- Briefly, what is the origin of your program?
Unsatisfied with the homeschooling curricula available in the 1990’s – we researched the various educational methods and approaches, as well as educational goals. Again and again we were drawn back to the Great Books Movement – the return to the classics – as the core element needing restoration and recommended by the leading lights for educational reform, including Mortimer Adler, former Editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Great Books of Western Civilization (as well as author of 50+ other books). After meeting with Dr. Adler in 1999 and 2000, we concluded he was right, and, with his encouragement, introduced the Great Books movement to homeschoolers. We accepted our first students in 2000 A.D. Dr. Adler. In order to prepare students to read the Great Books, we introduced Dr. Senior’s Good Books list into the elementary levels. Literature is the backbone and main integrating factor in our program.
- Please explain your program.
Certainly. We have assembled what we believe is the finest educational curriculum available. Our high school and college-level literature program – the Great Books Program– introduces students to approximately 120 of the greatest works of genius ever produced, in various fields. The list may be viewed elsewhere, but includes Homer, Plato, Virgil, Genesis, John, Augustine, Bede, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, etc. In a sense, there cannot be a better core to our whole curriculum, at least with respect to the materials used, by the common opinion of the ages.
Such great works cannot be understood, nor even easily read, without adequate preparation. Hence we developed our Good Books Program of literature classics for younger, elementary school readers, to be accompanied by two fine sets of Lives of the Saints. Likewise, our language arts, history, art, writing, vocabulary and other courses are all aimed and arranged to prepare students for the best – the great books. As the reader may see, the entire program, from pre-school to the end, is organized for excellence – to lead students to the very best – in art, science, literature, history, etc. – in graduated steps in all areas. Over ten years of experience (following 80 years of the Great Books movement) have confirmed this approach.
- Is there a place I may visit online for more extensive information on the Great and Good Books, and your educational approach?
Yes, Classical Homeschooling online magazine has numerous articles and essays discussing all of the above in detail. www.classicalhomeschooling.com In addition, there is extensive literature and numerous articles on the Great Books movement online.
- How do we start?
Our curriculum is all listed under the tab “Curriculum,” so simply visit any grade level, or subject area (such as Math, Art, History), and select the levels and materials you wish to use. To enroll or order individual lesson plans for non-enrolled students, please visit our store.
- How do I know which level to use?
If you are unsure, simply use our placement tests online.
- How many subjects should we do at one time?
We have found that many parents want to cover additional subjects, in other areas. We offer 12 subjects – too many to do at one time. So, most parents begin with 3 or 4 and then add more until they are covering the areas they wish. Many teach some of the subjects 3 or 4 days a week, other subjects, only one day a week. Some focus on one subject at a time – unit studies. Whatever suits your time and circumstances is best for you. We trust the judgment of parents, and in validation of that view: homeschoolers regularly outperform schooled (public or private) students.
- What are the most important subjects?
That is a matter of opinion of course, but we believe religion, literature, English language arts (such as phonics, grammar, writing), math, art (and/or music), history, and by 7th grade – science, are all very important subjects.
Geography, philosophy for children, foreign languages, and dialectics (aka Socratic discussions) are also important. None should be entirely neglected. That is why some parents rotate weeks, or do some subjects only one day a week, or some over the summer, etc. There are all kinds of options for home education.
- Are the Good Books in your elementary reading program part of class time?
Only until the students can read for themselves. Before then, they are often read to the children before bedtime. But once they can read, they typically read in the evening by themselves. No doubt this varies as well.
- What is the Socratic Discussion or Dialectics you mentioned above?
Some teaching is done by lectures (didactically), other by conversation or discussion (dialectically). Dialectics refers to the latter – discussion or conversation. “Socratic” refers to the ancient Greek philosopher – Socrates – who loved to use conversations and mutual inquiry as his primary method to teach and learn.
As we all know, giving or attending a lecture is a very different thing from participating in a conversation. The skills involved are different. Dialectics used to be taught in American schools, but the only remnants left now are found in the occasional debate class, or rarer still – a logic class. The Academy has resurrected Dialectics for homeschooling – per the advice of Dr. Adler and others – as a weekly online discussion class available for 3rd to 8th grade, and in the Great Books Program. Students from around the world discuss the books and important ideas in the books they read, together, in an often exhilarating experience of mutual inquiry and friendly conversation, moderated by our online faculty. There is much more about this on our website at the Great Books Program.
- What is the difference between the online Socratic Discussion and the online Great Books Program discussions?
Grade levels. Socratic Discussions are what we call the 3rd-8th grade online classes (which meet every two weeks online, for 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the grade level); Great Books discussions are the high school and college level online discussions (which meet weekly for two hours, September through May). The readings for the Socratic Discussions are short, pithy texts from the classics; the readings for the Great Books discussions are the Great Books themselves or substantial excerpts.
- You mention science as important from 7th grade one. What about before that?
The natural sciences are learned analytically in the traditional sequence of biology, chemistry, physics – usually in 10th-12th grades. Texts have been prepared to prepare for those years – in a simplified format for 7th-9th grades – entitled Life, Earth and Physical science. These are important subjects. However, these texts all assume a certain level of experience of the natural world. Students who do not actually know what a butterfly does, who have not seen turtles in water, blown seed stars off of dandelions, made mud pies nor followed rabbits to their holes, simply cannot do as well as students that have. Texts have been created for 1st-6th grade science – and we carry the very best for parents who want them – but on examination, parents will discover their contents are largely attempts to replicate the experiences mentioned above and enjoyed by all children with enough time to play in nature.
- When should foreign languages be taught?
The earlier the better – and the easier. Studies show that learning a foreign language is more difficult after puberty. But better late than never. We offer the classical languages – Greek and Latin – and encourage the study of those inflected, root languages, but any foreign language is far better than none.
- Does the Academy have enrollment services?
To build a stronger foundation for your child’s education, the Great Books Academy offers enrollment at any time of the year. We grade and record all quarterly tests and book report forms for enrolled students. We test on your schedule – we have no deadlines you have to meet. You may send the tests to us at any time of the year.
Parents have repeatedly told us that our Grading Services have been invaluable for the insightful comments, praise for work well done, suggestions for improvement where needed, and the consistent cycle of testing quarterly. Parents often need an outside source for their children, especially as the children get into their teen years, to help keep the school year on track. Our grading services include offering comments and suggestions on all papers and tests sent to us. We grade all of the quarterly tests for your student. We send the tests back to you. If you have any questions about our grading service, please email the registrar, Dr. Elisabeth Carmack, at: email@example.com– we will be happy to answer your questions.
- Does the Great Books Academy offer grading services?
Yes, see the answer to question 13.
- Does the Great Books Academy provide transcript forms?
We do. But home schooling is so well-established, so widespread, that most colleges and universities routinely accept home-made transcripts. They also rely on testing such as SAT and ACT, which is readily available to everyone. So except in the unusual circumstance, there is no need for an Academy transcript. There is a nominal fee for preparation in that case. We have a free, blank transcript form for home use.
- Are there any deadlines at the Great Books Academy?
No. Except for the optional online discussion classes, which obviously have to have regularly scheduled class times, there are no deadlines nor time limits in this program. Again, this is home education for home schoolers – not a school per se. To impose deadlines is both unnecessary and arbitrary. Some students complete a whole year’s work in a class in a month – others take two years in some. The parents are the primary educators – after the students themselves – not us.
- May I buy materials without enrolling in the online class?
Yes. Anyone may purchase any of our materials.
- May I purchase courses from different levels for the same student?
Yes. You may choose as many or as few courses as you wish, from whatever grade levels you wish, for any student.
- Do we have to use Great Books Academy materials exclusively for our homeschooling?
No. Again, parents are the primary educators. We are here to aid them. While we believe our materials are the finest available we understand that in some circumstances parents may wish to continue using some materials they already have or prefer for some other reason. Of course we cannot grade tests for other curricula as we do not have their materials and keys.
- Do I have to buy the entire literature package for each grade?
No. You may buy each of the books, from any grade levels, individually.
- The literature list seems advanced for the age groups listed. Why is this?
The listings are a rough guide for parents. Certainly, in the younger grades, the parents will be doing some, or most, of the reading. This is not only acceptable but also beneficial for the students, even for older students, as they learn how the language should sound and also helps the student learn to listen well. It is a good thing for students [for all of us, in fact] occasionally to read a book that is difficult and makes them stretch intellectually. It is for this reason that some of the books are listed where they will be a challenge to the student. Of course, not every book should be difficult as this would be discouraging. In any case, the parents know best what the student is capable of and the choice of books is up to them.
- May I mix and match books from the different grade levels of the good books literature list?
Yes. You may choose whatever books you wish from any grade level for any student. Remember, it is home education – you are the Principal.
- What is your schedule for quarterly and semester testing?
We provide “quarterly” tests, but how long you choose to take to complete a “quarter” is up to you. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the scheduling flexibility it offers. Our Lesson Plans divide the courses into four sections of approximately nine weeks each (36 weeks per grade level). However, you are free to go through the course material as quickly or as slowly as you wish. We send the tests to you with the Lesson Plans.
- How long per day does it take to homeschool a student?
The amount of time will, of course, vary from student to student and family to family, but, on average elementary level, homeschool students spend only about 2 to 3 hours a day studying (excluding reading literature) and still surpass students in schools. But if you wish your students to excel in life, we believe it takes more time than that to do well. But no precise number is valid for all. Nevertheless, double that time or even more would not be unreasonable. It obviously depends on a number of factors: available time; educational goals; grade level, number of courses, etc.
- When do you accept enrollments for the optional online Great Books Discussion class?
All year long. But online classes begin only in the first week of September. Late students are sometimes accepted, depending on circumstances and prior education.
- May a student begin participating in the online seminars at any time?
Students in 3rd through 8th grades may join an online seminar group at any time, September through May. The readings that provide the basis for those discussions are not sequential – meaning that knowledge of the previous readings is not necessary for full participation in the current discussions.
Because the high school and college great books reading/seminar program is a four-year course, with successive readings building upon the knowledge and understanding acquired during the previous readings and seminars, students normally start at the beginning of the Ancient Greek year. Once a seminar group is started, new students go on a waiting list until the next Great Books discussion group begins.
- How do you get the students together for the online discussions?
The discussions are conducted over the Internet, with live audio, so the students participate through their home computers (dial-up or broadband – both work) using a simple $10-30 microphone and speakers.
- Does my 3rd grader have to able to type to participate in the optional Socratic discussions?
No. The online class is “live” audio. Using the software is simple. Even our youngest students have no trouble with it.
- Do I have to buy any software or hardware for the seminars?
The software is free. You will need speakers and a microphone – or a headset. A headset can be purchased for around $10.00. The computer can be, by current standards, old and slow. High speed internet is a must.
- Does the software work on a Mac?
Yes, it does with the new software that comes free with your enrollment in the online classes.
- I noticed that on the Academy Curriculum Overview some courses are listed as “Principal Courses” and others as “Additional or Enrichment Courses”. What is the difference? Should we do them all, each year?
The Academy allows parents to pick and choose whatever courses they wish, from whatever levels they wish. We believe this is a parental right, and duty. But as many have requested our suggestions, we separated the courses on the overview chart into those we believe are more critical or important (principal courses) than others (additional or enrichment courses). We do not believe every student should take every course we offer, all the time nor every year. There is a give-and-take in education, that is highly individualized, which is why it is called a co-operative art by Aristotle, like medicine and animal husbandry. If a doctor gave all sick folks the same remedy for every illness, many would die needlessly. Likewise, if a farmer gave all animals the same food, or the same quantity – many would needlessly grow sick or die. Education too has a large element that is best left to the parents who know and love the individual student best.
It is natural to love to learn. Most parents are in the best position in the early years to cultivate and nurture this desire. Schools can too easily stifle this by one-size-fits-all approaches to education, killing the innate desire to learn, by forgetting that education is a co-operative art. This is one great advantage homeschooling offers. A loving, safe (emotionally, morally, and physically) learning environment is another, in the cast majority of cases.
Some students love math and blaze through four or even five grade levels in one year, while making little to no progress in, say, reading or writing; for others it is the reverse. These areas of interest tend to shift in time, so that by the end of elementary school level (with just a little gentle pushing) all, or nearly all, of the courses have been studied through the 8th grade level. If not, there remains time to make up for missed ground in the high school period. We have had high school students take 3rd or 4th grade English/grammar as they simply have not studied or been taught this in school, at least not adequately. They typically make up for lost time very rapidly.
- What courses do you recommend a student complete before applying to college or entering the world of work?
We recommend – but it is up to you as the primary educator – completion of these high school levels: religion (4 years); math (4 years, ideally through the introductory calculus, but certainly through Algebra I, II and Geometry); 3 years of science: high school level biology, chemistry and physics; 4 years of English Composition; at least 2 years of any foreign language (we recommend Latin and Classical/Attic Greek) to acquire the ability to read, write (and hopefully speak) any single foreign language with reasonable (not perfect) proficiency and fluency; and either the Great Books individual reading course (the Ancient Greeks through the Moderns, with Study Guides), or far better, the 4-year, Great Books online discussion groups (which incorporates four years of social sciences); 2 years of Art (Art in Focus – our 6th-8th grade book is fine for this); Ethics; and learning a musical instrument or our Enjoyment of Music CDs.
The foregoing assumes earlier completion of elementary level (through 8th grade level) religion, language arts courses (such as English, writing, vocabulary, our Good Books literature or similar), some education in music and the arts, and, to a lesser extent (perhaps 1 day per week on average) philosophy for children, history, geography and cartography. Students may take our free placements tests to determine at what level(s) they need to begin with our materials. It is not unusual for students to be strong in one course – such as math – and weak in another – such as English. In that case, they may not need to take any elementary level math with us, but may need to begin English studies in a lower grade level in order to catch up in that area.
Please note that some states require various courses we do not offer in order to qualify one for a high school diploma from a public high or charter school; some even require homeschoolers to take certain courses we may not offer (such as the history of that particular state or a particular “social studies” course [which is often, sadly, the modern replacement for much of history]). Most colleges now accept homeschool transcripts of high school completion, even if certain state requirements are not included, particularly if you are applying to an out-of-state college. If you know which colleges you are interested in attending, we suggest you contact those college admissions offices years in advance of application and find out exactly what will be expected of you. This may necessitate adding a course(s) to our curriculum which we do not offer.
- What subjects does the 9th-12th grade Great Books Program address?
The Great Books largely re-integrate into one course what was so laboriously divided (dis-integrated) and taught separately in elementary grades. Analysis and synthesis are both necessary in a complete education. The Great Books run the gamut of subjects from theology (e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas), the language arts (e.g. Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare) and science (e.g., Copernicus, Einstein) to geography (Ptolemy), philosophy (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle), cartography and history (Herodotus, Thucydides), social studies (e.g., Herodotus, Gallic Wars, Freud), and even math (Euclid, Nicomachus of Gerasa). It is possible to break the Great Books course down into some of these areas for separate grades, if a state so requires.