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Well-Trained Mind, The: A Guide to Classical Education at Home Review by Heather Jackowitz and Anne WeilandRevised and Updated, 2004
By Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
W. W. NORTON & COMPANY, INC.
500 Fifth Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10110
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to a Classical Education at Home was written by Susan Wise Bauer, a homeschool graduate and college English professor, and her mother, Jessie Wise. This course of study is based on an ancient model of education called the trivium. Within this system, a child progresses through three stages: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. In the grammar stage, a child absorbs information and learns the building blocks of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In the logic stage, when a child is becoming naturally questioning and argumentative, information is analyzed. In the final stage of the trivium, the rhetoric stage, students learn to speak and write clearly and persuasively. The Well-Trained Mind divides these three levels among grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. Within each level, the authors present a course of study covering reading, language arts, math, history, geography, science, foreign language, logic, religion, rhetoric, computer, and the fine arts. Additional essays deal with such topics as socialization, record keeping, physical education, and college.
The 2004 revised edition suggests many changes in recommended texts, particularly in language and history, substituting Mrs. Bauer and Mrs. Wise’s own Peace Hill Press titles when available. In the grammar and logic stages, Mrs. Bauer has simplified the notebook system and offered much-appreciated clarification about grade level expectations. History and reading sections have been expanded in the rhetoric stage, with helpful new advice about discussing the Great Books and teaching American government. More information is presented within each section about starting in the middle and multilevel teaching. Gone are the infamous schedules from the first edition, replaced with general suggestions for drawing up your own family plan and Mrs. Bauer’s own sample routine. Mrs. Bauer has obviously received lots of feedback over the past five years and has put it to good use in this revision. Those who have spent a lot of time on The Well-Trained Mind discussion boards at www.welltrainedmind.com will catch glimpses of former discussions. Having read numerous, heated math debates on the online curriculum board, I got a kick out of Mrs. Bauer’s expanded caution on choosing a math program.
I find The Well-Trained Mind an incredible source of encouragement and achievable goals and consider it a staple in our homeschool. My husband and I had the privilege of hearing Mrs. Bauer speak and highly recommend attending a seminar if possible. She is a delightful speaker and we both came away with a better vision for our children’s education.
My only caution: Perfectionists, beware! This book presents an ideal; most families will have to pick and choose among the many wonderful suggestions. You may view samples and the table of contents at www.welltrainedmind.com.
--Product Review by: Heather Jackowitz, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine
Another review of the Revised and Updated version:
Last summer at the lake I noticed that there are several different ways to enjoy the water. My baby spent his time in two inches of water, filling his bucket, dumping it out and eating sand. My older children (do they still count as children when they are taller than me?) dive in right away, attacking the water from rope swings, boulders and boats. Traversing the lake time and again, they stay in the water all day long. I, however, prefer to float around on the water in an inflatable boat, submerging myself from time to time just enough to stay cool. So it is with Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, a Guide to Classical Education in the Home. Parents will find that they can use the book at several different levels. Keeping these levels in mind as you read should help minimize the complaint I’ve heard from some parents, which is that they are intimidated by the shear scope of the book and are too afraid to even “test the water.” This revised and updated edition will become a friend to any parent interested in classical education.
Some parents will use this book as an occasional reference, just dipping in like my baby on the beach. Parents in this category might include those who are already using a complete curriculum, but want some classical supplements, or those who are afterschooling (adding something to a child’s bricks and mortar school experience). The organization of the book makes it simple to find your child’s grade level and then quickly locate a subject area. Suppose you suspect that your fourth grader is not getting adequate English grammar instruction. A fourth grade is in the grammar stage of the classical model, so you turn to that section of the book and find a discussion on teaching English grammar. For a fourth grader, the recommended resource is the Rod and Staff grammar series. The book tells you that this series is “unabashedly Christian” and offers an alternative, Voyages in English from Loyola Press, for those preferring a nonsectarian resource. A parent could just as easily find helpful advice on history, math or science.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who will plunge in and use this book as their primary source from kindergarten through high school. It’s easy to tell if you are in this group because your copy of The Well-Trained Mind will have long since lost its dust jacket and you’ll be complaining that publishers just don’t make bindings strong enough these days. The book offers instruction in how to teach each grade and subject and includes curriculum suggestions and book lists. There is at least a jumping-off point for every broad subject area. Of course there is freedom to substitute a resource you prefer over whatever has been suggested, but it is a great help to have something with which to begin. There are also instructions about starting out with an older child or teaching several children at once.
Other families will use this book as an important reference and find that some of its ideas are perfectly suited to them and others are not. You could follow the four year repeating pattern for history and use the book lists, lists of historical figures to cover and the notebook system, and not follow the science recommendations, for example. You might prefer a less academically rigorous grammar stage and then be completely comfortable with the logic and rhetoric sections for each of the three stages: grammar, logic and rhetoric. I refer to them frequently as I’m planning my school year so that I have handy checklist for each child. There are subjects listed that I don’t cover, or at least not in the way proscribed, but I don’t worry that I’m not doing it right. Each time I pick up this book, I find that something different speaks to me. As my children get older, I’m more interested in the later stages. When I have a child with a problem in a particular subject area, I look to see what The Well-Trained Mind has to say about it. This is my version of “submerging myself from time to time.”
Do you remember what life was like before the first edition of The Well-Trained Mind came out? We who held classical education as an ideal(vague and lofty) were left trying to piece together a bit of Latin, some Logic and then who-knows-what for the Rhetoric stage. There were private schools that followed a classical model, but no one had crafted a road map for us at home…until The Well-Trained Mind. It is consistent in its approach and thorough in its scope. We now have the luxury to reference it as much or as little as our own need and interest dictate.