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Michelle Miller Howard

Click the thumbnail image below to read the full article.

Thoughts on the Classical Method with TruthQuest History

The 'article' below comes from two online posts made by Karen Glass. We have had many requests to post them publicly, but please remember Karen's goal was only to stir meaningful, friendly discussion. Mrs. Glass has not yet had a chance to write a formal article on this topic, but she has graciously allowed us to copy the posts here. We have also copied Michelle Miller Howard's note which introduced these posts online in response to a specific question about TruthQuest History and four-year history cycles. Please forgive the cyber-nature of these writings...

Classical Education and Four-Year Cycles
By Karen Glass
Homeschool Mother
Editor of Magnanimity E-zine
Missionary to Poland
Ambleside Online Advisory

Michelle Miller:

Maybe the most helpful thing I can do now, in giving you food for thought, is to copy below a couple very insightful posts on the topic made by none other than Karen Glass. Karen is on some sort of advisory board for Ambleside Online (if memory serves correctly) and is the author of an e-zine that deeply discusses both classical and Charlotte Mason philosophies. She talks about what makes the study of history 'classical' and her thoughts on four-year cycles.

First, let me say that we don't want you to feel that we are trying to 'talk you out' of anything. There are so many ways to view the education of children, and God alone knows how our UNIQUE children should be even what Karen is saying here may not apply to you and yours. But at least her thoughts forced me to look more deeply into what really was a classical education...and how much it related to four-year cycles.

Actually, that's the process I've been in for a long time anyway. What really IS education? What is supposed to be accomplished during every precious year with my children? And then what about each subject? While a particular plan may work for English and math, it may not be best for history...which, for me, needs to be very living, very connected, and very narrative so that there is a richness of time to see God's hand, the power of truth, and the consequences of human decisions building to the crescendo of where we are today.

I've said all along that I desperately hope we all will find God's leading for our families. That is the key. After re-reading Karen's comments, which have been plucked out of the context of the discussion occurring at the time, I realize they may SEEM rather jarring to holders of certain philosophies. This was not Karen's intention then or now. What she was trying to do was probe more deeply into the very essence of classical education so that parents have the requisite freedom to study history as needed by their unique children. Please see that heart. After Karen's posts, you'll find some more comments of my own.

Karen Glass:

(Remember that these were written in response to specific other posts, and I'm not including those comments, so if my remarks seem a little disjointed, that's why.)


I am recycling my answer from a post I sent to another list some time ago. I have written, do write, and probably will write more about this general topic because it is dear to my heart, and as I learn more, I just can't help sharing. You are quite right that people define it ['classical' history] in different ways. That frustrated me at first, until I penetrated more deeply into my reading.

It was only when I saw the heart of classical education that it held any appeal for me at all. I got the first glimpse of it when I read David Hicks' book, Norms & Nobility. He says the purpose of education, to the ancients, was to instill virtue in the pupils. That was their goal, and intellectual growth was only a part of that process.

Any educational method that focuses on intellectual development, without considering the spirit or heart of man, is *not* classical. Much of the classical literature, depicting the heroes, etc., was intended to inspire virtue. The *reason* they wanted to study things like logic and rhetoric was so that they would be better able both to discern truth, and then to persuade others.

Naturally, they fell far short of attaining their goals, but that's what their goals were, and that is really what is at the heart of classical education. When I read this in David Hicks' book, it *really* struck a chord with me. It happens to coincide with Charlotte Mason's goal of education, too: formation of character.

But, I have found this premise borne out by every writer I've read so far. Sometimes they differ in their methods, or order, or recommending this or that author/practice/book/language, but they are in agreement about this--the purpose of education is to elevate the character and heart of the student.

This is where Christians have it all over the ancient classical educators. To paraphrase Charlotte Mason, their system could only instruct--ours both instructs and enables.

The basic premise of classical education is "right thinking leads to right acting." That's not 100% true, but it's a good working basis. I like a lot of what David Hicks says about the differences between the analytical thinking of moderns and the dialectic/synthetic thinking of the ancients. We like to tear things down into manageable little pieces, but that destroys them. Synthetic thinking sees a person as whole, and as a part of a greater whole--the family, the community, the world.

Our educations taught us to break everything down and look at the pieces apart from each other and apart from ourselves. We have no moral obligation to information in this form, because the connections are lost, including any connection between the information and ourselves. If you were fortunate to have good Biblical teaching, you may have counter-acted the analytical tendency to some extent, because synthetic thinking is also Biblical thinking. (This does not mean that all analysis is bad or wrong, but when analysis replaces synthesis or dialectic, we are looking at things the wrong way.)

As we seek to classically education our children, we have to begin with ourselves. We are not going to teach our children to think rightly, to view the world as a whole, and themselves as part of it, unless we make some adjustments to our own way of thinking.

Naturally, David Hicks says this a lot better than I do. But, to go back to the beginning, the heart of classical education is the pursuit of virtue--right thinking and right acting. As you can see, this has little to do with child-development (i.e., three "stages"), but this *is* the heart--the one thing all the classical educators were striving for.

I agree with Athena [another classical homeschooler who uses TQH and posted to the loop], too, that language is absolutely central to the whole process. Language--words--are important to God, too. So much so, that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

I consider myself a classical educator because we approach every subject as a whole. We make use of living books, which contain real ideas. We seek to place our learning into a larger context. TruthQuest History guides are a valuable tool in this process! I completely reject the "stages" interpretation of classical education, so that doesn't figure into my thinking. As far as organizing history, I like and use Ambleside as well as TruthQuest History. If you have to have cycles, I think two 6-year cycles would be better than 3 four-year cycles, because it allows much more time for learning. You could arrange the 6-year cycles in a number of ways--perfectly chronological, from ancients to 20th century, or other ways. I could see doing American history for 3-4 years with the TQH guides for young children, then beginning with the ancients and going through history to the 20th century again, leaving yourself one year to re-visit the ancients at the high-school level.

But it doesn't really matter how you do history--that's not the "heart" of a classical education.


I know you are only writing about something you have read somewhere else, but to say "the classical method of studying history is 4-year cycles" is very inaccurate. Please understand that I'm not criticizing you, or anyone, by saying this. I understand completely that we are operating in a cloud of assumptions based on the ideas of 2 or 3 persons.

But 4-year cycles are NOT inherently classical. It's just a way of organizing history studies. That's not the way the ancients did it. That's not the way it's been done "traditionally." It's just one idea.

You can adhere to a classical tradition of education and study history *any way that you want to.* How you choose to study history is not one of the identifying "hallmarks" of what makes education classical. You could adhere rigorously to the 4-year cycle and swing so wide of the classical philosophy that you miss it completely. Whenever you see or hear or *think* that "4-year history rotations" and "classical education" are inextricably linked, let the warning bells go off: this is FALSE.

There. I hope I haven't offended anyone, but every once in a while I just have to let fly a few volleys against the misperceptions that take root and spread like kudzu vine.

The *good news* is that you can educate your children classically, and use the TruthQuest History guides in any way that you like.


Michelle Miller Howard:

Well, I hope Karen's posts give you some food for thought as you decide how to lay out your own children's history schedule. I just thought her comments might give you a freedom to probe deeply into American history, since that is what you were longing to do, for the early to mid-elementary years without feeling like you were abandoning your classical philosophy. I should let you know, along that line, that the older TruthQuest History guides would be over the head of most elementary students, since it has them probe issues you may not want your young children exploring. You see, with TruthQuest History, you will not just be 'meeting' famous people and 'attending' famous events; you will be digging down to the spiritual, moral, and philosophical base of every culture. Many of the spiritual, moral, and philosophical stances are the absolute opposite of the ones you're trying to inculcate, and this is especially true of the ancient societies.

Well, it's also true of every age, even the last four centuries you would be covering in the older "Age of Revolution" guides (if you don't go with the "American History for Young Students" guides). These Age of Rev guides have to explore the serious rebellion against God that led to 'enlightenment' thinking, the gruesome French Revolution, progressivism, evolution, Marxism, socialism, etc. These are topics that may be quite a burden to your young ones, who are still in that lovely age when it is so nice to be able to focus more on the positive lessons of history...and when the children's literature on American history is so rich that you'll probably want every moment focused there before they outgrow it!

Well, I guess you have my opinion, for what it's worth. Please keep in mind that these thoughts are very general. If you're working with a group, and someone wants to study a particular era, those particulars make a difference. These posts are only to stimulate thinking in a general way.

In Him,

Michelle Miller Howard

TruthQuest History

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