Saturday, November 07, 2009

Classical Lutheran Unschooling

Is "classical Lutheran unschooling" an oxymoron?
Or not?

According to most proponents of classical education,
academic subjects should be integrated into a whole body of knowledge instead of separate topics,
wisdom and virtue are to be cultivated in the student,
critical thinking is necessary,
learning is done in certain steps -- grammar, logic, rhetoric,
history provides education's framework,
and there are certain things everyone should know (even though not everyone agrees upon what those things are).

Amazingly enough, most of the Lutheran unschoolers I know teach this way. Some of us have been teaching this way since before "classical" became popular in the last 10-15 years. And yet, most classical educators say that unschooling and classical education are antithetical. Unschooling is usually imagined to be the epitome of what classical education is trying to avoid.

I've been thinking about this. For years.

What do unschooled kids want to learn? There are a gazillion specific answers. But I've been thinking about what guides their interests, what guides their desires. To some extent, unschooling works because of the mentors. Someone (whether in real life, or in a book or other media) provides guidance and information and helps keep the love of learning alive.

Few of the kids in my house have been interested in motors and mechanics; that's partly because my husband and I have little interest or skill; neither did we have the resources to obtain a mentor when a child showed a little interest in the subject. Most of my kids are interested in reading and cooking and Shakespeare and theology and music and writing and frugality; those are subjects that they see as part of normal family life around here; it's what grown-ups DO. So they become interested too. Furthermore, one child's passion will spread so that the others, even if not particularly interested themselves, will learn something about the topic.

If the homeschooling parents are critical thinkers and place a high value on teaching their kids to think critically,
if the parents are interested in participating in the Great Conversation,
if the parents love history and teach the kids to organize their view of the world around the progression of world history,
if the parents present truth, beauty, and goodness to their children,
then the children are inclined to follow.

Then, when the children are allowed to do "whatever they want" in school, it's going to look "classical."

And sometimes I wonder if that's what classical Christian education is actually striving for.

For more on this topic, see
what Jane wrote last August.

Today's Laugh

In arithmetic class one day, the teacher says to one little fellow, "If you had a quarter, and you asked your father for another dollar and fifty cents, how much money would you have?"

"One quarter," the little boys says.

"You don"t know your arithmetic," says the teacher, shaking her head.

The little boy shakes his head too. "You don't know my father."

Friday, November 06, 2009


I enjoy reading friends' posts about what they did all day. So I thought I'd give it a whirl too.

Looked at email and blogs. Showered. Chapel. Always a day-brightener to chat with Kara afterwards, even if only a minute or two; would we buy tennies with flashing lights in the heels if they made them for grown-ups? Carol had second-day Panera's (third day?) so we took some bagels. Drank in the perfume of the recently-mowed lawn at church. Home. Kids showered. I went for exercise walk. Bagels alongside some schoolwork. New step in Greek translations with Andrew; he joked about "accoutrements" in the wake of mistaking "man" as a neuter noun. Washed all the bed linens and hung them on the line. Some dusting and cleaning because kids were working mostly on their own for a while. Paid bills. We played online geography game. Hummus and leftovers for lunch while watching episode of Muppet Show. Maggie to choir at church. While waiting, Andrew and I listened to US at War. Borrowed Mrs Hughes' map. Andrew ate more Panera's. Deposit at bank. Why is it cookie day there? Home again. Arranged dentist appointment for Paul during his Christmas break. Grammar and other short lessons with Mag. Grab the sheets off the line before sunset and dew-fall. Philip called to vent about a problem at work. Fetched the CSA box. Didn't feel up to cooking supper, so it was just mac-&-cheese, stir-fried egg-roll guts, and corn on the cob. Watched another episode of Muppets. Read more schoolwork, including Iliad. Running the dishwasher tonight instead of doing them by hand. Need to put the sheets back on the bed and climb in and snooze.

My Homeschooling Expectations

For high-school:
45 minutes daily -- math
60 minutes daily -- science
60 minutes daily -- writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, etc
90 minutes daily -- history, political science, economics
30 minutes daily -- music practice
60 minutes daily -- chores
60 minutes daily -- literature
60 minutes daily -- foreign language
30 minutes daily -- exercise
60 minutes daily -- prayers, theology, Bible
15 minutes daily -- current events

That's not what I think is actually a proper amount of time, but a bare minimum. And that list doesn't even touch on cooking, art, fieldtrips, life skills, employment, volunteering, time with friends, goof-off down-time, and sufficient sleep.

And that list is 9.5 hours! Good grief! No wonder I never feel like I'm doing enough with the kids. We're nowhere close to that "bare minimum" and never will be.

I do believe my gut should quit making goals that my head knows to be unreasonable.

Today's Laugh

Autumn is a season for big decisions — like whether or not it's too late to start spring cleaning.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

There IS Something Besides Classical

There is much good to say about some aspects of classical education. I question, however, the assertion that it is the only way to provide a truly Lutheran education. (Not many people are blunt enough to state this, though.)

When new homeschoolers join a Lutheran email list, they will usually introduce themselves and may say a bit about their homeschooling style or philosophy. I've noticed that the new classical-ed folks assume that the others onlist will be into classical ed too. I've noticed that the experts who speak or write on the topic of Lutheran classical education expect that Lutheran homeschoolers will be implementing a classical-education model. They seem surprised to discover that not everyone is attempting to be classical. When people meet me and learn that I've homeschooled all my kids, they assume that we've done all the classical ed things; people are surprised to find that we have not taught Latin, and that we don't teach formal grammar until high school.

Folks with other educational philosophies and models (unschoolers, unit-studiers, traditional textbook users, etc) do not expect to find that all other Lutheran homeschoolers share their viewpoint. Although not all classical-ed folks assume other homeschoolers will share their perspective, that assumption does seem to be confined to those who consider themselves classical. I wonder why that is?

Today's Laugh

Don't anybody tell the President what comes after a trillion.

(stolen from Stacie)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Loud. Can't sit still. Talks too much. Active, boisterous, and energetic. Curious and getting into things, even breaking things sometimes. Too many questions.

It may be annoying when a kid is all those things. It may be an awful lot of work to harness that energy and keep the child safe and the contents of the house from ruin. But is this a bad child?

I've noticed several times in the last week that "naughtiness" is equated with something like a toddler's climbing, or a 10-yr-old's high decibel-level, or preschooler's precociousness and unrelenting chatter, or a baby's crying from colic. It seems to me that naughtiness has more to do with stubborn willfulness, deliberate disobedience, or taking delight in hurting others. I'm wondering why so many people will think of naughtiness primarily as a child's actions that are inconvenient or unpleasant for the adults ... as opposed to naughtiness being attitudes and behaviors that are outright sin.

Today's Laugh

Lily Tomlin said:

I worry that the person who thought up Muzak may be thinking up something else.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


"Humility" and "being humble" are virtues that we are encouraged to cultivate. "Being humiliated" is something that everybody wants to avoid.

Funny how "humble" and "being humiliated" are two different forms of the exact same word.

(With the Beatitudes for Sunday's gospel, it got me to thinking about what Pr Eckardt wrote last year about Moses' being the most humble man on earth.)

Environmentally Friendly Lightbulbs

They're supposed to use less electricity. I suppose that's probably true.

They're supposed to be environmentally friendly. Except you have to dispose of them as hazardous waste because of the mercury that's toxic.

They're supposed to be frugal. They tell us the bulbs last 8-15 times as long as an incandescent. If they cost 10 times as much, but last 10 times as long, then the simple purchase of them is a wash financially, and the energy savings is where you can be frugal.

The problem is, they don't last 8-15 times as long. We installed several CFL bulbs this summer, and they're already burned out. They didn't last as long as an el-cheapo 20-cent incandescent bulb.

So it's costing me more. And now I have a toxic substance to dispose of. And I'm wondering where the up-side of this is.

Why do I suspect that the people who are lying about pushing these things must be the ones who own the patent ... or the factory that makes them?

Today's Laugh

One day at a busy airport, the passengers on a commercial airline are seated, waiting for the cockpit crew to show up so they can get underway. The pilot and the copilot finally appear in the rear of the plane and begin walking up to the cockpit through the center aisle. Both appear to be blind. The pilot is using a white cane, bumping into passengers left and right as he stumbles down the aisle, and the copilot is using a guide dog. Both have their eyes covered with huge sunglasses. At first the passengers do not react, thinking that it must be some sort of practical joke. However, after a few minutes, the engines start revving and the airplane starts moving down the runway.

The passengers look at each other with some uneasiness, whispering among themselves and looking at the stewardesses for reassurance. Then the plane starts accelerating rapidly and people begin panicking. Some passengers are praying, and as the plane gets closer to the end of the runway the voices are getting more and more hysterical. Finally, when the plane has less than 20 feet of runway left, there is a sudden change in the pitch of the shouts as everyone screams at once, and at the very last moment the airplane lifts off and is airborne.

Up in the cockpit, the copilot breathes a sigh of relief and turns to the pilot, "You know, one of these days the passengers aren’t going to scream, and we are going to get killed!"

Monday, November 02, 2009

Merry Christmas

On the way to church yesterday, I saw a Christmas tree in a neighbor's living room. On the way to town this afternoon, I saw a large nativity set erected on someone's lawn. Wow.

Holy Hill

Last Tuesday, on a rare day of sunshine!, the kids and I headed to Holy Hill. It has been nearly 30 years since I last visited the place, and I've been meaning to take "the kids" to visit since before Andrew and Maggie were born. (My apologies to the four kids who haven't yet made the pilgrimage there.)

St Michael:

An autumn view from the top of the tower:

Susan and Maggie on our way down the tower:

The main church. It's full of beautiful artistry. Sad, though, that the focus on the Virgin Mary overwhelms attention to Christ. As we were "reading" the stories in the stained glass, it was particularly sad that there were windows about the conception of the Theotokos and her crowning in heaven while there was nothing about Jesus' ministry; the stories skipped from Jesus' young childhood to Pentecost.

Today's Laugh

Bumper stickers:

Ax me about Ebonics.

Honk if you've never seen a Uzi fired from a car window.

Don't be sexist; broads hate that.

If you lived in your car, you'd be home by now.

You're a feminist? Isn't that cute?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Teasing or Threatening?

Several years ago, a nice kid in a neighboring town got into trouble. He was from a nice family. He'd never done anything wrong. He was a little slow and quite naive, reasonably honest and helpful and kind. Some trouble-makers began to include him in their group and take advantage of his naivety. One night the bad guys decided to rob someone, and ended up killing the victim in the process. The nice kid was along for the ride in the car, observed the robbery with fear, and ended up accused as an accomplice to murder.

That story made a huge impression on me. Innocence of wrong-doing isn't enough; even being duped into an association with trouble-makers can get a kid into trouble.

Some kids were playing cards the other day. When one child had to leave the group for a couple of hours, he told the others, "Don't touch my pile of chips or I'll have to hurt you when I get back." I don't think he intended it to be a threat; it was just something he says to try to get people to take seriously that he really really doesn't want anybody to mess with his stuff.

But Maggie was somewhat intimidated by it. I don't think (???) she actually thought that she was in physical danger. But she complied with his request. Knowing that the child would not be returning to the game, I had divided up his chips among the other players. The kids were uncomfortable with that: "but he'll get really mad." They accepted the fact that I was the adult, and that I had made the decision to divvy up the chips, and that it was always possible to re-include the kid later should he happen to return.

But in spite of what I'd said, Maggie took it upon herself to set aside "his" chips. She didn't want to arouse his ire. And this makes me wonder what would happen if she were in public school, or out in the workplace where people could take advantage of her. Can she distinguish between a real threat and "big talk" which uses the same verbiage as a threat? How do you teach a child to discern whether a threat is actually a threat or is just tough-talk "teasing"? How do you teach a child to be kind and helpful and accommodating, while still making sure they are never accommodating of evil? How do you teach them not to tattle, while still ensuring that they know to go to the authorities (parents or teachers or cops) for help when it's necessary? I think most kids grow into figuring out these things without specific lessons on it. But how do you teach these things to kids who need more explicit instruction in these matters?

Today's Laugh

Mark Twain said:

Suppose you were an idiot...
And suppose you were a member of Congress...
But I repeat myself.