I want to give my kids a classical education. I know it consists of certain assignments and exercises. But, if I don’t have actual knowledge about what I am doing or how it all fits together, how can I honesty persuade my child of an exercise’s importance? “Do this it this way.” “Why?” “Cause the school says it’s important for your vis cogitativa.” “What’s that?” “I’m not really sure, but experienced moms tell me I’ll understand it all by the time you graduate.”
I have no idea what I’m doing. This whole experience feels like I’m trying to bake my Gran’s biscuits over the phone. “How much shortening do I put in?” “A good dollop or two.” “How much do I knead it, Gran?” “Until it looks right.” “What does that even mean?” The results? A lot of bad biscuits until I completely reinvent that wheel. Even worse, since I’ve never experienced a Classical Education, it’s really like trying to bake Gran’s biscuits over the phone without ever having seen or eaten a biscuit before.
I tried to remedy my problem with a STACK of school resources and fancy old books. Unfortunately, classical education (and it’s associated primary sources) uses a lot of Classical Verbage. Knowledge, art, science, memory, imagination, intellect, ends, accidents, arguments, means, causes, passions — those words don’t mean what we think they mean and they’re used constantly. We’re separated by a common language. It’s as if my Alabama Gran was telling a British dude to how to make her “biscuits” over the phone. He wouldn’t just have “no idea,” he’d have “the wrong idea.”
Getting the vocabulary straight has been a huge help. I haven’t completely remedied my situation, but I have come a long way and here’s what has worked for me.
1) Aristotle for Everybody, by Mortimer Adler. This is the most effective way I know to acquire the vocabulary you need. He uses the words you KNOW to explain what is UNKNOWN. (Sound familiar?) Read it cover to cover. Even the introduction and back matter. You’ll be all over the hierarchy of “goods” and get why the word “knowledge” is used so weirdly in classical ed. “True, good, and beautiful” are actually categories of things, not just a catch phrase for “noble stuff.” Also it will give you a leg up on all that high school talk about the purpose of “the state” and government. In the back there’s a wonderful concordance for cherry-picking Aristotle or just getting a general idea on his works.
2) How to Read a Book This is by the same author. It’s a huge book, but it will catch you up fast on the whole “finding the argument” skills. Part 2 and the first three chapters of Part 3 have proven to be the most helpful to me at this point. Maybe start there. Before this book, I had no idea how to find “the main points” of an argument. If that’s you, definitely get going on this before your oldest hits 5th. Also, in the back is a list of Classic books for you to read (if you like) and which sections of those books are the best.
3) The One Minute Aquinas, by Kevin Vost. St. Thomas “baptized” and expanded on Aristotle’s work. He comprehensively maps the human soul. It’s said that the Baltimore Catechism is distilled Aquinas. They’re not wrong. Understanding Thomas and his lingo will not only help in school, it will help in church. This book is like De Anima for Dummies with a heaping helping of Summa for Simpletons.
If you milk those three for all they’re worth and are still hungry for more, I just completed a self-study of Memoria Press’ Material Logic text. It’s also a very good “learn the vocabulary” text, but it takes some serious effort. It wasn’t fully understandable to me until these previous three books had yielded their fruits.
I hope these books help you as much as they’ve helped me. I am rocking out now on substances and accidents, actions and passions, sense/imagination/memory and agent intellect. What a RELIEF!