Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brief Educational Prospectus for Wee Scott Maximos

Now we have an actual kid, not a potential one. But since he doesn't even know how to put his hand in his mouth, piano lessons and Homer seem just as distant as they did before he was born. Still, this is what I think I'd like to teach him.

The Big Three
If he leaves my tutelage familiar with Shakespeare, Homer, and the Bible, I will give thanks to God and sit back and have a drink. It seems to me that those three bodies of work are the foundation of Western humanity, and provide a reference point for most of the thinking that people have done since then, but also that if you grew up on a deserted island with only those books (+ Euclid and some other people to talk to and love, and someone to administer the sacraments to you on occasion?) you could lead a completely full and happy human life. In fact, your life would probably be fuller, happier, and more human than the lives of most people who were not on that island. (Speaking of islands and imaginary restrictions on book availability, Jean-Jacques wants Robinson Crusoe to be Emile's first book. It's a charming idea; so charming that it just might work...)

The question is how to promote a love of these works in a child, since we swear that we are not going to be his teachers in his adolescence. First of all, I think that children are capable of understanding more than we commonly allow. Matt led some pretty normal nine through eleven year old kids in a truncated (but not abridged) production of Julius Caesar, and I think they nailed it. They didn't understand it all of course, but they got a lot of it, and they've stored those lines away for later when they will need them. So with that in mind, I would read excerpts from those books with Scott, and have him memorize bits, and talk about them. We could always have something brewing from those three books, and let him read according to his taste in the rest of his time. One always hopes the child's taste will be good, but if not, he's getting some good stuff with his parents.

I worked with very low-ability (?) second graders on math homework last year, and I am just baffled as to why they don't know any math facts. That's their one job. That's all they have to learn in math, pretty much. Bubby is going to hammer those math facts. I also think you have to do some imaginative stuff with math but hammering the math facts is important if you're going to have any fun with the imaginative stuff. Euclid is the other desert-island-biggie; once again, I think you can introduce this at a younger age than most people imagine. I don't see any reason why we couldn't start dipping the child's toes into the Elements around age ten, and slowly work through at least books I-V by the time he is thirteen. That's when I'm probably going to sit back and have that drink, so I hope he knows some Euclid by then

It'd be great if we had a French nanny or one of us were fluent in a modern language, but we're both dabbling dunces and we can't speak any language but English. Phooey. I sometimes think we could learn a language together as a family-- Matt is going to take German to fulfill a requirement in his program. Maybe Scott and I can Duolingo along. All we know for sure is that we'd like to teach him Latin from about ages 7-12. Once again we are into exposing him to the real thing here. Luckily we both know Latin well enough to be able to teach him from original works without having him depend on a textbook too much. (We like to have a textbook on hand under the table, but to have the student go pretty much bookless.)

We both love Greek, and Matt is definitely good enough to teach classical Greek, but I don't know if it makes sense to try to cram in both classical languages before high school. We want to teach Scott a few really important things really well, and let him have lots of free time. Still, I'd like for him to know at least how to read and pronounce Greek. It's nice to be able to read the inscriptions on icons, and to sing along in Greek churches. If we go to a Greek church with a Greek school, I'd totally sign him up for that. I'm also down to learn and teach him lots of hymns in Greek.

We're not going to cram it down his throat. We will keep the feasts and the fasts as prettily as we can, read Scripture and sing hymns and pray, but I'm not going to do much in the way of Religious Instruction. I think he'll get what he needs from church and from living in a Christian home. Mommy paints icons and Daddy reads theology so that will make some kind of impression. I like what St. John Chrysostom says-- children should be taught to always have three things on their lips: Thank God, God willing, and Glory to God. I'm working on that myself, so that perhaps Young Bubs will pick it up as well.

Other stuff
Piano lessons. Singing at church. Being a Nature Boy- learning the names of plants, animals, and stars. Taking a class in martial arts or ballet or whatever his thing is. Doing good works and helping people. This stuff does not worry me. What worries me is that he's going to absorb more lessons from watching me fumble around in the world than from any sermons I might give him.


  1. too bad there's not a "like" button.
    All this sounds great! It's pretty much my own plan, except you say it better than I would. :)

    1. I'd love to hear more about your plans, and whatever you have cooked up for your potential school...?

    2. Well, no school happening now except that which is in my own home. But that's still fun and exciting. Lots and lots of plans, but I'm learning that slow and steady is what counts and I'm trying not to push ahead before it's time. I'm hoping to start Latin with my eldest next year and I am SO excited. I can't wait! In the meantime I'm getting started with Greek for myself...

      You're right about kids being capable of so much more than we typically expect. Even Charlotte Mason's list of attainments for a child of six (, which is impressive, is still much less than what my own kids could do at six and they are not what would be considered truly gifted. They're just normal kids. But with the right atmosphere and education as a way of life, the possibilities are amazing!

  2. I'm impressed by your educational philosophy - and that you already have it figured out! Good for you!

    1. It all sounds so nice in theory, doesn't it? We'll see how it plays out! Our experiences at the school have given us some confidence in these ideas but you never know how things are going to go with your own kid... so people tell me.

      Are you going to start doing "school" with Mia this fall? I was so impressed at how many states and cities she knew on the place-mat map. :)

  3. As a mathematician, I don't really get the preference for Euclid's Elements over modern pedagogy, but it won't be the worst idea. The important thing to get is the idea of mathematics as imaginative exploration of formal structures (followed by, of course, having fun poking around at them), and Euclid certainly does allow for that if done right.

    1. I haven't had any good experiences with modern math textbooks so I cling to Euclid. I think the sequence makes sense, it's marvelous training in logic (not only in its rigor but as you say, practicing the imaginative exploration of formal structures and messing around with them,) the constant use of ratios and proportions is a good preparation for algebra, and it's simply beautiful. I think there's some dignity to studying a coherent, whole, serious treatise that is not lost on kids as well (maybe I was just a haughty child but I did not enjoy being talked down to by the textbooks,) especially when they see how much love their teachers have for the text. But I'm aware that I'm very attached to Euclid because it was my first experience of math being awesome, and there are other awesome ways to do math. How would you teach math to your own little hypothetical, weirdly named kid?

  4. Beyond the mindless technical skills, the ideal would be personalized guidance on interesting little problems to investigate. For geometry, I probably wouldn't go directly with Euclid unless they seemed very interested in it, otherwise a more modern presentation of formal geometric proofs would be used, with perhaps some personal asides into finite and projective geometry and occasional computation. The details of the subject matter is rarely directly used and certainly not in the detail Euclid requires, so the primary worth of the material beyond the basics is that there are a lot of things to investigate if you're interested. But learning geometry from Euclid is definitely a better idea than learning, say, calculus or physics from Newton.