This review is part one of two and will deal with the efficacy of Roman Roads Media’s Old Western Culture. The second review will unpack the technical aspects of this powerful resource.
In the last year my life has been transformed and blessed by the CiRCE Institute and their partners. Specifically, God placed Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest in my path at a time when I desperately needed permission to return to a classical way of thinking, teaching and mentoring the souls in my care. Sarah’s little (truly, short and sweet) book cut through the noise of my homeschool anxiety and guilt and second guessing like a chef’s knife. The Holy Spirit spoke through her words and left me with a very clear sense of who I am and what I am called to do. I am a child of God. A sacred tabernacle for Him. He was whispering to my soul. Rest. Lean in. Trust. Obey.
In the early years of homeschooling, I bounced around like a ping pong ball trying to wrap my head around this unexpected life choice. We had no intention of homeschooling and so the decision to do so found us unprepared and feeling behind. We tried a number of styles and models on for size and learned a lot from many of them. One of the greatest things I learned was from Thomas Jefferson Education, that places a huge emphasis on me modeling a lifelong love of learning by pursuing my own scholarship. While we have ultimately discerned that we are really called to a relaxed classical approach, there are principles of TJEd that have left us wiser, more confident and more prepared to meet the challenges of our particular vocation.
One of my favorite CiRCE Institute podcasts is “A Perpetual Feast” with Andrew Kern and Wes Callihan. And boy, I am not alone in my love. My Facebook schole book clubs (Potato Peel Pie Society and Symposium At Parnassus) boast not a few fans of Andrew Kern and Wes Callihan. Like the bookish geeks that we are, we all rejoice when a new podcast is posted.
Like any good organization, CiRCE is sponsored by partners who share their core values. I began to notice one partner in particular popping up again and again: Roman Roads Media. I was curious and started following their Facebook page. Then they advertised a special price on their Old Western Culture: Greek Epics course. I was sold. I wanted someone to hold my hand and help me fall in love with Homer.
I am a mom. A homeschool mom with laundry, dishes, lessons to prepare, fights to break up and orthodontist runs to make. I am busy. My mind is often distracted. I often wonder if my true scholarship days are behind me.
Wes Callihan is an incredible mentor. His style is that of an armchair story teller. Instead of breaking down the technical nuances of a text (and the Vandiver Great Courses Company Course on The Iliad does that beautifully), he invites us into his personal library, shows us his well-worn Lattimore text and then proceeds to tell us stories.
As I read my Fitzgerald and my Lattimore Iliads, I found myself lost in the poetry and contemplating the philosophical questions that were so curious to me. What I did not think that I was doing was really learning the details of the story – whatever detail I learned was to support the questions I was pondering.
This past weekend, my family and I drove 3.5 hours to the Chicago Field Museum to see The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great exhibit. This temporary exhibit was on loan from the National Hellenic Museums of Greece. The exhibit had over 500 artifacts and more security guards than a presidential escort.
As we ventured into the exhibit, I felt a bit disoriented and apprehensive. How much would my young family really get out of this experience? It was expensive and we had moved heaven and earth for two months to make this trip work. Would it be worth it?
And then I saw the burial mask of Agamemnon and I knew what it was. As we moved through a few artifacts, a museum docent and several bystanders started moving with us. At each interesting artifact my eight year old and I would talk about what we were seeing with some knowledge. I had taken Wes’s advice in March and shared Rosemary Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Troy (renamed The Iliad) with my kids while I was studying with OWC. My 8 year old hears everything and so, while I was not doing the OWC course with him, he was certainly listening in while I was folding laundry or watching with me on the ipad while I prepped dinner.
After we began to contextualize what we were seeing in terms of The Iliad, the docent started pointing out to us the little things that we would appreciate but otherwise might miss. We studied replicas of chariots, bronze swords, helmets that were sized to fit men with heads comparable to that of my 8 year old. We marveled at the pottery which showcased scenes from Homer. We talked about funeral pyres and Achilles dragging Hector tied to the wheel of his chariot. In short, I discovered that Wes’s story telling had absolutely stimulated my imagination and all of those stories were just waiting for me to need them.
Two days before our trip, we travelled across the state to see my 92 year old grandfather. He had 4 years of Latin in high school and 2 years of Greek. He memorized whole sections of The Iliad and 70 years later still considers it to be one of the most beautiful things he has loved. He is a big advocate of our homeschooling and loves the classics.
As we talked about the role the Greeks had in building Western Culture we specifically talked about how the Iliad and the Odyssey compared to Indian ideas. We talked about the similarity of funeral pyres in both cultures, gods and Western ideas of the dignity of life. My son was playing with his snap circuits in another room. Any time one of us got a name or a detail wrong from Homer, he would chirp up with the correction. Clearly, the Greeks have made a home in our shared vernacular and they provide 4 generations of family a shared experience to discuss, debate and wonder at together.
I am profoundly grateful to Roman Roads Media and Wes Callihan. There is a strong possibility that I would not have fallen in love with The Iliad if I have been left to muddle through on my own. I cannot wait to see where else Wes takes my imagination and my learning!