Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Well-Trained Mind vs. A Thomas Jefferson Education

I have had a few friends ask me in the past couple of years, "What do you think of The Well-Trained Mind"? And I didn't know, and so I finally got it at the library. And now I can say: "Not much." Any book that uses the word "should" that many times (probably in the thousands) has no place in my life! Seriously - are they kidding? It is worth skimming every few years, as a reference, though, IMO, though anyone who is prone to getting neurotic over "shoulds" (this would include almost every parent I know) might do well to avoid it altogether.

Anyway, I have a few choice quotes to discuss. But first! I have to say, having also just re-read A Thomas Jefferson Education (which I lamely reviewed here), that TJEd is a *much, much* better book. It is an inspirational book, instead of a shaming and anxiety-producing book. TJEd gives me a framework, or in my case, more of a backdrop for unschooling. The Well-Trained Mind requires you to force a lot of things on yourself and your kid and I can't see how anyone could actually follow the program outlined in the book without being totally anal and joyless.

So. . . The Well-Trained Mind is overdue at the library so here is what I am going to quickly comment on this quote from the book:

"The pattern widens and deepens as the student matures and learns. For example, a first grader listens to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture-book versions available at any public library. . . Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptions - Olivia Coolidge's The Trojan War, or Roger L. Green's The Tale of Troy. Four more years go by, and the ninth grader - faced with Homer's Iliad itself - plunges right in, undaunted. She already knows the story. What's to be scared of?"

I have included the above quote to contrast it with TJEd, which suggests that you always use the original, or classic version of every text to begin with. I like the TJEd idea, for sure. It makes intuitive sense. And also, I love the idea of reading a book to my kids first, and then as a special treat we get the video afterwards. But I am also intrigued by using the method above in certain cases - maybe like cases where *I* am scared to read something. . . like the Iliad. Which I know absolutely nothing about. So I got a kids' version at the library and we're going to read it and experiment with that approach. I think I will only be interested in using this step-by-step approach when it comes to very dense classics, because as a general rule I cannot stand "adaptations" for kids - usually I find them insulting to everyone's intelligence, and much less interesting, too.

Okay, and here's another quote I made a note of from A Well-Trained Mind:

"Every citizen in a democracy takes on responsibilities that were once reserved for the well-educated arisocratic segment of society. And every citizen, college-bound or not, should receive the type of education that will develop the life of the mind."

Ugh - there it is again - the word "should." It's an interesting point, though. But if I'm going to really believe in that, I am going to be a miserable person because that is most certainly NOT happening in America!

And here's another quote I marked:

"the study of art and music is a good late-afternoon or early-evening project."

See now I like it when people point out practical things like that. Late afternoon and early evening is such a bizarre time of day in U.S. society - there is always something off-kilter about it. Maybe if we start up the grill and get out the instruments, everything would fall into place. Seriously!

But here was something that annoyed me:

"Always begin with drawing, progress to painting, and finish up with modeling."

It annoys me because there is no evidence given as to why this should be so. Personally, I think modelling is a whole different ballgame altogether. It's in three dimensions. Why should anyone have to learn to draw something first before they pick up a piece of clay? Well, maybe I'm just bitter because I'm better at modelling than I am at drawing. If *only* I'd had someone force me to go through the steps of drawing, maybe I'd be better at it. Or. . . more likely. . . maybe I'd hate to draw?

In any case, A Thomas Jefferson Education is, in my humble opinion, a very superior book to A Well-Trained Mind. Because when I read it I got excited, and started reading classics right away - and because the author puts the responsibility of a good education on the parents educating themselves, and not forcing anything on their children. Which is the coolest thing ever.