Book Review: Classical Me, Classical Thee

After I reviewed Eve in Exile on here (back in May), Canon Press contacted me to say that Bekah Merkle had written another book, this time on classical Christian education, and would I be interested in reviewing it? I was thrilled–anything Bekah and her sister Rachel write is an auto-read for me (I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with them because I listen to their podcast and follow them on Instagram)! But I clarified to Canon that we’re a blog for stay-at-home moms, not exactly the target audience for a book written expressly to high school students. As it turns out, this blog isn’t such an odd place to talk about the book, after all.

Classical Me, Classical Thee is indeed a quick read (I finished it over my morning tea) that eloquently and concisely articulates the reasons for a classical Christian education and its associated odd subjects for a skeptical teenager.  It’s also a good refresher for a parent like me who has spent years developing my philosophy of education and yet found myself stuttering this week when my ten year old looked over my shoulder while I was lesson planning and asked with a groan why he had to spend so much of his school day doing Latin this year.  And I think it’s a great, brief read for a young mom who is just starting to figure out what she thinks about the school options for her four year old.  At the very beginning of this philosophical journey, a long, detailed treatise (Bekah’s father literally wrote the book on classical Christian education) might be too much at this stage, and a detailed how-to-manual (I recommend The Well-Trained Mind, which provides the structure for our family’s particular flavor of classical Christian homeschooling) can look too crazy overwhelming.  Enter this little book–a brief fly-over of the topic that will hopefully have high school students turning back to their Latin translations with a bit more zest and certainly was just what this quasi-veteran homeschooler of six years needed to remind me of the big picture of why I’m being so counter-cultural in my children’s education in the first place.

Classical Me, Classical Thee begins and ends with a premise that I love telling my kids: “[R]eal life doesn’t begin in college.  You’re deep in it already.  The choices you’re making right now drastically affect your actual life.” (p. 10 of my ARC).  That might sound melodramatic but see my posts to the teenage girl who wants to be a SAHM someday.  I completely agree that we can’t wait until we’re 18 (or 22 or 30…) to start preparing for real life.  We want our kids developing good habits and character now.  The goal of a classical education, simply put, is “to turn you into a leader” (15), and not just any kind of leader–

They want to see you go out into the world with your loyalties intact; they want to see you stand for the right things, and fight for the right things, and persuade others of the right things, everywhere you go throughout your life.  They want to see you “enchant the souls” of all who come into contact with you as you display the beauty of the gospel in a full-orbed and robust Christian worldview.  They want you to know what you think and why you think it and be able to winsomely explain it to others.  They want to see you leave a mark on the world. (Ch. 8)

That’s an exciting vision!  Though my son is younger than the target audience, I’m planning to take him out on a mom-son date next week and read him this paragraph as we talk about the school year.  My girls are still in the I-love-all-of-school-because-I-get-to-sit-next-to-Mommy-and-be-a-big-kid stage, but I want to communicate this goal to them as they enter their tweens, too.

On to specifics, for those who are interested–my advanced copy was just 90 pages, but they pack a lot of punch.  There’s a chapter on Latin that argues the benefits, even if you forget every declension and conjugation.  (“As you expand your vocabulary, you’re learning much more that lists of words.  You’re learning about the universe.  You’re parsing feelings, sensations, actions, categories…You are broadening your mind.”)  (32-33) As a former high school literature teacher myself, I agreed emphatically with her chapter on the value of actually studying literature and not just our feelings about literature.  (“You are being taught to answer the question, “What does it mean?” and that is a fundamentally different question than “What does it mean to you?””) (40)  I’d probably add in more about the value of participating in the Great Conversation–that we read from the Canon because our intellectual discussions today don’t come out of a vacuum.  But she touches on the importance of context in her history chapter, and she has certainly spent more years teaching high schoolers than I did.  She probably knows what their actual hang-ups are more than I do.

The chapter on logic emphasizes the capacity for clear, logical reasoning as a form of “self defense,” and she explains in the rhetoric chapter that politics isn’t the only career path that requires clear communication and persuasion.  Even her chapter on math and science, subjects where the content might not be different from a public school class, points out that the context will be different because “If you study math and see it as a reflection of your Creator-as the work of an artist with love and intentionality behind it-then you view math completely differently than someone who believes everything we see is the result of blind chance.” (64-65)  I already quoted from the worldview chapter, but she underscores the importance of actually providing a moral and spiritual foundation for all the learning: “Because, and I acknowledge this cheerfully, if you graduate with all of the skills but none of the discernment, then you’re actually turning into a monster.”) (61)  Throughout the book, I enjoyed the solid, practical analogies.  A road map, a card game, a twisty mall, a puzzle–there are lots of fun pictures that help bring high-level philosophical ideas down to earth.  The style is chatty, approachable, and fun.

If you couldn’t tell, I heartily recommend this slim book for the high schooler or the young parent.  I will say that this book presumes that students are in a brick-and-mortar classical Christian school.  I’ve never lived close enough to a CC school for that to be an option for our family (though there is a classical Christian high school in Santa Monica that we like the looks of, if we could afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to send all our crew through), and obviously you know that all of us E2S founders are homeschooling our families.  I believe Classical Me, Classical Thee can be part of the home library toolbox for families, regardless of where their children end up receiving their education.

 

I received a copy of the ACCS pre-release edition directly from Canon Press in return for my unbiased review.  All the book links are affiliate links, so if you click through them and order any of the recommended books, we receive a tiny percentage that we use to help cover our blog hosting fees.

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