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The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 2

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.  Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education. 

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time, and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter. I want to be conscientious about not violating any copyrights, so I will not be including quotes from the book on my blog. I will however, be referencing specific page numbers from the third edition. I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 2

General Thoughts: I found it interesting reading Susan’s account of a Classical Education at home, because I had a very similar education in the Seminar program of the San Diego Unified School District.  It makes me wonder how the educational path of the Wise family might have changed if they had had access to public schools of similar caliber to the ones I attended.  The discrepancy between school districts is one of the great shames of our country. 

Page 13:  Once again, I am probably offending a great portion of America, but I still wonder if grammatical errors are a bigger issue in certain regions, but less of an issue elsewhere.  Certainly when I taught English Language Learners in California I contended with grammar issues, but this was not the case in the wealthier district I taught in.  Children from predominantly upper middle class families in California spoke well naturally, because they had developed the ear for correctly spoken English since birth.  I did teach grammar in the 3rd/4th grade, but I did not spend a lot of time on the subject.

Page 13: I learned how to write persuasive essays starting in 5th grade.  My teacher, Mr. Gray, had a list of 60 “Keys to Understanding Mankind”.  We would choose a key that applied to the book we were reading, and use the key as our thesis statement.  The essay would follow from there.  Eventually we learned to write thesis statements without having to first choose a key.  By high school I was shocked at how so many of my peers (who had not been taught by Mr. Gray), still did not know how to write a five paragraph essay.

Page 14: Regarding high school age students specializing in a certain area… I have often heard that selective colleges look for applicants that are like puzzle pieces.  They want an athlete from over here, a history buff from there, a humanitarian from here etc.  This concept fits in nicely with what the authors are saying.  Competitive college applicants need to be more than just well-rounded students.

Page 15: The four year pattern of studying the ancients all the way to modern time is very similar to the SLE curriculum I studied in college.  Stanford was on the quarter system however, so Winter quarter we studied the medieval period through the late Renaissance, and the Spring quarter was modern times to the present.

Page 16: The authors’ spiraling science curriculum is very similar to what many state science standards already are.

Page 17: It is interesting that she mentions Mortimer Adler, because part of my public school curriculum was Junior Great Books, which he helped found.


  1. For the record, you were not alone in receiving a relatively solid and at least somewhat classical education in California public schools. I was in LAUSD for all 13 years, and the education I received was more than respectable. In re WTM’s approach, I was in a HG program in elementary, and the HG teachers teamed up to do a history cycle that reminds me of the SWB approach. (All the fourth, fifth and sixth graders did a year of Greece and Rome, a year of the Middle Ages, and a year of the Renaissance, complete with enriching activities like a pageant of the gods, a class trip to the Renaissance Faire and so forth. The only downside was you could start at the end and then go back to the beginning, as I did. (Renaissance in my fourth grade year, and then Greco-Roman history/culture.) And then in junior high, I was in another program where we did at least a cursory survey of Latin. One of my favorite tests of all time (yes, favorite test) was the one where Mrs. Selsor quizzed us on the Greek and Latin number-word roots. You’re set for life on hexagons, pentagons and octogons after that. 🙂

    • jenbrdsly says:

      This is really interesting. It brings me back to my questions of how the Wise family’s educational course might have been different if they had access to better public schooling in the first place. Maybe they would have gone on to be proponents of Charter schools etc., instead of primarily homeschooling?

    • Jean says:

      I also went to California public schools (mostly solidly middle-class), and was not well served. When I got to college, I floundered because I didn’t know half of what I should have, and was too ignorant to realize it. I had always gotten good grades and done what I was supposed to, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Recently I went to my HS reunion and saw one of the really smart girls from our class–she’s doing a PhD at UCLA. We bonded over how little our high school had taught us and how much catching-up we had to do.

      • jenbrdsly says:

        Man, that sounds really frustrating. My husband had a similar experience after attending a high school in an agricultural area.

      • Jean says:

        It was, but OTOH I was one of the lucky ones–I had the family expectations and support, and the persistence to survive anyway (I had spent a year as an exchange student and was used to feeling lost). A little less of those and I could easily have dropped out–I think that’s probably what happened to the valedictorian of the other HS in my town. He won all kinds of scholarships and was the first kid in his family to go to college (we were both at Cal)–he didn’t last a year. Like many smart kids I knew, he was used to effortless As and didn’t know how to cope. I think we do a lot of low-SES kids a great disservice by telling them they can go to college, but giving them good grades with low expectations in HS so they’re ill-prepared for college. Then we send them off, thinking we’ve done something good, when really we’ve set them up for failure by never telling them the truth about what the real world will expect.

      • jenbrdsly says:

        That’s really sad. I think it is a good trend that so many high schools these days have running start programs where kids can start taking certain college classes while still in high school. Maybe that will help.

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