a review by the mother of a gifted homeschooler
I've now read TWTM twice and have had time to think
about it a bit. I like SOME things about classical
education in general and TWTM in particular, but
others, I'm not too keen on.
First of all, Piaget's stages of development have been
known to be incorrect for years (even though they're
often taught in psych 101). They just aren't true.
Having a true "grammar stage" would be acceptable to
some students but just plain painful to most gifted
ones--and beyond that, for math, at least, it is
simply counter-productive. For example, TWTM
predictably likes Saxon math, with its emphasis on
rote memorization and the execustion of algorthims as
a substitute for actual mathematical thinking. While
many gifted children will accept this, it is not a
good idea. There is, quite frankly, a very good
reason that Susan Wise Bauer did not major in science,
mathematics, or engineering. Most classical education
curriculum provides a very poor background for these
things. The prediction in TWTM that students will
find upper level math and science "hard" is not
representative of the difficulty of the subject so
much as the completely lack of decent preparation.
Memorization of facts, which is an emphasis of a
classical education, provides a framework around which
everything else you learn can be hung. Whether it's
dates or mathematical facts (and this from someone who
HATED memorizing math facts), there are certain tools
that are important to build a body of knowledge upon.
Also, many schools now completely neglect all language
arts, and classical programs usually offer a very good
program for those. History is often dreadfully dull
and incoherent as presented in schools, and most
classical plans make it important, relevent, coherent,
and at least fairly interesting. Primary sources are
important, but they are not the be-all and end-all of
math or science or history studies for very important
Here's a subject-by-subject critique of TWTM from my
point of view, since it's the most popular book on classical
The phonics-rooted approach is good, and so
is the separation of reading and writing. I'm not too
wild about some of their selections for read-alouds,
though, for that age group. Some of the books will
take careful screening because it depends on the
child's sensitivities. Charlotte's Web really upset
me when I was in third grade. I hated that they were
going to kill Wilbur, and Charlotte's death was NOT
fixed by her having babies. As a preschooler, I would
have been simply hysterical. Just So Stories, on the
other hand, delighted me when I read them in second
grade, but my brother was disturbed by the idea of an
alligator pulling out an elephant's trunk! I love the
Blackstone Audiobooks. You can download many as MP3s
for about the price of a rental. We don't have a
single child's classic at our library. *sighs*
I think that the "traditional
ball-and-stick method" is a myth because I've heard it
referenced but have never found a handwriting program
that espouses it or even seen anyone write that way in
real life. Their recommendation of Zaner-Bloser
because it's the "prettiest." *dead silence*
Honestly, that strikes me as a pretty stupid reason
for making a child's life needlessly complicated. If
a kid is dying for fancy loops and squiggles, teach
them fancy loops and squiggles. Otherwise, give them
Handwriting Without Tears or (my favorite) one of the
Italic scripts like Portland. I also think that
writing should be done parallel with
handwriting--that's it's important to be able to write
at all before you start focussing on the correct way
An unschooling approach to math (which is what
TWTM recommends) works great if you yourself
understand the concepts that need to be enforced and
the type of mathematical thinking that needs to be
encouraged. I've discovered that most of the contents
of the Singapore Pre-K and K books that I bought are
going to be unneeded simply because of the games my
son and I play. As the daughter of someone who has
master's in mathematics education, it sort of comes
naturally to me. But if you're not a big math
person--or not a big primary math person--Miquon
and/or Singapore have programs that are easily
appropriate for gifted preschoolers.
TWTM is virtually mute on science at this
age, but three and four are the "why?" years, and many
of the answers are scientific. I've started telling
DS the names of native and garden plants and explaining
the behavior of animals and how various things--like
airplanes--work that he shows interest in. There are
lots of fun science books that are appropriate even
for non-gifted kids at this age, and reading them together
History as fun stories should start here,
too. There's no reason not to.
GRAMMAR STAGE (1-4)
Studies have shown again and again that for
most childen, traditional spelling lists are
pointless. Spending 10-15 minute a day on drills is a
total waste. I *will* be using a spelling text to
teach general guidelines for spelling--"the sound
'shun' is often spelled 'tion.'" But that's all. The
rest of the list will come from words that are
misspelled during written work. 30 minutes a week is
more than enough for this.
Oral corrections and guidelines are good for
the first two years. The grammar of the English
language simply isn't that complicated, though, and
having looked over the Rod & Staff materials at the
homeschool fair, I've never met a child I hate enough
to force through a program like that! Brainless
copywork, tedious corrections, a condescending tone
that is taken from a world where all women are wives,
mothers, cooks, and no more and been are farmers or
other Honest Workers--no thank you. I like Analytical
Grammar better. One repetition at the second grade
level with the junior version and one at the sixth
grade level with the regular version, and you're done.
Dictation is an utter waste of time because there are
so many ways of writing a sentence, and there are much
more productive strategies for getting them to produce
sentences that need to be punctuated. (Such as, say,
writings over the materials you're actually learning.)
Not to be too catty, but I'd be more impressed by
their argument that studing grammar to such an extent
helps with writing quality of Wise Bauer's Story Of the World (SOTW) didn't
have such painful prose. I haven't read First
Language Lessons, nor will I. Poetry memorization,
dramatic interpretation, and storytelling ability are
fun and useful skills to develop. I don't think I
want their idea of how to do it, though. Analytical
Grammar would take maybe 30 minutes a day for 11 weeks
for one year during the 1st-4th grade period. Added
with less formal instruction and correction, let's
give it a generous 30 minutes a week.
I agree heartily that "reading texts" suck
all the joy out of reading, though I don't think that
reading needs to be so heavily tied to the linear
history they love so much. Children's interests
aren't so predictable, and they are important, too. A
HUGE problem here is that Wise ignores the vast, rich
fund of children's literature in favor of (almost
exclusively) adult books adapted for children. That
approach deprives a child of so much that is good and
worthwhile--and that is part of our collective
culture. Little House in the Big Woods or Treasure
Island is more important than the first of three
versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream! There are
hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful books that inspire
and excite children and that are every bit as valuable
as adult works. Ignoring them is a grave disservice.
Revisiting a story in different versions too many
times can also easily cause boredom and
dissatisfaction, even if the story is as worthy in its
adaptation as in its original, which it rarely is.
*steps off soapbox* Required reading of about 30
minutes a day is about right (plus additional fun
reading). I'm not big on daily schedules--all this is
just taking the schedule from TWTM and tweaking it.
While this is an important skill, I
don't think that a child needs special materials just
for this, and I don't think there needs to be much
worry if a child isn't terribly good at it. It seems
a common trait of early readers that their eyes go
faster than their mouths, which can give some pretty
strange results. A little practice a couple of times
a week, and the skill will come in time.
I went to a presentation on the Writing
Strands system, but even though the wife of the
creator was giving the presentation, my view when I
left was still rather muddy. I could only steal a
minute or so to look through the materials, and I
wasn't terribly impressed.
Writing is enjoyable only
when it fulfills a goal. Too many of the exercises
seemed contrived to me. Better, to me, is to practice
writing as an organic part of every subject:
Every form of writing can and should be
intergrated seamlessly and organically into the
curriculum. Even research papers and literary
analyses should not be treated as foreign intruders
but should arise naturally from the work. *steps off
soapbox yet again* *ahem*
- In art,
you draw a picture, so you write a story to go with it.
- After you finish a book, you write a short response
based on the book and a question from the parent.
- After history, you summarize what you read or
concentrate on a part of the reading that interested
you most and write a response based on that. An
analysis of an experiment is also good writing
Handwriting is NOT writing
practice, although you can practice penmenship while
writing. Writing Strands would be more useful, I
think, as a conceptual guideline (this week, we'll
concentrate on XYZ) rather than an actual curriculum.
I am also a professional writer, so this is my area of
expertise, and so I feel the need for guidelines less
than people who are less comfortable with the subject
might. By 4th grade, there would probably be at least
30 minutes a day of penmanship and real writing in any
curriculum I taught--probably more.
I think that Wise is thoroughly unqualified to
judge what a good math text is and what it does. Her
typical stance is that constant review and drill
(meaning that kids get many right answers) leads to
greater mathematical knowledge, which is complete
nonsense. Teaching mathematical thinking leads to
mathematical knowledge. Drilling algorithms teaches
nothing. I would use Singapore, Miquon,
DestinationMATH, and/or EPGY for elementary-level work
(or Math-U-See for kids who are struggling),
summplemented with plenty of math puzzles and games
just because they're fun and inspire interest in math.
I'll probably coach a MATHCOUNTS team or something
similar (which is scary because I'm so rusty), too. I
do agree that memorizing math facts, no matter how
painful, is important. Using them in games and the
like is generally more pleasant than flat drills, but
speed drills are useful for marking progress. Wise's
claim that memorization of facts in any structure
leads to "an instictive understanding of math
relationships" is silly. It does, however, keep kids
from getting bogged down in calc because they have to
compute all their basic operations still!
HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY - These, I agree, should be
studied together, and I love the idea of a spine plus
enrichment. I am far from satisfied with SOTW, and
that dissatisfaction combined with the appalling
quality of Kingfisher's Science Encyclopedia makes me
nervous about Kingfisher's History Encylcopedia. I do
think that narration is a great tool to aid in
retention, just like taking notes in college (if you
take them...). Important facts should be memorized.
Maps are INCREDIBLY helpful for understanding people's
movements and relative locations and should be used
even in the lowest grades. I love the timeline idea,
too. Fun readings that are tied to history--factual,
primary source, or historical fiction--can be great
fun and great sources of knowledge.
Question-and-research patterns should be encouraged,
followed by a summary of findings. I'd do at least
three hours a week of this, though some of this
overlaps with writing.
Science is a big bug-a-bear for someone
wanting to create a high-quality course because
science, like math, needs coherency and logical
presentation, but it's a lot harder to get because
there aren't many decent science textbooks out there.
I'd like to once again hearily recommend
RealScience-4-Kids, though the entire pre-level I will
take up 1.5 years at the most.
There are several
companies that make science series books, each
covering a single topic, and I'm swayed pretty heavily
towards those for specifics like, say, the animal
kingdom or the plant kingdom or astronomy. These seem
to provide better depth than the "here's science for
grade X" type of books. I still haven't found
anything I'm wild about, so I have a feeling that I'll
be using college texts and teaching the material from
them using lower-level books and adding experiments fo
various sorts. I don't think many of TWTM's specific
recommendations have much merit here. Unfortunately,
I don't have many great ones yet, either!
Because of the way the mind matures, it's
far more important to learn another LIVING language in
elementary school to be able to reach fluency than to
learn a language you'll never need to speak aloud.
The top three most spoken languages in the world are
Mandarin, Hindi, and English, followed by Spanish,
Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, German,
Korean, and French. Because of our location our
background, DS will be learning at least Mandarin and
Spanish. If he likes languages, then we'll include
Latin and probably Koine Greek, as well as any modern
languages that interest him. Various programs/books I
- Latin: At first
glance, ELEMENTARY LATIN by Nancy Sattler, Ecce Romani, Latin's Not So Tough!, and Wheelock's Latin, Artes Latinae.
- Spanish: For this, watching fun videos first in
English, then in Spanish with English subtitiles, then
in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, and then just in Spanish
is my preferred method. I like to use lots and lots
of readers, too. Learning Spanish Like Crazy would be
really good (http://learningspanishlikecrazy.com/), as
would Spanish FSI Platiquemos Version.
is my favorite basic-level textbook, but avoid Dime
like the plague--it's terrible. El arte de la conversacion is a
fantastic book, and so is The Nassi/Levy Spanish Three Years Workbook (R 470W) by
Levy. Pasajes: Lengua, Cultura, Literaria is also a
good series--we used a part in one of my college
courses. Perspectivas culturales de Espana is a good
nonfiction book that can be read by the second or
third year of a HS-level program.
Once basic fluency
is achieved, the only thing to do is as much
conversation and immersion as possible and lots of
reading from classic texts. (Previewing literature
will be MORE necessary in Spanish than in English
because of greater levels of morbidness, violence,
sex, and death.) A foreign language course should
turn into English-but-in-another-language by the 4th
year. Tutors for speaking and for correcting essays
will eventually be needed!
- Mandarin: Teach Yourself Chinese is a starting place.
After that, I'm giving up and sending the kid to the
local college. :-)
I can't say how much I agree with their
stance here. Personally, we're going to incorporate
memory verses, Bible study, catcheism, apologetics,
and lots and lots of Biblical and church history. I
like the Memlok program for memory verses, and e-sword
is a free program I haven't much looked at that is
basically a glorified electronic Bible.
we'll be studying the beliefs of other religions,
which is so very important in a world that attempts to
erase the theological oceans that separate different
belief-systems. I have a few good textbooks from my
Eastern religions course, though I wasn't excited
about anything I read for the Western religions
course. I also have an exellent Philosophy of
Religion text, but my prof for that course put it
together only for that course from other copywritten
works he got permission to use. This is a good text:
Eastern Ways of Being Religious with Shinto Ways and PowerWeb : World Religions by
Gary E. Kessler.
TWTM's fine arts program is beyond awful.
I think it's important for every child to learn at
least one musical instrument, to learn basic drawing
techniques, and to learn about the history of both art
and music. Other interests, like photography or
sculpting, should be encouraged, not edged out by
daily grammar drills. One hour a day is much more
appropriate than one a week.
THE LOGIC STAGE
I can't say how much I love that they
recommend teaching logic! I haven't looked over any
of these texts yet, but I have quickly reviewed The Fallacy detective: Thirty-six lessons on how to recognize bad reasoning
by Nathaniel Bluedorn, Hans Bluedorn, which I quite liked. I didn't
notice overtly Christian content in my VERY quick
scan, but it's probably there.
No mention of VideoText or ChalkDust, probably
due to cost and the authors' active dislike of
multimedia. Still no mention of EPGY, but
restrictivity and cost would disqualify it from being
a mainstream recommendation. No mention of Harold
Jacobs, and there isn't a good excuse for that except
that they like the "simplicity" of sticking to a
single program whenever possible. Complaints about
Saxon and other curricula have already been voiced.
HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY
notebooks-as-organizational-exercises but really like
them as content archives, if that makes any sense. I
have very little complaint with the program except
that I think outlining is vastly over-emphasized.
(Try outlining a REAL scholarly article using exactly
the methods described--it usually doesn't work because
most papers aren't organized that way. Having one
quick lesson a year on outlining and then
concentrating on NOTE-TAKING when reading are much,
much more valuable. I say that as someone forced to
outline history texts for years...) As a note, the
Jackdaw packs are cool but pricey--you can find
virtually everything in plaintext on the Internet.
Overall, I again like the idea of a spine with
supplementary readings, for which I would choose a
mixture of fiction, nonfiction, and primary source
material. I still love the timeline and the idea of
plastering walls with maps. *g* Again, combining
history with geography is a very good idea. Studying
for one of the AP history tests should be manageable
for most regular students at this age, I think.
SPELLING AND WORD STUDY
My comments about spelling
don't change for this section. I'm not terribly
convinced of the usefulness of word study from lists
(rather than from readings), but that may be because
it was extremely rare that there was a word that I
didn't know in the vocab workbooks we used. I
definitely think no more than 30 minutes a week should
be spent on the two combined. The best way to learn
vocab is to read.
Here, I'd do the full Analytical Grammar and
then work through a book of sentence diagrams and be done
with formal grammar forever. There's no reason to
obsess over a tool like diagramming because it's only
a tool--there is no linguistic accuracy behind it.
But it's still useful and, er, fun to weirdoes like
Once again, I much prefer an integrated
I like this reading program a lot more than
their grammar-level program! I wouldn't introduce
them to the The Canterbury Tales quite yet unless they
were rather mature, and I think it's important to read
work in its original form whenever possible.
Shakespeare with footnotes is acessible to most
children of this age, for instance, though he's often
racy! Reading is a great source for both intelligent
discussions and writing.
Once again, I don't care much for their
rather lackadaisical science program, especially for
the average parent. The "scientific method" is also a
bit of a myth, and concentrating on that to the excuslion
of all other scientific methods *g* results in a
skewed view of science. Their recommended books are
By now, ideally, a child should be
learning two foreign languages and perhaps Latin as
well. Once they reach a good proficiency level with
Latin, I'd be tempted to switch to another "dead
language". Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew are all good
ideas for Christians--many Jewish children will learn
Hebrew as a matter of course. Sanskrit is another
option, and if you think that's too far-fetched, see
if you have a local Ayurvedic school because they
often offfer classes! If a child really likes
languages, adding more wouldn't be too much if the
others were only reviewed, especially if the language
were in the same family.
Pretty much ditto as to what I said before.
ART AND MUSIC
I'd emphasize these a LOT more than
TWTM does, and I'd also emphasize the importance of
competant instructors for improving technique. The
mathematics and theory of art and music should be
added along with the history.
COMPUTER AND VIDEO
To be blunt, they are living in
the dark ages! They aren't interested in what's out
there or the interactivity and multiple-threading that
software is capable of. Their approach of "you get
what you pay for" about the Internet badly maligns the
enormous efforts of individuals and institutions to
bring knowledge cheaply to the masses. The work of
the Library of Congress alone is amazing. NASA's
education outreach is huge. Yes, source should be
considered. But the fantastic opportunities shouldn't
be wasted. Just because it's on paper and not on a
screen doesn't make it automatically better. I would
encourage typing, expecially for kids who struggle
with slow handwriting, to be taught by second grade.
Typing is much more used by the average person than
handwriting these days.
THE RHETORIC STAGE
RHETORIC AND DEBATE
These tools should have been
taught as writing is taught starting at the youngest
grades. Writing is worth it when you have some idea
to express or argument to make--writing for the sake
of writing is pointless. These abilitis should be
brought to a finer ability level at this age/grade,
though! I couldn't stand the debaters at my high
school because they tended to be sophists, but debate
itself is an important tool, though I would not
encourage arguing both sides of any case just for the
thrills of it.
SPELLING AND WORD STUDY
I'd do absolutely no
spelling except from errors in work at this age. For
word study, my opinions don't change.
I'd do absolutely nothing for this age.
It's a waste of time.
Once again, tied to the work, with emphasis
on research and rhetoric.
I would not forego all history books in
favor of strictly primary sources because primary
sources have holes. In addition, I wouldn't require
full reading many primary sources because plenty are
terribly dull. I'd also add a lot more sources from
other cultures so that the child is globally educated.
World History, American History, US Gov't, Comp.
Gov't, Social Geography--all of these AP tests are
great ways to get college credit for the work the kids
are doing now.
Although the book lists are flexible, I'm making
comments on a few of the books that I've read since
I've read all but a handful. (Reading literature and
history was how I kept boredom at bay in middle school
and high school.) This is not to disparage their
choices--creating a truly complete and fascinating
great books plan would requite about 10 years of
reading instead of four! This is just another take.
Even if you just took their curriculum completely at
face value, I think it'd be a great experience.
-Homer's Odyssey is shorter and faster-paced than the
Iliad and can be read by many Logic-aged children.
-I liked the first and last of the Oedipus cycle best,
and Antigone is
exciting for logic-aged kids, too. It
was my favorite. Oedipus at Colonus is DULL, and the
deus ex machina is corny to the modern reader.
-Herodutus' Histories is dreadfully dull when taken as
a whole, though excerpts can be fascinating. Since it
has no intrinsic literary stylistic value, I'd read a
super-condensed version, especially since so much of
the history is questionable at best.
-Medea and Agamemnon are definitely high school-level
material because of content.
-Thucydides is even more dull than Herodotus, and the
historical value is better but not fantastic.
-Plato's The Republic should be okay at the Logic age.
-I'd add Nicomachean Ethics
to Aristotle's On Poetics and Rhetoric. It's denser but very illuminating.
-De republica and Wars of the Jews would also be
things I'd be likely to assign in condensed versions.
-Plutarch is also dreadfully dull. I tried to read
his Lives three times and never got through it. He
generously mixes fact with fiction. Selected lives
are probably the best choice here.
-Again, I'd only read parts of many of the histories.
Most aren't really primary sources, and the fuzzing of
fiction with fact is often significant.
-The Mabinogion is often neglected and shouldn't be.
-I loved The Book of Margery Kempe. *g*
-I agree with only reading selections for Le Morte D'Arthur. It's really long and can get boring.
-Anything by Marie de France is a delight.
-Beowulf is good for Logic, too. Actually, much
medieval/Renaissance literature is VERY approachable at the
-Kids love the parts about marriage in More's Utopia.
-This is missing a lot of the important shorter
poetical works as well as important works in other
languages. Spain has a very significant body of
medieval literature, for instance. El Poema de Mio Cid should definitely be on this list!
-Don Quixote abridged? Say it isn't so.
-I hate Swift. But that's a personal thing. I find
his satire painfully heavy-handed. :-)
-What happened to Hobbes????
-Kant did a lot of work on ethics that would be nice
-All in all, this grade seems really thin considering
all the sources available, expecially when it comes to
-Still light on the poetry. I know they don't like
texts, but they ARE good for poems. It's more
important to read all significant poetry of a period
than all the peoms by a single poet.
-I actually like this selection better than the 11th
grade choices. I'd leave Lytton Strachey OUT of it,
-For Orwell, I'd substitute 1984, which is his
strongest novel, I think. A comparison with Huxley's
Brave New World and with Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
would be fruitful.
-HG Wells? Please?
-I hate Hardy, too. He's so condescending to
-With Kafka, Metamorphosis is shorter and more famous.
-What happened to all the Spanish-language writers? I
know many are controversial, but Garcia Marquez and
Garcia Lorca and Borges tremendously impacted
literature of all nations.
-Tom Stoppard is brilliant. It's tempting to skip,
but it's worth the time to read it.
-Evelyn Waugh? He's the voice of the 1920s!
-Or how about Henry James? You can't study modern lit
without Henry James. :-)
-Or George Bernard Shaw? I hate the man's guts, but
he wrote some important stuff. :-)
-Norton's Anthologies of Literature are great resources
and cheap for what you get. I recommend them.
Once again, this is really light. All previous
criticisms don't change. A decent program should have
you acing AP Calc by the end, even if you're a normal
student. It isn't that hard.
I really like the idea of supplementing with
information about the history of math and science and
with primary texts. However, the level of science
that is being taught is far below that needed to
understand many of the primary sources lists, and I
also thing that excerpts for these are valuable.
Also, why are we reading Newton and not Euler? Euler
is the father of our calculus, not Newton! AP
Physics, Bio, and Chem ought to be covered here.
FOREIGN LANGUAGES Nothing new to say here except
more is better. *G* AP credit should be gained where
The Luddite indoctrination is
neither needed nor appreciated. *shakes head* New !=
wonderful, but neither does it equal terrible. AP
computer science credit shoud be a goal. I think it's
now Java, not C. Everyone should have some limited
programming ability in this day and age.
Nothing new to say here except that ethics
is a great course to develop.
ART AND MUSIC
Nothing new. Studio Art AP and Music
Theory AP credit are both good goals.