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Q. What do you think is the most common problem of homeschoolers? TJEd-Q&A

A. First and foremost, even among “dyed in the wool” homeschoolers, there is widespread neglect of the Core Phase. I believe this is because of our tendency to identify so strongly with our label of “home-schoolers” that our family culture can easily become defined by academic achievement.

Core-Ready-Nest-eggs-meme I remember when I had three teeny little ones under three (and knowing that I wanted to homeschool) how anxious I was to “get on with it!”

I had learned to read before I even remember trying; I had an older sister who loved to play “school”, and by the time I was four I was an independent reader. So I just assumed that my bright and precocious little kids would also find it easy, and I considered that the measure of my success for a time. I was impatient and self-conscious and worried that I would fail.

Thankfully, our first child was one who would not be rushed. I hadn’t realized until the writing of this article how critical that was for the culture of our family and the application of the principles that we promote.

Stumbling into Core Phase

Because Little Oliver was more like his father (who did not read fluently and well until he was almost 12 years old), I felt that it would be best for our family not to emphasize reading as a skill by which they should measure their worth, intelligence, knowledge or ability to succeed in new endeavors.

I purposely steered our “school” time toward things that fortified the children as individuals and established our family culture, waiting for the cues that Oliver was ready (both developmentally and emotionally) to master reading.

The happy result was that we discovered for ourselves—and quite by accident—the purpose of the Core Phase.

Because we have tried to feed the spirit and the intellect on content rather than skills mastery, because we have modeled a love of learning and provided a rich environment, and because we have waited until they are anxious to apply themselves to the task, the children not only have that fearlessness that I referred to, but they have the innate sense that their education is their own responsibility.

And as it happens, the skills are quite easily mastered with a more mature, motivated and confident student, who cares about his own education!

My husband and I are examples, mentors, guides, facilitators, instructors, but they cannot expect us to educate them. They intuitively know that it is their job to supply the desire and the effort necessary in order for them to achieve their personal, spiritual and educational goals.

In a word, we will do all in our power to inspire and facilitate – but at the end of the day, they will have to educate themselves.

School at Home?

Cocoon-Core-meme I have witnessed many well-intentioned mothers and (particularly) fathers – ourselves not excluded – who pressure their children into structured time and activities that model public school settings and timetable.

They cite the need for self-discipline and excellence as the reason for their strivings.

I would suggest that self-discipline and excellence are internal values, and are not developed in an environment of compulsion. I also believe that it is difficult to teach these values without a physical medium that allows the student to see the workings of choice and consequence.

By this I mean that learning excellence is easier and teaching self-discipline is more effective when the child sees the natural consequences of his or her choices, as in:

“If I say that I weeded my rows of the garden, when I really didn’t, everyone will know it isn’t true, and I’ll have to do it later anyway and it will be more difficult if I put it off.”

Caring for animals and gardens provide a routine, repetition, and reward that the child’s mind can grasp. These are our methods of choice, but I know of another family that I look up to that has used the father’s dental practice as their medium. The oldest child is a certified dental assistant who, at fifteen, is working on her college degree with distance learning, having paid for the entire under-graduate program in advance with her own earnings (she is successfully in Scholar Phase).

The children go early each morning with their parents to do the janitorial and other preparatory work before the office opens for the day. It isn’t too difficult for a medium-sized young person to understand that they can’t cut corners when sterilizing dental equipment without serious repercussions.

Core-Nest-Guardian-meme They learn to take pride in their cleaning when the professional appearance of the office directly affects the family’s well-being, reputation and prosperity. And as employees of the business, if their performance is sub-standard they are subject to being reassigned or fired.

In the examples I have given (and there are probably as many ways to teach these principles as there are parents reading this post) consequences are nearly immediate and the necessity of consistency and exactness become obvious as they experience the consequences of their choices.

In this way the child learns self-discipline and excellence in a very personal and internal way.

Then when he is older and is having a hard time mastering some math skill or wants to develop an article to submit to a magazine, no one needs preach to him what self-discipline or high standards of excellence will get him. He learned those lessons getting dirt under his fingernails when he was only seven.

Equal and Opposite Problem: Neglect of Scholar Phase

While neglect of the Core Phase is a great problem, there is—as you would expect—an equal and opposite problem: those who do discover and capitalize on the Core Phase can tend to take it and use it for their whole philosophy, as if that’s all there is.

Core Phase parents  It is the foundation; but virtue isn’t the single, solitary attribute we’re to acquire. We need to proceed onward and incorporate others.

From the very first, the role of the parent is to model, inspire, and facilitate scholarship; that’s the parent’s job. It’s not the parent’s job to educate the children, but rather to model self-education.

With appropriate care for the right environment, relationships, resources and opportunities, the healthy child will naturally move from Core to Love of Learning and then on to the Scholar Phase. In fact, they will often want to follow you into Scholar Phase before they’re totally ready.

They’ll go back and forth; they will model scholar behavior for a few hours—then give it up for six months. Many of the factors that govern these transitions are rooted in biology, and not just environment, so nature is actually working in your favor on this point!

Know the principles of success and then trust the process. Every day, every year has its purpose, and getting ahead of the schedule is not an advantage; in fact, it may entail doing some backtracking to really set things right.

Two Steps Forward, Four Steps Back

We tend to press kids when they’re just tiny. Everyone around them seems frantic about their learning. They live in a state of tension. We give them tasks just ahead of their developmental stage and force them to reach for things that are uncomfortable. Educational Philosophy-1000px

We rob them of their sense of mastery over what they do know and personal power over what they can do.

They can tend to feel stupid, disrespected and impotent. By the time they should be moving into the Love of Learning they either don’t have the will to try anymore, or they’re so adept at playing the pleasing game that it can hardly be called an educational process.

Most children in today’s schools will have received a significant portion of their homework assignments by the time they are twelve. Then in their teens they’re told, “These are the best years of your life. Go to assemblies. Play sports.”

It’s 100% backwards.

It is our hope to get people to take the pressure off when the children are young and get them to put the pressure on when they are older.

The Leadership-model Scholar Phase is as rigorous as the Core Phase is carefree—and the process of applying the principles runs counter-intuitive to the Conveyor-belt model at both ends of the spectrum.

Just getting started with homeschool and/or TJEd? Click here for Rachel’s 6-Point Plan for New and Re-starting Homeschoolers >>

For more on the Phases of Learning, click here >>


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by Oliver DeMille

Listening. Hearing. Learning.

canstockphotojapanesemother Walter loves to listen. If you give him an assignment, he may or may not do it, but ask him about it a year later and he won’t remember much about it. But just let him listen to an interesting lecture on the topic—in person or on audio—and ten years later he can repeat the words of the lecture almost verbatim.

In fact, he’ll even copy many of the voice inflections and pauses of the original speaker.

But he’ll do even more than that. He’ll stop speaking in the middle of a point he’s making, and add in a story or example from his own life, then go back to the original dialogue. Talk to him ten years after a lecture, and he’ll add as many of his personal examples as the lecture itself. Repeat this process twenty years after the lecture and he’ll give twice as many personal examples—without losing any from the original message.

Over the years, whenever he learns something that pertains to the same topic, he’ll naturally add it to his memory—making it now part of the lecture on this subject. The longer he lives, the more he knows and can teach about this thing he heard many years ago.

Brilliance and Failed Tests

Or consider the experience of Meri, another Auditory learner, who loves to listen to audio recordings through the day and as she falls asleep at night. She listens on topics from history, science, math, leadership, literature, and a host of others. She listens to books on tape, lectures, radio interviews—anything she can get her ears on.

Ask Meri about pretty much any topic, and she’ll quickly scan her memory and start sharing facts, stories and ideas. Very often her voice will change slightly, as if she’s repeating something she heard from someone else. In fact, this is exactly what she is doing. And she’ll nearly always add her own twist to it. She learns by listening, and once she’s listened to something, her memory is incredible.

Sounds like great learning, right? Well, ironically, many Auditory learners are labeled “mediocre students” in the traditional schooling systems because they seldom test well. If they are asked to stand up in front of the class or teacher to be quizzed about their knowledge, everyone suddenly thinks they are true prodigies. They know so much about almost any topic that it’s downright amazing.

But when they are asked to take a written or multiple-choice exam, most Auditory learners don’t know how to translate what they learned (through listening) into their pen for the test.

They can talk about what they know for hours and hours, but they often give up before even finishing written tests; such exams just don’t make sense to them.

Which to Play

Learning Styles Matter-Mentors failure Some people might argue that such students should be taught better test-taking skills, but in truth the flaw is not in such bright and amazing students. It is a serious flaw in our modern educational model.

Anything that requires a child or youth to not only learn, but to learn in a specific, government-mandated way, or in any one way (whatever it is), simply doesn’t understand how human beings learn, develop, or excel.

Good parents, teachers and schools build the curriculum, tests, and system around the needs of the student, rather than requiring the student to conform to the mediocrity of a conveyor-belt style of education.

Parents who help their children by putting them into an environment where they can excel will see such children flourish at a much higher rate than those who stubbornly believe that one size should fit all.

Imagine a child with a great gift for the piano being required to only play other instruments in the band and held out of piano lessons for his twelve years of schooling in the name of “getting a good education” or “focusing on his weaknesses.” Ridiculous. Sillier still would be to take a great piano student and evaluate her virtuosity based on how she does in a test using the trombone.

There may certainly be a place for overcoming one’s weaknesses, or learning the skills necessary to do well on a written test. But in addition to such individual lessons, the system also needs to learn how to effectively encourage Auditory learners.


Auditory learners are some of the best, most studious, most knowledgeable students, yet they are often labeled mediocre simply because the schooling system prefers to reward Literary and Mathematical learners instead. Because teachers are often those who excelled as Literary or Mathematical learners themselves, this problem repeats itself generationally.

And many homeschoolers make this same mistake.

The solutions: Parents of Auditory learners in schools should step in and ensure that their children receive assignments and exams that truly reflect their knowledge and the excellence of their work—not merely their mastery of Literary or Mathematical values. Most importantly though, if you homeschool, and even if you don’t, help your Auditory learner get the audios she needs to truly excel.

How do you know if your child or youth is an Auditory learner? Simply pull out a variety of audios (most libraries have many to choose from) and offer them to whoever wants to listen. The Auditory learners will naturally use them.

Talk to your Auditory learners, a lot. Discuss things with them. And keep the audios coming. Above all, don’t see any learning style as a drawback. Every learning style comes with its own strengths and gifts, and the key to good parenting for Audio learners (and others) is to help each child truly excel—in his or her own best way.

Whatever that means for the individual child or youth, get excited about it, embrace it, and help out!

In fact, for Auditory learners, supplying them with adequate audio materials may solve a variety of other challenges as well – from mood and behavior to discipline, boredom or bad habits. Fill his or her audio queue with a variety of audio books and watch the transformation.

(For commentary on six major learning styles, see the article “Learning Styles Matter” by Oliver DeMille.)

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The Problem with Learning Styles

(And What To Do About It!)

by Oliver DeMille

When and Why

great education is inspired education Learning Styles are increasingly popular among many homeschooling parents and professional teachers in non-traditional education settings.

Going from using only one or two major styles in the classroom (usually Literary and Mathematical) to finding each child’s dominant style and helping him/her use it to learn, nearly always brings significant, immediate improvements—in any home or classroom.

So why aren’t researchers finding that Learning Styles are a huge educational solution to almost every learning problem? In fact, why are many researchers concluding that Learning Styles aren’t all that helpful in a lot of situations?

The answer is important. What is it? Simply that, ironically, many parents and teachers who engage the idea of Learning Styles tend to take it too far.

Rounding It Out

It turns out that when a parent or other educator realizes that a given child has an affinity for a certain Learning Style, the adult often focuses on the newly-discovered style and simultaneously stops utilizing the other styles with the child. The result is less than ideal.

For example: Just because a child may be dominantly visual does not mean that it is ideal to stop up her ears or discourage her from handling things. This is an extreme example – but serves to illustrate that input comes from all learning avenues, and knowing the dominant or preferred one is meaningful, and stimulating all input methods is ideal.

In fact, research is showing that focusing only on the child’s dominant Learning Style is often as bad for his learning and development as making students from all styles ignore their individuality and use only the teacher’s style or the approved Literary or Mathematical styles that typically dominate most schools.

Students do best when their parent, mentor, and/or teachers know the individual child’s dominant Learning Style, support it, and also give each child a healthy exposure to many other Learning Styles as well. In true Montessori fashion, it turns out that students do best when they are routinely exposed to multiple Learning Styles and allowed to pick and choose which they’ll utilize.


Most students have a clear dominant Learning Style (or two), and they gravitate to these preferences much of the time as they are learning, but they do best when they have a buffet to choose from each day as they learn. This is especially effective when the adults in their life show them examples of other Learning Styles in action. This is at the heart of great TJEd principles such as “Inspire, Not Require,” “Structure Time, Not Content,” and “You, Not Them.”

Just being exposed to various Learning Styles creates a better educational environment and experience than adult mentors who aggressively focus on either (1) a one-size-fits-all system where differing individual Learning Styles are ignored, like in most modern schools, or (2) doing everything in the one dominate Learning Style of the student, which sometimes happens when a parent or teachers gets newly excited about Learning Styles.

Knowing the student’s Learning Style is incredibly helpful, if and when parents, teachers, and other mentors allow individualism and show the importance of all Learning Styles—leaving each student to choose which style to use right now on any given project. This type of freedom in learning, support of individual preferences, and encouragement of exploration and even mastery in additional Learning Styles is the best model.

Balance matters. Learning Styles are an important and powerful technology that can be hugely helpful to many parents. Use them. And always use them along with—not in the place of—the other key principles of great parenting and great education.

For an article on six main Learning Styles, see “Learning Styles Matter” by Oliver DeMille >>

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by Oliver DeMille

Behind and In Front of the Times

virgil The great Roman thinker Virgil has a lot to teach us. Most people don’t really read Virgil very often these days, or think about his suggestions, and that’s a shame.

I know, I know… When someone tells you that we all really need to learn a lot from the ancient philosopher Virgil, you have to start wondering what’s actually happening. Are you being punk’d? Are you on some hidden camera reality show? Or are you experiencing the misfortune of suddenly finding yourself conversing with someone so behind the times that he doesn’t even know he should be spouting Star Wars, Dr. Who, or Downton Abbey?

Virgil? Are you kidding me? Who talks about Virgil nowadays?

Is this for real?

Actually, it is. Virgil had a lot to say that is directly relevant to our current world, societal, and family challenges. He lived at a time that Rome was the most powerful nation in the world, but he understood from the trends, cycles, and current events that the great superpower of his era was in serious decline—even though most people in the establishment didn’t want to admit it.

So he wrote about how his powerful nation could reverse the decline and get back on track. Win back its freedoms and virtues. Be the kind of example everyone in the world would want to follow. Reboot its morals, families, educational system and spread prosperity and principles.

Sound familiar?

Of course, Rome didn’t listen much. But Virgil’s writings remain. The American founders saw them as a timely commentary on the coming decline of the British Empire, and they acted accordingly. In our day, his messages are incredibly relevant. Let me share just one example.

Four Kinds of Education

As I said, Virgil watched Rome losing many of its freedoms, and he saw how the educational system had a direct impact on this loss. In Virgil’s view, education and learning are based on the interactions of the epic, the dialectic, the dramatic and the lyric.

Now, please don’t do the modern American thing and let your eyes and ears glaze over because I’m using words most people don’t hear every day. There are only 4 such words here, and I’m going to clearly define each of them. And they really do teach us some powerful, excellent things about how to drastically improve education. So here goes:

I. Epic Education

storytelling-1 copy

Epic Education means learning from the great(est) stories of humanity in all fields of human history and endeavor, from the arts and sciences to government and history, from math to technology, and from leadership and entrepreneurship to family and relationships. Epic education is education about the great classics.

By seeing how the great men and women of humanity chose, struggled, succeeded, and sometimes failed, we gain a superb epic education. We learn what really matters. The epics include all the greats—from the great books of world religions to the great classics of philosophy, history, literature, mathematics, art, music, etc. Epic education focuses on the great classic works of mankind from all cultures and in all fields of learning.

II. Dialectic Education

Dialectic Education uses the dialogues of mankind, the greatest and most important conversations and debates of history and modern times. This includes biographies, original writings and documents that have made the most difference in the world. It is also very practical and includes on-the-job style learning. Again, this tradition of learning pulls from all cultures and all fields of knowledge. It emphasizes mentoring.

It especially focuses on areas where debating sides and conflicting opponents (from wars and negotiations to courts of law and debating scientists, to arguing preachers and the competing or reactive work of artists, inventors, etc.) came to resolution and taught humanity more than any one side could have without opposition. Most of the professions (law, accounting, medicine, engineering, etc.) use the Dialectic learning method.

III. Dramatic Education

Dramatic Education is that which we watch. This includes anything we visually experience in dramatic form, from cinema and movies to television and YouTube videos to plays, reality TV programs, gaming, etc. In our day, this has many venues, unlike the one or two dramatic forms of learning available in Virgil’s time. There is a great deal to learn from drama in its many classic, modern and current modalities.

Pied_Piper2 IV. Lyric Education

Lyric Education is that which is accompanied by music, which has a significant impact on the depth and quality of how we learn. It was originally named for the lyre, a musical instrument that was usually accompanied by a song during a play, poetic or prose reading. Some educational systems still use classical (especially Baroque) and other types of music to increase student learning of languages, memorized facts and even science and math. And, of course, most Dramatic (media) learning is presented with music.

The Current Education Battle

With Virgil’s outline of these 4 kinds of education as our background, let’s remember that the future of education is very much in debate. My reasons for addressing this are:

1) It appears too few people are engaged in the current discussion that will determine the future of education.

2) Even most who are part of the discussion are hung up on things like public vs. private schools, funding, testing, minimum literacy standards, teacher training, Common Core, regulations, credentials, policy, etc.

Storyteller by Anker Grossvater 1884 Specifically, our current technology has changed everything regarding education, meaning that in the Internet Age the cultural impact of the Dramatic and Lyric styles of learning over the other types threaten to undo American education and the strength of families, freedom, and prosperity. In short, success and freedom in any society depend on the education of the citizens, and when the Epic and Dialectic disappear, freedom soon follows.

And make no mistake: The Epic and Dialectic (classics & mentoring) models of learning are everywhere under attack. They are attacked by the political Left as elitist and against social justice, and they are attacked by the political Right as irrelevant and unnecessary for one’s career.

They are attacked by the techies as old, outdated and at best quaint. They are attacked by the professions as “worthless general ed courses,” and by too many educational institutions and state governments as “useless to getting a job.” But most of all, and this is far and away their most lethal enemy, they are attacked by the simple popularity and glitz of the Dramatic and Lyric (visual and audio, entertainment and interactive media).

I do not believe that the Dramatic, Lyric and other parts of the entertainment industry have an agenda to hurt education or freedom. Far from it. They bask in a free economy that repeatedly buys their products and glorifies their actors, singers, and artists.

Nor are Dramatic and Lyric products void of educational content or even excellence. Many popular movies, television programs, musical hits, other arts, and online sites deliver fabulous educational value – and even celebrate the stories that are traditionally told in the Epic and Dialectic. Songs and movies, in fact, teach some of the most important lessons in our society and many teach them with class, quality and depth. And while they can be valuable, they are not a replacement for the Epic and Dialectic forms.

With all the good the Dramatic and Lyric styles of learning bring to society, the reality is that both free and enslaved societies in history have had Dramatic and Lyric learning. In contrast, no society where the populace was sparsely educated in the Epics has ever been free or widely prosperous. Period. No exceptions.

And in the most free nations of history (e.g. golden age Greece, the golden age of the Roman Republic, the height of Ancient Israel, the Saracens, the Swiss vales, the Anglo-Saxon and Frank golden eras, and the height of freedom and prosperity in the United States, among others), both the Epic and Dialectic (classics and mentoring) styles of learning have been deep and widespread among the regular citizens of the nation.

If we want to remain a free and prosperous society, we must resurrect the use of Epic and Dialectic education in our nation. And only parents are likely to do this.

If at least some parents don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Let’s be clear. As the influence of the Internet and social media spreads, it is going to drastically change education. The Dramatic and Lyric (audio-visual, interactive online, virtual/gaming/e-teaching) are going to grow no matter what else does or doesn’t happen in education. What remains to be seen is whether or not classics (Epic) and mentors (Dialectic) will be relegated to the dustbin of history or resurge to the forefront in the emerging educational systems of the future.

The Consequences

If classics and mentors aren’t a central part of 21st Century education, at least three things will happen:

  • The gap and division between a small, rich, elite class and the rest of the people will increase.
  • North America’s middle class lifestyle will follow European trends (families will live in apartments, not houses; few families will own their own cars; nearly everyone will live in large cities; families will choose to have fewer children and become much smaller; taxes will increase considerably; etc.).
  • The size and intrusion of government will grow, socialistic programs will spread, and the private sector will drastically shrink.

This is what happened in every society that moved from a balance between all 4 kinds of Virgil’s education to dominance of the Dramatic and Lyric over the Epic and Dialectic.

Today, we must make the choice to resurrect truly quality education. If we make the right choice, we will see education, families, prosperity, and freedom flourish. If not, we will witness the decline of these things. Indeed, we simply must make the right choice.

We must also realize that this is not a choice for the experts. If the educational or political experts make this choice, it will go in the direction of Europe as outlined above, and families will suffer and weaken.

It is time for more citizens and parents to do the things that bring strong families, widespread economic opportunities, renewed freedoms, and will get our nation back on track. As Virgil put it long ago:

Now the last age…
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew;
Justice returns…
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven…

Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh

This is real. This is now.

And it all hinges on parents making the right educational choices for their families.


Are you ready to heed Virgil’s challenge? Join us!

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  3. Option III: Mentoring in the Classics >>
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by Oliver DeMille

Can You Like…

think read 1 “But, I thought you liked classics,” she asked me with obvious frustration. “And Common Core is full of classics—for the children of the whole nation to read! In your lecture, you called classics one of the 7 Keys of Great Teaching. Now you’re saying classics are a terrible idea? I don’t understand.”

She shook her head and took off her glasses. “Do you like classics or not?”

“You raise a good question,” I responded. “We need a lot more classics in our learning, in public, private and homeschools. Also in charter schools and universities, and adult reading. And, yes, Common Core has some classics.”

She was nodding her head.

“But here’s another question. Is it possible to like classics and not like Common Core?”

I paused. Then waited…

“I…guess so,” she replied, not very convinced. “But why? Do you object to some of the books on the list?”

“Yes. And to the lack of some very important ones as well. But that’s not my point. My objection to Common Core goes much deeper.”

The Important W

I could tell that she didn’t like the idea that anyone would object to Common Core, for any reason, and she was shaking her head again. I rubbed my chin and said slowly, “My concerns with Common Core are John Dewey’s concerns with it…”

Again, I waited. I could see the battle churning in her head. “Dewey…?” she finally asked, obviously confused.

“Yes, Dewey. Of course, he wasn’t alive when Common Core came out, so we don’t know exactly how he would have felt about it.” Laughter from the audience didn’t distract her. She was focused on every word.

I continued. “But one of Dewey’s most profound teachings was that what we teach students, the curriculum, the content, isn’t nearly as important as the way we teach them, the environment of learning. Montessori taught the same thing.”

She stopped shaking her head. She cocked it slightly, unclear where I was headed.

“And the way Common Core is promoted is all wrong. First, it’s a government program. Why not make it a private program, a list of great classics and materials everyone can learn from or use as a resource guide? Second, it’s ultimately a federal program. Why not leave it to parents to select from the list? Or, for parents who want the schools to do it, why not leave it to local school boards?

“Teaching Common Core as a top-down, government-controlled program from Washington DC or even the state government sends all the wrong messages. It teaches students, parents, teachers, and administrators the wrong lesson: ‘The government knows best. Now sit down, be quiet, and obey us. Right now.’

What to Be

“That’s the Dewey-lesson. And it’s a bad one. Think about it! This is a terrible lesson to teach the youth in a democratic republic. It’s the opposite of teaching them how to genuinely think. Why would we do it this way?

“Third, it’s a forced list. Just make it a resource tool. If a parent hates a certain book on the list, he or she should be able to just ignore it and choose something better. Forced education is the opposite of great learning.

“Fourth, why do we call it Common Core? Who wants to be common? We might as well call it Mediocre Core, or Lower-Middle-Class Core. I get that there are other meanings to the word, but “common” can reinforce the wrong lesson. Dewey was right about this. Call it the Genius Core, and just see how many parents leap to share it with their kids—as long as it’s not forced by Washington.

“Or, better still, let’s beef up the list, get rid of the government mandates, and call it the Classic Core. Or get Harvard or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to sponsor it and call it the Harvard Core or the Billionaire’s Core…. Parents, schools and teachers will flock to use it.

“But keep it a resource guide, not a forced list, and get government out of it. Or, at most, leave it or local school boards.”

The Real Goal

The room was excited now, with cheers punctuating some of the ideas. The woman was taking notes, not entirely convinced, I think, but interested.

“What’s our real goal, after all? Is it schooling, or learning? Government programs, or great education? We need to get clear on this. Then, once the focus is clearly on great learning, we’ll be more likely to provide the best Great Learning Core list and recommend it to more people. Or get educational supporters like Peter Thiel or Khan Academy to give cash prizes to schools and scholarships to students and parents who excel using the ‘Genius Core’ list or the ‘Harvard Core’ list.”

“Make these few changes that I’ve suggested, and Common Core won’t just be another bad policy like No Child Left Behind that promotes more aggressive rote testing, more rigid thinking, and teachers who focus more on paperwork rather than their students. In fact, like I’ve said, get rid of Common Core and go find your own Classics Core. That’s the way to emphasize the classics.”

I paused to take a breath.

“Yes, I absolutely believe our learning environments at all levels need a lot more classics. A lot more! And a lot more often! But not the way Common Core does it. That’s the opposite of what we should do….”

Want an alternative to Common Core? Check out these offerings >>

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I moderate a large online forum where new and seasoned parents, homeschoolers and professional teachers discuss education and learning. Some questions are asked so frequently that I came up with what I call my “go-to advice” for those new to homeschool, or who are changing lanes and need a fresh approach….

Advice for Newbies!

by Rachel DeMille, TJEd.org

Here’s the deal. So often, I hear, from brand-new homeschoolers:

  • “What curriculum should I buy for my 13-year-old?”
  • “What curriculum should I buy for my 15-year-old?”
  • “My 5-year-old is holding his pencil wrong.”
  • “My 17-year-old hates math.”
  • “My 17-year-old hates me.”
  • “My 10-year-old hates everything about learning.”
  • “Should I buy the same curriculum for all subjects, or research the best one in each subject (math, literature, history, etc.)?”

And then all the other questions on what to buy, how to set up the dining room, and how long to spend on penmanship and math facts follow.

Through all of this there is a sense that the asker is in no state of mind to hear the answer, because she has an inner dialog of panic going on.

The problem is this: The asker is absolutely in earnest, but doesn’t yet know the right questions to ask. It’s like shopping for your first car.

The thing is, for most families, the greatest concern is 1) establishing the relationships so that teaching and learning can take place effectively, and 2) creating an environment where the kids really want to learn. Once these are accomplished learning can flourish. Until they are attended to, all the questions about curriculum, how people hold their pencil, and what’s the best way to teach spelling are a distraction at best, and can actually get in the way of any success.

It’s not that the questions are bad. They’re actually really good questions, but they’re out of order. It’s a little like shopping for tires when you don’t even know what rim size you want, because you still haven’t gotten the new car home.

To find your best fit with homeschool, you need to do first things first.

Once you have created an environment where the parents like homeschooling and the kids love learning, these and the other questions above are pretty easy to answer. And you don’t waste a lot of time, stress, and money buying one curriculum after another and watching all of them fail – simply because the environment undermines every effort.

In decades of personal experience with this, and after observing/mentoring thousands of families in the same process, here are 6 steps that set the stage for a happy and successful homeschool.

DeMille-Almost nothing more powerful 1) Simplify.

I would start by simplifying your home – get rid of the things that are just hanging out and bogging you down. It’s way more fun to homeschool when you’re not stressed about mess, you know?

Too often homeschoolers wonder where their day went because they’re scooting from one task to another, and never get past taking care of their home and things.

Donate it to Goodwill, recycle it, gift it, toss it. Simplify!

2) Family Reading.

Do some family reading – 3 nights per week is a good target. Are your kids boys or girls? For girls, maybe start with Little House in the Big Woods, for boys, Little Britches. Either works for a mix, IMHO, and Charlotte’s Web is a good first chapter-book readaloud for younger kids. Aesop’s Fables, Kipling’s Just So Stories, Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter, Little Bear, etc. See our list of Classics for more suggestions >>

3) Core Phase Fun.

For littles, just high-quality story books, bubbles, mud, nature walks, etc., make for a great preschool. And, don’t underestimate the power of these same activities to unite the family – even with older kids! See other suggestions here >>

4) Group Activities.

For older kids, make a trip to the library and find out from locals and city offices what museums, historical sites, art, nature, etc., is must-see in your area. Visit the city pool, cultural events, etc.

5) Show Restraint.

Finally, DON’T spend a lot of money yet. Get your footing. Your questions will be different a month from now; your family will be different six months from now. If you *do* buy something that doesn’t suit you, don’t try to get your money’s worth! Move on! You’ve got the prerogative to wait a time before “school officially starts”- it doesn’t have to be “formal” or official-looking to be valuable, especially at first. Ease into having a more direct hand in the intellectual life of your family. A little less TV, time off from electronics, a lot more doing stuff together, from family work to physical play.

Fairytale-Simplicity copy As you rebuild family culture, you’ll have a better sense of what you’re looking for out of the resources you might spend money on, and have totally different questions than you do right now. There’s time to figure it all out.

Most people will tell you that “detoxing” is a really valuable place to start, so even though you may have envisioned doing “school”, you may find that you’re still getting great benefit from reading to them while they do puzzles, doing projects in the kitchen, visiting local sites, etc., and not trying to duplicate “school at home.”

It really helps, when kids are recently out of public school, to stay in motion for a while, together as a group – home-based projects (cooking, building, puzzles, physical play), field trips, etc. These activities really help them to sort of come down from the rhythm they’re used to of always having their day scheduled.

If you want our help with a group-learning program for your family that will help you fill your days with interesting new thoughts, projects, people and ideas while get your footing, see our award-winning This Week in History >>

6) Lead Out.

Next thought, and this one is important: Give yourself permission to spend a little bit of time each day/week on YOUR education. The investment in yourself pays off in SOOOO many ways. 1) You set an example of self-education that pays dividends of them owning their own education. That’s less effort for you, more success for them! 2) It will give you a well to draw from. You’ll think bigger thoughts! Have more inspiring ideas that you’re excited to share! Feel taken care of because you’re filling YOUR bucket!

Remember, an investment in your education is not a withdrawal from your kids’. It will pay dividends on a gold standard for generations to come!

TJEd is also known as “Leadership Education.” And the leader in LE is not *just* the kid that grows up in your home under these principles; it’s you! YOU lead out and show them the way. You get excited about education – not just for theirs, but for yours.

If TJEd is calling to you, I would not recommend “winging” it. Don’t just copy a friend, or browse and guess. Do your homework. The 7 Keys Certification is designed specifically to help you become a self-guided learner, design your ideal family education culture, become conversant in the language of the classics, and really *own* the principles of Leadership Education so you can be your own expert. Check it out!

http://tjed.org/7-keys-certification/ (It’s on deep discount right now with Coupon Code SIMPLEBONUS13)

Once these 6 things are well established, you’ll start to see positive changes in things you didn’t know could change. Your 13yo will smile more. Your 10yo will be cuddly when nobody is looking. Your kids will treat each other with more affection and respect. You’ll start to relax and notice that learning is happening all the time!

These might seem like great advancements for family relations, but actually it’s even more than that. These changes you’ll notice mean that you and your kids are primed for serious learning. These things create an environment where parents love homeschooling, kids love learning, and teens love studying. In such an environment, the rest of your work will be so much easier, and you’ll be ready for new questions, more questions.

And we’re here to help!


Hugs to all you new and/or struggling homeschoolers! I’ve been lamenting lately that lots of new homeschoolers really punish themselves, and, unwittingly, their kids, for not fitting some ideal that’s not actually ideal for them. Please don’t be so hard on yourselves!

Take a day off and go to a park, or the library, or play board games. Do something you love. Cultivate smiles and hugs. Tomorrow is another day.

Please know that pretty much all successful homeschoolers really wandered a little at first trying to find their ideal. And I don’t know any really successful homeschoolers who are super set in their ways. They’re open minded, and always asking new and different questions on how to improve.

Your family is organic, and dynamic, and your homeschool ideal will be, too. Be patient with the process! You’re not going to ruin them or break them, and there really is plenty of time to figure it out.

Don’t hurry up to follow a path that feels wrong. Slow down, stop, turn around, enjoy the moment. You’re going to be fine! ♥ ♥ ♥

You don’t have to be perfect to be spectacular.

Parents and educators all over the world are making a positive difference by integrating idealistic principles into their family culture. The transition isn’t immediate, but in some important ways the results are. Within just a few days’ time a new level of hope and vision can be sensed; over time, and with the incorporation of more and more principles, confidence can be gained that hoped-for changes are on the horizon.
xoxo rd

Rachel DeMille, TJEd.org
“An Education to Match Your Mission”

Want live support and mentoring from seasoned TJEders? Join our Discussion Group, personally moderated by Rachel DeMille >>

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by Oliver DeMille

“[S]implicity has been difficult to implement in modern life
because it is against the spirit of a certain brand of people who seek
sophistication so they can justify their profession.”
—Nassim Taleb,

The Word

textbook This quote certainly applies to education. I don’t mean that all teachers hold this view. Not at all. Some do, of course. But many of the very best teachers are excellent precisely because they understand the power of simplicity. They help their students flourish because they focus on the basics:

  • Inspiring students to love learning
  • Setting an example of real passion for knowledge, books, learning, service, and ideas
  • Reading the greatest books and classics, and talking about what they teach us
  • Showing young people respect by letting them have as much say as possible in their individual education (and, let’s be clear, a lot of individual autonomy in learning is possible, as proven over and over by great teachers!)
  • Refusing to push students into “the system” or “conveyor belt,” but rather personalizing their studies according to their goals, interests, talents, affinities, and dreams

This is great teaching, whether done in the school or at home.

As I noted in A Thomas Jefferson Education, “Simplicity, not Complexity” is one of the great keys to great education. What could be more simple, or excellent for that matter, than reading age-appropriate great classics with children and youth, and discussing them together?

The word for this is “mentoring,” and it is the most powerful kind of teaching.

Real Simple

Except, perhaps, for self-teaching. Self-education is a simplest form of learning. The person wants to learn, so he does. He reads, thinks, writes, draws, charts, maps, counts, calculates, rephrases, rethinks, discusses, debates, revises his views, researches more deeply, etc.—all because he’s interested.

In all this, he is helped by a special truth. In Taleb’s words: “books have a secret mission and ability to multiply…”

This is so true! If the child falls in love with books, she’ll seek an education because she loves learning. That’s simplicity in nutshell.

But how can a parent show his or her child how to embrace such simplicity? Answer: It’s easier than it sounds. Simply show him. Set the example. Read to him, and discuss what you’re reading. Read with him, and discuss what you’re both learning. As he matures, read the same books as him, and discuss them at length and in depth. Do this with all topics, over time.

Keep doing it for the long term, and a great education is guaranteed. Quit, and it isn’t…


But real.

How do you know if it’s working?

Just this week Rachel finished reading Little House in the Big Woods to Meri (11) and Abi (9). When she finished, Abi immediately ran to the bookshelf and returned with a copy of Little House on the Prairie. The look on the two girls’ faces was all we needed. They’re on track.

Of course, there is a lot more to it than this, but we don’t need complexities. They love learning. They do it every day for many hours.

Where It Starts

As they keep doing it, they’ll get the same level of education their older siblings got—or better, since they have the extra benefit of sibling mentoring. They’re learning so much, one exciting book, project, assignment, invention, experiment, audio, proof, and class at a time.

It starts with love. If they love learning, they do it. And they flourish.


Not complex.

Funny thing. Over the years we’ve learned an interesting truth:

Simple + Not Complex = Deep + Broad – Shallow

Books really do have a mission. They want to be read. They want to be studied, pondered. They want seeking minds to write thoughts in their margins. With the right mentoring, great books truly will do a lot of the work.


Need help putting the classics to work in your home? The 7 Keys Certification is designed to help you find your fit with the classics, and bring the love, joy, and richness they contain into your home.

And, it’s available for free right now, with the purchase of one of our Homeschool Bundles! >>

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by Rachel DeMille

Once upon a time…

fairy-tale …there lived a good, wise and powerful king who ruled over a vast kingdom. The king loved his people and cared deeply for their happiness and well-being.

He knew the needs among the people in his beloved realm, and he was always watchful and did many things for their good that they did not even realize.

This good king saw a coming crisis in his land, and gave much thought about how to prepare for it.

After much consideration, he determined to send his newborn daughters and sons to be raised in various distant parts of his land.

Our story is about one of these: the Princess Alcinda.

No one knew the secret of the little Alcinda’s lineage, and she was trained to be an obedient and careful girl.

Because of her royal heritage, she had, within her, the powerful virtues intended for serving and blessing others – virtues that her wise and powerful father had instilled.

These virtues of healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, cheering the hopeless, building and sharing prosperity, inspiring courage, resolving conflict, spreading beauty, edifying families, freeing the captive, and many more, lay dormant, waiting for her to develop and call upon them in order to serve and bless others, as her father the good, wise and powerful king intended.

But Alcinda did not know. Nobody remembered, if they ever knew, of her powerful potential to serve her people.

Time went by and as she grew she had inklings of the abilities that she had been endowed with, as here and there an opportunity came to be a comfort to a friend, to rise to a challenge, to inspire another to bear up under a heavy burden. Sometimes she marveled at the little bit of power that flowed through her to make life better for others, but then (since she didn’t understand it, and scarcely believed it) she would forget again.

Born with a Purpose

Just as the king had foreseen, the land in which Alcinda lived was beset by many challenges. During this time of mounting troubles, the girl married a boy, and by and by they had a family of their own.

As the secret princess look upon her fine young son and her two lovely daughters – as she looked into their eyes – something deep within her stirred. Because of her royal heritage, Alcinda had the power to sense the great potential for good and right that was within these children. She was able to see within them – much more clearly than in her own self – the virtues that had been passed on.

She could sense that these children had been born to fill a need and to make a difference in the world.

She was nothing short of amazed at the strength of will in her youngest daughter, and her gift for spreading beauty. Her son had a tender heart for those in need and the courage to defend the right. Her middle daughter had a profound sensitivity for truth and wisdom, and was a peacemaker and a bridge builder.

In her heart of hearts Alcinda sensed (even if her mind did not realize) that these children were born to live up to the standards of service taught and exemplified by the storied king.

And so, the forgotten princess shared her feelings with her husband and they determined to honor the potential in these children, at all hazards, at all costs.

Reading Treasures and Sharing Hearts

It was not easy to overcome her habits and her experience. She often faltered and doubted her ability to do what was needed. And yet the imperative of raising these children to approach their great potential for good impelled her to dig deeply within – and the virtues she didn’t remember were quickened and alert, ready to help her to rise to the task.

The family lived a life of simplicity, free of mundane clutter, distractions or addicting or toxic influences in their time or space or diet. Fairytale-Simplicity copy

They worked together and played together, they sang and laughed and loved. They struggled at times with need and plenty – each being a challenge in its own way.

They struggled because the life they had chosen seemed out of step with the norm, and few were those who celebrated their choices; fewer still were the examples they could look to for what they meant to accomplish. They had to make their own way.

Over time, they came to understand that this was a gift – because no friendship, no example, could be enough to guide their steps as they sought to uplift the minds and hearts of these gifted young people that were their children. The couple’s sense of neediness and drive to find answers were critical factors in their success.

Everything depended on the princess Alcinda and her worthy companion seeking inspiration to personalize each week and season to meet the children’s need and genius in the here and now.

No checklist could suffice; no master plan could fully inform the nuances or help them respond to the need of each child each week.

As the family read together and learned to share their hearts, as they explored their vast land and its stories and heroes, its natural beauty and resources, its hard times and its successes, as they learned about those who created great works of art and great advances in knowledge and those who invented ways to do things in new and better ways, and as they learned the principles that govern success in every arena, the young prince and princesses began to have a longing to be a blessing to others… to their people.


Fairytale-yearn copy They began to yearn to serve and help, to inspire and heal, to prosper and create. They knew that their parents believed that they would be noble, selfless and well-prepared to meet the challenges of their day, and their parents’ confidence in them empowered them grow into youth who worked hard to develop the virtues and gifts within them by using them daily within their families and other relationships.

As they saw how their parents’ efforts to learn and achieve in their own right were inspired by a desire to serve and make a difference for good – no matter how private or unheralded, no matter how great or momentous – the youth began to work hard on their own education.

As these young heirs grew and began to exhibit a sense of purpose for their life, something amazing happened: the secret princess, their mother, began to be less afraid of the virtues that were her birthright. Alcinda began to concern herself more with her ability to a make a difference for good than for fitting in and doing the “expected” thing.

And as she did, an even more amazing thing happened: here and there, she began to notice that other secret princes and princesses in the land were also revealing their true heritage as they determined to make choices that were immediate and deliberate, for the good of their own young princelings and princesses.

Little by little, a web of community was formed between these families who, each in their own way, were responding to the call of potential and need. Sometimes their choices and forms were similar; sometimes they were very different.

But the call to respond to the need in the world and to empower the royal virtues within to bless and serve others was the thread that bound this community together.

The king was pleased. Alcinda* and her many brothers and sisters were doing what they were born to do. He could see that his sons and daughters were discovering the secret – that they all had virtues within, and that his care and protection had never left them.

And they all lived joyfully, simply, boldly, nobly, purposefully and selflessly ever after.

*Alcinda = Alison (noble) + Lucinda (light)

xoxo rd

Were you born to make a difference? Do your children have genius waiting to be detected and unleashed? Let TJEd help! >>

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A Better Way

3 economies 2 If you’re mentoring young people today, or even adults, you simply must know something very important. You must know about the three economies. If not, you’re going to make huge mistakes in how you mentor. You’re going to mentor today’s young people for a world that no longer exists.

Every mentor must understand the three economies. Those who do will mentor their children, students, children and youth a whole different way. A better way. A way that will actually prepare them for success.

I’ve written about this elsewhere, to leaders and people interested in freedom, but it’s a message that every parent and every teacher and every mentor simply must know! If you mentor young people, this knowledge is vital!

The Basic Lessons: 1, 2, 3…

There are three economies in modern society. They all matter. But most people only know about two of them. They know the third exists, in a shadowy, behind-the-scenes way that confuses most people. But the first two economies are present, pressing, obvious. So people just focus on these two.

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by Oliver DeMille

Where’s the Value?

Country_School_1871_72 She shook her head. “I just don’t think it’s that important,” she said. “Why would anyone read Little House on the Prairie to their kids? There are so many other books to read, like scripture and important works of history, literature, and morality.”

I grinned, “Well, you wouldn’t want to read Little House on the Prairie until you read Little House in the Big Woods. Then the sequel will make more sense.”

“Touché,” she nodded. “I haven’t read either, at least not for many years, so I guess I shouldn’t use that series as the example. But seriously, there are a lot of books that people call classic that just don’t seem very important to me.”

“I don’t disagree with that,” I said. “Everyone should eventually have a personalized classic list—made up of the books they love and that teach them the most. I’ve always taught that no ‘official’ list is enough. You have to read them for yourself, then pick and choose. Different books are worth more, or less, to different people, and to different families.”

I took a breath, then continued, “But as for the Little House series, it’s one of the great ones. It’s good for almost everyone. Are there exceptions? No doubt there are a few. But I don’t think there are many families who won’t gain a lot from reading it together aloud. It’s really powerful. I mean, truly, deeply, profoundly powerful.”

I paused, and she shook her head again. “How? In what way?”

 The Power of Example

“Well, for example, there is a pattern that runs through the first two Little House books that is really moving. The family does all kinds of activities. Survival, food preparation, chores, sewing, and so on. The list is long: hunting, milking the cow, building their own home, whittling, cooking, tanning leather, churning butter, etc.

“Many of these things—pretty much all of them, in fact—are things we don’t really do anymore. This tends to catch the attention of most children. Even the food preparation and cooking they do in the book is much more detailed and from scratch than anything most families experience today. Almost every chapter starts out with some kind of work activity like these.

“That’s the first part of the pattern. The second thing in the pattern is that in most of these activities, the family works together. They don’t separate and all go do something different, they accomplish the day’s work as a family. Everyone does a little part to help.

“Third, once they are done with the day’s project, whatever it is, they all gather around together and do something very interesting: They either read together, one person reading aloud and the others listening, with frequent pauses to discuss what they’re learning, or, even more often, the parents tell stories.

“In fact, even when they read together, they usually stop reading somewhere along the way and tell stories sparked by the reading. They tell all kinds of stories, about many topics.

“And fourth, during these stories, the kids ask questions and the parents teach lessons, ideas, principles, morals, skills and a lot of facts and knowledge. That’s extremely powerful teaching, and it happens every day. Or, if they skip a day, that’s worthy of note, because they hardly ever miss an evening of family story telling. Scripture and other great books are part of this, with stories always at the center.”

She was nodding slowly, pondering.

Starting It Right

“As a public school teacher, you no doubt know how powerful this is for young people. As numerous studies have shown, children who hear such reading when they are little are better readers, writers, and thinkers later on.”

“Yes,” she replied, “but I always assumed it was from hearing more advanced readings.”

“Oh, it is,” I agreed. “But advanced comes after intermediate, which comes after basic. And you’d be hard pressed to find better basic readings that teach core principles than the Little House series and others like Trumpet of the Swan, Betsy-Tacy, or Cricket in Times Square.

“And as for Little House, just consider the pattern again:

1-Do a lot of things in the home environment

2-Do many of them together as a family

3-Once the activity is complete, read together as a family and/or tell stories that teach important principles, lessons, and ideas

4-Ask questions and discuss the readings, stories, and topics that have been learned

“Do this almost every day, or several nights a week, and you’ll build a powerful family culture and set a tone where learning is valued and loved. These are extremely deep principles. Some of the deepest, in fact. We’ve largely lost them in modern times, which is why books like Little House can so powerfully bring them back to our minds and homes.”

She stroked her chin and nodded. “I see your point.”

“But it doesn’t stop there,” I was getting even more excited about the topic. “There’s a fifth step to the pattern: After the other 4 steps are done each day, or while they’re doing the various activities, the parents in Little House bring in the arts. Dad plays the fiddle, Mom teaches about beauty, color, and artistic craftsmanship.

“The whole experience is an introduction to greatness. Not façade greatness, but just simple, solid, consistent quality. Excellence.

 Falling in Love with Learning

“Put this all together and you have something that is too often missing in most educational settings: the learning is multi-generational, seriously uplifting and therefore inspiring, and also multi-faceted. Meaning that all learning styles and many topics of knowledge and learning are covered at the same time. It’s a fantastic learning environment.

“And like Maria Montessori taught, the environment of learning almost always teaches more than the books, letters, mathematical proofs, or memorized data. In the case of Little House, the environment includes family, community, love, work, play, fun, love of learning, and so on. The glue that holds it all together is stories. Night after night, whatever the season—stories create something very special, and very effective.

“Stories are powerful. They create inspiration, a sense of connection and deep belonging, and a relevance to learning that textbooks can’t ever match. Stories are incredibly moving. They teach, and they inspire additional studying.”

I looked at her inquisitively and asked, “Why on earth would I want any of my children or students to miss out on this incredible pattern and the other lessons taught in the Little House books?”

I waited, and she smiled. “I’m going to go read them,” she said slowly.

“My fourth grade teacher read these and other books like them to the class,” I responded. “It’s what made me fall in love with reading. That and the fact that my parents read similar books to us at home. You might try reading them to your class—the last fifteen minutes of the school day, maybe as a reward for good work that day.”

“Just like the Little House pattern?” she asked, amused. Then she said, “That’s a good idea. I’m going to start by reading the first book in the series to my younger kids. The older ones are grown and gone now, but my eleven year old and thirteen year old will like them, won’t they?”

“They’ll absolutely love them!” I promised, “as long as you stop as you read and share stories. Stories, stories, stories… Shakespeare was right. The story’s the thing.”


(For more discussion of the Little House Series come join us for Mentoring in the Classics this month!)

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