Many public school graduates can spout their opinion on any topic, but can't understand the issues at stake. Susan Wise Bauer sees this problem as the result of teaching methods that muddle two important steps: kids are taught to form attitudes before they're taught to understand and analyze information.
Into that void steps The Well-Educated Mind for adults who want a thorough education without enduring grad school, but who have the desire and willingness to learn on their own. This isn't curriculum—it's a guide to help you navigate difficult waters while offering encouragement for what many see as a thankless task.
The first step is simple: mark out regular time for reading about four days a week. Thirty minutes each day is plenty, but it does need to be consistent, and you do need to commit to those four days to get anything out of this. Bauer understands you have a life, and she wants you to keep that life without burning out.
One idea Bauer blasts to pieces is that reading should be done quickly. Read People Magazine fast, but if you delve into Aristotle or Jane Austen, slow down (she shows how with examples). Reading to understand takes time, and when you're pursuing education outside the boundaries of terms and class periods you have no reason to hurry.
Part I of The Well-Educated Mind is basic: Bauer encourages adults to read, shows why it's important, describes keeping a reading journal, and dispels myths about reading. Part II teaches readers how to read, providing literary analysis tools for getting through novels, memoirs, history, drama and poems successfully.
Each chapter in Part II includes lists of representative books to read, with brief (usually one page) descriptions of the work, its significance, and what readers should look for in it. This is the most clearly useful part of the book, though you shouldn't jump into Part II without having read and understood Part I.
Parents have used this to teach high school literature to their teens, though it's nearly impossible for any high schooler to make it through all the books listed in four years. If you do use The Well-Educated Mind for this purpose, we suggest you read every book alongside your kids and have extended discussions with them afterward.
Bauer is an advocate for Classical-style education. That bias shows itself here, but anyone wanting to develop intellectually and learn how to read better can benefit from her wisdom and knowledge. More extensive lists are available; few so ably demonstrate the mental resources needed to make it through each title without getting lost.
Parents must understand the nature of good books and how to read them if they intend to educate their kids. There aren't many books we think everyone should read, but this is one of them. Even if you've been through grad school, Bauer's insights into reading for education and understanding are some of the best we've seen, and her reading program will help even the most unread enter the realm of the Great Books with relative ease. Get this book on your shelf as soon as possible.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and 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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