Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Copywork in a Free Education

    January 7, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    As the Quiddity Blog keeps discussing the concept of education for liberty versus education for slavery, I find myself trying to put feet on the concepts. For instance, in his post Ten Principles of Education for Slavery, Kern writes that a slave’s education is coercive.

    If you recall, I quoted another of Kern’s posts awhile back. It had a similar title, Educating People for Slavery. Kern gave the example of the teaching of algebra, how to discover which students have the inclination toward freedom, and how to teach the free students. The education for the free students would be quite different from the slave students.

    All of this is fine and good, but what if, hypothetically speaking, I am a homeschooling mom who intends to educate her students for freedom? What if a certain student had, hypothetically, recently begun to dig in his heels and decide that, in regard to copywork, he was going to act like a slave? In other words, if it was going to get done each day, he would have to be coerced.

    Hypothetically speaking, of course.

    So what does Mom do? After all, I don’t think one should abandon a primary student to slavery simply because they’ve momentarily decided to act like a slave. In fact, I think that classical schools have the unique opportunity to pull students out of slavery. We all tend toward slavery. Some of us remain slaves our whole lives, while others become free in adulthood, or earlier depending on their disposition, environment, and education.

    So back to copywork.

    Suppose Mom first tries to explain copywork. This would not be to justify, but to inform the student of how wonderful copywork is for him. Suppose the hypothetical student is nonplussed by the explanation. What then?

    Well, Mom could simply treat the student like a slave and insist he does the work. Even though this is all hypothetical, I wasn’t comfortable with this idea. I’m not sure I can keep slavery in a box and say that it’ll only apply to this one subject. Especially when the hypothetical student declares that he hates copywork. Hatred isn’t easy to contain, and it doesn’t cultivate a love of learning.

    Incidentally, I used to think that children were born with a love of learning. To some extent, I still think that is true. On the other hand, I’ve seen one too many stiff neck and arched back combo to think that children are simply {and only} little sponges. Children, I think, are born with natural curiosity, which isn’t the same thing as a love of learning. In fact, I believe it was Charlotte Mason who once wrote that curiosity can destroy. For example, love of learning sketches a flower in order to treasure its memory when it is gone. Curiosity plucks the flower and pulls of all the petals, leaving a small path of destruction in its wake. Both students were interested in the flower, but only one had love. However, children have great potential, and an orderly and generous and free education can cultivate this.

    In Educating People for Slavery, Kern wrote:

    If you were educating them to be and think like free people, how would you teach differently? To think that through, you have to ask this question: How does a free person think?

    Now, I’m not one to think that a six-year-old can truly be free. This is why God gave them parents whom they are expressly commanded to obey. However, if, upon graduation, I want my students to be truly free, the question remains as to how to teach them differently.

    Without consulting The Principal, I {hypothetically} marched into Student Number One’s room and told him to think of something that would enhance copywork for him, something that would help him like it. I told him that he knew that it was good for him, and that it was actually a step in the direction he had already told me he wanted to go, so he had to do it. However, I didn’t want him to hate it. I wanted him to learn to love it. So if the student had any ideas of things I could add to the situation, would he please let me know?

    That night, I consulted with The Principal. {Note to self: do this first next time.} The Principal believed that Student Number One would enjoy selecting the passages himself.

    Now that, my friends, is the way to assign copywork to a free student, which is to say that the teacher doesn’t assign it at all, but rather the student is assigning it to himself.

    When, hypothetically, I approached Student Number One for the second time, he still hadn’t thought of anything that would help with copywork. So I asked him if he wanted to hear what The Principal had said. His agreement to the suggestion was virtually instantaneous.

    So, I loaded him up with post-its, and he’s been flagging passages for copywork ever since. I told him how I had been doing it to give him guidelines. For instance, he was to use books from the Read Aloud stack and pick passages that were well-written, were beautiful, taught the reader something, and/or were simply interesting. Imitate the best and you will eventually write like the best.

    I’m learning that educating for freedom initially requires extra effort. It is so much easier to also dig in my own heels and say that this is the assignment and so the student is going to do it and that is just how it is going to be. And if I wanted to, I could probably make him do it every day. But that isn’t the sort of education I want to offer here, and the result isn’t the sort of student I’m interested in producing.


    The first 5 of 23 Principles of an Education for Freedom {I couldn’t get it down to 10}
    Progressive Education Analyzed from a Christian classical perspective

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit


  • Reply Kansas Mom January 8, 2009 at 2:06 am

    I am so glad I found your blog back whenever I found it! I’m learning so much about how you’re teaching and am sure it’ll come in handy in the next year or two when First Son is moving up in the world. (In fact, I was just contemplating adding some handwriting in the next few months.)

  • Reply Lift Up Your Hearts January 7, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Great information and ideas!

  • Leave a Reply