The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

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Although I file this post as a review, I cannot really review The Well-Trained Mind: The Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and her mother Jessie Wise (third edition, 2009). I only read the Elementary chapters (Part I) in full and bits and pieces of Part IV since my son is only four years old.

As I have pondered my son’s next year and a half before he begins kindergarten, I’ve found myself rather concerned about the local public schools and I’ve been pondering home schooling or other options. Obviously, I don’t have to make any decisions right now, but The Well-Trained Mind gave me some ideas for how homeschooling can work right. This book is one extreme because it provides ideas for giving a fully Classical education at home — including heavy emphasis in memorization during the early elementary years, and teaching your third grader Latin. They also promote their own textbooks ad nauseum (textbooks which get horrible reviews on sites where they are sold). If I were to home school (again, jury is still out), this would be a fantastic place to start for ideas on what to teach: I’d probably find my own less expensive resources and modify the programs to be a bit less labor intensive on mother and child’s part. The authors indicate that modifications are to be expected depending on your teaching style and preferences. I appreciated their acknowledgement of the need for flexibility.

All that said, The Well-Trained Mind certainly delivered what it promised (at least for the parts I read): it guided a parent on how to begin the intimidating process of teaching your child the classics in a classic style at home and from a young age. This is something to revisit if I do decide to home school my son (or even if I decided to supplement his daily life with home lessons in addition to what he learns at school; I believe it can be done and can be fun).

If you home school, I’d be interested to know how you incorporate classical literature into your curriculum. What’s your home schooling style?

Reviewed on November 4, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • You might be happier with the 1st edition of this book (before they went on to publish their own materials and had different recommendations). I used the 1st edition as a springboard 11 years ago when I was getting ready to begin homeschooling my kids. We do a classical approach and I now have one in elementary, one in middle school, and 2 in high school. It can definitely be done, be done well, and be both fun for the kids and rewarding to you. All the best to you as you pick the best course of action for you and your son!

    • Susan in TX » that’s a good idea. I mentioned to my husband I was reading a third edition and he rolled his eyes. “You might as well find a new book,” he said just because if they have to keep updating, there’s something missing. I think I’d like it better without their self-promoting books in every chapter. I’m glad to hear the classical approach worked for you so well!

    • Jillian » Well-Trained Mind is very much focused on how to educate children at home…but it certainly was interesting! I’ve had Well-Educated Mind on my TBR for years! Someday I’ll browse or read through it too.

  • I suppose I’ll sound contrarian, but I’ve alwaysbeen kind of wary about the return to classical education (classical in the sense of ‘learn Latin an Greek, and get everything from the primary source’). I love lclassic lit ( in both sense of the word), but frankly if there is anything classic lit has taught me, its that the old method of hammering meaningless memorized strings of conjugations and forced memorizations for recitations is an educational model that died for a reason. This isn’t to say the classics shouldn’t be included in a good education, but it IS to say that pedagogy has made some major strides in the last couple of hundred years, and we ought to appreciate those strides. The classical education that started in the Universities of the middle ages was based on a concept that, while intersting, is simply not the basis of learning, now – that truth is based on authority, rather than empirical strength. This is part of why people like Descartes and Bacon were such exciting thinkers – because they said, basically, a thing is true because of evidence, not because it is in concordance with the Christian Bible, and the scientific works of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen. I say this with some trepidation – I love the classics, honestly. But children should be educated to be rounded humanists, not models of an ideal that our culture outgrew.

    • Jason Gignac » While I have no intention of teaching my son Latin, I have found, in comparing my education with my husband’s, that memorization of some things really helps. For example, I never memorized basic mathematical tables (at least, if I did, it didn’t stay very long) and I still have a very hard time doing basic math in my mind. My husband was required to memorize the math tables and he is a whiz at it. I think it would be a good background for moving on. I relied on calculators for my whole schooling (at least from middle school on up). I still need a calculator for equations that I KNOW I should be able to do in my head. I just never got the foundation: I resented math in elementary school.

      As for the primary source, that’s not what they suggest for the younger grades. They suggest introducing the WORKS of Homer by reading adaptations in the younger grades. When the kids get older, then they turn towards more of the original sources (in translation for those not learning Latin). Also, what I liked about this educational concept as they presented it is that you don’t do the busywork that so many schools give these days. I cannot personally imagine myself following such a rigid schedule if I were to home school: it’s just too stressful to think about even for me, the mother! But. I do think the basic organizations they suggest for the early elementary years would be good. I imagine if I homeschool it would embrace the modern teaching styles as well as this classical model. But this classical model is much closer to my style than the other library books I picked up recently, which all seem to emphasize “unschooling.” That makes me nervous for the kids…

  • I think the trick is finding a balance. As a college professor, I cringe when I hear about some homeschooling parents who are completely free reign with their kids’ education, adopting a kids learn best when they can do whatever they want attitude. I completely disagree. At the same time, I do agree with Jason, that too much of a return to classical teaching disregards the major progress the educational system has made and does a disservice to children. So, like with anything else, we have to find that middle ground – somewhere between memorization and critical thinking, or best yet, a system which heavily emphasized both the retaining of knowledge and the ability to adapt the learned information to new situations. I hope that made sense. 🙂

    • Trisha » I agree re: the balance. I got about 8 library books about homeschooling, and this was the one that stood out to me because it actually did have some ORGANIZATION. The others all seemed to emphasize “unschooling” or learning by living, which, as you say, is a bit scary. As I just said in my response to Jason’s comment, I imagine if I do homeschool, it will be a balance of styles, but definitely more organized than “unschooling.” There is much to learn with all different kinds of educational styles. I like the idea of figuring it out myself since I’ve lost confidence in the public schools’ ability to teach critical thinking. (HA, and I say that before even sending my child to the public school AT ALL. This is sad.)

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