The Question: Teaching Your Child The Essentials Of Classical Education, by Leigh A. Bortins
There is a great deal of value in this book being written by an amateur teacher who has a passionate interest in classical education. At its core, this book is about logic, the second of the three stages of the trivium, and an area of study whose heart is the question of proof and the tension between knowledge and authority that is at the heart of so many problems in the contemporary education system. After all, a great many schools pay lip service to the thought that they want to cultivate students with critical thinking skills, but all they end up doing is raising children who have groupthink mentalities and a pitiful knowledge of such areas as questioning the authority of bad mathematical and computational models that have such problems in areas of economics and science (and polling), and who lack the ability to think critically about the sort of education that they have been given and the political worldview of the people giving it. And yet students who critique the institutions of public schooling and the university system are not cultivated or encouraged or praised at all, which demonstrates that what is wanted is that only certain authorities be critiqued for the interests of others, not that students be equipped with the mental tools to critique whatever they will.
This book is about 200 pages long and begins with acknowledgements, a preface, a foreword by the founder of Patrick Henry College, and an introduction. After this the book is divided into three parts. The first part gives a discussion of the classical model of education (I), divided into three chapters. The first chapter discusses the author’s view of why we still need classical education (1), while later chapters discuss how the dialectic teaches families to wrestle with truth (2), as well as some frequently asked questions (3). The second part of the book then applies the dialectic of the logic phase of classical education to a variety of different fields of study, including reading (4), writing (5), math (6), geography and current events (7), logic (8), history (9), science (10), and fine arts (11), while an epilogue explores the author’s view of the rhetorical process by which she wrote a book by looking at this book as well as the author’s previous work (which I am of course unfamiliar with). The third and briefest part of the book then consists of two appendices which discuss model questions (i) as well as further resources for the reader (ii), after which the book ends with an index.
By and large I found this book to be deeply interesting in that it shared the author’s point of view and allowed the reader to empathize with the author’s goal of figure out how to better educating her children in fundamental aspects of knowledge while dealing with the knowledge that the process was itself part of the goal. That is not to say that I found everything about the author’s opinions to be equally valid. In many ways the author appears to be not nearly firm enough about the moral basis of many aspects, coming off as someone who is interested in classical education but not really classical Christian education. This does at least somewhat mar the enjoyment of the book as a whole because the author is obviously writing to people whose objections with the public school system are not only educational but also moral, and this book answers only the intellectual shortcomings of a system which does not equip its students to reflect critically about the lazy and wicked mentality of the contemporary left whose agenda is frequently pushed in the school system as a whole. To be mentally equipped to think logically is better than the alternative, but to lack a solid moral base is to be missing the purpose for which God gave us minds to think and reason with in the first place.