It’s crunch time.
The fall semester is right around the corner, and those who operate our schools are considering various possibilities. Should brick-and-mortar schools remain closed and distance learning continued in the face of the pandemic? Should schools reopen on a part-time basis? Should students and teachers wear masks and maintain social distance?
Those are some of the options on the table.
But what about your options?
More parents than ever are considering homeschooling their children. Compared to the 1980s, when my wife and I first began teaching our little ones at home, parents today are living in a golden age of home education, with an enormous number of programs and curricula available to their students, and with the world at their fingertips through their electronic devices.
In many places, families band together to form homeschooling co-ops. Generally, these co-ops meet once or twice a week with classes taught either by a parent with a particular set of skills, a volunteer, or a paid teacher. Twelve-year-old Jenny goes to a weekly seminar in Latin, returns home with her Henle Latin First Year textbook, completes three hours of homework under the supervision of her mother, and returns the next week for further instruction.
This year, some families are instituting a new system—pod schools—where they join with other families and hire a licensed teacher to give daily instruction to small groups of students. Think one-room schoolhouse, and you’ll get the picture.
This approach is more expensive than the alternatives listed above, but may be a boon to working parents.
For almost 20 years, I operated Asheville Latin Seminars in Asheville, North Carolina. As the sole proprietor, principal, and teacher, I offered classes in Latin, English composition and literature, and history to homeschooling students ages 12–18. Other subjects—math, science, French—they either learned at the dining room table in their homes or from another tutor.
From Monday through Thursday—Fridays I reserved for grading and lesson planning—I taught a total of 12 classes, each of them one hour and 50 minutes long, including a five-minute break. A typical Monday might find me teaching Latin II from 9:00–10:50, United States history and literature from 11:15–1:05, and Latin I from 1:15–3:05. The students then returned home with 2–5 hours of homework, which was due the following week.
The class size ran from one student—that was the year only one young man enrolled in Advanced Placement Latin—to 16 or 17 girls and boys. These numbers allowed me to charge modest fees for each student and still earn a living.
I selected the textbooks we used, the novels and poems we read, and the books for history classes. If you wish to pay a visit to my website to see recommended books, go to AshevilleLatin.com. Below is a typical reading list for my middle school students:
“Harp and Laurel Wreath” edited by Laura Berquist
“Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation” by Jane Straus
The Bible (King James or RSV recommended)
“The Essential Calvin and Hobbes”
“Gift of the Magi”
“Importance of Being Earnest”
“The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and A Very Interesting Boy”
“True Grit” by Charles Portis
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
“Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison” by Lois Lenski
“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”
“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
“Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam”
Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Did this system work?
My students won admission to institutions of higher learning such as Brown, West Point, and the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. Others attended the local community college, joined the military, or entered the workforce. At least five of my former students now teach Latin in various parts of the country, one is a 24-year-old now running for Congress, and others have become lawyers, doctors, and nurses, welders and mechanics, or small-business owners.
Best of all from my perspective, many of these kids learned how to write well. Often, they returned from their freshman year in college to thank me for teaching them that skill. I accepted the appreciation with gratitude, but the truth was they became good writers because I made them write scores of compositions.
Challenging Our Young People
In my years of teaching, I learned some things about our young people.
First, they respond to challenges, particularly when they can see the good in those challenges. Every spring, for example, I required my middle school students to write a 1,500-word essay on “Where I Will Be in 15 Years and What It Cost Me to Be There.” These middle school students had to follow their dreams 15 years into the future, until they were 27 or 28 years old, and describe their lives and what sacrifices they’d made to achieve their goals.
We spent weeks on this project. In addition to the writing, which we broke into parts, this essay required some research. If they planned on attending North Carolina State University to become an engineer, they needed to go to that school’s website and figure out what courses and grades the engineering school required for admission as well as its requirements for a degree. If they wanted to enter the trades, as some did, they had to research the skills they needed to master carpentry, plumbing, or masonry, requirements for certification, and the employment opportunities for their particular trade.
Students also had to envision their lives aside from work. Did they want a spouse and family? Did they wish to live in a big house in the country or an expensive apartment in a large city? If so, how did they intend to pay for these things?
Other Lessons the Teacher Learned
Young people need praise—not the false accolades of the “I Am Special” movement, but praise sincerely rendered for a job well done. A pat on the back or a complimentary comment on an essay keeps them in the race.
We should also encourage our children to pursue what they love. While writing this article, I spoke with a husband and wife who were worried about the lack of academic prowess and advancement in some of their seven home-educated children, six of whom are adopted. Of those six, five were addicted to drugs at birth through their natural mothers. When Mom and Dad asked for my advice, I recommended they stop comparing their children to others and reminded them of the noble work they had undertaken in raising these children.
I also suggested that even at a young age, their kids were exhibiting certain inclinations toward a life’s work. One of them, for example, loves sawing dead tree limbs, hammering nails into lumber, and hanging around adults performing these tasks. We need people in the trades as much or more than we need them in the professions, so why not encourage that boy, if he retains those interests as he grows older, to follow that route?
As I frequently told my students, all too often we equate high academic achievement as a sure-fire sign of success in life. We make grades and classroom abilities the criterion for a happy and productive life. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we look at the successful people we know, we find factors such as personality, virtue, a servant leader mentality, personal integrity, and even physical appearance can contribute to success as much as straight As on a report card.
Willpower and Love
On my site, you’ll notice a Latin tag attributed to Hannibal: “Inveniemus viam aut viam faciemus,” which translates to “We will find a way or we will make a way.” I often wrote those words of grit and wisdom on the whiteboard in my classroom. When we teach willpower to our students by example and by our words, we enhance their ability to tackle difficult problems.
And when we love our young people, and show them that love, we may be giving them the greatest gift of all. To toss off another Latin adage, “Omnia vincit amor,” or “Love conquers all.”
Love, grit, challenge, virtue, wisdom, vision: these transform our children into responsible and happy adults.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.