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The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 3

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 3

 Page 21:  Let me preface this by saying that I really do love this book and respect the authors’ opinions a lot!  However, as a former public school teacher I have no idea where they are coming up with this notion that public schools devote inordinate amounts of time to children expressing whatever is inside of them.  In the schools I taught in children were given the opportunity to express themselves, but it was in no way taking the place of learning or the storing of knowledge.  This did not happen in the poorer district I taught in, or the wealthier.  I really do not understand where this viewpoint is coming from.

Page 22: I love the idea of filling up a child’s head with knowledge and stories.  When they explain the grammar state of the trivium in this way I totally get it!  I would also respectfully point out, that a lot of public school primary teachers do this naturally.  Making connections between words, stories and history is also something that can happen in public school.  In fact, you can tie in a whole new level of learning when your class is full of native Spanish speakers, let me tell you!  There are a lot of simple words in Spanish that help make learning large English vocabulary words a lot easier.

Page 24: Here is where my personal philosophy of education, really differs from the WTM.  I do not believe in teaching facts without understanding.  I am a Constructivist, and I believe that true learning comes when children explore, create, and figure out learning concepts for themselves. 

Page 25: I totally agree that one of the biggest challenges some schools face is having to also fulfill the parental role.  At one school I taught at, 100% of the students were receiving free breakfast and lunch.  http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/2011/07/09/teaching-in-the-hood/ That meant that the school was providing half of all of their meals each week!  That really boggles the mind and still makes me so sad.  What was happening to my students all summer?  Were they going hungry?  I don’t think that schools are “asserting” themselves in this role necessarily; I think they are being forced into it by society’s failure to deal with poverty issues.


  1. Claire H. says:

    In terms of the Page 21 comment, I think that refers to the emphasis on creative writing, journaling, doing arts & craft projects only tangentially related to the subject (e.g. dioramas for history) and so on in many public schools. These things are okay in moderation, but school shouldn’t be all “gravy” and no “meat”.

    I’m not a big believer in rote memorization for the sake of memorization, and that’s where I diverge the most from TWTM. I’m with Charlotte Mason on not viewing children as “receptacles into which we pour facts” and on leaning “toward knowledge and ideas rather than compiling as many facts as possible.” TWTM leaves critical thinking for middle school, and it’s been my experience that my children can start to understand the “whys” even as young as kindergarten.

  2. Jean says:

    “I do not believe in teaching facts without understanding.”

    I’m not sure there should be a hard-and-fast rule, really. To me it’s more of a case-by-case thing, and both interact with each other. We don’t start off understanding things and then learning facts about them. No one can understand everything, and we live our lives every day only partially understanding anything at all.

    For example, take a small child who is fascinated with the solar system. She might have a placemat with a diagram (as my daughter does). She has already memorized the planet names in order and often asks about what the planets are like. Should I refrain from teaching her anything about the solar system until she can figure it all out herself? I don’t really understand it myself, not properly; I could not predict the orbit of Mars. An astronomer who could do that would tell me that she doesn’t really understand the solar system either. But knowing a lot of facts about the solar system helps her to work on understanding it. Sometimes you just have to learn a lot of facts, and the understanding comes as you use them.

    The vast majority of people who take calculus never understand it completely. In fact, the fundamental theorem of calculus is about the last thing anyone studies, because it’s so complex and difficult that few people understand it at all. It isn’t possible to understand calculus and then learn the facts about it–you memorize the rules, use them a lot, and gradually come to understand them. (Or at least, so my calculus-genius husband says.) I think a lot of life is probably like that.

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