Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer

The Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and her daughter, Susan Wise Bauer, is a complete step-by-step guide on how to give a homeschooled child an academically challenging, comprehensive classical education from preschool through the senior year in high school. Jessie Wise homeschooled her daughter, Susan, during the 1970s when homeschooling was new and skeptics and nay-sayers were plentiful; but she had tried putting them in school: not just public school, but private school. Jessie had spent so much time teaching her children already, that they were far ahead of their peers in the schools. When she began Kindergarten, Susan was already reading at a 5th grade level and her older brother was getting more help at home from his mother and father than he was receiving at the school; in fact, Jessie records that she felt as thought she was spending most of her time when he was home undoing what was happening to him when he was at school.

After giving short autobiography on both Jessie and Susan, who is now a professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, the books begins to take the reader slowly and methodically through the ins and outs of classical education. Classical education is based on the idea that there are three stages of learning in the life of a child from Kindergarten up to the senior year in high school. The first stage is called the grammar stage, which includes Kindergarten through the fourth grade. The grammar stage is where students are introduced to content. Jessie Wise describes children of this stage as sponges and encourages parents to expose them to any and all good information. They will experience wonder and excitement as they learn if the subjects are presented to them in ways that are interesting to them. This is not the time to be bogging them down with worksheets, but showing them pictures, reading them stories, and teaching them facts. The book explains what the grammar stage is all about and then it goes, chapter by chapter, into great detail about how to teach each individual subject, from math, language arts, and science, to art, music, religion, and even physical education.

The second stage of learning which includes grades five through eight are labeled the logic stage. The logic stage is the time when children begin to think in more analytical terms. They begin to question the process and how things happened as they did in history. They will want to know not just what happens in a science experiment, but how things work. Again, the book proceeds to thoroughly explain how to teach each subject in each grade of the logic stage of development.

The third and last stage of learning includes grades nine through twelve, the high school years. This stage is known as the rhetoric stage. During the rhetoric stage, students who have learned much content and the process by which it comes about or exists, are now ready to question why things are as they are. The rhetoric stage will have students writing, speaking, questioning, debating, and explaining. This stage includes abstract thought and argumentation. The high school years are completely explained in this section, as in the others.

The Well-Trained Mind leaves nothing out. Every subject is covered and there is a multitude of suggested curriculums mentioned, as well as how much they cost and where to find them. Jessie Wise tells parents how to organize the homeschool, how to teach, which materials to use, and which school supplies to have on hand. With The Well-Trained Mind, any parent could teach any child, if the family is seeking an academically rigorous classical model of education. Every question is answered, outside resources are suggested, and there are even several potential scheduling suggestions. Extracurricular activities are discussed as are how to make use of local libraries and public schools. Most students who have been educated by the concepts in The Well-Trained Mind will be ready for college classes by their junior year in high school. This book is not for the faint of heart, but it will walk you through, every step of the way; and when a child has been educated by this method, he will, indeed, have a well trained mind.

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