How to use The Well-Trained Mind in a Secular Homeschool

Finding the Perfect Curriculum

If you’re a secular homeschooling mom like me, you might be a little uncertain how to classically educate. There are some very simple adaptations you can make to use The Well-Trained Mind in a secular homeschool. Let me show you how:

Classical Education from a secular perspective...

I love the principles of a classical education. The “Trivium” is a really fabulous foundation to establish a wide knowledge base. There’s really no better way to learn how to learn, in my opinion.

But Susan Wise Bauer clearly intends it to be delivered from a religious perspective.

That’s something I’m not interested in. So, this is how I plan to adapt the structure of the trivium. I have a variety of end goals for my adaptations:

  • Not teaching about religion (as a cultural perspective) until my kids are older
  • creating a much more inclusive historical perspective is crucial to me
  • Being more flexible and having time for extra-curricular activities
  • Not spending hours at a time sitting, reading passively- a more hands-on approach

Am I Getting Ahead of Myself? What the heck is The Well-Trained Mind, anyway?

And why would I want to use The Well-Trained Mind in a secular homeschool?

In case you’re not as well versed in this book, there is a nice, basic synopsis over here on goodreads. It’s a pretty expansive tome of a book, but don’t be daunted. It’s eminently readable. And fascinating. I really do think it’s a vital resource for home education. It divides the educational years into three sections- the Grammar Stage, the Logic Stage, and the Rhetoric stage. Those phases roughly align with elementary, middle and high school. But the beauty of an adaptable classical education is we can enter those stages as our kids are ready for them. There’s nothing more important to me than getting my kids comfortable with each level of a subject, before we move on to the next one.

Since I don’t expect them to achieve mastery in any subject unless they show a real drive or determination to do so, I plan to use the classical framework to make sure that we are covering everything. Then we can build upon our knowledge base brick-by-brick until we have an impressive structure. And that structure will be my kids’ education. They can take that structure with them for the rest of their lives, adding on wherever they desire.

Is The Well-Trained Mind secular?  Well, no, but that's not an insurmountable obstacle.

My plan for teaching religion:

I completely DO plan to teach my kids about religion; about all of the religions. From a secular viewpoint. With as much sensitivity and respect to cultural perspective as possible. Being a citizen of the world comes with a responsibility to educate yourself, and it’s vital that that education comes from a point of acceptance. There are as many ways to live your life and practice your personal values and beliefs as there are people in this world. At least, that’s what I plan to teach my kids.

Is it a problem to use The Well-Trained Mind in a secular Homeschool?

Well, technically, no. There isn’t a problem. There’s these amazing resource sections for exactly how to implement each stage of the trivium right in the book. They have terrific curriculum recommendations, and it’s easy to find the secular resources in their lists. It’s more about what’s missing from their recommendations, especially in their history resources.

History is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cornerstones of a classical education. The time frame they use to teach history is as follows:

  • Ancients: 5000 BCE – 400 ACE
  • Medieval/Early Renaissance: 400-1600
  • Late Renaissance/Early Modern: 1600-1850
  • Modern: 1850- present

The problem is, in their recommendations for people to study in each of those time periods, their lists contain practically no women or people of color. They are overwhelmingly comprised of old, white men. Ugh. This is a major flaw, in my opinion. So, while it’s a little daunting, since I’m not a historian, I plan to choose very different people to focus on during each time period. Especially the first time around teaching each of these time periods (in the Trivium, you teach each historical period in each stage). While my kids are little, I will be focusing almost solely on women and people of color, and ignoring the white men almost completely.

I know this sounds biased, and I guess it is, but here’s the thing- those old white men will have their due. We will talk about them. But a lot of times, their contributions come with complicated discussions. One of many examples is Christopher Columbus. How do you teach about that guy completely? Yes, he contributed to history. But he was a monster, too. So, maybe it’s best to wait on studying Columbus in depth until the logic stage. My kids will be old enough to have an understanding of the many shades of grey in a historical narrative. And we can have candid conversations about enslavement, imperialism… the whole nine yards.

Classical Education... modified and modernized.

I want us to get outside and DO!

I want to use The Well-Trained Mind in a secular homeschool as the basis of our approach. But I think Charlotte Mason was right, too- “Never be indoors when you can rightly be without.” I know that will be a really hard one for me, cuz I’m an indoorsy gal. But my two youngest live for being outside. For kids, it’s crucial. And I also believe it enhances the learning process; it’s more sensory, there are tangible health benefits, and it’s an amazing way for us to incorporate some of our core family values of caring for the earth and creating more sustainable living practices.

So, will we sit around reading every book recommended in the resource sections? That would be a no. Will we get to half of them? I hope so. Are some of the books recommended outdated and problematic in some of their themes? No question. We’ll be navigating those waters as we go, too. What books do we read so that we can have careful conversations about depictions, stereotypes, historical perspectives? And which books will we skip because it’s just too egregiously offensive? I will let you know on a case-by-case basis.

I also want us to have time for volunteer work, extra-curricular activities, time with family and friends, and any other passions my children might develop over the years!

So, while I embrace a literature-based education and feel strongly it’s the way to go, it will be heavily modified and modernized to meet our family’s needs and lifestyle. We have a tall order as parents in this day and age, and raising our kids requires an incredible amount of sensitivity, flexibility and thoughtfulness. I’ll be learning a lot of those things right alongside my kids. It will be thrilling. And if we don’t reach subject mastery in the rhetoric phase of the trivium, that will be more than OK. I expect it. Because the learning we will have done instead will have been so much more valuable. That’s what homeschooling is all about!

Are you looking for resources to get started homeschooling? Check out my post on getting your spouse on board, and making our homeschools more like schools in Finland!

How to Use the Well-Trained Mind in a Secular Homeschool

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