here's my favorite quote from a reviewer below: "I pray God will open the blind eyes of those lusting after intelectualism (note the spelling error) and lead them to True Wisdom of God! What good is Homer and Shakespeare to the soul?"
What good is Homer and Shakespeare to the soul!?! Don't you actually mean What good ARE Homer and Shakespeare to the soul? I don't even know how to begin to answer that. It's a clear case of "If you have to ask..."
I begin to see why literacy rates amongst the middle class are declining, and most high school students will never take Calculus. Buy the book if you're a homeschooler or teacher interested in educating thoughtful, interesting, interested critical thinkers.
I give this 4.5 stars. As this is well-reviewed, and I agree with most of the positive reviews, I'll start with my one big CON.
The recommendations for early science curriculum are straight-up garbage. My husband is a science professor at an Ivy, and I have a strong STEM background. While I appreciate the idea behind connecting the science and history curriculum, it doesn't really work from a education standpoint. Kids are terrific observers at this early age, but less good at abstract thought. IMO, the Montessori curriculum is far stronger at utilizing a child's basic kinesthetic and observational strengths. The author here recommends starting with bio, then earth science, then chemistry, then physics. IMO, it should work in the opposite direction. Of these topics, physics and chemistry are the ones that lend themselves most to observation and concrete work. Chemistry, inasmuch as external observation reflects things like "atoms" and other abstract ideas, is less appropriate than physics. Compare these to the body (for example), where there are few experiments you can reasonably execute. A chlid must take on faith that what she is learning is real.
If one were learning merely about science history (which is also appropriate), then the author's choices would make more sense. But it's perhaps one of the most foundational aspects of education to learn how to ask, observe, and understand. Something like simple machines, basic forces and motion, etc., lend themselves far better to experimentation and learning by observing. I do like the recommendations for memory-work.
(I will say, this is hardly unique to WTM. The only early-education science curriculum that really addresses this issue is Montessori. So, I only take off half a star for it.)
Outside of that critique, I found the book very adaptable and useful. Some things that others haven't talked about as much:
- The book is optimistic about learning. The author presumes children learn, and the book imbued me with confidence in my ability to teach my children, and for them to learn some pretty complicated things. I'd probably be considered a relatively educated person, but I recognize some holes in my education, and in some cases, I've been learning along with my kids. She suggests lots of curriculum that can be bought, but also gives great recommendations for using free and cheap resources. Overall, there's a sense of "I can do this" about the book. She is honest, however, that this is an assertive program, pretty much the opposite of unschooling, and it's information-led rather than child-led.
- The book does a good job of sorting out religious v. secular resources. I'm a Christian myself, as is the author, but I'm not evangelical, and I prefer my church-learning to be separate. THere are so many homeschool resources now, that it's not always easy to find. She seems often to prefer Christian resources, but she always makes note of it, and gives secular alternatives.
- The author IMO correctly understands that the act of reading, the act of writing, composition, and other language arts, do not always develop on the same time-line. I like that she talks about separating these, so that a child struggling with the act of writing will not necessarily be held back in narration and composition, etc. I have a son with high-functioning ADHD, and her suggestions helped unpack his dislike of composition as an issue of handwriting rather than composition.
- While this book has a reputation as being somewhat strict and inflexible, I didn't find it that way, perhaps because I went into it intending to adapt the materials to my own use. My impression of her philosophy is that it's important for children to develop confidence with language and math, and, espeically as to language, that leaning on audio-visual material is a mistake. I suspect her feeling is that it's easy to get lazy about this, or to forget that at the end of the day, children must have confidence with the written word. Personally, I occasionally use online interactive materials and very occasionally use documentaries for the history curriculum, but only AFTER beginning with reading and talking. Once I feel like my kids have a strong connection to the material, I don't mind letting them increase their knowledge by watching a documentary. I don't think the author's point is that videos are terrible, only that children need to work toward confidence with language as a primary source of information. In my family, serious restriction of media means that my kids view media as a treat rather than a meal.
Finally, I found this book useful for my needs as a part-timer. I don't use that many of the resources she suggests, but I've used the overall structure and organization of material. I was a bit overwhelmed before I read this, in terms of not feeling like I could be thorough, particularly with history and language arts. As to history, I did end up using the author's history series (which is excellent, with some qualifications), and used her suggested literature list (tied to the history series), which has been excellent. For math, I used the information she gave on math programs to choose a program that she did not suggest.. but her suggestions made it easier to figure out what I cared about for math systems.
Overall, outside the science chapter, I think this is a useful book. It gives a sense of scope, and has a lot of information on what sorts of choices you might make.