The Well-Educated Mind Book Club

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"All civilization comes through literature now, especially in our country. A Greek got his civilization by talking and looking, and in some measure a Parisian may still do it. But we, who live remote from history and monuments, we must read or we must barbarise."   William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Laphan
And so we take our first step. The beginning of a long journey toward reclaiming our education, in pursuit of the truth and the One who made all. To understand what is most foundational is to understand all that comes thereafter. There are many ways to come to the truth. Literature tells stories. And humans love stories, don't they? Stories connect with the inward parts of man like very little else does, able to reach in and connect, instruct, and leave the hearer changed forever. From infancy, we hear stories. They are the treasured moments of childhood- the revelry of detail, a developing plot, and then OH NO what is going to happen to these foolish children?? The plot, the suspense, the lesson. Man never grows out of the longing for story, both spoken, and read. Spoken, stories have the power to bond together the hearers in a brotherhood of experience and the thrill of wisdom bestowed. Read, stories draw the individual reader to a private world of imagination and the personal wrestle for truth.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."   Francis Bacon
The pursuit of truth through literature is a serious and beautiful business. It should be approached with as much reverance and diligence as one would hold for a sermon, a visit to the Acropolis, or an evening performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto. With intention. Respect. Patience. Awe.
"The goal of classical self-education is this: not merely to "stuff" facts into your head, but to understand them. Incorporate them into your mental framework. Reflect on their meaning for the internal life. The "external things"- be they Platonic philosophy, the actions of an Austen heroine, or a political biography- make us more conscious of our own "reality and shape". This, not mere accumulation, is the goal of self-education. The Journal is the place where this learning happens. The first step toward understanding is to grasp exactly what is being said, and the oldest and most reliable way of grasping information is to put it into your own words. To master the content of what you read, summarize."   The Well-Educated Mind
Classical education is an educational model that classifies learning into three basic stages- grammar, dialectic or "logic", and rhetoric- that corresponds to the biblical path of maturity, of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Learning progresses from gaining a basic understanding and gathering facts, to analyzing and making sense of the facts, to evaluation and the forming of personal arguments. When reading books, the grammar stage aims to know what the author is saying, the logic stage aims to understand why the author wrote the book and how successful they were, and the rhetoric stage asks what does the author want me to do/believe/experience, and am I convinced? Do I believe? Have I experienced their aim?

Two indispensible resources for education at home are journaling, and a reading partner. Ideally, the journaling is systematic and purposeful, and the reading partner fulfills the basic criteria of being mutually committed to your reading goals, and is at more or less the same speed of reading. My reading partner is my husband; it has been wonderful to start reading together and have something else that is fun and meaningful to discuss. He has an irregular schedule, so he uses audiobooks to help him stay on pace when he misses reading time. He also journals differently and less frequently than I plan to. What matters is not that you both are reading in the same way, but that you are both committed and on track together.

"Classical self-education demands that you understand, evaluate, and react to ideas. In your journal, you will record your own summaries of your reading; this is your tool for understanding the ideas you read. This- the mastery of facts- is the first stage of classical education."   The Well-Educated Mind
For more information on the classical model, click here.
"The journal used for self-education should model itself after this expanded type of commonplace book. It is neither an unadorned collection of facts, nor an entirely inward account of what's going on in your heart and soul. Rather, the journal is the place where the reader takes external information and records it (through the use of quotes, as in the commonplace book); appropriates it through a summary, written in the reader's own words; and then evaluates it through reflection and personal thought."   The Well-Educated Mind
As you read, you will generally be following this journaling format:
1. Jotting down specific phrases, sentences, and paragraphs as you come across them
2. After finishing the reading, going back and writing a brief summary about what you've learned
3. Writing your own reactions, questions, and thoughts

The following is a brief summary of the first few chapters of the Well-Educated Mind, with book club instructions. For more detail and background, refer to the original book.

The Well-Educated Mind was written by Susan Wise Bauer, and includes a canon of 147 classic works- in this case, meaning they are profound and/or important. Some works are masterpieces in their ability to capture universal elements of the human condition, are beautifully written, and their readability and credibility span the test of time. Other works are significant because of their historical, political, or cultural influence. This canon was developed by the author and reflects her personal choices for including each work. I understand the author's method, so I personally like her list and appreciate it, and will be going through it as suggested. For a full list of the works, click here.  To purchase The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had (Updated and Expanded), click here. Before jumping right into the canon of books, however, there are a few things to do first.

Schedule regular reading and self-study time. Mornings are better than evenings, as the mind is more fresh and alert. Start out with a short interval of around 30 minutes; increase from there if desired or able. Don’t schedule every day of the week for your reading- aim for 4 days per week to minimize burnout and encourage staying with the schedule. Never check your email just before your reading time; your mind will be very distracted, no matter how hard you try otherwise. Guard your reading time and avoid all distractions during that time; it is a short allotment- easy to carve out and hold to. Finally, take your first step now! Arrange your schedule and order the books you will need for the first month or so of the book club.

Practice the mechanics of reading. If you find you are reading more slowly than you'd like, use the first 15 minutes of your daily scheduled reading time to work on remedial phonics using something like Wordly Wise 3000, 6th-12th grade. If you find the reading to be too arduous to get through, try using the first 15 minutes of daily scheduled reading time to work on vocabulary skills using something like Vocabulary from Classical Roots, books A-E. If you find yourself repeatedly re-scanning the same sentence over and over, try spending the first several weeks using your finger to read to retrain your eyes to move forward.

Practice taking notes as you write, and then summarizing. Choose a journal format: blank paper journal, digital notebook, etc. Set a reading schedule, such as the recommended four times per week for 30 minutes. You are now officially ready to begin your first book!

Open the book. Scan the front and back covers, bindings, title page, table of contents, etc. Journaling for each category of book will differ; in general, however, this is the format you will follow as you work your way through each piece:
  1. Write the title of each chapter on the page. Read the entire chapter without stopping. If any ideas, phrases, or sentences strike you, jot them down.
2. Summarize each section or chapter in your own words. Make the summary for each section a separate paragraph. Leave very wide margins (2-3") on either side of paragraphs. Ask:
- What is the most important point the writer is trying to make in this section?
- If I could remember only one thing from this section, what would it be?
- What else does the writer tell me about this important point that I'd like to remember?
3. When you've done this for the entire chapter, glance back over your summary paragraphs. Write down your reactions to the information in each summary. Use the margins of your paper for this (a different color pen is also helpful).

  1. Plan on reading each book more than once.
2. Underline or mark passages that you find interesting or confusing.
3. Before you begin, read the title page, the copy on the back, and the table of contents.
4. At the end of each chapter or section, write down a sentence or two that summarizes the content. Remember not to include details (this will come later).
5. As you read, use your journal to jot down questions that come to your mind.
6. Assemble your summary sentences into an informal outline, and then give the book a brief title and an extensive subtitle.

The first section of the Well-Educated Mind canon is the novel. You will read and journal a novel differently than you will other works. There are three stages to going through the novel (grammar, logic, and rhetoric); we will only go through the first run-through here. I will have separate posts at the completion of the first reading of each book with journal questions to guide you through the next two stages.

The first time you read through a novel, you should look for answers to three very simple questions: Who are these people? What happens to them? And how are they different afterward? Bookmark pages where something significant seems to be happening.  
1. Look at the title, cover, and table of contents. Don't read the preface unless it was written by the author or translator. Write the title, author's name, and date of composition on the top of a blank page. Underneath, write any facts gathered from the book's cover or introduction that will help you to read the book as the author intended.  Read the table of contents and note any clues to the book's contents in 1-2 sentences. Begin reading Chapter 1.
2. Keep a list of characters as you read. On a blank space toward the front of the journal, list the character's names, positions, and their relationships to each other. If the novel deals with a family, put the characters in a geneological table.
3. Briefly note the main event of each chapter in one or two sentences as you finish it. These will be memory-joggers, not precise detail. Aim for one major event per chapter.
4. Make initial notes on passages that seem interesting. This is not a long reflection. If you come across a seemingly important passage, bracket it with a pencil and bookmark it, then make a note about it in your journal in the form of a question. Distinguish it from your other notes by writing it in the margins or in a different color.
5. Give the book your own title and subtitle. When you're finished reading the book, go back and reread your chapter summaries. If they do not provide you with a clear, coherent outline of what happens in the book, rewrite your summaries: delete the details that now seem inessential, add important events or characters that you might have missed. Once you're happy with your outline, give the book a brief title and a longer subtitle. Before you do this, ask these questions:
1) Who is the central character in this book?
2) What is the book's most important event?
Is there some point in the book where the characters change? Does something happen that makes everyone behave differently? Try to find the most central and life-changing event from the story. Once you find it, ask: Which character is the most affected? This is likely to be the book's hero or heroine. Now give your book a title that mentions the main character, and a subtitle that tells how that character is affected by the book's main event. (i.e. "Title: Longer subtitle.")


You are now ready to begin the Well-Educated Mind Book Club. You've made it through the hard part; now it's time to enter into the pleasure of reading these beloved and beautiful classic works. Stay up-to-date with weekly posts on the blog, and other updates through Instagram. Please feel free to reach out at any time via the "Contact" tab. Catch you in a story!

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