I shared a list of reading suggestions about Charlotte Mason, and I wanted to do the same for books that focus more particularly on classical education. I found it a more difficult list to make. If you are interested in classical education, there’s always—ahem—Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition which will help you see how Charlotte Mason’s methods fit into the classical ideal.
But classical education has many faces, and it can be perplexing to decide which voices to listen to. I can only share the books that have been most important to me.
The modern book that I value most highly on the topic is Norms and Nobility by David Hicks. It is expensive, and it is not easy to read, but if you want to ponder the questions that shape classical education, this is the book to read. I have a series of study posts, written across an entire year, which might make it more accessible if you decide to dive in. (Requires registration at the AmblesideOnline forum, but it’s easy and free.)
If you read no other modern books on classical education, I highly recommend reading The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain. Their search for a workable modern pedagogy is broader and stronger than most, very much in line with Charlotte Mason’s views.
And although it isn’t explicitly about classical education, I highly recommend Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James W. Sire, if you are interested in deepening your own classical education. His insight into thinking and reading, linked to John Henry Newman, really provides a framework for the intellectual habits we want to inculcate in ourselves and in our students. (Hint: synthetic thinking at its very best.)
And you can pretty much pick up anything by Jacques Barzun and learn at the feet of a mighty teacher, but a good choice is Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning simply because each chapter is a stand-alone article and you can take your time and dip into it when you have the chance.
But if classical education is a topic of interest to you, I deeply believe that you must read beyond the writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. As Charlotte Mason said, “who feels that he has mastered a book if he is familiar with only the last page of it?” If you want to know classical education, you must read what has been written about education a long time ago.
If you’re just getting started, I think you cannot do better than to read Plutarch’s short piece, The Education of Children. His advice to parents was inspiring to Charlotte Mason and the PNEU, and it is so relevant for parents in the 21st century that from this one piece alone you will begin to see the timeless nature of classical education and to perceive the things that make it vital in every age.
Another short, readable piece to tackle is Of Education by John Milton. This “tractate” or essay gave Charlotte Mason a few key hints, too. It is also funny if you read it correctly. At least, I always laugh at “And either now, or before this, they may have easily learnt at any odd hour the Italian Tongue” and “ere this time the Hebrew Tongue at a set hour might have been gain’d, that the Scriptures may be now read in their own original; whereto it would be no impossibility to add the Chaldey, and the Syrian Dialect.” But, when you are reading on this topic (classical education), you have to learn to separate what is vital and necessary from what is incidental.
If you are extremely ambitious, you might purchase a copy of The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being and begin reading through it slowly, like the ladies at The Classical Homeschool Podcast. Or you could just listen to a few of those podcasts (I chatted with them about Plutarch!) while you sip iced tea in the backyard and watch the kids splash in the sprinkler.
If you’re like me, you’ll overload your “to read” list for the summer ambitiously, and if you’re like me, you’ll be lucky to get through half of it. But that’s okay. Read a little bit every day, and week after week, it adds up. And if you don’t finish it all this summer, that’s really, really okay. Next summer will be here before you know it.
My suggestion is to pick one contemporary book and one older book and do the best that you can. What you read and digest slowly and well is what will feed and nourish your mind during the busy-ness of the next school year. I suspect quality matters more than quantity in this case. If you do decide to read anything from this list, let me know!
Copyright 2018 Karen Glass
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