In this first installment of the Homeschool Philosophies Series, we are addressing Classical Education.
I am very blessed to have been able to interview Cheryl Swope for this episode. Cheryl is the author of the book Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child as well as the Simply Classical curriculum for Memoria Press. Both the book and the curriculum can be found here.
Cheryl has an extensive professional background and training in special needs education. She and her husband also homeschooled their adopted twins who are now adults. Both of her children have autism, learning disabilities, and schizophrenia. For her, homeschooling was a way of educating her children for God’s glory. You can find out more about their story in the Simply Classical book. Cheryl's daughter, Michelle Swope, is also the author of two poetry books: Through Time's Looking Glass and God's Harvest.
What is classical education?
Classical education is defined as "the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful through the liberal arts, the liberal sciences, the great books, art, music, literature and ideas of all time." Classical Christian education says that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of truth, goodness, and beauty.
We (well, certainly at least I did) tend to think of classical education as having content such as Latin and difficult literature and rigorous academics. And I wasn't sure that the philosophy would work for my kids with cognitive delays. But it turns out I was wrong about Classical education. It's not so much about the content as much as it is about the underlying approach. This approach to education and homeschooling comes down to elevating our children’s tastes rather than catering to their immaturity. Even with our children with intellectual disabilities, they can have their tastes elevated and cultivated.
“I think classical education is known for its rigorous academics. Certainly we’ve tried to have each student achieve to the greatest extent that the child can. But we are wanting to do more than that. We are wanting to open their eyes to the wonders of creation, the exquisite art and music that is out there… “
Mrs. Swope also stressed that it is important to make a distinction between a classical scholar and a student of a classical education. A classical education will take a child as far as he is able to go. It’s not just for the “elite.”
“We have become so utilitarian in our approach [to teaching special needs kids] that we’re working on opening a can with a can opener and tying their shoes, and all of those things are great, but that can’t be the full extent of the education.”
How the Simply Classical curriculum works
Christian classical education, including the Simply Classical curriculum, stresses the importance of teaching God’s Word to fill their hearts and minds at every level. Working on character is also very important and is often overlooked in other, more "utilitarian" educational approaches used for special learners.
Simply Classical education is very intentional, and there is a cohesion within the curriculum. It is also multi-modal learning, so your child will learn while engaging multiple modes of learning (visual, auditory, etc.) Simply Classical also offers stand alone work texts. One that sounds particularly interesting to me is titled, “Myself and Others." These are character education 14-week sets, beginning at the age 4 level. No writing skills are necessary to complete these.
“[Special needs] Children are seen as the receptacles into which we pour services. It occurred to me that we do not want our children to have lives of receiving services. We want them to live lives of service to others, no matter where they find their calling in life.”
How a Christian classical education benefits special learners
“When I read the finest passages of the Iliad, I am conscious of a soul-sense that lifts me above the narrow, cramping circumstances of my life. My physical limitations are forgotten. My world lies upward, the length and the breadth, and the sweep of the heavens are mine.” -Helen Keller
This quote from Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, and also classically educated, explains how special needs children benefit from Classical education rather than a utilitarian or remedial education.
Simply Classical curriculum is level based, not grade based. For kids with moderate to severe intellectual disability, typically a level will be covered over 2 years. There is a Facebook group for families using or considering using the Simply Classical curriculum. Simply Classical also offers a free journal. Links to these resources can be found at simplyclassical.com.
You can also email Cheryl Swope at Cherylswope@memoriapress.com if you have questions.
In addition, now that Cheryl's homeschooling days are finished, she offers private, paid consultations for homeschooling families. She has generously offered $25 off private 1:1 consulting for Flamingo Feathers listeners. You can find out more at Cheryl Swope Consulting.