Transcript for SS #60: History as a Center Cannot Hold (with Angelina Stanford!)
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Brandy: You’re listening to Scholé Sisters episode number 60.
Welcome to Scholé Sisters, the podcast for the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow. Scholé Sisters is a casual conversation about topics that matter to those of us in the trenches of classical homeschooling who yearn for something more than just checking boxes and getting it all done. I’m your host, Brandy Vencel. You can find me at Afterthoughts—that’s my main blog, and also Teaching Reading with Bob Books, which is where I keep my line of printable phonics lessons. You can hear more from me on my other podcast, AfterCast. My co-host today is Mystie Winckler. Mystie is a second-generation homeschooler with five kids and too many projects. With her blog, podcast, and membership, she helps you organize your attitude so you can organize your life. Find her over at SimplyConvivial.com. Our guest today is the lovely and delightfully controversial Angelina Stanford. Angelina has an Honors Baccalaureate Degree and a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Louisiana. For over twenty-five years, she has shared her passion and enthusiasm for literature with students in a variety of settings — everywhere from university classrooms to homeschool co-ops to homeschooling her own three children. You can find Angelina at angelinastanford.com where she teaches online literature classes for middle school through adult, as well as webinars and short-term classes. She had a big summer, launching The Literary Life Podcast with her longtime friend, Cindy Rollins, and in June she married her very own poet. She lives quite happily in a honeymoon cottage in North Carolina, tracking down rare books and inspiring poetry. We are pleased to introduce our newest innovation, Your Schole Sheet. The Your Schole Sheet free download is designed to help you engage with each episode’s content and apply the new ideas right away so that you don’t lose them in the bustle of daily life. Go to today’s show notes at scholesisters.com/ss60 to get your copy.
In today’s episode, we read Angelina a quote from herself on teaching history from last time she was on the show – she caused quite a ruckus with this one. Then, we ask her to defend herself. What resulted was a truly amazing conversation! And so, without further ado, let’s get to it.
[00:02:48] Scholé Every Day
Brandy: Let’s start off with our Scholé Every Day, which is our fancy way of saying share what you’re reading. We’re learning. Mystie, want to start us off?
Mystie: So I am employing the classic strategy of assigning books to my children that I have always thought that I should read.
Angelina: Very good strategy! Very good strategy!
Mystie: So my older two boys and I are going to be reading, in our reading, Calvin’s Institutes over the next two years. So I spread it all out over two years and it’s about four pages a day during the school year.
Brandy: That’s not too bad.
Mystie: So I’m trying to keep that same pace myself. So with pre-reading (my very limited and spotty and not consistent pre-reading experience has lead me to the conclusion that if you just give yourself the chunks of reading that you ought to be doing in a big lump none of it actually happens). I am trying to take the assignments that I’ve given in the small daily bits and just read those as daily assignments myself and it’s working a lot better because I don’t usually have multiple hours to do all the reading all at once but that’s kind of what it looks like when I just say, “Okay, this is what I should be reading.” And it’s just an amount that would take hours. I tend to think of it as that chunk and then that doesn’t happen.
Brandy: That’s how I’ve always done. It is to take a whole afternoon and just read and read and read and read and read.
Mystie: That’s not happening in my house.
Brandy: But well this year it’s not happening. But what I’m finding is I’m taking my schedule of a stack of books to every doctor appointment that anybody needs to go and pre-reading in doctor’s offices all over the city.
Mystie: Redeeming the time.
Brandy: It’s actually working better than I expected. And now—I used to get annoyed waiting—and now, I’m like, they called me too fast.
Angelina: Well, I think it’s great that y’all pre-read. I made a decision a long, long time ago when I was a graduate school, my favorite professor had said to us that she would read anything she assigned to us and she wasn’t going to be one of those professors who just phone it in because I’ve read it a hundred times. And I’m like that in my classes anything I assigned to be read I have read it too. So I also have everything broken down into daily assignments, which I’m reading right along with my students. I think that’s absolutely the way to go. That way it’s fresh in your mind. You can talk about the fresh connections.
Mystie: I’ve done it both ways with Lit. classes also and the difference between when I was like, “Oh, yeah, I read that two years ago,” versus “Oh, I read that this week” is incredibly better.
Angelina: Well, you make new connections because you’re reading it with new people and you’re reading it alongside other books. It’s always fresh to me. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I think I’d be bored if I wasn’t reading with them.
Brandy: I think that’s one of the signs that you’ve assigned good books that you can bear reading them over and over again as the years are going by, too.
Angelina: Well, yeah, that’s for sure.
Brandy: So Angelina, does that mean that you have a time set aside every day for reading?
Angelina: Oh yes, very much so. I’m teaching eight classes this year so that’s a lot of reading and I make time every day to keep up with the reading just like they would.
Angelina: Plus I’m reading commentaries on top, so yes, it’s a lot of reading. I don’t mind. I like it. I think I’m really lucky that I get paid to read.
Brandy: For sure.
Angelina: I mean, you know because I have the luxury of being able to say, “I’m sorry this stack of book at me, this is work time. No one can bother me. I’m on the clock.” It’s a luxury for me.
Mystie: How about you, Brandy?
Brandy: Oh me. Okay. I will I feel like Calvin’s Institutes, okay.
Angelina: I’m going the complete opposite direction. You can crash and burn with me. We’ll nose dive together.
Brandy: I am not quite as impressive as that. I’m reading Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery which I’ve never read before and it reminds me of Understood Betsy so much and I’ve read that book four times because I read it aloud to four kids as the years went by. I just love it and it reminds me of what I like about Montgomery because really all I’ve read by her, as far as I can remember, has been the Anne books, but she is so good at representing children as born persons and I really feel like that’s every time I read her I come away thinking about how I treat children and how that possibly makes them feel on the inside. And I mean, I like to think I’m a considerate person, but I’m not nearly as considerate as Montgomery I’ll say that. [Laughter] And it’s so interesting to read her and I just got to a part where the little girl (she’s 11 and she’s already a better housekeeper than I am) and she is keeping house for her dad for the summer so she’s learning to cook and her aunt comes in and takes over and makes her feel small and insulted and patronized, and all of that. And you’re seeing it from her perspective so you’re just seeing how unfair it is, but I thought I wonder how many of us adults just do that because we think, ‘Oh you down there, you’re a child.’ And that’s pretty much what’s coming out. Laughing at them or finding them amusing in a way that makes them feel disrespected. It’s just very interesting to me. It does remind me, though, of Understood Betsy because you have this little girl raised in a wealthy family where she would love to do chores and contribute in some way but she’s not allowed to and she doesn’t get to make any of her own decisions or anything and she goes and lives with her father and she becomes the woman of the house and gets to do all the things she’s always wanted to do—learn to cook and learn to keep house and keep a garden, she’s able to get dirty, and so you’re seeing this transformation where she’s going from kind of disliking everybody around her to finding it so easy to like everybody, and Montgomery says what she didn’t realize was the change was happening inside of her, it wasn’t that she was suddenly surrounded by more likable people it was that she was in a place where she was starting to flourish and so it became easy to like other people, all sorts of kinds of people. So I’m really enjoying it. It’s an easy, quick sort of read for sure. I haven’t decided if it was really written for juveniles or adults.
Angelina: You know, Lewis says no children’s book worth its salt is written just for children.
Brandy: Amen. That is for sure. What about you, Angelina? What are you reading?
Angelina: Alright, so of course, I’m going have to have a story to explain my story. So I do a lot of heavy reading as my job and I love it, but one of the things I realized is that I have been neglecting just the fun read because I think the scholarly reading is fun and I sort of became aware that I was out of perspective in my reading. I needed some fun reading and I’ve married a man who is the most well-read man I have ever met in my life. Since he was 18 years old he reads two books a week.
Angelina: He’s extraordinarily well read—essays, he’s got double degrees in English literature and classics. He sight reads ancient Latin. I’m not even joking—just pulls it out sight reads it and can understand it. Which comes in handy because I’m a medievalist and a great many of the footnotes in the books I read are in Latin and I just hand them to him and he tells me what it means and I think, okay, I understand now. So because I have been skewed in that way, over this past summer I have been trying to be really deliberate, like to the point I’m writing it down (I made a habit tracker and I’m keeping track) so that I can actually visually see, ‘Okay, it’s been two weeks since I read anything for fun.’ And trying to be more deliberate and cultivating that because, of course, books should be a delight and I have to, because it’s my profession, I have to make sure that I’m still engaging in the delight aspect of it. So, I asked my husband to help me with that and he loves giving book recommendations. He loves especially recommending the sort of minor, off the beaten path author because he knows I’ve read The Cannon, so he loves giving me the sort of off the beaten path author. He also knows I don’t read a lot of modern stuff. I just finish a book and I’ll turn to him and say, “What next?” and what he’s been doing too is ordering me books before I’m finished. So I get these little Christmas presents in the mail, you know Christmas in August—I got a new book. So the most recent one he gave me, I’m seven chapters in, was an author that I had never heard of (again, because I’m medievalist so, you know to me modern is Jane Austen) but as is so often the case I mentioned her on Facebook and all the home schoolers are like, “Yes, we’ve read her. We know her.” I’m always impressed with how well read homeschoolers are. So anyway, this book he got me is Excellent Women by Barbara Pym and Barbara Pym is considered to be the Jane Austen of the post-war world, post-war Britain. And he read about her and he thought, ‘Oh you would really like this,’ so he got it for me and I’ve been reading it while I’m in the waiting room of my daughter’s music lessons. So the waiting room reading that could be a whole other hashtag right there.
Brandy: So true.
Angelina: So I’m waiting till tomorrow to pick up the next chapter but it’s fabulous. She really is like Jane Austen. She’s got that “this is my small corner of the world and these are the people I know and these are the observations I’m making about human nature” and she’s got kind of a light ironic touch. And it’s really interesting because it’s in the postwar world and it’s about this community of people and they have a church and they have their friendships and they’re in this half-ruined state because we’ve won the war but we’re not over the war and kind of the central image of the book is that they worship in a church that was bombed so that half of the church is rubble from the bombing while the other half is still intact. Is that not an amazing image to just show you what she’s trying to get at? And so the people come in and they pile in to the half a church that’s not rubble. And it’s just about trying to rebuild civilization in the midst of that rubble and how hard it is.
Brandy: Wow. I need to get this book.
Angelina: With this sort of light Jane Austen touch. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’m so pleased with his pick here. So that’s Barbara Pym, and the book is Excellent Women—that’s considered to be her best book.
Brandy: You know, when my kids were little we took (we don’t have tons of stained glass in California, it’s not really a thing) but there is a stained-glass tour that you can take kind of downtown of some of the old churches and I distinctly remember going into one of them and they took us to a piece that was more recently done. I mean because the others were, you know, original with the church and they explained that after these European churches were bombed the church’s here bought the shattered stained glass as a fundraiser to help rebuild those churches. And so, this newer window was made up of pieces from a shattered European church.
Angelina: Oh, that’s fascinating.
Brandy: It was so neat and it was beautiful. It was just an incredible story. So the second you started saying this I could see this window that we saw when my kids were little (I don’t think any of them were in school yet, I used to take them on these little trips around town). So anyway.
Angelina: Well, I’m so personally touched by that image because I really think that that is a perfect metaphor for what we’re doing in education. We are standing in the rubble of the glories that had been classical education and we’re trying to rebuild it while standing in the rubble and it’s extremely difficult. Noble and worthy, but difficult.
Brandy: Sure is. Well, and that’s one thing that Mystie and I have been talking about lately is this idea of just because it’s hard doesn’t mean that we’re doing something wrong. You know, we can feel in this culture, like the thing that comes naturally and easily is the thing you’re supposed to do so you can flourish or whatever, and so then we hit the wall with these things. We don’t know Latin or we’ve not been well read or all those kinds of barriers to entry and we start to feel like well, maybe we’re doing something wrong because this is hard.
Angelina: But I think if you remember that you’re repairing the ruins (to paraphrase Milton). So John Milton wrote an essay called On Education where he said that the first aim of education is to repair the ruins of our First Fathers. And he was saying that a time where classical education was still in its in its glory days but he understood that inherently the active education is going to come up against the fall. We’re always going to be up against that hard, hard obstacle. And, of course, we’re under an additional obstacle of trying to repair the ruins of classical education. So not just the ruins of our First Father’s but also the ruins of our most recent fathers who blew it up. And we really are standing in the rubble. That’s the difficulty. And we’re so much in the rubble we don’t even remember what the cathedral looks like. It’s so hard to keep that vision in our minds because we don’t actually have anything to look at and we’re just piling stones on top of each other trying to get that rough outline, but it’s such good and noble work and it’s the work of being a human being. From the very beginning our destiny has been that we are in exile. We are out of sorts with God and man and everything else and we’re constantly trying to overcome that, and it’s extremely difficult work.
Mystie: And we’re looking for the blueprint so that we don’t make any mistakes.
Angelina: Yes. Yes, and there is no formula for rebuilding civilization. And that’s one of the things that this book is trying to get at, just the difficulty of. And then it’s easy to fall into cynicism.
Mystie: That’s true.
Brandy: Especially reading education news, which I did this morning, I’ll try not to be a cynic today while we’re recording.
Angelina: Well, it’s true though, we spend so much time and energy investing in things in our children that half the time we’re not even sure if it’s worthy. I mean I’m right there with you. We have our moments like yes, Latin will save the world and then you have this other moment of why am I beating my head against the wall for third declension neuter. I mean, does it matter? We’re crying over here over these endings? Does it really matter?
Brandy: That’s really funny to me because one of the most popular posts on my blog is a post that I did on third declension neuter. [Laughter]
Angelina: It’s hard. It’s hard.
Brandy: A source of desperation for women across America.
Angelina: It’s true. You feel so good when you’ve got those first two declensions, you’re like, “Latin’s easy! I’ve got this!” The third declension neuter subjunctive, you’re crying, you’re understanding suicide all of a sudden—like, it just makes so much [inaudible].
Brandy: So true. Oh, that’s why I eventually (I will admit) I gave up in hired tutors because we can’t hold back the restoration with our own ineptitude.
Angelina: That’s actually one of the nice things about being a couple of generations now into the renewal of this is that there are people you can hire who know Latin.
Brandy: That’s true.
Mystie: That is true.
Brandy: Well, and the invention of the internet means that even though they don’t live near me at all, I can still hire them.
Angelina: Yes. And I have a lot of mixed feelings about the internet and technology as I’m sure we all do, but as far as being a tool it’s something that can help us as we feel—every homeschool I’ve ever talked to (myself included) you feel so isolated and fragmented where you are and the internet for me has connected me with people who are going through similar journeys in life who I would have never met otherwise and that has meant everything to me, to the feel not alone, to feel like I’m working towards something with other people and it’s bigger than all of us.
Brandy: For sure.
[00:19:35] Topical Discussion
Brandy: Well, if you guys don’t mind, I am going to transition us to our topical discussion, though I feel like this could be our topical discussion, [Laughter] but we do have another thing to talk about. So, I kind of jokingly called this “History as a center cannot hold” but …
Angelina: Oh, very nice. Well done. Well done.
Brandy: So if you recall, Angelina, when you were on a couple seasons ago we talked about a word centered education and you made this comment about placing emphasis on history that resulted in us getting a small amount of hate mail. [Laughter]
Angelina: Wow. Wow.
Brandy: And actually, it was funny because one of the … well, it’s funny to me, probably not to this person, but one of them was kind of accusing us of picking on a certain curriculum or group of people or whatever, and what was funny to me was that group was absolutely not in my mind when I was listening to you because …
Angelina: Not in my mind while I was talking.
Brandy: So, you said that you would get on your soapbox (I actually have your quote here) …
Angelina: Oh boy, here we go.
Brandy: You said,
There was too much emphasis on history in the elementary school years in home school.
And when you first said that I will say that, for me, because I started home schooling back in the day when Vision Forum was like this big thing among the really conservative homeschoolers and remembering how everything was about, not just history, but it seemed to me like American history.
Mystie: Founding Fathers.
Brandy: It was funny to me that someone said that we were picking on this other curriculum because in my mind, actually that was what was in my mind because it probably depends on when you started homeschooling what would come to mind.
Angelina: I got involved in classical education in the 90’s – there probably isn’t even anything that’s popular now that was even around back then.
Angelina: But the movement that I got introduced to was the neoclassical movement that put it’s extremely high emphasis on history as the center. I could name books but I’m not picking on any one curriculum, honestly. It’s just a tendency I have noticed across the board in all of these classical curriculum to make history the unifying principle.
Brandy: Right. What’s interesting about that to me (Mystie and I actually did … and Pam, we did a two-part podcast series on Sayers’ essay, which inspired the whole neoclassical movement) she really doesn’t talk about history that much.
Angelina: Oh, poor Sayers. I’m glad you brought it up. You know, Dorothy Sayers is my girl [Laughter]. It kills me because she’s so misunderstood and that essay is so misunderstood. It was an off-the-cuff essay. Sayers was a brilliant systematic thinker and had she wanted to present us with the system of education she would have done that, but that’s not what that speech was. And if you read her letters, it’s clear that that’s not what that speech was. That speech was her throwing out some observations about children and how she thought they learned. And then she says, but if you want to know about this, you need to go back and study the medieval. And I feel like what happened is people just listen to the first half of what she said, “here’s some observations about how kids learn: they like to memorize things, like to repeat singsong stuff, and so you might as well give them Latin if they just want to memorize stuff.” They took that first part, completely ignored the second part which was go read the medievals, and then they did what she would have never wanted them to do. They made it a system. And they made it a one-size-fits-all system and I am not talking about anyone curriculum provider. I am talking about the neoclassical movement that I have observed myself since the nineties and you just see a lot of different manifestations of the same thing, but that that really rigid understanding of the Trivium as stages in a child’s life, which if you read the medievals, no sense of that. Never, ever is the Trivium and Quadrivium considered to be stages. That would have come as a complete shock to the medievals. But again, Dorothy Sayers says if you want to understand this go read the medievals—you have to read the medievals, you have to read her speech through the medieval eyes to understand what she’s talking about.
Brandy: So, you said, back in our previous …
Angelina: Oh, here we go. Alright. [Laughter]
Brandy: … that history was over emphasized, and then I’m hearing you talk about how medievalism is, you know about proportion and harmony, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh.’ So to some extent what you were saying is history’s out of proportion.
Angelina: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Because, you know, I thought about it later and I thought I hope no one read that and thought I don’t value history. I love history. I loved teaching it with my kids. I’d loved reading old history. I love finding old history books and reading them. I love history. I’m in no way devaluing history. It’s just that anything taken out of proportion is going to be problematic. And so, history has to have its place amongst the muses. My husband is fond of reminding me that the muses are sisters. So the muse of history and the muse of poetry—these are sisters. They’re meant to work together as part of one family. No, no, no, no muse is going to come out and stay in front and center and expect everybody to jump in behind.
Mystie: And I think in that previous conversation, and maybe people misunderstanding what was being said, is not understanding what organizing principle is. Like, we do need an organizing principle and history has become for many the organizing principle and that’s what’s out of proportion. But what does that mean? What does it mean to have an organizing principle?
Angelina: Well, I think part of what happened is that modern education is so fragmented and intentionally doesn’t have an organizing principle. In other words, science has nothing to do with math, has nothing to do with history, has nothing to do with poetry, has nothing to do with religion. Right? We’ve all been there. You have your vacuum class, right? And it doesn’t touch on anything else. And that’s not correct, of course, that’s not how human beings learn, that’s not how reality is. And so you have a generation of parents who rightfully saw this is wrong and who rightfully desire to see education as part of a whole. All of that is good and right and as medieval as can be—harmonizing, everything’s part of a unified whole …
Mystie: Integrated subjects.
Angelina: … integrated, everything is a footprint of something else, the universe is in harmony, it sings, it plays music (which is math and poetry and astrology and astronomy). Astrology and astronomy are the same thing in the middle ages, so again, I better define my terms before I get in trouble here.
Brandy: Angelina busted out the Tarot card.
Angelina: Again, that’s a modern vocabulary that means something different than in the middle ages, but when someone suggested as an organizing principle history, everyone got excited—myself included because I loved history, I agreed it had been devalued, so it was out of proportion in the sense that it wasn’t given any value, and it was an attempt to show that education was unified. I was excited about that. I totally understand why somebody would be excited about that. It kind of scratches all those itches. But if we make history the unifying principle (and I don’t think it can be) then it creates another set of problems that I tried to, sort of, illumine last time. So when I talk about an organizing principle, it’s a center. Shout for Caldecott in Beauty in the Word, subtitle is Rethinking the Foundations of Education. He talks about this word centered education. And he makes the point that all education is essentially the act of remembering, but that’s something I have believed for a long time. That’s a very medieval idea. Gosh, there’s so many different ways you can approach it—Chesterton talks about it’s the memory being passed down from one generation to another right. It’s remembering who we are, that we are made in the image of God, and we’re one person in this huge world, the muses are the daughters of memory. All of these things kind of connect together. I like the idea of education as remembering as a sort of unifying principle, which would bring in history but also literature and other things and kind of keep them in balance. So when I said that history doesn’t make a good unifying principle, I did not mean history is not worthy of our time. It is, but it’s not going to be the thing that ties in everything and creates harmony. You end up in some real… and we know this, we’ve been there, I’ve been there in my curriculum design, trying to make everything fit that historical time period. You run into some problems. You run into some problems trying to harmonize. So if you make history the organizing principle and so then you say, “We are studying 1600. That is the year we are studying,” Then you have to make everything somehow fit that. You say, “Well, music has to fit that.” Oh, let’s make it even first. “800 AD is the year we are studying.” Now go find some music to fit that—you don’t have any music. You have a ton of music in the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s and now you’ve got to throw all of that into that one little tiny year you are calling early modern history. The same thing happens in literature. You have in ancient literature epics… you know, it’s not a problem to have a chronological approach to studies in high school because you have adult level material.
You can easily fill a year of the ancients with the epics. The problem is, try to make the ancients year for your 1st grader. What do you end up with? You end up with a bunch of historical fiction and retellings, at the same time that you are ignoring everything that your first grader needs that doesn’t fit your time period: the fairy tales, fables, legends, Bible stories, classic children’s literature. Classic children’s literature is the Victorian age, the 1900s. So if I’m doing a strict history approach, then I’m only going to read the Golden Age of children’s literature in that one year. I’m going to try to jam pack, a hundred of the greatest kids books ever written in one year because that’s what fits our time period. So that’s what I’m talking about. You begin to create problems with this artificial construct of “everything has to be tied to history,” because there just isn’t that much ancient art to look at, there isn’t that much ancient architecture to look at, there isn’t that much music, there isn’t that much literature. You get into later years and you’re trying to jam pack all of this quality stuff into one year. Same thing to do it in reverse. We take something like Plutarch’s Lives; if you have a strict chronological approach, then you’ve got a jam all of that into one year instead of doing a little bit over each year because you have goals that are greater than just being introduced to the history period. And you also end up with a whole bunch of other problems. I don’t know how much you want me to get into that.
Brandy: No this is interesting. Keep going!
Angelina: My passion is the study of literature. I mean, that’s my hill to die on and one of the… see, if you’ve ever read CS Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism, which we’re going to be actually starting in a couple of weeks on the podcast, Cindy and I…
Mystie: Oh nice!
Angelina: Of course Lewis is known to us as a beloved children’s author and Christian apologist, but what he really was in his own lifetime was Literature Professor. So, speaking as a literature Professor he explores, What does it mean to read? What is literature? What can you expect from it? How are you supposed to enter it? One of the things that he concludes is that literature is a work of art to be experienced, and he cautions against using literature as historical artifact. That’s one of the things I think that happens when you have a historical approach. You’re taking the Odyssey and you’re saying, “This is an example of how ancient Greeks lived.” You’re treating it as a historical artifact rather than a work of art to experience as art, which requires a whole different process to enter into than if you’re just looking at a historical artifact. So, if you’re using literature as a historical artifact, that’s Lewis’s expression, he says you should never try to use art, you should receive art. And so he talks about all the ways in which we are using literature in an inappropriate way. And so we’re actually preventing it from doing what it can do. So literature then just becomes another museum piece. “Here’s an old Greek shoe. Oh, wow. Look at what Greeks used to wear on their feet!” And, “Oh, here’s an old Greek story. Oh look at the weird stories Greeks used to tell!” And it just becomes this surface museum piece. This is historical artifact and it doesn’t become a transformative experience of art. It doesn’t become… here’s another soap box for me. When you study the medievals, what they did with the classical tradition was fascinating. And I think that this is a temptation of classical education. I think that there is the temptation for classical education to become like we’re all museum curators: here’s all the old stuff we’re learning to appreciate, and it’s this old stuff and it’s over there and it’s a shame that no one’s looking at it. And so we’re going to go look at it and we’re going to preserve it like our little dragon hoard. But that’s a dead thing. Museum pieces are dead things. The medievals viewed the classical tradition not as this dead thing, but as a living soil from which new Christian culture could grow. And they interacted with it very differently. One of the things I tell my students all the time is that medieval monks in the West and the East died to protect Homer and Virgil and Aristotle and Plato. Why? Why would they die for that? If they didn’t think it was real and alive and that’s something new and good and Christian could be born out of it? And so that’s danger, I think, in treating everything you encounter as a historical artifact as opposed to a living real art experience that can transform and that new things can come out of it. I’ve probably actually created a situation in which you’re going to get more hate mail. [Laughter] Because I feel like I would actually have to explain a whole lot about how the medievals viewed their pagan heritage maybe for that to make more fully sense, but that nonetheless, that is how they viewed it.
Brandy: You have me thinking about so much. I feel like my mind is whirling [Laughter], which is why I love having you on the show, Angelina.
Angelina: I’m always good for a dramatic pause.
Brandy: I have so many questions. I’m going to ask one of them. So, one of the things you talked about at the very beginning of what you were saying here was about historical fiction and about how when we’re trying to be so rigid with you know, “this is the era that were in,” our children end up reading historical fiction. So, is there a place for some of the classic historical fiction? Like I was thinking one of my favorites is Ivanhoe, but I feel like in my home school, I didn’t read that as trying to teach history, I read that as a really great book that we liked. So is there a place for some of these, you know, great writers like Scott that were technically writing…
Angelina: Absolutely! And Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood and all this fantastic stuff. So, again, I think it has to do with proportion on choosing your unifying principle. So if history is my unifying principle, I will choose to read Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood on the year that we’re studying the middle ages, no matter what age my kid is. Instead of saying, “What is the best age for a child to encounter Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood?”and then picking that year. That’s the difference. And I know you’ve been there because I’ve been there too, where I’ve looked at reading lists, and I could kick myself now, but I learned the hard way—I would literally say, “Oh, that would be perfect for this year IF we were studying that time period. It’s a shame my son’s not going to get that book because he’ll be four years older the next time we get to it,” kind of thing, because I was making decisions based on the historical period and not other things like reading readiness and all these other things. There are certain books that are best encountered at a certain age. We should be making those choices and it shouldn’t matter what we’re studying in history. So I’m not against the study of history. I just think it doesn’t matter what history time period you’re studying, choose the best literature for the age of your children regardless of the time period and do both of those things at the same time. So study the ancients and read Robin Hood if that’s the age your kid is.
Mystie: So it’s really “experiencing culture broadly” that’s tying it all together. It’s not that they were all done at the same point, it is that they are all valuable things to experience. So it’s not that they’re all separated and all fragmented. It’s that there is a deeper connection between them all, that’s not history.
Angelina: Yes. Yes. Okay, so one of the things I say… So people get worried about, you know, “I haven’t read the classics.” I encounter this a lot. Some adult tells me, “I haven’t read the classics and I don’t know where to start,” and there’s an underlying assumption that they should start at the beginning and work their way forward. But Lewis says, and I believe this to my absolute dying breath, that literature is a giant circle and it’s always moving backwards and forwards and you can jump in anywhere into that conversation. And there is a great value, I have found, by reading things deliberately out of order. Because you make a whole new set of assumptions. So for example, the year I read Paradise Lost at the same time that I read The Aeneid, which would have never happened if I had been reading them chronologically, I suddenly understood both books better because Paradise Lost is a reworking of The Aeneid. And you see this over and over and over. In fact, what Milton is trying to do is say that the heroic code and the Pagan virtues have been done away and we have a new Hero. Not one who seeks glory, but One who lays down glory and is humble. And he’s totally subverting the classical epic hero in Paradise Lost, but you would miss that if you weren’t reading them together. If you weren’t reading them out of order. It’s one of the reasons why I tell my students that it doesn’t matter what year you start with with me. I will be talking about all the books all the time. I’m always talking about the books that came before and the books that came after. So if you take The Aeneid with me, I’m talking about Paradise Lost. If you take Paradise Lost with me, I’m talking about The Aeneid because it’s all a giant circle and it really doesn’t matter where you jump in. The historical connections don’t come the way you think they do. They’re not linear. In other words, they’re not step one, step two, step three. We all know that we learn by epiphanies where suddenly you have a flash of insight and a hundred connections come together at once. That’s learning. That’s the science of relations and it doesn’t happen… Again, think about what a modern assumption that is about the way human beings work. That we think we learn in little incremental steps just tortoising along, right? One step and then another step. That’s not how we learn. Real learning is 14 steps back and then a giant leap 20 steps forward, right? That’s real learning. That’s been learning for me, that’s been learning for my children, my students; the experience of feeling like you’re beating your head against the wall and then the next day, it’s genius time and you’re like, “Where did these kids come from?”
Brandy: They’re so smart today. [Laughter]
Angelina: Because things kind of percolate under the surface and then you have another connection to make. So again, I would say it’s not in any way to devalue history. It’s that history doesn’t hold as a unifying principle and I think you also have to be really, really careful about… Well, this is going in a whole other direction, a whole other set of hate mail. Just something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I was involved in a conference and someone spoke about needing there to be context for certain things to really connect with the students. And so I think we have to also be really careful about learning things too much in isolation. If that makes sense—after I just said that they don’t all have to be chronologically integrated, but I think the relation there is not necessarily historical but maybe more holistic, more human, if that makes sense.
Brandy: You know, to me this seems like it is a great comfort to someone whose maybe coming to classical education a little bit later and feeling like, “Well, we didn’t start when my child was five or six so we can’t start now because there’s this whole sequential progression or something.”
Mystie: So to hear Lewis say, “Jump on the merry-go-round when it swings around and you can catch it,” it’s actually really comforting.
Angelina: Well, I think so and I think that’s why I was kind of surprised that people were upset because I think it’s a liberating idea. You don’t have to get everything perfectly right. The other thing is that the student needs to be the one making the connections, not the curriculum, and not the teacher.
Angelina: So again, I’ve been guilty, had the giant binder where I made every connection for my students, my children and led them through it. But that’s not letting them make their own connections. I think one of the eye-opening moments I had was I had started collecting The Landmark biographies. You know, those out-of-print books of Classic children’s biographies. And I let my children just read through them however they wanted willy-nilly for free reading and (gasp! horror!) they didn’t read in chronological order. They took the things that were topically interesting to them. And then when I would be reading from history out loud, they would be making connections. What I read and the things that they read and they were making all kind of connections that I knew I hadn’t planned for, and I suddenly realized I had been wasting my time doing all of this for them. That that was not the point! That what they were doing right there was the point. They were reading on their own and they were making connections between historical time periods. Which you do! I mean, you read an early American history book it says George Washington is the American Cincinnatus. They make those comparisons. They make those connections.
Brandy: Sometimes we call classical education The Great Conversation. And thinking about it that way, I feel like when we try to restrict to a specific historical era and say we’re not going to go outside of it, it’s almost like we’re saying we think that one can’t talk to another.
Brandy: And so we’re actually shutting down the very conversation that we’re claiming that we want to see happen.
Angelina: Yes. Yes, and it’s not such a narrow conversation. It’s not threatened. I think we worry about that too. That we will introduce things at the wrong time and our kids will get confused. But that’s just not how the human mind works, for the human mind is always making connections between two things. That’s one of the reasons why these books stay alive for me is that I’m constantly revisiting them in a different context. I’m constantly reading something new alongside something I never read before alongside it. And then I see the new connections and I can see that the books are all talking to each other. So I agree with you. This should be the sort of thing that’s liberating. I’m sorry if anybody felt condemned. That wasn’t the point. I mean, it really was just saying, “You don’t have to be so stressed out about lining everything up just so.”
Brandy: We’ve seen this with AmblesideOnline where, you know, for example, I’ve got kids in four different years, which are four different historical eras. And I’ve heard different people say things like, “Well, then how can you all study the same artist for artist study because you’re not in the same era.” And it’s because that doesn’t matter. Because it’s good art and we’re all going to look at it the same time because that’s efficient for one thing. But this idea that so now not just are we going to have a child in a certain year, but then the artist has to match up or the poet has to match up or whatever. Instead of, well, the poet is chosen… like what you were saying really, they’re choosing a poet that’s age appropriate for a particular child. So I don’t have all my children reading the same poetry because one is 17 and one is 11 and so it’s something different.
Angelina: It’s a very good analogy because again, if you’re lining up your art with your history, you’re going to primarily be treating your art as historical artifact and not as an encounter with something beautiful. So my husband is a poet. He is an accomplished published poet and he gave a talk on poetry at this conference that we gave, and someone asked him, “What’s the best poetry to start with children?” And his answer, and I’m still thinking about it because I think this goes right to the heart of what you’re saying about the danger of lining everything up historically. His answer was, “The best way to start a child in poetry is with nonsense poetry.” And it’s just singsong-y, and it’s fun, and it’s playing with language, and it’s safe. He kind of broke it all down that, wait, hold off the romantics, because that’s intentionally emotional. Wait until a kid is like middle school age, when they’re kind of struggling with their emotions and they can relate more to this. And so, he was lining up the poetry to the different stages in a student’s life. When is nursery rhymes and nonsense poetry going to be the most awesome thing in the world? When is somebody looks staring at their soul and wondering who they are as a person? When is that going to connect? Those things don’t match up with a historical time period. Those things match up with the development of the student. So I think having a sort of a more humane approach: looking at this child as a human being, a whole person made in the image of God and how can I best nurture that soul in the different stages of its development? And we do the same thing with food, right? To say, “Well, this is the year we’re having roast beef and I’m sorry that you’re not weaned kid, but this is just what we’re having.” [Laughter] It doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t work like that. Someone pushed back on me about this and said, “Well you give them baby food versions, right? You just blend it up.” And I just thought, “Again, that’s not honoring the nature of the thing.” Why on earth would I want to put Dante’s Divine Comedy in the blender and give you a… We need a baby food version of hell? I mean is it really what you’re suggesting? This is going to be a great bedtime story honey, and then Dante went down into hell and there was Satan and all the demons. [Laughter] That’s a story that starts off with, “I was in the middle of my life.” This is a story about the man in his middle of his life wondering, “Who am I? What path am I on?” And it’s a story for somebody who’s older and who is reflecting on, “What have I done with my life?” which a five-year-old is not reflecting on, nor should they.
Angelina: They’re reflecting on the wonder in the universe, and how enchanted everything is, and all the fascinating things that they’re learning. The five-year-old needs fairy tales not Dante put in the blender. I got myself quite worked up about that because it’s just mother’s milk is the best for a baby. Sure, I could put a roast in the blender, but that’s not really what the baby needs nor is that eating a roast. Nor is that teaching the baby to love the roast when he gets older, right? You wait until the baby has teeth to give it a roast. Again, I’ll beat this food analogy to death right here, but that’s the point: choosing the best thing for where that child is. And you’re saving yourself a lot of frustration and anxiety too. I mean, if I gave a kid… God forbid somebody wrote the kids version of Dante’s Inferno… probably someone has, but I don’t want to know about it. But it doesn’t make any sense to feel like I need to introduce my young child to the horrors of hell when there are just so many other things that that child needs.
Brandy: For Sure.
Angelina: And honestly, we know that instinctively about the Bible, don’t we? We know that there are some Bible stories that we don’t use for family devotions because they’re for a more mature audience.
Mystie: I think things like fairy tales can inform us as parents also on what might actually be appropriate for children… might be different than our assumptions too.
Brandy: Because we’re not perfect and there’s real evil.
Mystie: There is real evil and there’s a way for them to encounter that and think about that that we don’t need to give them everything. Everything is innocent in wonderful versions until they’re older.
Angelina: At the same time that while fairy tales do affirm the reality of evil, they also affirm that evil can be defeated. And good and evil are very clearly demarcated in the fairy tale.
Angelina: One of the things that I’ve perceived is that, again, and this goes to that historical fiction idea. If you’re reading historical fiction, you’re reading modern authors. And modern authors present a morally confusing landscape because that’s where we’re in. Even our good guys are tormented and kind of bad and kind of gray and kind of shady, and the bad guys are sympathetic and conflicted. And while the language might be easier for a child to handle and so you give them that because it’s easier to read, it’s morally way more confusing. And it’s going to cause all kinds of problems for this kid. One of the reasons that kids need fairy tales is because they need to know good and evil are discernible. That you can tell the difference. They’re at the part in life where they’re trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. You don’t make that difficult to discern when your child is little. That’s something that happens later. When you’re older. Now, we have to say, “Okay, now it’s actually not so easy to tell.” But when they’re little you are just trying to affirm that there is good and there is evil and they can be discerned and they’re not confused. So that’s another thing. I think you have to be really careful about having a steady diet of modern authors. You can be really surprised how much of those modern assumptions come in. There’s so many stories I can think of where I find myself wondering, “What actually is the difference between the good guy and the bad guy?”
Brandy: Yes! And frustrating when kids are still in the stage of, “well, who’s good and who’s bad?” Yeah. It’s like, in this book, well, whoever won? I don’t know. That seems to be the determining factor, half of the time.
Angelina: Right! Right. So that’s something I think we have to be really careful about. So again, having as your guiding principle, “What are the best stories that I can nurture this child with at the age they are in?” I think that is a better question to ask than, “What story fits our historical time period?”
Brandy: Yeah, I can see that for sure. Actually, some of this even reminds me of the same things we come up against with something like unit studies.
Mystie: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too.
Brandy: Where you end up restrictive. So with unit studies your unifying principle for a term or a month or whatever is going to be a single spine, and everything has to connect to that spine. So to that extent it would be even more rigid than the history-centricism. But it’s the same kind of restriction where I can see something like a unit study seeming really fun in the beginning, but at some point it becomes this rigidity where everything has to conform to a unifying principle or unifying thought or idea. Like, it’s not meant to bear that weight.
Angelina: Exactly! And what happens then if the children are interested in an idea, spawned by what you’re reading, but doesn’t fit the unit study. What do you do? You keep going with the lesson plan? You tell them no, they’re not allowed to wonder about that? Because I’m a big proponent of wonder-led education. That’s one of the reasons why I let my children choose whatever biographies they wanted to read no matter what the time period was. I’m not going to tell my daughter she has to be interested in atomic physics because that happens to be what we’re studying. No, she wants to know about inventors and quirky weird guys, and she was always… I couldn’t even open my refrigerator. There was always some kind of weird mad experiment going on from something this girl had read, I’m telling you. She was something out of a movie.
Brandy: That’s awesome.
Angelina: But again, you know, I think we have to be careful about making all the connections and about stifling wonder. And that’s not to say that we haven’t had some good things come out of the history-centered movement. Okay, if I can say that now. One of the things is that it has passionately argued for the importance of history. “Bravo! Well done,” I say. Absolutely. Modern education has completely dismissed history, and I’m glad to see that it’s being elevated again. But as we elevate it, we’ve got to make sure we don’t elevate it to a position it can’t be in. History is never going to be theology. And we know that, but history has never been the queen of any education. Never. It’s always been a handmaiden to other things. And so we have to be really careful.
Angelina: I actually think history studies works better the other way around. That giving the historical background to whatever literature you are reading, I think actually is a more fluid way to do it than flipping it around the other way.
Angelina: And choosing the artifacts. Because again, I think then it has a context. The people who heard this story, this is the way they live, this is the way they thought, this is the way they’re imagining. I’m interested in studying history to find out about the imagination of a people. Because I don’t think that the decisions people make in history makes sense to us if we don’t understand their imagination. We just think they’re weird. But if you understand the way they imagined reality, suddenly their decisions make a lot more sense. Suddenly, we can then examine our own imaginations and do we have some of these same assumptions about reality? Are we operating differently? And so I think nothing tells you the imagination of a people better than their stories. And I know I’m not against learning dates and figures, but I do think a narrative approach to history… I mean that’s another thing. What do you mean even by studying history?
Brandy: That’s a good point.
Angelina: I’m a huge proponent in the elementary of a narrative and a biographical approach to history. I’m not a names and date gal. I have a minor in history. I almost double majored in it, but I wanted to graduate a semester early, so I didn’t. But I have a great love of history and I know probably like four dates by heart. [Laughter] But I can tell you all the other things that are happening at the same time.
Angelina: I can’t tell you the dates of a certain king, but I can tell you what literature was written at the same time, what music, what explorers were happening. I have a real connection, not an arbitrary date. So I mean that’s another thing I think we have to be cautious about. So what does it even mean to study history? See? That’s a whole other thing. History is a field, it has its own rules. One of the things is learning, “What is history? And how do you interpret history?” And you know, oh you could get to some real sticky stuff here about historically the line between history, myth and legend has actually not been so firm. So when I see an emphasis on “history facts,” names and dates, that is so modern. That would have been utterly meaningless to the vast majority of humans who’ve lived. That’s not the way they thought about history. History was the story of people and places and communities and these connections. And the myth, again because you have to understand the imagination of the people, the myths and the legends of a people was just as much a part of their history as the names and dates were. More so really if you asked an ancient.
Brandy: You know, that’s interesting. I’m teaching Plutarch’s life of Pyrrhus right now at co-op. And we’ve only done one lesson because we just started. But that particular life, not all of his lives starts this way, but that particular life starts with, is it Hercules? Yeah. I think it’s Hercules somehow founding Epirus where Pyrrhus is from. And the line of kings and it’s kind of this mixed up mythologic… and you can tell that it’s such an old story that it’s kind of gotten unsorted because it’s not even completely clear what he’s saying in the beginning. But he’s basically establishing the authority of the king through this mythological beginning that it he had or that his family had. Some of the kids in my class, when we hit parts like this where it’s obviously myth, and I mean they’re young, but they have a really hard time with it. This is not real, like why is this in a history book? And so we have to talk about that.This is the context for the throne and that’s why it’s important to put this king back on the throne, because he’s coming from this mythological beginning that gives him the authority or whatever. Anyway, it’s been a really interesting discussion because, of course, when I was raised, history was a textbook. It was all sound bites and very boring. So anyway, it’s kind of fun to look at Plutarch and see that blend of myths and fact and you can’t always tell where one thing…
Angelina: The same is true with Herodotus. You’d be very surprised that a respected historian has got so much myth in there, but I think too it’s because that they are giving us insight into the stories people tell about themselves. The fact that the Romans look as their defining moment the story of Romulus and Remus, that tells us a lot about how the Roman people viewed themselves. “This is how tough we are—we were raised by wolves!” That’s what it means to be Roman. “And we were founded by one brother killing another brother.” That tells us way more about who the Romans are and how they thought of themselves than been able to recite the Tarquin kings. Way more. We don’t even realize how much of that we have in our own history too. We have our own myths and legends. George Washington did not cut down a tree and say, “I cannot tell a lie.” That never happened. That was made up by Washington Irving, the same guy who gave us, you know, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a made-up myth, but it is part of the American myths. That was part of the story we tell about ourselves. That we value honesty and integrity and the self-made man. That’s a big part of the American myth. What could be more radically different than the Romulus and Remus story than the honorable boy who tells the truth. [Laughter] And doesn’t kill his brother, and wasn’t raised by wolves, who comes from humble beginnings and works hard. And the Roman story is, “We came from humble beginnings and kidnapped a bunch of women.” [Laughter] That makes sense that the story starts that way because that gives us a tremendous understanding of how we think of ourselves. Which helps then to understand why you do the things you do.
Angelina: I’m just sitting here panicking envisioning the hate mail from this episode.
Mystie: I was thinking about how convenient this is since this season, that this podcast will air in, just began with a season on Heroes First and the idea of hero versus a more nuanced history conversation that we had with Wendi Capehart. It all will go together.
Angelina: Yes, you have to be careful with young children introducing too much the negative aspects of the history of the people. Like the real stuff. So this guy was a cheater and a gambler and had slaves and had mistresses. That isn’t to say that those things aren’t true or that they should be whitewashed. But again, it’s about propriety and about when and about how… especially… gosh. I’m talking a bit out my area here because my area’s literature, but it seems to me that the slavery issue in particular—very tricky—because we certainly don’t want to pretend that that didn’t happen, but we also have to be careful not to slide into debunking every…
Angelina: I mean if a small child thinks everybody who’s ever lived has been bad, that’s going to be a tough world for them to grow up in.
Brandy: Well and that’s happening. I have a friend that pulled her kids out of school because they were coming home at really young ages berating the Founding Fathers, and she was just horrified that they hadn’t started with the good things. Not that some of that other stuff wasn’t true. But that they were basically being taught a form of self-loathing at these really young ages. And that’s how she became homeschooler was hearing what her kids were learning at school. So they did not start with the cherry tree, they started with, “He was bad. He owned slaves.”
Angelina: And I’ve heard Wendi Capehart talk about that and I’m sure she’s made a very good case for that. Again, I feel like I’m out of my depth here, but it seems to me that there is a way to acknowledge that good men have done bad things. That they have been a product of their time and they have been engaged in the sins of the time they were in, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t do anything good. And that’s where it gets complicated. Look, you don’t really have to look any further than the Bible to see that good men can do bad things or people who do bad things can… I mean look at David. But I think a lot of that has to do on the person of the child, and the age of the child, and being very careful that you don’t create a cynic. I think that’s the danger. I don’t think we should whitewash and you know, Thomas Jefferson was right next to Jesus in the Trinity, you know, I don’t think we have to whitewash and make them into Saints. I definitely think we need to acknowledge them as human beings who made, in some cases, really bad decision. But that you have to take it as a whole. I mean David did some terrible things. He sent people to their death and all kinds of stuff. And so you have to kind of take it all, but the danger is that you can raise your child to be a cynic. “Well, there is no good, man.” And what will they conclude about themselves if there are no good men?
Brandy: At the same time, I do think one of the things that helps them understand when they’re older is once they’ve faced real temptation and had real failures, realizing their own fallenness is what helps them not be so… I don’t want to say judgmental because it’s not like it’s my goal not to have judgmental children. I want them to be able to make good judgments, but I mean just to not completely disregard someone because of a spot on their history. Or even if they have great stains on their history, not to disregard maybe the one good thing that they did. I feel like some of that comes along as they grow up and start to have a sense of their own sinfulness and their own temptation and realizing, I don’t know, just their own fallenness, I guess.
Angelina: Well, I mean it’s complicated because history really is the study of human civilizations and human behavior and humans. We’re a mess and I am very pro teaching kids that all of your leaders were human beings and we’re just as much of a conflicted bunch of messes as we all are, but a lot of that has to do with age appropriateness too. I don’t know that I would open kindergarten American history with, “Here’s the black stain on America.” That might be hard to overcome. I don’t think I know the answer to where wisdom is in all that. I mean, these are not things I’ve thought through as much as I’ve thought through literature. But those things come up in stories too, of course. In American literature you have to deal with racism and you have to talk about slavery and the treatment of Native Americans for example. I mean, you get into all kinds of things. But I wouldn’t read Huckleberry Finn to somebody in elementary school. I’m not going to deal with that… To me Tom Sawyer is a great Elementary age book, but I wouldn’t deal with Huckleberry Finn until high school because that is dealing with some adult themes that are going to take some wisdom to be able to sort through what Mark Twain is trying to do there, what he’s trying to say.
Brandy: I feel like the big thing I’m taking away from this is that, not that we’re building a child-centered curriculum, but that we are considering the age and maturity of the humans that were teaching when we’re making selections. Rather than trying to force particular eras or force anything really, because, like we talked about with the unit studies, you can use another criteria to do the same kind of rigid forcing that is happening here. So I really appreciate that this… I feel like there’s more of this focus on the development of the child as a human being.
Angelina: Yes. I think we have to always be thinking of honoring the nature of the child and the nature of the subject. I try to always keep those two things in balance when I’m making decisions about what to teach. So, what is appropriate to the child? And also what’s appropriate to the subject? So this would be an example of where my husband said nonsense poetry is the best place to start. So if you want to honor poetry, you don’t start with The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot. That’s not your starting point for poetry. You have to play with language for a while. And so, if you want to talk about stages of learning, which I’m not totally comfortable with that, but if you want to talk about stages of learning, I don’t think the grammar stage is what people think it is. I don’t think it’s a bunch of disconnected facts and terms to memorize. The grammar of poetry would be fun nonsense poetry where you’re learning to love language and play with it. Not where you’re memorizing what meter is and form is and you can rattle off the rhyme scheme for the two different kinds of sonnets. That has no context. Same thing with literature. The grammar of literature is fairy tales, fables, folktales, Bible stories, legends. That’s the grammar. That’s what you start with. And you need to spend a long time there. Somebody asked me this week, “What’s the best children’s versions of Paradise Lost?” And my answer was, “The thing that makes Paradise Lost difficult to enter into is all of the classical and Biblical allusions.
Angelina: So if you want to prepare for Paradise Lost, you have to read the myths and you have to read the Bible. And the best way to prepare is not a children’s version but it is to prepare the same way the original audience prepared. So if you want your children to be able to read the great works of literature in high school and beyond, then you have to prepare them the way everybody else prepared them: myths, Bible stories, fairy tales, poetry, nursery rhymes. That’s what those people knew. That’s why they could read these books and make sense of them. Nobody in the middle ages read kid’s versions of literature. [Laughter]
Brandy: Well, this has been amazing! Mystie, do you have any final questions you want to ask? I don’t know if we’ve covered everything you were hoping to?
Angelina: Do not forward the hate mail to me. Just keep it to yourself. [Laughter]
Brandy: I already set it up in Gmail. It is automatic.
Angelina: Right to my Spam Folder, thank you very much! [Laughter] I guess if I can have a final word, it would be that my thoughts are not meant to attack anyone but to liberate. Because I have been there where I have felt the intense pressure to make everything fit some arbitrary historical time period. You don’t have to feel that. You’re free! Free to study whatever you want. Whatever you think is best fitting your children on that day.
Mystie: Yeah, and that is the heart of a classical education is to read the best books. And the best books that are appropriate for where you’re at right now.
Brandy: To bring that back to mom really quick then, I think that’s also helpful to know. It’s okay for mom if she didn’t get this education, to start with those preliminary… I’m thinking about like what John, was it John Senior who talked about reading the 1000 good books before you read the great books? It’s okay to start just reading alongside with your kids and reading from their lists, right?
Angelina: Yes, because remember it’s a giant circle and you can jump in anywhere.
Brandy: I love that. Well, Angelina, thank you so much.
Mystie: Yes, thank you!
Angelina: I hope I didn’t just muddy the waters worse.
Brandy: No! I think it was great.
Angelina: I hope that was a moment of clarity.
Brandy: It was, and I knew there was so much behind what you said and it was just sort of a passing comment in the other show. So we really did want to bring you back and give you a chance to explain what you’re saying. I think you did it so well, so I appreciate it.
Angelina: I hope so. I really… yeah, it pained me to think anybody listened to that and felt worse about something, because that really wasn’t the intention.
Angelina: And we are repairing the ruins, and we are figuring out our way. And I don’t think we should ever stop trying to learn, and so it’s okay to ask questions about the latest manifestation of classical education. It’s a process. We’re all growing. We’re all learning.
Angelina: I’m not the same classical educator I was twenty years ago. I have learned a lot of hard lessons.
Brandy: That is a good point. Yeah, Mom’s growing and changing too, not just the kids.
Angelina: Well, that’s right. And gosh, my youngest child is getting a radically different education than my older ones did. And then that’s good. That’s good.
Brandy: Yeah, the lucky youngest child that isn’t really the guinea pig. They actually get Mom’s final product.
Angelina: Or the we’re just too tired to care anymore. [Laughter]
Mystie: Yeah, that’s what the oldest child notices.
Angelina: Oh, I know, I hear that! “Mom, you would have never let us get away with that.” And I’m like, “Well I was young. I had a lot of energy. I was right on top of that.” [Laughter]
Brandy: Well, thank you so much for coming back on the show. We really appreciate it, Angelina.
Mystie: Yeah, this was great.
Angelina: Thank you so much for having me!
Brandy: That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of the Sisterhood of the podcast. As always, we’d appreciate if you’d spread the word about the podcast to your friends. Don’t forget to download Your Scholé Sheet to think through and apply the ideas from this episode, then bring your thoughts into the Sistership and join the conversation happening there. Just go to to ScholeSisters.com/ss60 to down your copy for free. Next episode, Mystie, Pam, and I have an indepth discussion about having the heart of a learner. Call it humility, docility, or just plain teachability—we think you’re going to love this conversation. Until then, we want to remind you once again that homeschooling is a marathon you needn’t run alone, so open up your eyes, and look around you, find your sisters.