When my kiddos were between the ages of 2 and 11 and the basket beside our fireplace burgeoned with library books, a good friend from church set me a task: How can a homeschool mom with a bundle of children (and all the work that comes along with them) go about teaching the classics, especially if she didn’t get a great books education herself? At the time, my own six children were reading the “good books;” the great books were yet before them. My friend had six at home as well, the eldest a senior. Her education in nursing had made her aware of the significance of a literary education, but hadn’t in fact equipped her with one. She was up to her eyeballs in diapers and duties, teaching a full range of subjects at multiple grade levels; she didn’t have time to go back to school to study the classics or to learn a new pedagogy. I was perplexed. How was I to summarize for her my own literary education so that she could sally forth with her charges into the great books and plunder their plenty?
Reading aloud to my kids one afternoon, I had an inspiration: the stories that delighted my children had a lot in common with the great classics of Western literature. They shared a common structure, were replete with literary devices, and generally discussed some universal theme. The only real differences between them and their more sophisticated counterparts were their length and complexity. What if I were to teach my friend how to read and discuss a book using these great children’s classics? If it were possible to present a reproducible method for approaching all imaginative literature using these short picture books, could she not apply it to her ongoing studies of the classics with her older children? What would happen if she were able to identify the conversation about universal ideas an author was joining and lead her son into a thoughtful discussion of the matter? Are conversations of this nature not the brass ring of home education?
I put together some lesson plans and invited her to come to my home for a once a week class. Before I knew it, she had invited her friends, and a dozen ladies were gathered in my living room. I began each class by reading a children’s book aloud, then introduced and identified a single major element of story within its pages. Simultaneously, I asked the ladies to read Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, on their own time. After learning about setting in a picture book, the ladies found that they had no trouble identifying it and seeing its significance within the longer novel. In fact, the same questions that uncovered the particulars of setting applied to each, only the novel supported more detailed questions, and the “answers” generated were deeper and more consequential in Lee’s narrative. We proceeded through character, plot, conflict, theme, and literary devices, having a wonderful time together. When it was over, I filed my notes and figured they’d served their purpose, but it seems that God had bigger plans!
Not a year later, Adam, who was working as headmaster at a classical Christian school, attended an IEW event with me. As Andrew Pudewa’s presentation unfolded, I watched my husband discover new vision for his teaching gifts. At home after the event, Adam and I worked together to turn my teaching notes into the Teaching the Classics Basic Seminar. It was a perfect marriage of our mutual interests and abilities: literature, teaching, and home education. I wrote the Socratic List on my kitchen table in one afternoon as our kids napped. Adam served as editor and concept coordinator, helping this idea-oriented lady be specific and practical so that our curriculum could communicate its big ideas in simple, straightforward language. Adam shot the original teacher training video with Andrew Pudewa in Ontario, California. With Andrew's gracious encouragement and aid, CenterForLit was born!
Fifteen years later, we are still going strong. Now CenterForLit has become a family affair and employs several of our grown children. We’ve added new seminars and teacher aids to our offerings and founded an online literature academy for 4th-12th graders. We’ve formed our Pelican Society to continue to equip, educate, and inspire good readers and teachers, and we’ve launched BiblioFiles, a podcast about all things literary. The classics continue to be our passion, and equipping homeschooling families with the tools to read and appreciate them an abiding calling. We thank each of you who have journeyed with us as we’ve grown. You have been a great blessing to our family. We pray that our work has inspired you and contributed to the Grand Story that binds us all together. May the Lord who has animated our work continue to direct and bless it for His people!