The Highest Education

I’m currently preparing to teach a relatively low-key, six-week course of short stories and readings to middle schoolers. To that end, I was perusing my collection of classic short stories.

As I searched my Kindle library, I noticed that I had highlighted large portions of a particular chapter in Booker T. Washington’s Character Building. The chapter is titled The Highest Education, and as I re-read the highlighted sections, I thought they were worth sharing here.

He starts by indicating how education is most commonly viewed:

We are very apt to get the idea that education means the memorizing of a number of dates, of being able to state when a certain battle took place, of being able to recall with accuracy this event or that event. We are likely to get the impression that education consists in being able to commit to memory a certain number of rules in grammar, a certain number of rules in arithmetic, and in being able to locate correctly on the earth’s surface this mountain or that river, and to name this lake and that gulf.

Now I do not mean to disparage the value of this kind of training, because among the things that education should do for us is to give us strong, orderly and well developed minds. I do not wish to have you get the idea that I undervalue or overlook the strengthening of the mind. If there is one person more than another who is to be pitied, it is the individual who is all heart and no head. You will see numbers of persons going through the world whose hearts are full of good things – running over with the wish to do something to make somebody better, or the desire to make somebody happier – but they have made the sad mistake of being absolutely without development of mind to go with this willingness of heart. We want development of mind and we want strengthening of the mind.

He continues by making clear why the above is important but incomplete:

But, after all, this kind of thing is not the end of education. What, then, do we mean by education? I would say that education is meant to give us an idea of truth. Whatever we get out of text books, whatever we get out of industry, whatever we get here and there from any sources, if we do not get the idea of truth at the end, we do not get education. I do not care how much you get out of history, or geography, or algebra, or literature, I do not care how much you have got out of all your text books:-unless you have got truth, you have failed in your purpose to be educated. Unless you get the idea of truth so pure that you cannot be false in anything, your education is a failure.

These were originally lectures which were later compiled into book form. Washinton ended this session by impressing upon his students that their aim should be finding the true and the beautiful -ultimately from God- in their educational pursuits:

Education is meant to make us appreciate the things that are beau-tiful in nature. A person is never educated until he is able to go into the swamps and woods and see something that is beautiful in the trees and shrubs there, is able to see something beautiful in the grass and flowers that surround him, is, in short, able to see something beautiful, elevat-ing and inspiring in everything that God has created. Not only should education enable us to see the beauty in these objects which God has put about us, but it is meant to influence us to bring beautiful objects about us. I hope that each one of you, after you graduate, will surround himself at home with what is beautiful, inspiring and elevating. I do not believe that any person is educated so long as he lives in a dirty, miserable shanty. I do not believe that any person is educated until he has learned to want to live in a clean room made attractive with pictures and books, and with such surroundings as are elevating.

In a word, I wish to say again, that education is meant to give us that culture, that refinement, that taste which will make us deal truthfully with our fellow men, and will make us see what is beautiful, elevating and inspiring in what God has created. I want you to bear in mind that your text books, with all their contents, are not an end, but a means to an end, a means to help us get the highest, the best, the purest and the most beautiful things out of life.

The entire chapter can be read here.

Not your parents’ homeschooling.

One of the things we still get questions about on a regular basis are the scope, accountability, or limitations of homeschooling. Given the way the practice has exploded in recent years, this surprises me, but the reality seems to be that most people are still fairly committed to the conventional public school system, with private school close behind for those who can afford it.

The perception of homeschoolers as isolated, socially awkward, and lacking educational rigor or responsibility is far removed from our particular homeschool experience. In fact, we have run across a lot of things and people in our Christian homeschool community that dovetail and overlap pretty closely with the secular school world. For example:

  • A strong emphasis on acquiring the tools to test well enough to get into college
  • A trend toward insuring kids have credit transferable to the state system
  • A marked increased in the use of tools like the public virtual school network to tackle subjects the parents can’t or don’t want to tackle.

Those are just three that initially occur, not including some of the peripheral issues concerning culture and modesty that many families are dealing with, largely as a result of the fact that church youth groups and ministries contain a mixture of kids from all educational backgrounds. Additionally, there are different standards on many of these things held by parents as well.

So when people ask me questions that I thought were already well plowed in the general culture and with answers I think are well known, I am surprised. Our homeschool experience is far removed from the days when the clarion call was “Heaven, not Harvard!” To be sure, the wonderful Christian homeschool parents we encounter and enjoy fellowship with are definitely more invested in their kids’ eternal end than their temporal one. They have simply decided that a top notch education can be included in those plans.

We are such parents, and our homeschool life reflects that. We have always been crystal clear on the reality that not all socialization is good socialization, so that basic question has never been something that moved us. However, for the sake of accountability, rigor and fellowship, we have included a few outside educational components to our homeschool life. I’ll list a few.

When our 11-year-old started her middle school years this fall, we knew that we wanted to add some extra rigor and accountability to her education, and so set out to research the many venues we are blessed to have in our area.

These are venues more structured and yes, more expensive, than your typical homeschool cooperative that most people think of when they consider homeschool enrichment. That is not what we were looking for, having already been connected to such a cooperative for several years.

What we did was enroll our kids in what can only be considered a part-time Classical Christian school, where the teachers are paid and the high school level students receive credit for the work they do. In our area, there are many alternatives available for homeschoolers to avail themselves of such services and it’s one of the reasons why we have, unlike may communities, a fair number of families to share community with for the past 5 years, forming lasting friendships.

Socialization? Check.

As for the question of curriculum and state accountability, the curriculum our kids are working on are, in most cases, more rigorous than the public school curriculum, but in the areas where a student might need more time or developmental berth, homeschooling provides the opportunity to provide it. Having paid teachers who often grade assignments more strictly than parents or conventional teachers has been instrumental to our daughters’ academic development.

Accountability? Check.

Rigor? Check.

I realize that not every homeschool family has access to the resources that we enjoy in our particular situation and geographic region. The point of this post is to point out that homeschooling has evolved in myriad ways. Many of the ways are for the better, and some are for the worse.

One thing is for sure. It’s not the same Christian homeschool most often thought of by those only familiar with the kind of Christian homeschooling called to mind in people who are familiar with the homeschool movement popularized in the 1980s.

This is a new generation of Christian homeschooling.




The Escape of Oney Judge

oney judge

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s slave finds freedom. Originally published in 2007. Hardcover, 32 pages.

The Escape of Oney Judge is a children’s book, which as the title indicates, recounts the story of the escape of the female slave of Martha Washington, wife of founding father and first president George Washington. Oney was the daughter of an enslaved seamstress named Betsy, and an English tailor indentured servant by the name of Andrew Judge.

There are more detailed and extensive literary accounts of Oney Judge’s story, but this is the book our 9-year-old picked up from the library on a recent trip. She has written two book reviews for this blog, but this is one she wasn’t quite sure how to review, so it falls to me.

It’s a good, balanced historical children’s book. Rather than engage in hyperbole and theatrics, it reveals the complicated relationships and emotional connections that developed between slaves -particularly house slaves- and their masters and mistresses.

In Oney’s case, the realization that when all was said and done, she was still property to be bought, sold, or gifted was the impetus for her dramatic escape and time of hiding. Despite the constant dread of being found and sent back into slavery, Oney Judge decided the rewards and hardships were well worth the risk.

This is a very good book for kids between 7-10. I chose that age range based not only on reading level, which is well in hand of a literate 10-year-old, but content.

This was the 2008 Bank Street Best Children’s book of the year.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Nothing to be alarmed about here, but it is a story about the intersection of slavery and our country’s most beloved founding father.



The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare. Analysis and synopsis here.

I only read this play -reportedly Shakespeare’s shortest- because our middle school aged daughter was recently a part of its production as a part of the classical education program our children are enrolled in. I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare. However, I am a huge fan of comedy and this play is really quite funny.

The language, as anyone who read Shakespeare in high school can attest, is cumbersome and often frustrating. I know for certain that there were parts of the dialogue that our daughter didn’t quite grasp and for that I am thankful. Our drama instructors, a wonderful couple who love the Lord dearly, are former New York theater people who stayed true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s original play and Shakespeare had a ribald sense of humor.

My  kid is down there in one of these outstanding costumes that a very talented mother put together from blankets, duvet covers, and other miscellaneous scraps of fabric.

comedy of errors

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: an Advent Devotional

Unwrapping the names of Jesus, by Asheritah Ciuciu. 

This is the book we are using each night at dinner to help us remember not to let the Messiah fade in to background of our Christmas celebration.
I have read ahead in it and it is really quite good. It exalt Jesus, sticks to the point, and each day’s reading is full of relevant Scripture.

It is only left in Kindle version online but you can get a free three day sample of it here.