A lot of people throw around the term “classical education,” but often what they mean is study of classical subjects or classic literature rather than implementation of classical education methods. Teaching the Classics embraces both, teaching you (the teacher) how to teach your kids how to think and interact with great literature and great ideas.
The program was developed by Adam and Missy Andrews at the request of friends who wanted to know how to approach literary instruction with their kids. The result is an easy-to-use course that offers the basics of literary analysis in a way that enables you to apply them to any story, from Peter Rabbit to Moby-Dick.
The Andrews’ philosophy is that literature should be studied for two reasons: its educational value, and for its own sake. While this course is designed to help you critically analyze and engage great literature, it will also encourage you toward a fuller appreciation and enjoyment of the books you read.
How Does This Work?
A set of eight DVDs and one print syllabus are all you need. The DVDs contain footage (about 7.5 hours in all) of a lecture seminar led by Adam Andrews explaining the Socratic teaching method; he even applies these methods to selected stories so you have a pattern to follow until you develop your own. His lectures aren’t just dry drones, either, he is an engaging and entertaining speaker.
The syllabus outlines the basics of the curriculum clearly and concisely. There is some overlap between the video lectures and the syllabus, but not enough to make either dispensable. It is important you spend plenty of time with both, since there isn’t anything to hand your kids so they can work on their own—you really need to understand the material yourself before presenting it to your students.
Andrews identifies five essential elements found in any work of narrative fiction: plot, conflict, setting, character, and theme. Discovering what these are in a given story provides a segue to deeper investigation and understanding of it. Andrews uses kids’ stories to illustrate each of these elements initially, since in children’s literature they are easiest to identify. He then discusses them in the context of adult literature.
At the end of the syllabus there is an outline for using Teaching the Classics as a literature curriculum. There is also a list of Socratic questions for use by the teacher, a glossary of terms, and reading lists for various reading levels. This isn’t one of those gimmicky courses that require all kinds of extra materials—after the syllabus and DVDs, all you need to procure are the books themselves.
This is a course for teachers and parents. It is important that you really engage the material. Ideally, mom and dad both watch the DVD lectures and read the syllabus together, and then implement the course in tandem. This shouldn’t be an isolated school subject that you devote a specific hour to each day and then move on to other things, it should become second nature in many ways. If the whole family is engaged, you can discuss literature (or anything else, really) Socratically, at dinner, in the car, or in flight from marauding extraterrestrials.
What the Andrews really do here is teach you, and by extension your kids, how to think. While literature is the means to that end, the skills you will develop are easily transferred to any other area of study. With that in mind, Adam and Missy have developed a complimentary program, Teaching the Classics: Worldview Supplement, to take their methods beyond literature and apply them to worldview and philosophy in general.
Our Honest Opinion:
This second edition set was released early in 2017. The seminar workbook was reworked, but it's similar to the first edition, with some sections made more clear, and the Socratic List specifically divided into types of questions. From an instructional standpoint, the main difference is that the lesson on plot and conflict was moved later in the course. The videos were professionally refilmed and are a huge step up from the original edition. The discs are more clearly arranged, with one on analysis, one on setting, one on theme, etc. The seventh disc reviews the method for teachers and gives them a chance to practice it for themselves, and the eighth covers frequently asked questions. Mr. Andrews takes more time throughout to explain concepts and manages to keep his enthusiasm and energy high throughout.
There are a lot of literature curricula out there, a lot of them requiring tons of reading and all kinds of supplemental books and superfluous written work. Teaching the Classics is easy to understand and implement, and is adaptable to basically any situation. It will require (in some cases) considerable effort at first, but after enough practice it becomes second nature. This course is highly recommended.
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