Education by Subtraction

In a few days my 3rd son will be graduating from college. He has spent this year working on his senior integration paper. I have watched this process with great joy but reading a 35 page academic paper did not sound like a fun evening to me. To my surprise the paper, titled Swung on and Belted, was delightful. For days afterwards I was thinking about it as I watched my various sons step up to the plate at their baseball games. I even expounded upon my newfound knowledge of the strike zone to a mom sitting next to me who innocently commented on a seemingly blind umpire.

I did start to worry that the paper was so readable it might not be considered academic enough and indeed, when I had a chance to hear another student defend their senior paper I was even more worried. That paper was well-organized and obviously written by an intelligent person but as an outsider to the field I had no idea what the other paper was saying. Turns out the professors liked James’s paper and have even suggested he turn it into a book. Perhaps it will even be the next Moneyball which would go a long way towards paying for that expensive college education. But bestseller or not it was gratifying to know my son was able to write not only academically but compellingly.

Every homeschool mom will understand my joy — or maybe I should say my grasping for validation — but as I began to think about James’s success I realized that maybe it was not what I had done in our home that had born this fruit but rather what I had not done. The more I have thought about this concept the more I began to think it contained important truths applicable to education in general.

Classical education is often defined by the trivium, three things, and the quadrivium, four things. 3 plus 4 equals 7. It is quite possible that every single time we add to this equation we are taking something away from our children’s education. The first thing we are taking away is time. The second thing is contemplation. The third is depth. No matter what we add to the curriculum we are removing particles of time, contemplation, and depth.

I am not sure how far my thinking about this will take me but I do think our success as classical educators may be far more about what we do not do than we realize. A Christian classical education should be clean and elegant. It should have none of the hurried frenzy of modern institutions where young boys need drugs to keep in the game. Education should not be geared to the multitasker.

As we begin making plans for the next school year maybe we should be thinking more about what to take away rather than what to add to the curriculum.

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