Home Schooling book review: Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum

Home Schooling book review: Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum

From my reading thus far I have already discerned that one of the hottest topics in homeschooling is the choice of curriculum—perhaps even as inflammatory and divisive as the debate over whether or not to homeschool.

So I tread this water carefully. But I want to say first that it is my opinion that what works for one family may not work for another. Both because of the parents’ temperment and abilities and because of the children’s temperment and learning styles.

Several readers on Dom’s blog and my own have written to suggest several curricula they have tried and liked. But I’ve pretty much already determined that I want to design my own curriculum, however much harder that will be, rather than rely on a pre-packaged curriculum from a publisher.

I’ve already written quite a bit about my philosophy of education and my background as a teacher and thus I think I can say decisively that this decision is firm and will not change between now and the start of formal schooling. I am too much of an individualist with strong opinions and I have some very firm ideas about education stemming from my experiences as a student, a teacher, and an observer of the educational establishment. These are the firm ideas that fire my conviction about homeschooling in the first place. The chief goal of education is not acquisition of knowledge per se. Rather, it should be formation. By this I mean both formation of character and intellect. Also the aquisition of the tools of learning… learning how to learn.

That said, the book I’ve read that conforms most closely to my ideas about education is Laura Berquist’s Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education

Like Wise and Bauer, Berquist is highly influenced by Dorothy Sayer’s “Lost Tools of Learning” essay and advocates a modern version of the classical trivium. However, her curricula suggestions are much more focused on a build-your own approach and are deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition.

To me the link seems natural. Classical education and Catholic education are like vanilla ice cream and chocolate fudge. Maybe even more so. For centuries they were one and the same. The Church was the educator in medieval and Renaissance Eurpoe and the trivium and quadrivium were its method and tools. Only in the modern world has the reform of educational philosophies unmoored Catholic education from its classical roots.

I was privileged to attend The University of Dallas a great Catholic university with an interdisciplinary core curriculum (or some might call it a “great books” program) rooted in the Western Tradition. So I suppose I have a leg up on understanding the classics and a predisposition to aim my children in that direction.

Berquist recommends reading a wide variety of books and articles on the subject, talking to other home schooling parents and looking at the curricula from as many sources as you can including Seton, Kolbe, Calvert and others. But for her those are a jumping off point. Ultimately parents must decide for themselves what will work best for them and for their children.

Like The Well Trained Mind, the bulk of DYOCC is divided into three sections following the pattern of the classical trivium and then each of these sections is divided into chapters by grade level. She outlines the basic philosophy, curriculum and teaching strategies for each level and then provides detailed suggested reading lists and activities, broken down by subject area.

For each of her picks she explains why she likes this resources best, but she also gives several options for many subjects, discussing the various selling points that might attract different parents to different resources.

Following Sayers, Berquist’s focus is more on the tools of learning than on the content of subject areas and thus she also focuses on the interrelatedness of the various subject areas.
Great emphasis is put on reading literature and on writing. I like her approach to history: using a textbook as an outline, a “backbone”, or a jumping off point but letting children delve into a period by reading age-appropriate biographies of famous people and primary sources, by using maps and timelines.   

There are many more things I could say about this book, but I’m running out of steam. Altogether a great resource, I highly recommend it.

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