Characteristics of a Classical Education: Humanity

This is part of the series: Classical Homeschooling

We are a long way removed from the first classical educators of antiquity. For us, a large part of beginning the work of educating our children classically is asking in the first place, “What is classical education?”

This question reminds me of sitting in my freshman Intro to Religion class and listening to various students attempt to define the word “religion.” (We never did reach a satisfactory definition in class.) Sometimes the more foundational the word is, the harder it is to define. I’ve always found that in such cases it’s easiest to try to identify characteristics rather than a strict definition.

The first characteristic I believe is necessary to a classical education is this:

Classical Education recognizes the humanity of the student.

Let me just note that obviously, this topic is so huge that it can’t be covered in a single blog post.

An attempt to create a humanizing education is one that takes into account what nourishes people intellectually, bodily, and spiritually. No facet of your planning or daily routine can fail to recognize the needs of the small person whom you are nurturing.

Testing

A homeschooling mom must attempt to gauge whether the work she’s requiring of her students is appropriate. Is she doing this by collecting data through regular testing, or is she looking in her students’ eyes, reading body language, and listening for moans of boredom or jittery excitement?

In my own attempt at a classical homeschool, we don’t really grade anything. This is not just because my oldest student is still quite young. Rather, I don’t want to spend my time measuring my kids. I think it’s more important to spend our time together learning, exploring, practicing, working, and enjoying. These are things humans do.

Machines are tested, probed, calibrated, and analyzed for data.

Our children need to be guided, loved, and accompanied.

So in our homeschool, we simply don’t move on to the next lesson until my son has reached mastery.

Books & Curriculum

This is the tough one for most of us. The truly classical homeschooler isn’t run by the curriculum. And she probably doesn’t let the kids run wild in the library, bringing home (like I accidentally did today) books that will not help her students grow in wisdom and virtue.

Charlotte Mason calls this “twaddle,” which I think is a great term for the junky books we all acquire. Twaddle doesn’t form consciences around Truth. It doesn’t lengthen attention spans. It barely even increases literacy. And, most problematically, it’s everywhere.

I have to admit, too, that I often fall into the daily pattern of checking items off our to-do list. Though there is nothing wrong with prioritizing our academic responsibilities for the day, letting the list or curriculum overrun me is not teaching classically. In my defense, it may have something to do with the other three hoodlums humans crawling on top of me.

Speaking of which…

Personal Interactions

During a lesson, is the homeschooling mom talking at her student, or talking with him?

Family relationships lived out in the homeschool space are quintessentially humanizing. There’s something incredible about older siblings learning to care for and help younger siblings, and younger siblings having easy access to their older siblings from whom they learn more than they could from any curriculum.

People are created to be relational. Classical education recognizes this by developing the student’s ability to interact through words with those around him via the Trivium. The classical homeschool magnifies this by placing the student with family members with whom he will need to learn both daily and long-term relational skills.

A dehumanizing education places the student in a sterile environment with a strict culture of obedience and only little opportunity to interact with family or people of different ages and backgrounds. The most humanizing education gives the student the opportunity to practice–in the most natural setting possible–relating to others with care, generosity, and mercy.

Next up: Characteristics of a Classical Education: Education as a Path

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