Every year I pull out The Well-Trained Mind, the modern bible of classical home education. I thumb through it, reading the sections applicable to the ages of my children. I make lists of courses and texts to use in the coming year. I add to my own personal reading list.
At some point I realize my heart is racing and my palms are sweaty. Yet again, as I try to follow this magnificent guide, I know, I know I cannot achieve the road map so beautifully laid out. I see the list of books my children should have read (on their own) at this age, the time they should be spending on each subject, the notebooks they should have accumulated with their vast amounts of acquired knowledge, the science concepts they should have mastered . . . and I set the book aside.
I admire Susan Wise Bauer (and her mother Jessie Wise, co-author). She knows what she is doing. But I am not up to the standard.
Bauer and I have a lot in common. We were both homeschooled by mothers disillusioned with modern education and dedicated to helping us achieve our full potential. We both worked in higher education and love it. We both love books, learning, and history, and we think classical education is superior. We both envisioned our children would obtain bachelor’s degrees, at the very least. (Her children are older than mine. At least one of hers did, one didn’t, and mine aren’t even close yet.) We are both members of Generation X. We are both brunettes.
I’ll admit: I’m a fan. I have benefited immensely from Bauer’s books and teaching.
So, at first opportunity, I obtained a copy of Bauer’s latest book, Rethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child’s Education. And you should too—even if Bauer has been scary to you in the past (like she has been to me), even if you have panic attacks when you think of The Well-Trained Mind, and especially if you think you have it all together as a homeschooling parent.
- This is the older, wiser, more reflective Susan Wise Bauer, who honestly owns up to her past mistakes as a parent and home educator. She writes that she should have done things differently for at least one of her children and wisely told him to quit college and do what he loved and was gifted for. She self-evaluates enough to realize that while she herself is “gifted,” she shouldn’t have gone off to college at 16, completing her first degree at 19. She surmises that pushing bright children to finish things early is seldom wise. This book contains a lot of acquired wisdom to tap into, and you won’t regret doing so.
- This book is not written for home educators but for all parents who care about their children and their mental, spiritual, intellectual, and physical well-being. As a homeschooling parent, you will be reminded of why you homeschool when you read about other parents working within a broken, failing system to get the best education for their kids. You will be grateful that you are privileged to have the ability and means to keep your children at home, when others like you are doing as much work to help their kids survive the school system.
- You might discover you aren’t homeschooling at all but have merely brought school home, sticking to all the broken methods, motives, and systems that are not helpful for kids—at least not all kids. This book might help you do what is best for your son or daughter instead of working to others’ expectations, whether it is Grandma, your co-op leader, or college admission directors. Bauer busts up myths like “First grade starts at 6,” “My child has to take English, math, science, and social studies every year,” and “That seventh grade C- matters.”
- You will get honest advice for your struggling son or daughter who may have a genuine learning disability or may just have been squeezed into a mold and would learn fine in another way, at a later time, or in a different setting. Bauer provides guidance in determining differences, disabilities, and disorders and getting help. Whether your child is bored or drowning under their current workload, there is help to guide you on your path to doing the best thing. Book lists, information on when to seek professional help and which professional to start with first—it is all here.
- You will read some great ideas for engaging your children in conversations that will help you determine their truest loves and guide them toward achieving a bright future. I learned a lot asking my children to describe to me their perfect day. This is one of a handful of “thought experiments” Bauer suggests parents use as tools to get to the heart of who their children are and how best to help them develop into their best selves. Perhaps, most importantly, I was reminded that listening to the hearts of our children is one of the greatest things we can do for them.
We do well to study the wisdom of those who have gone before. Susan Wise Bauer’s book gives us the chance to learn from both her professional knowledge and her personal journey.
Hindsight is 20/20. Bauer’s is golden.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.