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Teaching the Classics - A Socractic Method for Literary Education Review by Heidi Shaw

Adam and Missy Andrews
Center for Literary Education

Adam and Missy Andrews have written an awesome program, designed for parents and able to be used with any literature or curriculum you may have. I am SO excited about being able to incorporate this wonderful method into my homeschool without having to add any more 'to buy' books to my list. This is a big, and exciting new addition to the homeschool world.

So what is Teaching the Classics? First of all, don't be intimidated by the serious sound of the title, it is anything but intimidating. I haven't felt this liberated in years. What you are purchasing is a 4 DVD and syllabus set. The DVD's are a seminar developed and taught by Adam Andrews and his wife Missy after using its principles in their own homeschool and being persuaded to teach as well to their local homeschool co-op. Word of good things spreads quickly and after sitting through just the first DVD I quickly understood why everyone was so excited about this program. Adam is an engaging speaker, an obviously sincere and honest Dad, and he is passionate about making the work load for homeschooling families lighter. This is one program you are going to want to own for yourself because if you just get one to share with your support group, after the initial viewing, you may have to wait a long time to get a chance to see it again.

What's so exciting? First of all you are learning a model for teaching a set of skills. It is awesome because it reaches across the subject categories from literature to whatever you choose! Once you have become comfortable with the process you can apply the method to any subject and for all ages and stages. The lessons are presented in syllabus and on screen in a seminar style format directed to the parents! If I sat through this in a homeschool convention, there is no way I would have been able to take notes fast enough to absorb everything being said. I love the convenience of being able to stop and replay bits of dialog that catch my attention and warrant a second hearing (and there were a LOT of them!). Like a convention in my home only better because I don't miss the important parts!

The lessons are organized according to three important ideas that together form the heart of the Teaching the Classics approach to literature. First, all works of fiction possess common elements. Second, because of their clarity, children's stories are the best tools for teaching the recognition and evaluation of these elements. Third, the best technique (classroom or home) for presenting and analyzing literature is the Socratic Method.

If you feel initially overwhelmed with what I just wrote, join the club. I have been homeschooling for a long time and I tend to shy away from overly 'academic' programs and vocabulary. However, I was SO intrigued by what I had been hearing I had to follow it up and I am so glad that I did. Teaching the Classics has changed both my attitude and approach to literature with my children.

Adam and Missy Andrews are both educated people with degrees in both History (his) and English (hers). They set about trying to encapsulate what it was they wanted to teach to their children in regards to literature and tried to do it without boring them, frustrating them, or adding anything to the already full load of homeschool materials Missy was juggling. No easy feat for anyone, never mind when you have six children!

The focus on literature was an easy one because of Missy's love of English and the need for someone in the co-op to teach it! Literature is an amazing way to broaden our perspective, to see through others eyes, and see another view of the same world. Historical fiction can make us feel as if we are really there, in another time and place. At one point Adam says, "the ability to interact gracefully with important ideas is one mark of a truly educated person, and exposure to such ideas is the only way to become conversant with them." I love that statement but I was at a loss as to how to teach my kids how to find those ideas and what to do with them once found. All of my 'how to' questions were answered as I listened and absorbed what Adam was saying in the seminar.

I love the fact that the Andrews both believe, as I do, that reading great literature is an end in itself. Good literature is amazing and allows us to touch places in ourselves that we may never have known. Literature can be like great art. You go see a Degas because it is a Degas. You read Hamlet because it is Hamlet! I loved this ideology and the more I listened to the seminars on the DVD and worked through the syllabus the more excited I got. Adam and Missy believe that our students can "get a head start on the road to understanding of their world and their history. They need not wait until they go to college to begin learning to appreciate great literature." The techniques allowing them to begin right now are easy to learn and to teach, and much pleasure awaits us on the journey.

This belief that our kids can learn techniques now to help them through their life intrigued me, and I was finally starting to see that all kids, regardless of age, can benefit from enjoying literature. This is where the Socratic Method comes into full beauty. Adam and Missy teach in the seminar how to use the simplicity of the Socratic method of question and answer, dialog and discuss. It really is exciting to see that these same methods apply to both children's classic literature and 'grown-up' classic literature.

At one point early in the seminars, Adam makes mention of one of his professor's remarks as to ownership of his ideas. He tells him that it doesn't matter if you have a really great idea if you can't explain it to a ten year old. If you can't, you probably don't own it yourself yet. This seminar takes that approach and teaches us as parents how to teach to our children. How to use the Socratic Method is explained and listed in the syllabus. There are also questions suited to their level of understanding as well as questions to draw out discussion and exploration of the literature. Socrates used discussion and questions, allowing the students to develop their own powers of observation, deduction, and evaluation. The method named after him endeavors to do the same. It never tells the student what to think, rather the goal is to teach them how to think, a skill that will remain with them for a lifetime. Using the Socratic Method avoids the whole lecture format and you don't have to feed the students regurgitated, edited versions of somebody else's interpretation of the reading. The way the questions are formulated and designed to lead level by level to a deeper understanding of the literature can be used with any literature. It is here that you will begin to see Teaching the Classics as the amazing tool that it is.

Besides being highly entertained by Adam's spirited reading of Paul Revere's Ride, you will learn what questions to ask and how to ask them in order to really get your kids thinking about what they have just heard. Adam will take you through the syllabus and you will touch in on classics such as Peter Rabbit and Tom Sawyer. As the seminar progresses, you, the teacher, will learn all the elements of fiction, how to identify the plot, climax, etc. Work with a separate children's book or two to present each structural element. As you become more familiar with the process and the program you will delve deeper more naturally, and your love of literature will expand more and more!

There is a scope and sequence and a full list of questions in the syllabus, along with a very good reading list to kick-start your adventure. You will be prepared to work through the Socratic list with your kids, and what's more, I am betting you will be excited about it! There is so much involved in this package and I want to give out all the goods, but it is far better if you discover for yourself the treats and potential of this great program. Plan a series of sessions with like-minded parents or support families, get each a syllabus, and be prepared to be really fired up! You will be able to carry on an informal discussion of literature from the standpoint of your own Worldview! Whether you are a seasoned vet, or a new beginning homeschooler, you would be benefiting both yourself and your students by taking these techniques to heart.

No matter what educational philosophy you follow, there will be something for you in Teaching the Classics. I love the Charlotte Mason teachings for when my kids are small, and I have used Classical models for all the kids at one time or another as well. Teaching the Classics fits into my world very, very well, and I am convinced it would benefit your as well.

-Product Review by Heidi Shaw, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August, 2006