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The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education Review by Kathy Gelzer

Leigh A. Bortins
Palgrave MacMillan
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Founder of Classical Conversations, a classical homeschool teaching community, Leigh Bortins has written this new book, a thorough look at how all parents and educators can apply classical methods to their students' educations.

The Core is comprised of two main parts. Part One discusses the merits of classical teaching in today's society in three chapters titled "What's Wrong with Education Today," "Why We Need Classical Education," and "How Classical Education Can Help You."

Lack of meaningful relationships between student and teacher, government replacing community as the force behind education, discarding memorization (with repetition) as the main tool of learning, declining literacy rates, and therefore leaving today's children out of the "great discussion" are the problems with today's education system: "We have rejected the historically successful model of rigorous, classical education in favor of entertainment and job training."

Part Two describes the classical method for the grammar-stage child as it applies to reading, writing, math, geography, history, science, and the fine arts. How parents or teachers of various kinds (single, double-income, afterschoolers, non-classical educators, and homeschoolers) can apply these ideas makes up the last chapter.

Leigh Bortins raises the bar for education in general, even classical education, going back to the time-honored method of learning via memorization. Listen to this partial list of goals: know the times table through at least fifteen by fifteen, draw (as opposed to fill in) a world map with two hundred locations, and recite a 160-event world timeline. Does it sound daunting?

A common thread of encouragement is woven throughout The Core pages. Not only are parents capable classical teachers of their children, but they are equally capable learners of a classical education. We can and will and should learn along with our students. To the popular thought that our adult minds are beyond the task of our sponge-like-brained youngsters, Leigh Bortins says in her geography chapter, "Adults can learn very quickly because they have context. We've watched the news, driven, flown, and traveled. We can relate to the largeness of the globe. We understand the difference between curved 3-D and flat 2-D space. Spend the time needed to improve your own geography skills so that any time a student has a question about a location, there is an interested adult who has an answer ready." The self-education we parents can and should achieve is a repeated theme throughout the chapters.

A resources section at the end of the book provides sources for many of the citations in the book as well as book and curriculum recommendations. This is a treasure as Leigh Bortins lists and describes what has worked best for her family. There are references to other materials throughout the book, and I wish all of these were listed in the resource section as well. Also, I found the Fine Arts chapter a little bit of a letdown. I was hoping for more content, suggestions, and resources in this chapter.

I will be revamping our homeschool right now (and as I look to next year) with many of ideas learned in The Core. Whether or not you are classical in your approach to homeschooling, I think you will find The Core challenging and inspiring.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2010