Okay by request....my review of the Well-Trained Mind (extremely long)
I want to begin with the explanation that this is my view of the book, that these are merely my opinions on the book. I know there are many people who love this book and there are many who embrace the "classical education" approach. I was asked to review the book when I finished it. I have decided to review the first part of the book: The Grammar Stage because I will probably be putting the book away for a while.
I agree that history is a story and should be taught that way for the 1-4th grades, history should begin when our understanding of history began and progress to the present without jumping around and confusing children, children will learn very well being taught an earth-centric manner and slowly moving down to community and family centric instead of beginning in their community and expanding out to the world; science can (and should) be broken down into full disciplines instead of teaching bits of each discipline each year and growing ever deeper in their understanding; phonics, reading and math are the most important subjects for the early learners and all else is icing on the educational cake at that age; and lastly we should be aiming for a well-rounded child who has at least an appreciation of all subjects.
Now for what I disagree with: her ideas on what exactly makes up appropriate reading materials for the grammar stage child, teaching Latin to 3rd and 4th graders, her ideas on the use of Computers and Videos, and lastly the vast amount of time she suggests for this young age.
I have 2 disagreements with this book on what is appropriate reading material for the grammar stage. The first is that she actually has a rant against Goosebumps, Spinechillers, and Sweet Valley High. She goes on for paragraphs lamenting that the child who reads those books (even for their "free read time") will turn away from "anything that makes his brain work too hard." In my opinion, that is snobbery that is actually not based in reality. As a former teacher I watched many, many children who raced their way through the entire shelf of Goosebump books somewhere near middle school and began to pull out the more gruesome tales of horror from Dracula to Frankenstein to Titus Andronicus. I met many a girl who worked her way through the teenage-crush novels to move on to Emma and Wuthering Heights and The Taming of the Shrew. It is hogs-wallop that a child will simply turn away from the longer sentences and double entendres present in more advanced books.
The second disagreement is that she seems to believe that all of the pieces of literature one selects should be part of the canon, so much so that in fact the first female author in her list is Jane Austen who was born in 1775 for goodness sakes! I was very disappointed not to see any of the female authors I learned of and fell in love with: Bradstreet, Wroth, Wollstonecraft, and Abigail Adams!!! Sigh. As someone who railed against the canon in my classroom, I am certainly going to teach my children that women helped shape the world too. Actually my very first criticism of the book came when I noticed how man-centric it was. I had hoped we had left that behind.
Now teaching Latin to 3rd and 4th graders will teach them to think outside of their personal perspective; however, I believe children would be better served learning etymology than learning Latin. Her argument is that [Latin makes up] "about 50% of English vocabulary." This is simply not true. English is made up of many languages: a good part of English is Greek (think phobias, anything beginning with angio- or ending with -gogue); Anglo-Saxon (like angry, hungry, birth and dead); Celtic (anything ending in ough); Norse (odd ones like berserk and kiosk). Latin is awesome and if a child has a desire to learn it, then YAY! BUT most children will be bored to tears with learning a language that they cannot talk to another living soul who speaks it. Learning French, Spanish, German, Yiddish even will be much more well-received, especially if there is someone in the family or the neighborhood who can understand them! Learning etymology is awesome and again if a child has a desire to learn it at this young age then...way cool. But even with my love of linguistics, etymology is really not something a child will want to learn. Yes, Yes I know that not everything needs to be fun, but I would much rather "force" mathematics, phonetics, grammar, and usable vocabulary than to force things that are so far outside the cultural norm.
Computers and videos definitely have their place in learning. Her descriptions of a child watching Sesame Street were laughable. My children almost never "sit slack jawed" while watching videos. Their minds are constantly working. They are noticing new vocabulary, yelling out suggestions to the characters, noticing characters we've covered (watching the Viking Apocalypse they noticed Ethelred the Unready and the Viking Leader Sweyn the Forkbeard). Okay I'll admit that we watch some uncommon movies, but there are times and places for such things and I do not believe she gives them even that much credit.
Lastly, I do not for one minute think that school should take more than 3 hours for a 1st grader. Her minimum times add up to 19 hours of work per week; divided into 5 days puts a child at nearly 4 hours of work before gym and free reading is added into the mix.