I recently conducted a webinar for administrators of classical schools, in which the guidelines for the classical classroom were addressed. Having been involved in home education for a number of years educating our own six children prior to entering the classical school arena, first as a teacher and then as an administrator, I find myself now observing both home education and traditional classroom education through a classical lens.
While a school situation requires an objective review in order to ascertain certain prerequisites we desire for our classrooms, the homeschool is a different paradigm, offering no objective evaluation regarding teaching other than the eventual result observed in the students’ knowledge and understanding of their studies. Homeschool parents rejoice in the choice and freedom of educating their children at home. Often we refer to the Scriptures in Deuteronomy, which speak of placing God’s directives in our children’s hearts by training them in His Word as we conduct ourselves in our daily lives. This is all well and good and something to be admired.
However, as is often stated, with freedom comes responsibility. While we enjoy the privilege of educating our children in our homes, we must also realize that for those of us who love classical education, we are to embrace all of it. Might it be that the directives used in a school situation, at least in part, may benefit a homeschool? And might it also be said that the very detriments we see in public education may be present in a homeschool situation? Human failings are not relegated to the public arena. Homeschoolers, beware. In your quest for truth, beauty, and goodness, there are some definite standards to observe that will go a long way toward helping your child grow in wisdom and virtue.
The present educational system, the one in which most of us have been educated, promotes a “child-centered” education. This is in direct contrast to a classical education in which it is understood that children learn best in an orderly environment directed by a teacher. As classical educators, we understand that God is a God of order. From the beginning, it has always been. The world was created perfectly and with order. The stars are set in the sky in a definite order. The seasons progress in a prescribed order. The family was established with order, each member given specific responsibilities. Classical education implements God’s design of order, and in so doing develops in the learner a well-trained mind. This applies not only to the schoolroom in a traditional sense, but also to the homeschool endeavor. Parents must be the directors of the homeschooled student, and in doing so they must understand that theirs is a grave responsibility, not to be taken lightly. The idea of letting children choose what they will study and when has no place in the the parent-directed classroom, and just as we address this issue in the environment of a traditional classroom, so should we do the same in the homeschool learning environment.
While in a classroom we may address desk arrangement; in the home, we understand that it is imperative that a student be seated in a well-lit, uncluttered space set aside for learning. What is the environment of your homeschool classroom? Have you created a place of order that is clean and neat, beautiful, and inviting to your learner? Is it simple and uncluttered, with perhaps some lovely works of art displayed?
How about scheduling? Do your children know what studies they will be participating in daily, or does each day simply happen as life presents it? We are training great minds to do great things and think great thoughts. This requires preparation and organization. Chaos is the enemy of an ordered mind.
Quintilian, the great Roman teacher of rhetoric, states in his directives to teachers: “Let [the teacher] be strict, but not austere, genial but not too familiar; for austerity will make him unpopular and familiarity breeds contempt. Let his discourse continually turn on what is good and honorable; the more he admonishes, the less he will have to punish. He must control his temper without however shutting his eyes to faults requiring correction.”
Oh, how the homeschool classroom would be affected if we would but heed these few admonitions! It is easy for parents, in becoming too familiar with their children, to relax the disciplines of learning and so prevent the child from achieving all that God would desire for him. How wonderful it is to observe parents leading and directing their children, avoiding the trap of becoming haphazard, lacking in discipline, or becoming a little too relaxed, which leads to unfinished assignments and a disregard for excellence and disrespect for order.
Behavioral routines are not just for those who attend to learning outside of the home. The homeschool parent bears a solemn responsibility, albeit gladly accepted, when he commits to “training a child in the way he should go.” And again, looking to the wisdom of Quintilian on the subject of moral education: “It is held that schools corrupt the morals. It is true that this is sometimes the case. But morals may be corrupted at home as well” (The Institutes Book II, The Great Tradition). Where there is a lack of order it can corrupt our respect for others, for society, and most importantly, for God. Educating our children in the home gives no divine guarantee that our children will be free of moral corruption. It is imperative that not only our studies are chosen with care, but also our daily behavior.
Virgil also speaks to this when he writes, “So long is custom formed in early years.” These are the “early years” in which habits are formed and orderly thinking is developed. We do our children no favor when we shy away from teaching them to get up, wash up, eat up, and sit up … and to do their schoolwork.
When we embrace God’s view of order and direction, when excellence in all things is stressed, classical education in the home becomes a feast of sublime delight. Our children thrive as they are free to experience truly liberal learning overflowing with all that is true and good and beautiful. In introducing order in our children’s lives, we make it possible for them to truly appreciate “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report.” And they will “think on these things.”