Book Review: ‘The Well-Trained Mind’

Book Review: ‘The Well-Trained Mind’

November 1, 2007, Epoch Times

An invaluable book for parents, teachers, and students of all ages.

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The Well-Trained Mind, a book familiar to homeschoolers, is an eye-opening, inspiring, and incredibly practical guide to education that deserves a much wider audience. This impressive text by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise is fully titled, The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. Indeed, it is that and so much more.

The book’s authors are a mother-daughter team whose educational history could, itself, make for an inspiring novelette. In the Prologue, Jessie Wise, a veteran teacher and school administrator, tells the story of pulling her children out of school to teach them at home in the early 1970s—a radical idea at the time.

After describing her years of experience and training, she says, “Yet, I was completely intimidated by those three little children, certain that I couldn’t do an adequate job of teaching them myself.”

It becomes abundantly clear that a more than adequate job was, in fact, done when her daughter, Susan Wise Bauer, gives her perspective. She accredits her jaw-dropping academic and professional success to her classical home education and describes her passion for learning and how she educates her own children at home.

Of her experience she says, “It gave me an immeasurable head start, the independence to be innovate and work on my own, confidence in my ability to compete in the job market, and the mental tools to build a satisfying career.”

The Well-Trained Mind asserts an interesting commentary on modern education. Both authors describe their experiences as professional educators and moms. They discuss the prevalence of “leveling” in the classroom (encouraging the top performers to come down to the level of the rest), negative social influences in schools, and disorganized teaching philosophies.

In introducing the instruction of history, the authors write, “It’s too often taught unsystematically, as a series of unrelated bits and pieces: American history this year, ancient history the next, eighteenth-century France the year after that. Think back—chances are you studied these subjects in different years, in different units, out of different textbooks. You probably have difficulty fitting them together chronologically.”

Perhaps one of the best features of The Well-Trained Mind is that it not only provides such commentary, but also (unlike other writings on the topic) provides very specific solutions.

The book, at its core, is a practical guide to the trivium—a medieval educational philosophy and foundation of Western classical education—that “organizes learning around the maturing capacity of the child’s mind.” The trivium is a system that divides education into three phases: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

The Well-Trained Mind calls for teaching all traditional school subjects within this framework: the grammar stage (from kindergarten through fourth grade), the logic stage (from fifth through eighth grades), and the rhetoric stage (from ninth through twelfth grades).

The modern application of trivium was first suggested by Oxford scholar Dorothy L. Sayers in 1947. Her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” (easily found through a quick Internet search) is quoted throughout the book and obviously inspired much of its content.

The Well-Trained Mind provides a handbook for putting this philosophy into action. While tailored for the homeschool environment, the ideas in this book could be applied to numerous situations: by parents wishing to supplement their child’s education, individuals wanting to go back and learn what they should have learned in school, or teachers hoping to inspire excellence in their students.

In addition to mapping out a course for classical education, The Well-Trained Mind offers extensive resource lists for every phase and subject. This alone, in my opinion, is worth the cover price.

I highly recommend the book to those who are invested in the education of their children, their students, or themselves; and to those interested in evaluating the modern-day educational system.

 

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