Archive for July, 2012

Private education in colonial America produced the highest rates of literacy America has ever known.

Nonetheless, the public “common school” was sold to Americans in the early 19th Century on the pretense of providing literacy for all.   Going on two centuries now, the public school system has dominated the field of education, to the point that being without it has become unthinkable.   It has become a cultural icon (or idol) in America that commands a degree of reverence not unlike that of the “high places” in ancient Israel.

Myth: Without public education, we would be a nation of illiterates.

On the contrary, it’s more accurate to say we’ve already become a nation of illiterates with public education.  Education has become more “public” than ever, but the quality is in a tailspin, morally, spiritually, and academically.

American civilization did not begin in a bed of roses; it began in a rugged and hostile wilderness.  The early settlers had to fend for themselves and their families just to keep body and soul together.  They certainly did not have government to fall back on to educate their children.  They took seriously the admonition of Moses to the Israelites to obey God’s law in subjecting their children to a godly education.  According to Forgotten American History: Puritan Education By Sam Blumenfeld Printed in Practical Homeschooling #57, 2004, the Puritans put a high premium on teaching their young, bringing literacy and scriptural teaching to its high point in early America.  “To the Puritans, the education of children was uppermost in their minds.”  He also quoted a General Court order “…that all masters of families do, once a week, at least, catechize their children and servants in the grounds and principles of religion.

But you say, “Times have changed since those early years.”  Indeed, they have.  Our culture has drifted into a turbulent sea without anchor, sail or rudder.  As a result, many areas of life, including the field of education, have melded into a mindless monotone.  In recent times, we’ve seen the fruit of Union control of the public school system.  The reason it surfaced in Wisconsin is because Governor Scott Walker not only saw through the facade of public service unions; he had the courage to follow through.  Breaking the power of the Education unions is not without its consequences.  His vicious enemies have attacked his children on Facebook and bussed in thousands to intimidate his family in their home.  Do parents really want to subject their children to this type of mentality?

Sadly, many Christian schools rely on books produced en mass for public school consumption because they can get them more cheaply.  Buying propaganda to save a little money on books plays into the hands of these politically correct “educators” who created this poisonous atmosphere in the first place.

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On the bright side, however, we have modern technology undreamed of by our predecessors.  Government lockstep control has met its match in the internet.

Homeschooling has sent shivers up and down the spines of its enemies.  We have tremendous advantages that our forbearers did not have—instant communication of sight and sound.  We have no excuse.

Homeschooling families often organize into groups called co-ops, tailor-made to bypass the herd of the cookie-cutter mentality.  In addition, there are on-line opportunities to aid homeschooling parents with real time courses, complete with qualified teachers.  This can also be a benefit when economic needs make it necessary for both parents to work.  One such website is King’s Way Classical Academy http://www.kingswayclassicalacademy.com/  the world’s first on-line classical Christian Academy.  Here you will find Old School Teaching/New School Technology

This is our introduction to a series of detailed EDUCATION MYTH BUSTER articles.  The best is yet to come.  Please don’t jump to conclusions by any negative reports on the homeschooling issue.  If you already know the truth, spread the word.  Remember Proverbs 18:13.  “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”  Stay tuned. Your comments and questions are always welcome

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Homeschooling preschoolers is a manageable responsibility for the typical  young mother.  Most of us can read, write and compute, so communicating the basics of these skills to our little ones is normally not too difficult.

When they hit junior high however, it often becomes a different story.  “I don’t have the required skills to teach my junior and senior high schoolers at home,” is a common refrain.

But the record shows otherwise among those who accepted the challenge and pressed ahead any way in spite of their perceived limitations.  Testimonies abound from parents who claim to  have learned more than their children in the process of teaching them.

It gets in their blood.  Furthermore, the excitement is contagious.  It gets in their children’s blood too.

MYTH:  I don’t have the skills to teach my older children at home.

Even parents who did not do well in school often develop a love of learning in later years and ask, “What was I thinking?”  Their lack of formal training is overshadowed by their ardent desire to create in their children the thrill of learning new things and analyzing them through independent thinking in the light of Scripture.

While the “trained professional” is not always on the spot to answer pertinent questions, the parent is always there, even after so-called school hours.  Furthermore, the parent will answer these questions more acceptably to the parent’s worldview and understood more clearly by the child.  There is no mystery as to what the child is being taught.

Such a sacred stewardship demands close oversight.  What could be more sacred than building Character, knowledge, and wisdom in your children?  And who could be more concerned about this than loving parents.  Formal training on any level can never replace this sense of responsibility.

Sometimes parents are intimidated by the high and mighty.  There is no need to be.  Nobody is better equipped than parents to teach their own children.  Their foundation of love and concern provides the strongest foundation on which to build all the other necessities consisting of enthusiasm and informal training as you teach.

Even in a co-op, parents become intimate with each other as they develop their particular skills and share them among themselves.  King’s Way Classical Academy http://www.kingswayclassicalacademy.com  is an on-line co-op, designed to aid homeschooling parents.

The Academy is well structured, but it does not replace the parents’ oversight.  Parents often listen in and urge a question or comment in behalf of their child.  Everyone learns

as they listen and respond.  Sometimes both parents have to work, but the child’s teachers are always accessible to parents.  All correspondence with the child is also sent to the parents (If they have a separate email) so they always know what assignments are required.  This keeps everyone on the same page.  Parent-teacher-student coordination is essential.

Case closed:  Parents, never doubt your ability to teach and contribute to the efforts of co-ops on line or off line.  Thus, we have driven another nail in the coffin of doubt on the road to family independent thinking by thinking God’s thoughts after Him in the field of education, with a helping hand from Educational MythBusters.

HERE’S WHAT PUBLIC SCHOOL GRADS

SAY WAS MISSING IN THEIR EDUCATION

Portland Oregonian, April 1, 2007

In A Review By Dennis Oliver Woods, Headmaster

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Susan Nielsen’s fascinating analysis of what’s missing from the high school curriculum concluded, “Please teach students how to think, communicate and run a household.”  The results of her informal research study appeared in the April 1, 2007 edition of the Portland, Oregonian.

MYTH:  If we did’nt have public school, lower-income families wouldn’t have access to education.

Reader responses were a plaintive cry for the classical approach to education that existed in this country before John Dewey introduced his progressive model over a century ago.  The words “logic” and “rhetoric” did not appear in the comments.  However, readers were clearly describing these basic building blocks of the ancient classical trivium.

We were treated to remarks like, “…”this class would be called, maybe Critical Thinking.  It would show how people make fallacious arguments…to advance their points and manipulate the individual into a certain line of thinking.”  And, “The class would have them defend several viewpoints on controversial issues.”

The Joke’s On You America

Ironically, the report appeared on April Fool’s Day.  Ironic because Americans have surely been fooled by John Dewey into substituting a pale imitation of education for the real McCoy.  Progressive education remains the dominant model in the pubic schools to this day.

Under the older classical model, students were not only taught isolated subjects and technical skills, they were steeped in what Dorothy Sayers called “the lost tools of learning.”  Mastering the tools of the trivium prepared them for a lifetime of learning.  Beyond just learning to make a living, they were taught to live.  Instead of asking “what can I do with this information” they asked “what can this information do with me.”

These were the tools that produced the intellectual giants of a bygone era.  Virtually all of America’s founding generation were educated classically.  These were men and women who could think critically and communicate their thinking to others.  In those days it was called a “liberal arts” education – liberal as in “liberty.”  What was this mysterious trivium?

The Classical Trivium

According to Miss Sayers famous 1947 essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning”, the trivium “consisted of three parts:  Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order.”  Bear in mind, that Dorothy Sayers was the intellectual sparring partner of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein at Oxford before World War II.  She was a scholar and an expert on the Middle Ages.  Her essay may be read in its entirely at www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html.

She went on to explain that “modern education concentrates on ‘teaching subjects,’ leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along.”  By contrast, medieval education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.”

In practice, we can think of the Trivium from two perspectives.  As presented above, it is a tool for dissecting a particular subject.  First, we master the “grammar” of the subject, its basic facts, definitions and guiding principles.  Second, we apply the tool of dialectic interaction, or logic, to interpret and understand the basic facts.  This includes propaganda analysis as well as formal logic.  Finally, we apply the interpreted facts and share them with others in written and spoken communication.  This encompasses the skills of declamation and debate.

The trivium also provides a paradigm for three stages of child development.  Miss Sayers called these “the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic – the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty.”   During the primary or Poll-Parrot years, children love to memorize.  They soak up grammar, languages, and other miscellaneous facts like a sponge.  In middle school the child has arrived at the Pert stage of contradicting, answering back and questioning everything.  The wise instructor will channel these natural tendencies into formal training in logic or dialectic.  At last we reach the Poetic stage where self-expression comes naturally and may be groomed by the rhetorical arts.

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

The story of how and why American education discarded the classical trivium is long and somewhat complex – but fascinating nonetheless.  Curiously, it began in Europe with the devastating defeat of Germany at the hands of Napoleon at the Battle of Jena in 1806.  Jena was a university town and the intellectual counterattack from the nearby University of Jena proved to be overwhelming.  Its effects are still being felt in American education halfway around the globe.

According to John Taylor Gatto, New York Teacher of the Year in 1989, it was a professor of Kantian philosophy at Jena who shook the world with his famous “Address to the German Nation”.  In this address, Johann Gottleibe Fichte called for a system of compulsory schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders – no more battlefield routs.  The goal was obedient soldiers, and citizens who thought alike about major issues.

The method recommended by Fichte would divide larger ideas up into school subjects and short class periods punctuated by a horn.  True learning, critical thinking, and motivation would thus be constantly interrupted and fragmented.  Students would simply parrot back what they had been told in objective tests.  Such students might sound educated, but their ability to think for themselves and communicate was severely retarded.

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It was this system that produced the German propaganda and war machines of the 20th century.  All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque tells the story.  That is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer once commented that the second world war was the inevitable product of good schooling.  The goal of the German or Prussian system was not to provide intellectual training, but to condition children to obedience and life in collective society.

The system was transplanted to America by a cadre of young, impressionable, idealists who traveled to Germany for doctoral studies in the first half of the 19th Century.  One of their number, Horace Mann finally persuaded Massachusetts notorious “Know-Nothing” legislature to adopt the system in 1852.  Over the next 50 years all 50 states followed the lead of the New Englanders.  That was the remarkable result of the visionary John Dewey operating from his Educational Laboratory School at the University of Chicago.  Over the years Dewey flooded the American school system with disciples of what he had renamed “progressive education.”

When Will We Ever Learn?

Case Closed:  And that brief history brings us full-circle to today.  What is the likelihood that the classical method will be returned to our public school system, you ask?  The odds are approximately zero.  As Dorothy Sayers noted over 60 years ago in her 1947 essay:  “…it is in the highest degree improbable that the reforms I propose will ever be carried into effect.  Neither the parents, nor the training colleges, nor the examination boards, nor the boards of governors, nor the ministries of education, would countenance them for a moment.”

For they amount to this:  that if we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom…we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages.”

Dennis Oliver Woods (M.Ed.) is headmaster of King’s Way Classical Academy, a 100% web-based school for grades 7-12.  The campus address is http://www.KingsWayClassicalAcademy.com.  He is the author of Keys to the Classics.

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