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    Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning

    February 9, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I mentioned on Friday that I had been reading Doug Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning and that I thought there were a few places he was weak. Today, I’m mustering the strength to point a few of those out.

    But first I want to say that the book was overwhelmingly helpful. Even though I’m going to point out a couple negatives, please don’t consider this reason not to read a book. Every book has its faults {save the Bible}. That’s why it’s important to have our eyes open and our brains alert while reading.

    The flaws in the book that come immediately to mind were in chapter five {The Student in Adam, dealing with the sinful nature of students within a school} and chapter ten {The Home School Alternative}.


    Wilson writes:

    One result of fallenness seen in children is the aversion to work, and natural curiosity is not sufficient to overcome that aversion.

    I think it takes about two to three years of parenting to drive home this truth, but it isn’t up for debate. Natural curiosity, which I do not believe to be manifestation of an actual desire to learn, causes children to gravitate toward their own interests while ignoring other subjects or activities which would be good for them. It can be hard to come up against these things in our children and know how to handle them with wisdom, because I also think that aversion to something isn’t necessarily a sign of laziness.

    But it can be, and Wilson is good to point it out.

    However, comma.

    This little strain of thought lays silent until chapter ten, when it crops back up:

    Another problem with home schooling is a common, but mistaken, assumption about human nature…[T]here seems to be a prejudice among some home schoolers against “forced learning,” and the prejudice appears to be based on an overly optimistic view of the child’s innate love of learning…I am afraid there is more than a little sentimentalism here, with the nature and power of sin being overlooked. Many children need to be disciplined in an intellectual way early. If they are not, then the opportunity is lost; a mental laziness is already habitual.

    Here, I have to agree and disagree. For instance, I agree that many opportunities should be capitalized upon early. When my son showed interest in learning letters at two, we didn’t question this or worry that it was too early. He was ready, and when children are ready, it is the parent’s job to get working.

    However, this same son is also later than a lot of folks expected in regard to math. This has nothing to do with laziness. In fact, this was a decision Si and I made after reading a lot of the Bluedorn’s analysis of brain development and introduction of early mathematics. The part which particularly influenced us was the connection between early math and tic disorders. With all of the neurological difficulties we were having during kindergarten, we weren’t willing to risk his brain for the sake of math. Beyond this, he is quick enough that we have complete confidence in his ability to catch up.

    Around Christmastime, we were making the switch from addition to subtraction, and my son started to have problems. He was getting very confused, mixing up the functions, and also displaying tics during his math time. So, we took a break. Again, this was not laziness. I firmly believe in the power of breaks to allow the brain to assimilate information that has already been gained. After six weeks off, we came back, and he’s been working well on subtraction, as well as going back and forth between the two {as in, 6+4=10 and then 10-4=6}, without issue. This is a place for parental wisdom.

    Another argument for late math is simply that early childhood is best spent in language development. If the part of the brain that is most active before, say, age eight, is focused on language, why focus on math? Why worry about math? If most math isn’t appropriate for the structure of a brain less than ten years old, again, I question the merit of doing it early.

    I think that delaying some subjects {and traditional classical education did delay math until about eight or ten years of age} isn’t a sign of a lack of intellectual and academic rigor.

    However, I also have a student that I am guessing will need to be pushed. The whole time. And that is my job and if I’m not good at it, that is not a sign of a problem with homeschooling, as Wilson puts it. That is a sign of a problem with me.

    The Sinfulness of Students and Their Peers

    Again in chapter five, Wilson tells an amusing story where one of his daughters questions the authority of the apostle Paul. He writes:

    Now her questioning of the authority of Scripture was not due to playing with theological liberals or redaction critics. Sin does not come to us from our environment; it comes from our father Adam.

    In the end notes he adds:

    The source of our sin is not our companions, and it is not our environment. The source of our sin is our nature, inherited from Adam. This means that Christians schools do not quarantine the students to separate them from sinful companions. The school has a different function altogether.

    He uses this point later on against homeschoolers who question children having a strong peer group. However, I’m not sure I know any Christians who really believe that sin is a product of the environment, even if they choose to encourage familial relationship to be primary for their children, especially young children. The Bible says,

    He who walks with the wise grows wise,
    but a companion of fools suffers harm.

    Proverbs 13:20

    The Bible here acknowledges that who our friends and companions are does matter. I believe this sort of thing is a process. This means that, when they are young, we choose their friends for them by arranging their social activities with certain families. When they are older, we begin to teach them how to choose friends. And when they are grown, we hope we did our jobs right.

    For Wilson to criticize parents who take peer groups {and their often bad influence} seriously simply because our sin comes from within is to ignore the total of what the Bible has to say about the nature and effects of friendship.

    The Home School Alternative

    Wilson founded a private Christian school. He does not homeschool and that was a choice which he made, not a default his family experienced. When I saw this chapter title in the table of contents, I was hoping to be challenged a bit in our decision to homeschool. I welcomed the opportunity to think this through all over again. This isn’t to say that private school is an option for us, because even if I really thought it was superior to homeschool, the cost would be prohibitive. But I still wanted the opportunity to think it through with someone playing Devil’s advocate a bit.

    But I was disappointed.

    More than half of Wilson’s chapter is a response to a list of objections to private schooling written by Greg Harris. Though the debate was interesting, I wouldn’t say it covered any real reasons for schooling. Harris’ objections to private schooling were:

    1. Many Christian schools only clean up the public school’s practices…[T]hese are shallow cosmetic tokens of what a thorough Christian education should be.
    2. Christian and nonChristian students are both enrolled in Christian schools, with the result that evangelism distracts from the mission of giving a Christian education.
    3. Christian schools still, by their structure, encourage age-segregation, which encourages peer pressure.
    4. Parents who put their children in Christian schools are abdicating their responsibilities as the primary educators of the child.
    5. The needs of the various children in the classroom divide the teacher’s time and are inefficient.

    Wilson proceeds with individual rebuttals to each of these points, and he does well. However, I think the approach here is misguided. It doesn’t address the fundamental questions of education: What does it mean to educate? Whose job is it to educate? What is the ideal location for education? Why do we do what we do?

    I’ve already shared our answers to those questions when I wrote the post Why We Homeschool. I think the reasons for why our family does what it does transcend all these other issues. We do what we do from conviction, and so whether or not the Christian schools in town accept nonChristians or not is really beside the point. What I was hoping was that Wilson private schooled from conviction, and possess some really good Scriptural arguments for why he did what he did. But really, he didn’t. He talked details and methods, efficiency, and the threat of mommy-burnout, which are all issues but are not primary. We should discern what is the right path, what God has called us to, and then follow along, seeking for how to live life well upon that path. Of course, I’m not saying there aren’t valid arguments for private schooling. I’m simply saying that I had expected Wilson to lay out those valid arguments, and, in my estimation, he did not.

    Read Appendix C!

    I can’t leave on a negative note because I had a chance to read Appendix C twice this weekend. It is a short history of public schools, and it is concise and informative. Many of you who have read Afterthoughts for a long time are aware of my animosity toward John Dewey and his modern-day progeny. However, Wilson went further back {which I think might also be what John Taylor Gatto did in The Underground History of American Education, and someday I’ll get my hands on a copy of that book as well as his other works}, all the way to Horace Mann, the Puritans, and Scottish socialist Robert Owen. I’ll end with this quote:

    The establishment of public education in America can be described as a dedicated effort from the very beginning to live by bread alone. Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 8:3, which says that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Those who established public education sought to build a school system without reference to the Word of God.


    What many [Christians] want to do is push the public schools back to what they were in the 1950s. If they were able to reestablish the public schools of an Ozzie and Harriet era, they would be happy. And if they succeeded in getting back the public schools of the 1880s, they would be deliriously happy. In short, if the public schools were not so visibly corrupt, it would not be difficult for many Christians to return to them.

    But many Christians do not understand the underlying clash of principles. The radicals of the last century were not lax disciplinarians; they gave the children a rigorous education. But it was apart from the applied Word of God. It was bread alone.…[T]he radicalism bearing fruit now was planted in the last century [{1800s}], and the seed was anti-Christian.

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  • Reply Rahime February 13, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Needless to say, her parents were shocked and horrified as well. They went to see the play in an early showing (before their daughter would have to see it) and said it was even worse than expected…scripture was being misused and twisted. They’ve refused to make their daughter go to the play, of course, and the school administrators are upset about it. Last I talked to them, they were looking at other schools where she might be able to transfer to…they don’t want to deal with 3 more years of this.

  • Reply Brandy February 13, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Yes, I think 22 is a new record! πŸ™‚

    I read the link to P&P. Funny thing, I totally recognized my daughter A. In fact, we just began cracking down on her. Our first born was responsible in an almost neurotic way. In fact, I had to train him to sometimes let things go. He had to be able to occasionally leave something undone (to come back to and finish later, of course) because life isn’t always perfect where we can begin a project and complete it all in one day. However, because he was like this, I didn’t realize at first that other children aren’t. So when I told my daughter to go put away the dolls in our play area, I assumed that this was done because, after all, she did disappear for a while. And then I failed to check her work while she was awake, and so during naptime I would find the disastrous results of the many times in the day that she failed to follow through.

    I am so grateful that God showed this to me when she is so young. The sooner we get started on this, the better. But you are so right, I can see how damaging it would be to her character as well as her education to just turn a blind eye to the situation.


    I was SHOCKED at your description of the school play. Intellectually, I know that things like this happen. However, we all know that the Catholic church hasn’t changed its stance on deviant behavior for millenia, so I was surprised. I wonder if there is someone higher up in the hierarchy of the church that this mother can appeal to?

    If you ever get the opportunity to tutor a classical student, I’d be curious at how that compared with your regular students.

  • Reply Mystie February 13, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Wow, this will be comment 22! Impressive. πŸ™‚

    I read this today and it is what happened with me and most all my siblings (and my mom just got frustrated). So it’s what gives me my caution:

    Also, I liked Rahime’s connection between the slavery education and your copywork issues. She’s spot on!

  • Reply Rahime February 12, 2009 at 9:10 am

    The schools are both Christian (mostly Catholic…which these days seems pretty close to secular) and secular. I haven’t had any students go to classical private schools. I’d be interested to compare though…maybe I should see if there are any good ones around here.

    Just this week I had a parent (who’s a Christian) tell me about a fight they’re in the midst of with her daughter’s (rather prestigious, and overall academically sound) Catholic school. Her four older children went there and throughout that time the christian education was not too bad. This month, however, the students are all required to attend the latest school play which is evidently about a gay couple who attend a home Bible study at which they discuss the importance of accepting all “lifestyles”.

  • Reply Brandy February 11, 2009 at 10:35 pm


    I know that you’ve told stories about your private-school clients that are less-than-impressive. I am wondering…are these schools Christian or secular? Are they classical or some other method which I have or haven’t possibly heard of? Just curious.


    Cindy linked to you before? Wow. You really are a superstar. πŸ™‚

    Maybe you were on to something when you made the comment you did about exams v. tests…You might know more about it than you think since you were the one with the initial thought.

    By the way, I read your post What Education is Best and I really liked your principles of education. I think your list is a great starting point from which to make decisions.

  • Reply Rahime February 11, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Ah, I see. Well, I’ll look forward to the series.

    I have lots of opinions about schooling, but since I don’t have kids yet I haven’t been confronted with the need to make a decision (and therefore haven’t devoted a lot of time and effort to researching the subject, though it would probably be the best time to do so). So, my thoughts are mostly based on my experience from my own education, spending the 6 years tutoring (through which I’ve observed the dismal state of the educational in both public and private schools), and observations of people I know who have tried various methods.

    I appreciate that you mentioned that you know of some women who would be too overwhelmed by the learning curve necessary to provide children with a solid classical education at home. I think this is a big factor for some…and produces some of the results Mystie mentioned.

    Mystie, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the material from the links you’ve provided. Lots of food for thought.

  • Reply Mystie February 11, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    But I can think of a couple women I know that are almost crushed by it, and I can see how Classical school would be a good alternative for them.

    Exactly. I think no matter how the current generation gets a solid, Christian education, it will bode well for the future and they will build upon it — whether that means homeschooled will establish better (perhaps less bureaucratic) schools or schooled establishing stronger homeschools. Probably there will be some of both.

    In another of Doug’s blog posts on Paideia, he said that purposeful homeschools have the edge on establishing a full-orbed Christian atmosphere and culture.

    I saw the Quiddity post and need to figure out how to say “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” πŸ™‚ I felt like a superstar when Cindy linked me in her delicious links…now I’m really flummoxed. πŸ™‚ I guess I need to post something philosophical. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy February 11, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Mystie, Mystie! Andrew Kern is trying to contact you!

    So now I feel like you’re a superstar or something. πŸ˜‰

    In other news, I read through the three Blog and Mablog posts you linked to yesterday evening, and I’m feeling much more grounded now, so thank you kindly. I think one of my favorite points was the idea that now is not the time to start haggling over things like location when we still have the bulk of our Christian little ones being educated within a system that denies Christ. I like that.

    I was also thinking that perhaps having one generation educated in a Classical private school would give a future homeschooling generation a better foundation. I know that, coming from public education, there is a HUGE learning curve for me. However, I like a challenge. But I can think of a couple women I know that are almost crushed by it, and I can see how Classical school would be a good alternative for them.

  • Reply Brandy February 11, 2009 at 3:14 am


    Thank you for all your research! I will be faithful to read all of it, I assure you. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mystie February 11, 2009 at 12:41 am

    I found it! It is in The Case for Classical and Christian Education, which is basically a rewritten Recovering the Lost Tools based on all that has happened and been developed in the last 15 years. Most of the chapter is available on google books:,M1

    In the first page that is missing, Doug admits to not having heard of homeschooling when they started Logos, how the educational scene has changed since then, and goes briefly into valuable contributions of the homeschooling movement.

    The end of the chapter is not available, and in it he says that diligent homeschools have the edge in K-3, but good schools gain the edge after that (I do think classrooms can be beneficial, though not necessarily as they are currently done), he points out that younger children often do not get the attention older children do in larger families, oftentimes oldest girls become household help to the neglect of real studying, and boys can become home-centered.

    He ends with this: “Whether the teaching is happening in the classroom or around the kitchen table, both parents must always be active and involved in the education of their children.”

    It’s still not really a proper defense of the day-school concept, but the entire books is about education — and that’s what he’s after: real education, and schools and homeschools are both methods for that principle.

    The book isn’t “schools are great” with a chapter bashing homeschools, either. Multiple chapters have sections addressing challenges particular to schools.

    Here are a couple more thoughts:

  • Reply Brandy February 10, 2009 at 11:53 pm


    I don’t know a lot about Montessori, either. It is my understanding that there were debates between Montessori and Charlotte Mason, but perhaps I am misremembering that. And I also don’t know the content of those debates.

    As far as the laziness aspect, I got the impression that to Wilson

    late start = laziness

    at least to a major degree. The school he began, Logos, begins with a kindergarten. I would argue that this is actually too early. Traditionally, classical education begins with the grammar stage, which commences somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10. Kindergarten is an invention of the socialist Prussians, and the idea was to form children morally before they were tainted by the image of their fathers.

    Now I’m getting a little sidetracked by the details. Let me get myself back on track. My concern is that Wilson was condemning delayed academics when delayed academics was part of the classical tradition. Of course, I only made that connection right now, and isn’t very helpful since it isn’t in the post! πŸ™‚ I am also thinking that when I read the chapter, my mind immediately jumped to books like Better Late Than Early, which I think might be the cause of some of the delayed academics seen within homeschooling families. However, Wilson doesn’t reference the book, and it may be unfair to assume that he was (a) aware of the book and (b) actually discussing families influenced by the book.

    I suppose that after all of this I could simply state that reading this (admittedly older) book right now, I feel obligated to make a distinction between purposefully delaying certain academics and actual laziness. Part of this is because I have gotten the impression that certain people seem concerned when they find out our son is only now doing addition and subtraction. This is, by the way, comparing him to public schools. I really don’t know what a private school would expect of him at his age. From the outside, someone might think this delay is due to laziness, when it is actually part of the plan.

    My, can I go on!

    I just walked through my living room and I now think the biggest downfall of homeschooling can be summed up in two words: Messy Livingroom. Or is it three words? Living Room? Oh well.

    I will write that series, I think. Perhaps a collaboration with commenters could determine some good responses to the downfalls.

  • Reply Rahime February 10, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Wow, lots of interesting discussion is happening here.

    Brandy, I haven’t read this book so I probably shouldn’t even comment on it, but it seems to me the example of your eldest son’s hiatus (or “late” start in math) isn’t what Wilson’s referring to when he speaks of laziness. (Again, this is just based on the quotes you’ve posted, so I could be off base here.) You chose intentionally and for particular reasons (your research on neurological development and the acquisition of mathematical skills and your son’s tics, which presented when he was frustrated or confused by the problems) to start introducing math concepts slowly, and to take a break from them for a period of time.

    I don’t think you’re as prone to the indulgence of laziness as some people who home school may be (evidently Wilson may have encountered mostly those who are). Not that it wouldn’t be easier for you, but it seems you work hard not to be taken in by a child’s lack of “a natural love of learning”.

    For example, last month you posted that E.’s was resisting doing his copywork. A teacher giving into the child’s laziness would ignore the fact that the child still needed to improve his skill in this area, and would allow him to spend each day reading or drawing instead because he would prefer doing those “more fun” activities. A parent who did this would be not only allowing the child to be lazy, but also be herself exhibiting the vice. On the other hand, if the parent were to force the child to do the work anyways (and I do think there are appropriate times for doing so), she could also be taking the easy path and (as you mentioned in the previous post) be encouraging the child to have a slave’s mentality. However, you came up with a creative solution…let him choose his own passages and still do his copy work.

    Wilson’s comments about aversion to work of reminded me of the Montessori method, but that’s something else I don’t know a whole lot about.

    I’d love to read your series on potential problems with homeschooling. Do write! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy February 10, 2009 at 11:04 pm


    I forgot to mention that if you do come back across that rebuttal of the homeschooling-is-the-only-way mindset you mentioned, I would really like to read it. I am very uncomfortable with ever saying that homeschooling is the only way. I am even more uncomfortable with judging someone for choosing private school. But I’d like to have my reasoning straightened out because right now it is all intuition causing me to say such things.


    I hate it when that happens! I hope you find it in your heart and energy stores to retype… πŸ™‚

  • Reply Rahime February 10, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    grrr…I just lost the overly-long comment I was about to post. Be back later.

  • Reply Mystie February 10, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Every family has its different temptations and predilections.

    I do hope that my children will tell me when they have problems, but I’m not going to remain silent and assume that if they aren’t talking or asking, nothing is wrong.

    And, also, slipping through the cracks doesn’t doom a child to a terrible life. My middle brother (#4 of 7) probably slipped through with the least attention, and is now at a public high school, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out the best of us all, though my mom doesn’t see it. πŸ™‚

    I know I’m going to err on the side of structure and accountability, but I also admire and respect Willa and Melissa Wiley. They have a lot of wisdom and insight. I don’t think there’s one right way, and there is no way that will have perfect results. Each family has to look at their situation and tendencies, their options and children, and do the best they can. God will bless your efforts, as He did bless my parents’ efforts.

    It’s the balance between recognizing the need for perseverance and trusting God with the outcome that I still haven’t found. Some people need to hear one side and some need to hear the other. Which side I need to hear depends on the day. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy February 10, 2009 at 5:04 pm


    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your honest response. Really. I actually have a fear of making the opposite mistake of your mother. My first child is very, very bright, and it is a lot of work to keep up with him, make sure he is staying challenged, but also make sure he is really learning because sometimes bright children miss a lot of details as they rush through it all. My fear is that my other children, especially my oldest daughter, will inadvertantly slip through the cracks. As hard as it is to hear your words, and as much as we all know that none of us can be perfect, it is good for me, I think, to hear that what we hold up as an ideal can be disappointing in practice.

    When you said: “I will never assume that my children will tell me if they have a problem. That’s something I need to be proactive about; children need supervision and teaching, even if they are responsible.” I was reminded of Proverbs 29:15, which says that “a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” I am a firm believer in giving children time to develop and explore, but this Proverb always reminds me how important guidance and instruction really are.

    You have given me a lot to think about today. Now, I think I’ll go teach my children. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mystie February 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Brandy, I’m sorry to make you cringe, though I know the feeling because I’ve done the same thing. I struggle between communicating how grateful I am that I was homeschooled while knowing full well my mom did not really educate us. She was not one ounce a teacher and she knows it. But they kept us from the public schools, they gave us a large family to operate in, they gave us unbusy lives and lots of books and the habit of reading, but my mom trusted me more than she should have. She had problems with the others, and since I was the responsible one, she gave me my textbooks and just asked if I had done school. She never corrected my math. She just said to come to her or dad if I had problems. Yeah right. I hated math, I wasn’t going to volunteer for teaching-time with someone who would only get frustrated because I didn’t get it and she didn’t know how to make me get it. I still passed the test and got in at the community college, and I did great. At home, the benefit was missing out on public school and the atmosphere of books. At college from ages 16-20, I began gaining and retaining knowledge. It worked for me, and I never reproach my mother. I let her know how much I got away with, which she suspected but didn’t want to confront at the time. Both my mom and dad did better than their parents (both their moms worked and my mom stayed home even when my dad was between jobs and had no income) and they made it explicit that they expect their children to do better than they did.

    So I am nothing but grateful for my parents, but I am still acutely aware of how I must improve. I know how easily life creeps in at home and becomes a distraction and justification for not caring about school. I will never assume that my children will tell me if they have a problem. That’s something I need to be proactive about; children need supervision and teaching, even if they are responsible.

    And more of my homeschooled peers than not had very little supervision or real teaching, and ended up floundering in high school or college.

    I know I’ve seen an argument not so much against homeschooling and pro-day-school as it is a refutation of the homeschooling-is-the-only-biblical-way argument. I’ll see if I can find it.

    I also taught writing to a lot of homeschool students, and met many moms who did not recognize and who did not want to recognize their sons’ bad work ethic, and who did his work for him instead. This doesn’t turn me off from homeschooling, this warns me of mollycoddling and valuing how I feel about my children above really doing the best for them (which often means making things difficult for them and me).

    I wrote this in 2006 about schooling in general:

    Both day-schools and homeschools have challenges and problems. The response needs to not be defensiveness (which has not been your response) but a recognition so that you can watch for them. Usually I encounter homeschoolers who will not hear of potential difficulties; moms (in general) tend to take things personally too quickly (and won’t speak or think in generalities). That’s one of the pitfalls of homeschooling. And one you are not prone to. πŸ™‚

    Sorry for the long comment. Because I want to honor my parents for what they have done, I have to tread lightly in this area at my blog and in my real life. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Willa February 10, 2009 at 4:52 am

    Natural curiosity, which I do not believe to be manifestation of an actual desire to learn, causes children to gravitate toward their own interests while ignoring other subjects or activities which would be good for them

    I liked the way you put that — I do think there’s a lot of truth in it, with the caveat that you mentioned — that aversion isn’t always due to sin.

  • Reply Brandy February 10, 2009 at 4:44 am


    Looks like we were writing at about the same time!

    Something about what you wrote just now made me cringe. I think my greatest fear is that my children will feel that we shortchanged them somehow. I’m not saying that that is what you actually feel, but simply what your words brought to mind.

    Whenever I meet homeschool graduates, I typically ask them what they loved about being homeschooled, and also what they would change. Consider these open-ended questions if you are willing to answer them. πŸ™‚ You will be educating a mommy who is first-generation…

  • Reply Brandy February 10, 2009 at 3:54 am


    Thanks for the article. I felt a bit enlightened after reading it. I had an “aha” moment. You see, as a public-schooled teenager, I was majorly turned off by homeschoolers. According to Wilson’s article, I had met “homers” and not “homeschoolers.” πŸ™‚

    Just to clarify, I never meant to imply that private schooling is wrong. As far as the consciences of my husband and I go, we are more comfortable with homeschooling. The reason I was a bit disappointed in that portion of the book is because I was hoping for a big, Scriptural argument for institutional schooling. I suppose my expectations were set in this way because the first book on Classical Ed I ever read was Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns. In it is made not only a Biblical argument for using the classical method, but also for schooling at home.

    However, comma.

    I am well aware that the Puritans, whom I highly respect, built schools shortly after they settled in the Americas. They were a people who weighed every action against Scripture. So my question is more along the lines of what-did-they-know-that-I-don’t?

    I agree that there are downfalls to homeschooling. I know that you were homeschooled, so I take it seriously when you say that something is a potential threat to a good education at home. I’ve actually been considering writing a short series of posts on what I have observed to be possible weaknesses of schooling at home in hopes that thinking those through will help me avoid those pitfalls, or at least approach them proactively.

    However, the fact that a certain type of schooling–home, institutional, whatever–has a downfall isn’t a reason to avoid it, anymore than possible perks of the types are reasons to do them. Maybe it is just my personality, but I prefer my reasons for doing something to be as transcendant as possible.

    Of course, all of this is a mental exercise for me. As far as I know, there isn’t a classical day school in our area. But even if there were, private schooling comes with a price tag that is simply out of our reach…


    You might not be doing any formal lessons, but the structure leisure time you have offered your children are accomplishing just what James Taylor suggested in that book I can’t stop quoting (Poetic Knowledge). Your son’s capable artwork is one evidence of this!

    Also, I can completely relate to your struggles in your own education. Public schools, at least during the time I attended them, worked for the average student. If you were above or below, they didn’t really work for you. I was bored until my parents moved me to a special public school that worked with advanced students. That school was the best thing that ever happened to me, I think. However, the way Wilson describes his classical school sounds like it wouldn’t exactly have this problem. I think this is because the Trivium works with the children in the ages and stages they are in.

    With that said, I think my second child would struggle in a school like that. I see how each of my children need their mommy, but with her I see an extra need. I can see when her brain is about to shut down. She overloads so easily. It is that gentle balance that she needs that would make want to keep her with me longer than the others.

  • Reply Mystie February 10, 2009 at 3:34 am

    The context of the book, though, is a classical Christian school, not a public school.

    And my experience is as a homeschooled (all the way through) student who was left to myself with the textbooks and a checklist. πŸ™‚ It happens — a lot. Most of my friends (oldest girls) were homeschooled the same way because the younger siblings and the constant laundry were more urgent.

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 10, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down was the first book my husband and I read that really challenged us to consider homeschooling and I still believe it’s one of the best brief critiques of the public school system.

    I’m not sure I agree with Mystie’s comment that not pushing a child is more likely to happen in a homeschool. If my child is in a room with me and his (currently) two siblings, I think I’m much more likely to challenge his work than if he’s in a classroom setting with 29 peers. Especially if a child is doing the minimum in a classroom setting, I think the teacher is likely to move on to those that are obviously struggling or are misbehaving. As a personal anecdote (though I know that’s not a proper argument), I simply stopped paying attention in 5th grade math. I managed to skate by on what I remembered from 4th grade math for about three-quarters of the year before I finally got in trouble for talking too much. That year was a wasted one for me. I learned nothing. (My mother convinced them to let me skip 6th grade math which would have been even more of the same.)

    I’d like to think my son wouldn’t make it so long without me realizing he wasn’t learning anything new.

    Now, I can’t speak from experience as a homeschooling mom since all we’ve done is some reading lessons. So far. Perhaps you should check back with me in a few years!

  • Reply Mystie February 9, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    A good follow-up if you want more on Wilson’s thoughts on homeschooling is in an old Credenda article:

  • Reply Mystie February 9, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I enjoyed your responses to this book. I’ve read it a couple times, and I think one thing that must be kept in mind is that Wilson wrote this book in 1991. Homeschooling was not the major movement it is now. He has said that when their oldest was 5, they had never heard of homeschooling, and did start a private school because that was the only option they knew. And since starting it, they’ve not been convinced by any arguments that private schooling is wrong and they don’t believe homeschooling is wrong, nor that it is always inferior.

    Though you acknowledge that not pushing a child who needs to be pushed would be your problem, and you’re right, I think it is good to recognize that it is more likely to happen in a homeschool than a classical day school. A mom with several kids and a home to run is going to be spread thinner and not take as seriously the academic rigor as someone who is being paid to do so and who is given the space and time and charge to do solely that. Now, there are benefits to that as well as challenges, but I think it’s silly to try to deny that homeschooling, in general, is going to be more likely to cave to laziness. Mom’s and child’s. And it might not even be laziness on mom’s part, but a struggle with keeping priorities straight, and perhaps academics at some point rank lower legitimately. But a day school system is not going to have that sort of issue. So it is a struggle a homeschool is more prone to.

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