It is a great misfortune to be born with the soul of a king if one is not destined to reign.
It is a great misfortune to be born with the soul of a king if one is not destined to reign.
The best friendships are based on mutual interest and common plans for the future.
These are my notes from the first part of “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide To Classical Education At Home”. It covers concepts and instruction from the typical kindergarten through fourth grade period of education. My notes will remain fairly rough for now; later I may go back and compile them into a comprehensive “1 sheet summary” to classical education for home schooling. For now I will just provide my notes chapter by chapter, with the understanding that there is a mixture of direct quotes with clarifying commentary or analysis from me personally.
Chapter 2, A Personal Look at Classical Education: Susan
The author states that her personal experience with classical education applied at home was like this:
Our education was language-centered, not image-centered; we read and listened and wrote but we rarely watched.
A classical education revolves around three core disciplines: grammar, logic and rhetoric. These three disciplines become an organizing principle for a home school family attempting to follow a classical education, and a model of the individual child’s intellectual development:
As the authors suggest, a child will go through three distinct “parts” of their education mirroring these stages; within each discipline or educational topic they’ll also individually progress through these stages.
Principles of classical education:
Twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: ancients (5000 BC to AD 400), medieval period through the early Renaissance (400-1600), late Renaissance through early modern period (1600-1850) and modern times (1850-present). The student will end up visiting each of these historical periods once each in the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages.
Move forward chronologically and organize the bulk of your history by time period, rather than by individual country. The traditional American method of studying history by region does nothing to help students draw connections between events, vital to critical thinking about history.
They suggest a 4-year pattern for sciences instruction:
The classical pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science and literature.
Virtuous men and women can force themselves to do what they know is right, even when it runs against their inclinations. Classical education continually asks a student to focus not on what is immediately pleasurable but on the steps needed to reach a future goal.
“The Great Conversation”: the ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages.
Part I, The Grammar Stage K-4
Chapter 3, The Parrot Years
A classical education requires a student to collect, understand, memorize and categorize information.
Your goal is to supply mental pegs on which later information can be hung.
The elementary years are ideal for soaking up knowledge.
The child should be accumulating masses of information: stories of people and wars; names of rivers, cities, mountains, and oceans; scientific names, properties of matter, classifications; plots, characters, and descriptions.
Seize this early excitement. Let the child delve deep. Let him read, read, read. Don’t force him to stop and reflect on it yet.
The immature mind is more suited to absorption than argument.
There is nothing wrong with a child accumulating information that she doesn’t yet understand. It all goes into the storehouse for use later on. [like language]
Children like lists at this age.
The goal of grammar-stage instruction is not to restrict your child but rather to protect her love of learning. Children mature out of the grammar stage into the logic stage at different times. Children mature unevenly. Give your children the time and space to mature, in each subject area, from grammar into logic-stage thinking.
Prioritize reading, writing, grammar and math.
A child who reads and writes well will pick up surprising amounts of history and science as he browses.
Chapter 4, Unlocking the Doors: The Preschool Years
She’s learning that words are used to plan, to think, to explain: she’s figuring out how the English language organizes words into phrases, clauses and complete sentences. [sportscasting with an infant]
Repetition builds literacy.
After you read to your toddler, ask her questions about the story.
As soon as your child begins to talk teach her the alphabet.
Teach a child from the beginning to hold a pencil correctly.
Start with counting: fingers, toes, eyes and ears; toys and treasures; rocks and sticks.
Most four-year-olds have microscopic attention spans, immature hand-eye coordination and a bad case of the wiggles.
Children can listen to and enjoy books that are far, far above their vocabulary level. Audiobooks stock a child’s mind with the sounds of thousands of words.
Many children are ready to read long before they have the muscular coordination to write. Why delay reading until the muscles of the hand and eye catch up?
Do “daily” math by adding and subtracting in the context of everyday family life.
Do lots of addition and subtraction with manipulatives (beans, buttons, pencils, chocolate chips).
Chapter 5, Words, Words, Words: Spelling, Grammar, Reading and Writing
Your goal, in grades 1 through 4, is to make the proper use of language second nature to your child.
Begin the academic year with three-ringed notebooks, a three-hole punch, and lots of paper, both lined and plain. Also lay in a boxful of art supplies: glue, scissors, construction paper, colored pencils (good artist-quality ones like Sanford Prismacolor), stickers and anything else that strikes the child’s fancy. For elementary language arts, you’ll want to make use of two of these notebooks. Label one “Literature” and the other “Writing.”
Always spend as much time on one level as you need and progress on to the next level only when your child has mastered the previous one.
Three levels of reading:
Aim for the “reading periods” to include all three skills, each week.
Try to give the child simplified versions of the original literature that he’ll be reading in the higher grades or introduce him to a writer he’ll encounter later.
After a child reads, you can ask questions about the reading and the oral answers are called narrations.
Learning how to identify one or two items about a book as more important than the rest is a vital first step in learning to write; a young writer will flounder as long as he cannot pick out one or two of the ideas in his mind as central to his composition.
Children in the 3rd or 4th grade can write down their own narrations after reading. Instead of learning to complete fill-in-the-blank questions, the child uses all his mental faculties to understand, remember, and relate the main points of a story.
Every three or four weeks, the child should also memorize a poem and recite it to you. Memorization and recitation of poetry is an iomportant part of the reading process; it exercises the child’s memory, stores beautiful language in his mind, and gives him practice in speaking aloud.
Spelling is the first step in writing.
We don’t think you should allow spelling to consume your language arts time.
It’s important to allow students to progress at a natural pace in each of the language arts areas without frustrating them by limiting their progress to the speed of their worst subject.
Grammar exercises should be done orally with 1st and 2nd graders.
Early writing instruction should focus on developing those tools, rather than demanding a great deal of original content.
How to more quickly develop writing capability:
The young writer practices putting ideas into words, and then putting words down on paper, before trying to do both simultaneously.
The classical pupil learns to write by copying the great writers.
Chapter 6, The Joy of Numbers: Math
Mathematics is a language because it uses symbols and phrases to represent abstract realities.
Mathematical literacy (numeracy) involves learning both the procedures and the reasons why they work (conceptual math).
Two primary methods of learning math:
Chldren aged 5 through 7 usually need concrete objects; children aged 8 through 10 begin to shift into “mental image” mode. Abstract thinking begins around age nine or ten, which coincides with the beginning of the logic stage.
Firm principle of elementary mathematics: no calculators.
Math is a science of not being wrong about things, its techniques and habits hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, sounder, more meaningful way.
Chapter 7, Seventy Centuries in Four Years: History and Geography
The history of the world is but the biography of great men.Thomas Carlyle
History is the study of everything that has happened until now. Unless you plan to live entirely in the present moment, the study of history is inevitable.
Keep one central fact in mind: history is a story.
The logical way to tell a story is to begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end.
The history curriculum covers seventy centuries; America occupies only five of them. [don’t over-emphasize your time and place in historical study]
The goal of the classical curriculum is multicultural in the true sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state, and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape.
Tackle original sources.
[why does the history curriculum begin with 5000BC, what about pre-history? biological history? spread of mankind over the globe?]
Three goals of studying history:
Progressing chronologically from your chosen starting point gives students an organized and orderly way to think about history; the majority of your history study should be done with a worldwide focus, not country by country. [comparing and contrasting simultaneous developments]
Follow the same basic pattern:
Give priority to reading, grammar, spelling, writing and math. History and science follow on these basic abilities.
History should be a delight-centered activity for the grammar-stage child. Allow him to explore, do activities and projects, and have fun; you can always hurry over (or skip) later chapters without injury.
Chapter 8, Investigating the World: Science
Two important attitudes to cultivate: a sense of amazement; a commitment to look hard at the world around us.
Parents who are themselves scientists have told us that they prefer to teach the sciences as connected to each other rather than related to history.
Chapter 9, Dead Languages for Live Kids: Latin (and Other Languages Still Living)
Reasons to study a “dead language” like Latin:
A foreign language “provides one with entry into a worldview different from one’s own… If it is important that our young value diversity of point of view, there is no better way to achieve it than to have them learn a foreign language.”
Whole-to-parts Latin instruction is frustrating and counterproductive, and breaks down the very skill that systematic Latin lessons develop– the habit of systematic thinking.
Conversation is the only path to fluency.
Chapter 10, Electronic Teachers: Using Computers and Other Screens
During school-time, we read books, do experiments, and write about what we’re learning. It’s hard work, but the more the student reads and writes, the more natural reading and writing become.
Chapter 12, Finer Things: Art and Music
Art for elementary students should cover art techniques and elements, and learning about great artists.
Two years is the minimum time that it takes to begin to enjoy an instrument, rather than simply struggling with it.
If you’re the parent of a young child, you probably have a copy of The Rainbow Fish somewhere in the house– probably two or three! It seems this is one of several books that every family member and friend wants to be the one to give to you.
The book’s popularity and appeal are rooted not just in its attractive art style, including reflective foil silver fish scales, but also in its moral lesson. In simple terms, the book teaches about sharing and every modern parent knows that sharing is the Cardinal Virtue of Childhood. Whatever your child’s other vices, shortcomings and individual weaknesses might be, if he or she knows how to share and does it consistently in public social settings the parent can be confident, even proud, that they’ve raised their child right.
But why is sharing so important? Ah, this is the question to which no parent seems to know the answer!
We do not read The Rainbow Fish in our house, not to our children and not for the pleasure of the adults. We don’t think “sharing” is a virtue, cardinal or otherwise. We think it is an unthinking codeword of social metaphysics– the idea that one’s individual value is relative to what other individuals think it is.
Here is how The Rainbow Fish teaches social metaphysics to children:
The eponymous pisces is born with beautiful shiny scales. His shiny scales are coveted by other fish who are born without them. These fish ask for his scales, which he does not give to them. As a result, the other fish scorn and ostracize him. He meets a “wise” octopus (ie, a not-fish) who tells him that he can be desirable to the other fish if he gives the virtues he was born with to others. He proceeds to do so until he is left with one shiny scale for himself, all others being distributed pro-rata to the other fish. At this point, the other fish are happy with him and he is accepted into their community.
What’s going on here? Let’s parse this.
The protagonist is an antagonist. The school of fish, the fish community, is the protagonist and he has antagonized them simply be existing. The reason his existence is bothersome is because he was born with qualities (beauty, in this case) which they lack. They feel lessened in their pride and their own existence by witnessing things he came into life with that they were not.
Without making any attempt to know and understand the Rainbow Fish, the other fish determine he is unlikable because he won’t give them the things they have, simply because they ask for it. His virtues are vices if they can’t have them for themselves.
The Rainbow Fish faces exclusion and emotional pain if he chooses to keep himself to himself. He is not free to exercise his property rights as he likes without fear of being alienated by the other members of the community.
To gain wisdom about how to participate in a community of his peers, he speaks with a creature outside of his species. He learns not to trust his instincts or his own rational capabilities but to trust in alien powers. He learns that he is wrong “as a person” just for being who he is– he must make some gift, offering or sacrifice of himself to the community to be accepted.
Finally, he gives up what is desirable and virtuous of himself to others. Only when there is equality are the others happy with him. And suddenly, he is happy with himself for being liked by them. It is not explained how and why he needed to be unhappy without that condition being met nor why he couldn’t survive and prosper without giving away his virtue and strengths to others, now totally diluted.
We believe that the strengths and capabilities people are born with are virtuous. At minimum, they benefit the individual and at maximum they may be utilized in social cooperation to benefit others as well. But they do not harm or hinder other people who are born without them.
We believe that people should be free to choose who they associate with and on what terms. Giving away one’s values and virtues is not an acceptable condition for gaining group membership or loyalty in our minds. Any group that values an individual as a member should be able to value them for who they are, not for what they can take from them.
We believe individuals should trust themselves and their own reasoning. They should not need to rely upon the “wisdom” (opinions) of people who are not like themselves to learn how to live their own life truthfully and successfully.
We do not believe that self-sacrifice is a reasonable price to pay for the approval of others. We do not believe the approval of others to be valuable or desirable criteria for self-esteem and the ability to live life joyfully on one’s own terms.
We believe there are other means for establishing group harmony and the bonds of community than simple equality of property, possessions or ideas. The Cardinal Virtue in our minds, in childhood and otherwise, is Integrity– honesty with oneself, full visibility of one’s individuality, and the courageous nobility of embracing the unique challenges and triumphs of each person’s identity.
For these reasons, we do not read The Rainbow Fish in our household even though many families do.
There are lists in which the bravest of warriors prove themselves singularly clumsy.
~Maurice Druon, The She Wolf
The formal study of the psychology of self-esteem is a modern development, while the concept itself is timeless, immemorial and universal to the nature of the human mind. That we only recently discovered it as an intellectual category and began to examine its principles and the practical applications thereof in concrete detail does not mean that self-esteem was not an operant condition of the human psyche throughout history.
The spirit of the ancient world and the pre-modern past is often thought to be one of tradition and imposed order. Every person was born into a certain station in life which they would inhabit, without change or any particular effort, until their death. Another way to consider this set of circumstances is that the past was a place of entitlement. Entitlement often carries a pejorative connotation indicating undue privilege, but in its broadest sense it applies to any situation in which people deem what they have and what they are due to be a function of “who they are” rather than “what they have done” and it applies to high and low alike.
The emergence of markets, of dynamic technologies and of new thinking about meritocratic social orders heralded the arrival of the age of personal responsibility trodding over the threshold of the age of entitlement. In this new world, the modern world, people had new opportunities to change their station and position in life through strategic ideas and the will to carry it out. Life outcomes began to shift from what role or relationship they were born into, to being due more and more to individual thinking and decisions people made over the course of their lives.
This age of responsibility, unlike the age of entitlement that preceded it, demands active engagement with the psychology of self-esteem to maximize the opportunities presented. Rather than finding oneself resentful, frustrated and confused by an ever-changing society, business and technological landscape, the individual who has mastered the psychology of self-esteem is enabled to continue to change their own ideas and with them, their actions, in relation to this kaleidoscopic shifting of external reality and continually stand to benefit from whatever arrangement it takes. In contrast, the individual living with entitlement feels threatened by change, discouraged by having to think and come up with new plans and ultimately concludes that personal transformation is hopeless and if they can not benefit from progress, they ought to stand in its way and at least enjoy the satisfaction of gumming it up for their historical antagonists and enemies.
The parenting of the past, founded on authority and parental license and the diminution of the individual identity of the child to prepare him or her for their “entitled” adult future, is a severe liability in the modern world and one which few have come to terms with or even understand as a problem. An ever-changing future demands a growth, rather than a fixed, mindset, and a growth mindset stems from confidence in the self’s ability to remain flexible and adapt to new conditions. In other words, a growth mindset is directly tied to the psychology of self-esteem.
Self-esteem being at root a relationship that one has with oneself — feelings of personal worthiness and the capability to seize the good in life — it is incumbent upon parents who wish to “future-proof” their children in a world of hyperactive change to start in infancy with a parenting approach based upon respect. The respect shown for the infant becomes a model for the later child and future adult in how they should relate to themselves.
In other words, parents who wish to benefit from the modern knowledge of the psychology of self-esteem so as to arm their children with a growth mindset in a continuously developing world that demands the greatest creativity and flexibility of thinking to seize the numerous advantages presented on an almost daily basis, should start by grounding their parenting approach in respect for the individual child before them.
by David Burns, published 1980, 2008
This post is less a review of the book and more an exploration of its major philosophical principles and techniques.
All your moods are created by your cognitions, or thoughts, including:
When you are feeling depressed, your thoughts are dominated by pervasive negativity which infect all of your experiences, including:
Negative thoughts at the heart of emotional turmoil almost always contain gross distortions, therefore:
Diagnosing Your Moods
You can use the Burns Depression Checklist (the author’s proprietary list of indicators of depressive thinking) weekly to chart the progress of your depression’s severity. This is important because it introduces objective data into your self-experience. By seeing the change in data over time as a result of specific action, you can break the allure common to all depressive episodes that the present experience is likely to continue on indefinitely, or only get worse.
Understanding Your Moods
Depression is not an emotional disorder, it is a disorder of thoughts.
Practice noticing the negative thought you had just prior to your negative feeling. This will help you generate awareness about the specific “triggers” that instigate a depressive mood. You will begin to notice that right before you feel downcast, you have made a critical or despairing assumption about yourself or other people.
One argument depressed people make is that their depressive mood is an accurate reflection of a depressing reality. However, emotions do not happen automatically based upon experiences, but rather experiences are processed in the mind and filtered through pre-existing thoughts before being translated into an emotional state. Therefore, if your understanding of reality is normal, your resulting mood will be normal; if your understanding of reality is distorted, your mood will be distorted as well.
Thinking you are the one “hopeless”, truly flawed person in the world is a sign of distorted thinking. This is a belief based upon fallacious logical thinking rather than an objective, existent fact about reality knowable to all.
In its essence, depression is a highly credible form of faulty faith in a reality that doesn’t exist. Truly, the cure for long-lasting depression is a “scientific mind” determined to observe and examine reality using sound logical principles.
The 10 Major Cognitive Distortions
Depressive episodes are triggered by one of ten common cognitive distortions, or fundamental logical fallacies embedded in the assumptions and thinking of the depressed individual:
Sometimes people experiencing depression worry that if they do not experience the grief and upset feelings of depression, they will not be living authentically. Getting in touch with and expressing valid emotions based upon valid thinking, is a form of emotional maturity; expressing invalid emotions based on invalid thinking is a personal and sometimes social problem that is not at all desirable. Emotional growth and development involves ridding yourself of invalid thinking and the harmful, deluded and invalid emotions that come with it.
In a depressive state of mind, it can be difficult to summon the determination, motivation and interest in moving one’s goals and life plans forward. Using the major principle mentioned earlier, it is important to consider what kind of self-critical triggering thoughts precede this unwillingness to act. When you are suffering “do-nothingism”, consider the following as a new mental habit:
When I think about an undone task, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
You are likely to find that these thoughts are filled with the logic of futility, hopelessness and general nihilism and discouragement.
Common Mindsets that Yield Action to Inaction
Here are some common cognitive distortions that precede do-nothingism:
You may notice that many of these cognitive distortions are simply “inaction-specific” versions of the earlier list from above.
Dealing With Anger
Anger is a common aspect of many depressive episodes. As depressed people tend not to carry out the values of their lives into action, they often experience frustration, resentment and anger about the seeming futility and malaise of their life, particularly when they are in touch with or aware of their latent talents and abilities. Anger is often directed outward at others as an expression of the pain within.
When you label someone, you tend to apply a mental filter that results in disqualifying the positive as you emphasize their poor traits and ignore their good ones. Labeling gives way to blame, blame leads to vengeance. Ironically, you can not enhance your self-esteem by attacking someone else’s, so this act of labeling and attacking the character of others in anger proves doubly harmful.
Mind-reading also leads to anger as you will tend to attribute false ideas and motivations to the other person’s behavior.
Magnification of the original negative event will cause greater than necessary pain and cause the pain to linger longer than it must.
Should/should not statements generate entitled beliefs and entitled thinking leads to resentment and frustration with other people as well as the self.
The perception of unfairness or injustice is the ultimate cause of anger. It is the emotion that corresponds 1:1 to your belief that you are being treated unfairly. Significantly, there is no universal standard for fairness or justice, only different ethical systems based upon tradition, circumstances and logical rationalization of self-interest and specific harmony.
Arguments over who is “right” are fruitless and unresolvable.
Some anger is healthy in motivating change. But to determine if your anger is motivational or de-motivational and depressive, consider these two criteria for anger:
Techniques for managing anger:
Examing Depressive Thinking
Some people are so depressed, all they can do is carry their whining and complaining with them everywhere they go. How do you deal with a whiner? Try the Anti-Whiner Technique– when someone complains, agree and compliment, don’t try to help. People who whine never want help solving their problems, they are looking for validation and security from others that their pain is real. By offering solutions, you unwittingly end up sending the message to the whiner that they’re incapable of helping themselves, are being victimized by reality and thus should continue whining!
There is no such thing as a “realistic” depression, although there are realistic reasons for temporarily feeling sad. Consider these two ideas about “realistic” depression:
Preventing future depressions:
Downward Arrow Technique, used to mine automatic thoughts for “logical consequences” of silent assumptions, the residue of recurring depressive episodes; then “talk-back” is used the challenge these beliefs.
Taking Action Against Depression
What problems do you face? How are you solving them? This is where the action is, not “worth” or “true self”.
People can spend their whole lives trying to get beneath their depression to an authentic understanding of self when really the difference between a depressed person and a non-depressed person, ultimately, is a willingness to take action to solve one’s own problems.
Why treat yourself in ways it would be rude or uncomfortable to treat others? Encourage yourself to identify your problems and create strategies for resolving them. In taking action, you’ll find your own capability and begin to let the depression go.