This is Part II of a previous blog post titled A Review of Three Controversial and Potentially Life-Altering Educational Books: Part 1. But I felt like that title was too boring so I didn’t want to use it twice. Feel free, in fact I encourage you, to go back and read the previous post to get a sense of how I got to where I am today, and why it is shaking things up for me a bit.
As a short recap – I love non-fiction and I am passionate about education. But I realized I hadn’t really read much on the history of our (the American) educational system. So I asked a group of also very educationally passionate Americans what books I should read to help me understand how our particular educational system came to be what it is today.
The third book I read from the list given me by this particular group was called “The Story-Killers: A Common Sense Case Against the Common Core” by Terrence O. Moore. I have done quite a bit of research into the Common Core standards, aligned curriculum, testing and data collecting, etc. etc. and it is not my purpose or desire to go into any of that sort of detail here and now. If you want my opinion on Common Core, lets just say I don’t have a very positive one. (That is putting it mildly.) So what in the world could I gain from an author/teacher/college professor telling my things I already knew about and believed? Seems like an echo-chamber, right?
Well, there were actually a lot of things he brought up that I didn’t know. Mr. Moore is a literature professor, and in his book he reads through the Common Core literature standards, translates them into language every day people can understand, and then shows how this looks in actual common core aligned curriculum being taught in actual classrooms.
If you are passionate about education – actual education of the mind, character, and soul, not just training or pushing political ideologies – this will make you kind of want to throw up.
Let’s skip a moment to something else I’ve read recently –
From the BYU College of Humanities Magazine Fall 2016, Professor Stan Benfell (from whom I actually took a class when I was there!) wrote an excellent piece titled “Thoughts on the New Life.” The following two paragraphs jumped right off the page at me:
“When I was in high school I was lazy–slothful at performing my chores, late and lackluster in completing schoolwork, and reluctant to accept assignments at church. Fortunately for me, I applied to BYU when it was a good deal easier to get admitted than it is now. The summer after I graduated from high school, I had an epiphany: I realized that I could not continue as I had done if I wanted to make something of my life. So when I came to BYU as a freshman, I was determined to study and to get good grades. This simple determination to succeed in school bore unexpected fruit: I became thoroughly engrossed in my classes and experienced sustained intellectual engagement.
“When I was called to serve a mission in Paris, France, I found myself not only more devoted and more alive spiritually than I had ever been before but also alive to the richness and beauty of the French language and insatiably curious about the fascinating history and culture of the country in which I was living. When I returned from my mission, I found myself not only reading the material required for my courses but also seeking out new books, looking for a quiet moment when I could read something that deepened what I had studied in one of my classes or opened up something new. This was for me a new life–one of excitement, engagement, and meaning where before I had found only drudgery in school.” [emphasis mine.]
These paragraph were/are important to me because I don’t want my children to have to go through this. At least not the first half of his experience. I don’t want them to feel like learning is “drudgery” and that education is boring, unimportant, or a waste of time. I want them to know and feel the excitement! I want them to be intellectually engaged from the beginning! I want them to read and learn and understand why what they are learning has meaning to them and what that meaning is!
And what is that meaning? Well, since Prof. Moore is focusing mainly on literature, and Prof. Benfell writes about language, history, and culture, let’s just stay in the college of Humanities for a bit. Let’s talk about humanity.
It is in the subjects that we call The Humanities that we learn what it is to be human, our relationship to ourselves, to our families, our countries, and ultimately our relationship with God. It’s literature, history, art, music… all the things that our current public educational system doesn’t offer. Maybe in name you have a “literature” class, but take a look into Prof. Moore’s book and then decide whether the “literature” being taught is helping to develop, cultivate, strengthen, and encourage intellectually engaging discussions and studies into what makes a person a person, what are the desirable qualities and characteristics that help sustain and promote happiness, peace, understanding, and love.
It’s just not happening in schools. At least not very many of them. And it certainly isn’t happening in the schools that are now mandated to follow the Common Core standards (which is pretty much all of them, anyway.) If 80% of the “literature” read by 12th grade is supposed to be technical manuals, government forms, newspaper articles, etc., when do the students learn to relate to others? When do they delve deep into the human soul of another and wrestle alongside them over challenging decisions and grapple with difficult consequences? When do they feel another’s pain, experience another’s joy, see the world in a new way, and then realize it was their pain, their joy, and their world the entire time? When do they learn what is is to be human and experience what that means and how that works in the context of a complex society?
Maybe during lunch time?
I don’t think so.
(At least not any society I want to be a part of. Really, if all our dealings with other was done at the maturity level of the high school pecking order in the lunchroom. Scary (and uncomfortable) thought.)
So… I’m just going to have to teach it myself.
Which will be really hard because I never received this sort of education in the first place! (With the exception of a few college courses I took as a freshman – thank you Prof. Benfell – that I didn’t appreciate because I was in the public school mindset of take a class, get a grade, move on – sorry Prof. Benfell.)
Prof. Moore, didn’t just criticize the degradation of the system, but he also offered what he called his Common Core – a list of books, essays, and speeches he feels every high school student (or person in general) should be familiar with as a foundation to their education. These are the books, the stories, the lessons, that will enrich our lives and fill our souls with compassion, understanding, and will truly educate us in what it means to live and interact with ourselves and with others. In essence, he provides entire course outlines from 9th through 12th grade for Literature, History, Government, Economics, and Moral Philosophy. At least the reading list.
So this has become my new venture. I am reading every single book/essay/speech on those lists. I have four years before my oldest becomes a 9th grader, which means I am giving myself four years to go through all the material, study as much as I can, take The Great Courses, check out Classical Conversations, take as much advantage of Classical Academic Press’s teacher trainings as I can, email an old professor or two, ask my questions, find some answers, and educate myself the way I want my children to be educated. And then… I will teach it.
That doesn’t sound as dramatic and life changing when I type it as it sounded when I decided to commit myself to this. Here, maybe this list will help.
Welcome to the next 4 years of my life…
Homer, The Illiad (the whole thing)
Greek Plays, e.g. Oedipus Rex, Antigone
Plato’s Republic (on the poets, Allegory of the Cave)
Plato, The Apology (or in history)
Virgil, The Aeneid (the whole thing)
Roman poetry (some in Latin class)
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Addison’s Cato (if time)
The class focuses on grammar and composition and also entails the study of classic essays by Bacon, Addison, Swift, Johnson, Orwell, et alia.
Western Civ 1 (Ancient History)
Herodotus, on the Persian Wars, esp. Thermopylae
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (selections)
Plutarch, Lives of Lycurgus, Solon, Pericles, Alcibiades
Plato, The Republic, Book VIII on the regimes
Plato, the Apology (if not in literature class)
Aristotle, the Politics, book 1
Livy, selections on early Rome
Polybius, The Histories, Book VI
Plutarch, Lives of Cato the Elder, Julius Caesar, Cicero
Cicero, Catiline Oration (1st), selected letters
Cicero, De Officiis (selections)
Caesar, The Commentaries (selections)
Augustus, Res Gestae Divi Augusti
Tacitus and Suetonius on the Roman emperors
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Documents from the Judeo-Christian Tradition:
Life of David
Sermon on the Mount
Le Morte D’Arther (selection) or Beowulf
Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (three or four tales)
Shakespeare, Hamlet and Macbeth, sonnets
Sir Francis Bacon, selected essays, incl. “Of Studies”
Milton, Paradise Lost (books IV and X at least)
Joseph Addison, select papers from The Spectator
Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice (or Persuasion)
Charles Dickens, Hard Times (or A Tale of Two Cities)
British Romantic poetry
Western Civ 2 (Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment)
Acts of the Apostles (selections)
Augustine, Confessions (Books I, II, VIII)
Augustine, City of God (short selection)
Gregory I, Account of Benedict’s Life
Rule of Saint Benedict
Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (selection)
Walter Scott, “Chivalry”
Documents on the Investiture Conflict
Thomas of Celano, Life of Saint Francis
Thomas Aquinas, selection from The Summa
Petrarch’s Letters (to Homer, Cicero, et al.)
Vergerius, “On Liberal Learning”
Leon Battistta Alberti, On The Family
Castiglione, The Courtier (sel.)
Vasari, Lives of the Artists, esp Michelangelo, Leonardo
Art of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, et alia
Machiavelli, The Prince (selection)
Luther, select documents incl. 95 theses
Luther and Erasmus on the will
Council of Trent
The Thirty-Nine Articles (Anglican Church)
James I, The Trew Law of Free Monarchies
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, on the state of nature
Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica (sel.)
John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government (esp. books II-V, IX)
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, (sel.)
Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (if time)
Poetry of Anne Bradstreet
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (or in history)
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Herman Melville, Moby Dick (the whole thing)
Ralph Waldo Emerson, essays, esp “Self-Reliance”
Henry David Thoreau, selections from Walden
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
Poetry of Whitman, Poe, Longfellow, Dickinson, Hughes, Cullen, Frost, et alia
If time, a novel of Fitzgerald or Hemingway
Poetry of T. S. Eliot
Two or three short stories of Flannery O’Connor
American History to 1900 (two semesters)
The Mayflower Compact
John Winthrop, “A Modell of Christian Charity”
Other colonial documents
Documents on the Great Awakening, incl. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
Benjamin Franklin, documents on the Junto, fires, education in Philadelphia, the increase of mankind, “The Way to Wealth,” kite experiment
The Stamp Act documents
Benjamin Franklin, “Rules by Which a Great…”, “An Edict by the King of Prussia”
Debate over Independence
Tom Paine, Common Sense (selections)
Virginia Declaration of Rights
The Declaration of Independence
George Washington, letters, Circular to the States
The Northwest Ordinance
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Debates on the Constitution, incl. Anti-Federalists
The Federalist, nos. 1, 10, 39, 51 (overlaps with Gov. class)
Thomas Jefferson, on education and agriculture
Alexander Hamilton, Reports on Public Credit and Manufactures
George Washington, Farewell Adress, Last Will
Other documents from early national period including:
Alien and Sedition Acts, Va./Ky. Resolutions and Massachusetts Counter-Resolution (also in Gov. class)
Documents from Jacksonian period
Ante-Bellum documents, including:
Calhoun on nullification
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Harriet Beecher Stow, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (sel.)
George Fitzhugh, The Sociology of the South (sel.)
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life
Abraham Lincoln: “A Fragment on Slavery,” Speech on Dred Scott, “A House Divided,” Lincoln-Douglas Debates (sel.), First Inaugural, Emancipation Procl., Gettysburg Address, Second Inaugural
Frederick Douglas, “Self-Made Men”
Post Civil War Documents on Reconstruction
Andrew Carnegie on Wealth
Documents on populism, Bryan’s “Cross of Gold”
Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery, The Story of My Life and Work (sel)
Government Class (one semester)
Man as a “political animal,” Aristotle, The Politics I
Natural rights in J. Locke, Virginia Decl. of Rights
The Declaration of Independence
Sel. Debates at the Constitutional Convention
The Constitution of the United States
The Federalist, nos. 10, 39, 51, 70-74 (sel.) 78
The Bill of Rights
Hamilton, Jefferson on the Bank
The Marshall Court, especially: Marbury v Madison, McCulloch v Maryland, Gibbons v Ogden
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (sel.)
The Taney Court, esp. Dred Scott v Sanford
Lincoln on Dred Scott
Abraham Lincoln, War Message, 4 July, 1861 (argument vs secession)
Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments
Plessy v Ferguson, Brown v Board of Topeka
- Wilson, “What is Progress?” “The New Freedom”
- Roosevelt, “The Commonwealth Club Address”
The New Deal Court, e.g. Schechter Poultry v U.S.
Franklin Roosevelt, “A New Bill of Rights,” S/U 1944
Ronald Reagan, “Encroaching Control,” March 1961
Lyndon Baines Johnson, “The Great Society”
Moral Philosophy (one semester)
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, ch. 1
Allan Bloom, “Our Virtue” and “Self-Centeredness” from The Closing of the American Mind
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
- S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
- Hutcheson, James Q. Wilson on the moral sense
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (sel)
Aristotle, The Nicomachean ethics, def. of virtue
Aristotle and Pieper on the four cardinal virtues
Cicero, De Officiis (On Duties) selections
George Washington and Wm. Manchester on civility
Cicero and C. S. Lewis on Friendship
Benjamin Franklin, on work and entrepreneurship
Genesis 3-4 on man and woman
Traditional and Contemporary Marriage Vows
Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth visits Pemberly
David Fordyce, Elements of Moral Philosophy (sel.)
Richard Brookhiser, on Washington’s “fatherhood”
George Washington as Cincinnatus, his sense of duty
John Adams/Thomas Jefferson correspondence (sel.)
Shakespeare, Henry V (read prev. as summer reading)
Douglass Adair, “Fame and the Founding Fathers”
- Butterfield, “The Role of the Individual in History”
Brief discussion of literature from previous grades
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
Frank Kafka, the Metamorphosis
George Orwell, 1984
One of two other short works of modern literature
All students write 20-page senior thesis
American History since 1900 (1st semester of 12th grade)
Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American Hisotry”
- E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (sel.)
Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, “Honest Graft”
Theodore Roosevelt, Autobiography (sel.)
“The New Nationalism”
Woodrow Wilson, “The New Freedom”
Calvin Coolidge, speeches on the Boy Scouts, world peace, the press, rule of law, and the Declaration
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Commonwealth Club Adress: First Inaugural: Sate of the Union Address, 1944
Walter Lippmann, “The Dominant Dogma of the Age”
Harry S. Truman, “The Fair Deal”
Congressional rejection of the Fair Deal
Lyndon Baines Johnson, “The Great Society”
Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, “I Have A Dream.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “The Negro Family”
The Sharon Statement
The Port Huron Statement
Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural, Remarks on Tax Reform Act, Farewell Address
Foreign Policy (in Am. History class, mostly senior year)
George Washington, Farewell Address
- G. Sumner, “The Fallacy of Territorial Extension”
Albert Beveridge, “The March of the Flag”
Woodrow Wilson, War Message and Fourteen Points
Charles Lindbergh, “America First”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, War Message, Dec. 1941
The Atlantic Charter
Winston Churchill, Address to Congress, “Iron Curtain,”
Harry S. Truman, “The Truman Doctrine”
George F. Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct”
NSC-68, U. S. Obj’s/Programs for National Security
Ronald Reagan,Adress to Brit, Parliament; Christmas Day Radio Address, 1982, Remarks to the National Association of Evangelicals, 1983 (“Evil Empire”); Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987
Modern European History (two semesters)
Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality
Abbe Sieyes, “What is the Third Estate?”
Edmund Burke and Tom Paine on the French Revolution
Maximilien Robespierre, “Principles of Pol. Morality”
- Constant, “Ancient and Modern Liberty Compared”
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (selections)
British Parliament, Debate on the Ten Hours Bill
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of the Species (sel)
Otto von Bismarck, On German Unification
Max Weber, “On Bureaucracy”
- I. Lenin, on Marxism, “What is to Be Done?”
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kamp, (selections)
Winston Churchill, selected speeches including “Bolshevist Atrocities,” “Lenin,” “The Follies of Socialism,” “Wars Come Very Suddenly,” “Germany is Arming,” “A Total and Unmitigated Defeat,” “Blood, toil, Tears, and Sweat,” “Arm Yourselves and Be Ye Men of Valour,” “This Was Their Finest Hour,” “Give Us the Tools,” “Never Give In,” (at Harrow), “This is Your Victory,”
Economics (one semester)
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, (selections)
- A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, chs II, III, VI
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, chs I-III
John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory… (sel.)
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty, chs. III-VI
Did you make it through all of that? I am impressed.
I am also a little overwhelmed, but after reading “The Story-Killers” I am more determined than before to educate my children – not just allow others to vocationally train them. I recently saw an article arguing that Algebra shouldn’t be a graduation requirement anymore since most people don’t use Algebra in their jobs.
Uh… but don’t most people use their brains? Isn’t Algebra a practice in logic, reasoning, and mental agility? Math isn’t harder than the other subjects, but it is different than the other subjects. For those trained to see “school” as drudgery, boring, and irrelevant to their daily lives, I can see how life would be “easier” if we got rid of the “hard” classes. But should whether I use every brain cell or memory or skill I’ve got every day in my occupation decide whether even having those cells/memories/skills are valuable or beneficial to me at all?
Isn’t intelligence a good thing? Isn’t knowledge supposed to be power? Not power over others, but power over ones self? Since when did knowing and understanding the absolute bare minimum just to get by become the focus and goal of our culture?
Whatever happened to being enlightened? Now we are just trained. As horrible as it sounds, the system really is meant to produce cogs that keep it going. Workers and consumers and those that don’t think too hard, at least not hard enough to rock the boat. It’s just easier to train than to teach when you are talking about the masses.
But I want to produce thinkers and dreamers and people who can understand and can reason and express and explain and evaluate, even if all they do is drive a garbage truck (which is my 6 year old’s ambition in life right now, to tell you the truth.) So even though it is going to take major dedication and major time and major energy, I want to learn this stuff. I want to know it. I want to be able to introduce and pass on this information to others so that they can experience humanity.
(That kid may end up being the most well-spoken, most cultivated, most knowledgable and intelligent garbage man out there.)
And this knowledge, no matter what he decides to do with his life, will help him understand. And understanding will help him decide how to act. And his happiness will be based on his actions and the beliefs that drive them.
So I’ve started with Homer. Right now Menelaus and Agamemnon are in the thick of battle with Hector and the rest of the Trojans. I’m at the very beginning of my academic journey – and quite honestly it is pretty brutal and bloody.
But I’ve got my foot in the door and I’m going to keep right on walking.
And I have Prof. Moore to thank/blame for that.
So the moral of this story is maybe be careful what you read.
Or who you take book recommendations from.
Or that homeschooling isn’t for the faint of heart – at least my homeschooling philosophy doesn’t seem to be.
Or pick your own moral.
And in case the above reading list(s) didn’t spark your interests, here is another great read in the same vein but from a different angle. (And much, much shorter!! 🙂 )
“Bound By Loving Ties” by Jeffery R. Holland