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.


  1. This is a great, substantive review.

    Another problem with the Iliad example, is that it presumes an inability to grasp the actual text before ninth grade, or at least significantly before ninth grade. But "inability to grasp" usually stems from non-interest. If a person is genuinely interested in something, there aren't any limits on what he/she can learn about it. Age is not the limiting factor; interest is. If a person is not interested, then "phases" or "graduated" approaches will have the same result: misery. And what's the point of that?

  2. You should check out John Holt. He coined the tern unschooling. He also had a magazine Growing Without Schooling that is free online

    Also check out this article http://www.hillsdale.edu/file/outreach/charteschools/The-Limits-of-the-Trivium.pdf

    1. Here is an updated link: http://www.hillsdale.edu/file/outreach/charterschools/The-Limits-of-the-Trivium.pdf&sa=U&ei=lA52VM3FHoHioAT__4DoDA&ved=0CAUQFjAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNEinohNCL_SIC-sOjiUAfqyM0c-mA

  3. Updated link: https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.hillsdale.edu/file/outreach/charterschools/The-Limits-of-the-Trivium.pdf&sa=U&ei=lA52VM3FHoHioAT__4DoDA&ved=0CAUQFjAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNEinohNCL_SIC-sOjiUAfqyM0c-mA