Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Welcome to the Classical Grind

May 14, 2018 by Brandy Vencel

On a bright July morning in 2008, I was 8.5-months pregnant and very nauseous (always nauseous). We had also just moved, proving that difficult situations can always be made worse. But no matter. Our new house was perfect for us and today was designated the First Day of School. I was determined, because I needed a month off post-partum. I gave the girls (aged 17 months and 3 years) something to distract them, and pulled out my then-shiny copy of Aesop’s Fables illustrated by Milo Winter.

It was time to teach someone how to narrate.

I’ll be honest: my firstborn is a naturally bookish child, just like his mother. I have often said he was God’s grace to me. He was just-turned-six and had been reading for three years. He was the easiest first student a homeschooling mother could ever have.

On that July morning, I had no clue what the next two years were going to be like. I didn’t know that I would almost lose the baby I was carrying during my c-section (he was tangled up in his cord very badly), or that I would lose half of my blood supply following that surgery. I didn’t know that I’d still be missing that blood six months later, and be very tired as a result. I didn’t know that before this baby was even a year old, I’d be standing over my husband’s ICU hospital bed, reading Psalms and David Hicks (yes, seriously) aloud to his comatose body because I didn’t know what else to do for him. I didn’t know I’d spend my second year of “real” homeschooling having to drive my husband when his friends couldn’t because his health problems caused the DMV to suspend his license for twelve months.

There was so much I didn’t know, especially that I needed an easy student oh so badly. But God, in His grace, like He often does, had provided for me in advance.

classical charlotte mason high school

That easy student is going to be 16-years-old next week. He is still easy (unless you count driver’s training, or you think intensity is hard). He’s just about to finish his tenth year of AmblesideOnline, which has turned out to be even more wonderful than I’d hoped it’d be when Cindy Rollins introduced me to it a dozen years ago (it had only 6 years then and I thought I’d have to figure out the upper grades myself when we got there).

When the junior high and high school years appeared, I assumed we’d use AO all the way through; we’d do all twelve years.

But that’s not how it’s working out.

Before I explain what next year is going to look like for my oldest, let me share a lesser-known Charlotte Mason quote with you:

There is certain knowledge, no doubt, which it is shameful not to possess, and, wanting which, the mind is as limp, feeble, and incapable as an ill-nourished body. There is also a time for sowing the seed of this knowledge, an intellectual as well as a natural springtime; and it would be interesting to examine the question, how far it is possible to prosecute any branch of knowledge, the sowing and germination of which has not taken place in early youth. It follows that the first three lustres [a lustre is French for “five years;” three lustres is 15 years] belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end. It is in this second stage that the value of the classical and mathematical grind comes in. It produces a certain sanity of judgment, and therefore a certain capacity for affairs, an ability for the examination of questions, which are rather the distinguishing marks of the public schoolman, — not merely the university man, that is another matter, but the man who has ground through that Greek play which both Pen and the young Goethe contrived to get out of.

Vol. 5, p. 381

I love this quote, because it encouraged me to focus on poetic knowledge even in junior high and early high school, when there is so much pressure to specialize and analyze. We’ve gone a whole year past the end of the “first three lustres” — he turned 15 at the end of his freshman year, after all.

I still view myself primarily as a sower of seeds.

A little over a month ago, we became aware of a special opportunity. Eric Hall (who was featured in this episode of Scholé Sisters) announced that he was setting up a 2-year high school great books program for homeschoolers that will meet at our church’s office once per week. The total program will cover literature, history, Bible, and philosophy — there will be assigned readings throughout the week. Did our family want to join?

I was more concerned with what our son wanted. He’s a good kid, I thought.

His feelings surprised me. Naturally, he was interested in the curriculum. But being a scholar at heart doesn’t make him different from any other young man his age: he has a deep desire to be more with his peers — to read books with them (not me).

It looks like we’re unexpectedly beginning a weaning stage this year. Our tutor collection has officially added up — Mr. Hall and Mr. Thomas (Latin and Koine Greek) and Chad (more Koine Greek) and Rahime (math) are providing so many subjects that there isn’t much left for me to direct. I’m basically left with chemistry (boo), Ourselves, and a couple other things.

Oh. And all those other kids I have that will be glad for and, I think, need more attention.

Mr. Hall could never be a grind. He wears what David Hicks called the classical schoolmaster’s “wry smile.” But he will ask my son to work hard, to maintain his focus, to get through the Greek play or whatever else Goethe tried to get out of.

I always knew that Charlotte Mason was the ideal preparation for classical scholarship in the late teens and beyond. What I didn’t know was that I was going to blink one day in 2008 and suddenly it’d be 2018 and … it would be time.

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17 Comments

  • Reply Thoughtworthy (Happy Anniversary, New Book Club, and MORE!) | Afterthoughts May 27, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    […] my heart, this was hard to write and harder to decide. Letting my expectations for high school go was an initially painful but altogether wonderful […]

  • Reply Homeschooling High School: Looking Back on 11th Grade Writing Instruction | Afterthoughts May 6, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    […] needed to learn to write an essay. Not only did he need to prepare for the SATs, but also his Great Books tutorial assigned some longer essay-type papers. He sort of looked at me askance when he found this out. Why […]

  • Reply Rahime May 3, 2019 at 10:54 am

    What a great opportunity for E!!! I look forward to hearing how it goes. 🙂

  • Reply Angela May 16, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    “…his joy is to go on.” I read this again after talking with you, and it really is more powerful the more I consider it. We don’t want our children “‘cabined, cribbed, confined’ in our ways” as Charlotte observes just before this point. I appreciate your perspective here so very much because I’ve had in mind two things: 1) my husband says that the boys are mine until they turn 12…then they are his to hunt with, take risks with, talk the talk with…mama-weaning, I guess; and 2) Cindy R’s experience with homeschooling boys, recognizing her limitations, and her recommendations based on what she learned in the process. I’m holding this homeschooling gig with a loose hand, because when I started I reminded myself that we’d take it a year at a time. It’s been easy since then to see it as full-scale educational commitment to the end, but prudence tells me not to be so sure of myself or my kids. Thank you for sharing your update and future plans—your honesty and willingness to read the Lord’s signs (against your own inclinations) is encouraging and inspiring.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 16, 2018 at 5:27 pm

      I got a little teary eyed later, thinking about all the implications of that little phrase! Now that I’m 40, I’m sentimental. 😉

      I was thinking about how this is powerful work of the Lord in the life of his sister as well. HER joy … is to be with HIM. When she was 4 months old, she learned to crawl. I freaked, thinking that she would be everywhere and in everything, but it turned out that all she wanted to do was be near him. She could crawl a REALLY long distance (through multiple rooms), but once she was with him, she stopped. And when he leaves home or gets married, we will have to bind up her little broken heart. A weaning process sometimes isn’t just for Mom. ♥

  • Reply Amber May 14, 2018 at 10:33 am

    What an amazing opportunity!

    I feel like I’m almost in an opposite situation – I’m looking into different outside opportunities for my 16 yo daughter (all online, because there is nothing worthwhile around here) and really she’d rather work with me. But with six kiddos, including an 8 month old, I really am not sure feel like I have the time or the brain power to do a good job. I’m sure that it doesn’t help that the various outside online things that we’ve done over the last few years have been just ok.

    I’m reading through Vol. 5 with an online discussion group and I’m so glad I am doing so. It is a rich volume, if occasionally somewhat difficult to know what to do with. Reading it and discussing it has really been valuable though, especially as a mother with an older student.

  • Reply Amanda May 14, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Oh wow! How exciting, Brandy! I really appreciate this post. While we are not at that stage yet, you always remind me to look at my children’s needs and provide for them exactly what they need—not what everyone else tells me, but what I know they need. You are a gift, lady! ?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 14, 2018 at 9:46 am

      It’s funny how there is always someone there to prepare us. I remember the Scholé Sisters episode we did with Cindy on raising boys. We already had some tutors at the time, and that was the ONLY thing on my mind. I think she really prepared me to be ready to say yes to this, instead of sticking to (and therefore idolizing) my own plans. I’ve been thinking a lot about that verse — “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord directs his steps.” Isn’t that the truth! He is so good to us. ♥

      • Reply Kristine May 14, 2018 at 12:07 pm

        Could you please point me to that episode? Or summarize in a nutshell (having male teachers/tutors for teen boys?). Thanks!

        Oh, and you might find you love chemistry. 🙂 It’s my favorite subject to teach.

  • Reply Michele May 14, 2018 at 8:32 am

    What an amazing opportunity! I’m
    So jealous 🙂

    • Reply Corrie Johnson May 14, 2018 at 9:09 am

      I was kinda thinking the same thing!
      🙂 Happy for you and your son, Brandy!

  • Reply Amy Wheeler May 14, 2018 at 8:26 am

    The beautiful thing about homeschooling, the truly freeing part of it all, is the privilege we have to look at our children as the “born persons” that they are and give each what he or she needs. How gracious God is to allow you to see this for your oldest. Rather than “forcing” your son to continue to stay on a path you first set out for him, you are freeing him. You are allowing the Holy Spirit to lead. You are trusting God and not a curriculum or philosophy. This is a lesson I have had to learn this year (I am still learning). Next year I will have one child going off to college and a second finishing high school at a nearby Christian school. I am sad and joyful all at once. Our lives will look so differently next school year – I will be homeschooling one instead of three for the first time – but I am trusting the Lord with my children and trying to see where He is leading. I applaud you for doing the same. It can be so hard when you see yourself (and by extension your children) as one thing – the family who homeschools, the woman who blogs about using Ambleside) – and then allow for things to shift and still be okay in your own skin.

  • Reply Sara Plew May 14, 2018 at 7:59 am

    I’m so encouraged that you have made this choice. We made a similar shift last fall and enrolled our oldest son (also an AO student since 2009!) in a Classical Great Books HS program through Biola University. He just loves it and is thriving! He has continues most subjects at home but this additional challenge and opportunity for growth has been a blessing. I love that you called it a weaning process because that’s exactly what it feels like…..best wishes to you all.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 14, 2018 at 8:30 am

      You’re doing the Biola program?? That excites me very much — did you know I’m a Biola and Talbot alum? ♥ I love that he’s learning and growing there!

    • Reply Corrie Johnson May 14, 2018 at 9:10 am

      Is this an online program or does he go to the campus? Do you have a link I could check out? Thanks!

  • Reply Jen @ Bookish Family May 14, 2018 at 7:26 am

    My intense, early-reading, easy first born child just turned eight! Thank you for sharing your perspectives on this journey. It is so helpful to me to hold the future loosely in mind, especially when everyone wants to know already how we are going to homeschool through high school 🙂

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