Whenever someone espouses a departure from the accepted way of doing things, they have to defend their ideas. Those who don't are dismissed before they're heard, even if their ideas are good. Leigh Bortins, whose vision of education is radically opposed to the standard model, deserves a hearing if for no other reason than that she spends half ofThe Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Educationsimply explaning why Classical-style education is so important.
She begins by looking at the reasons modern teaching and education have failed. The purpose of education is to train people who can think and act reasonably and with character, but education in the United States has become an excuse to brainwash students, mold them to be uncritical consumers, and rob them of the ability to memorize. Moreover, the methodology behind these goals is marked by jargon, agendas, and clinical standardization.
What's the answer? According to Bortins, it's Classical-style education, beginning with the grammar stage, moving to the logic (or dialectic) stage, and ending with the rhetoric stage. Whereas the logic stage involves critical thinking and analysis, and the rhetoric stage involves the ability to form new ideas and articulate them well, the grammar stage provides the foundation for these stages through absorption of raw data.
Memorization as a learning method has fallen universally out of favor. It's been replaced by charts, "expert" advice, and a lot of noise that helps students not at all. Bortins comes to the defense of memorization, showing that kids actually enjoy internalizing information this way and how that internalized information is used to broaden one's perspective on the world. Her arguments are compelling and occasionally irrefutable; at the least, they winsomely challenge prevalent prejudices.
Part two turns from reasons why to practical concerns. Individual chapters apply the grammar stage approach to seven subjects: reading, writing, math, geography, history, science, and fine arts. Content for these disciplines is not specifically covered; instead, Bortins focuses on methodology, specific skills to be taught and learned, and planning. The last chapter covers "Schedules and Resources for Classical Education."
Many will doubtless object that Classical-style education is only for genius students and superparents. Bortins is strenuous in denying this. While brilliant students will doubtless thrive in a Classical-style education atmosphere, she claims that children with autism and Asperger's have also developed beyond expectations in such circumstances. And it doesn't take superparents, either—this type of education requires plenty of effort, but anyone can do it.
This also isn't merely an academic endeavor. In the epilogue, Bortins discusses how Classical education equips us with skills we use and need as adults. She makes the point throughout the book that Classical-style education is often as much an education for parents as it is for students, but that this only highlights its practical nature, as many parents also suffer from a lack of basic learning and reasoning skills.
If you're looking for something to read on the beach,The Core probably isn't it. At the same time, it's as close as a volume about education can come to being a vacation book. Bortins is engaging, excited, and convincing, and the text is fast-paced and laced with humor and personal stories. It even addresses important questions like, Do I have to homeschool in order to Classically train my kids?, Will I have to relate differently to my children?, and What if I don't know something?
Classical-style education cropped up in homeschool circles a couple of decades ago, and to many it just looked like another fad, destined for irrelevancy in short order. The fact that it's a growing movement inside and outside the homeschool community is proof of its staying power; the fact that there are demonstrable proofs of its effectiveness is proof that it's a good method. If you aren't sure you want to Classically educate, or are sure and don't know how to start,The Coreis for you.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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