Swope, C. Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child. Louisville, KY: Memoria Press, 2013. 293 pages. $24.95, softcover. Reviewed by Sara Osborne.
“The special-needs child’s humanity—any child’s humanity—must determine the education he receives.” -Cheryl Swope
Cheryl Swope’s professional journey has followed a path similar to many educators who began in the throes of modern pragmatism only to find themselves unable to facilitate true learning. After several arresting experiences as an educator, Swope realized that she had much to learn. As she was confronted by classical education, she “became determined to give this gift to anyone [she] would ever teach again, including, and especially, [her] own children” (p.66). Swope’s chance to apply this determination came quickly. She and her husband adopted twins who immediately displayed numerous physical, mental, social, and emotional challenges. Swope’s firsthand experience of homeschooling her own children—as well as the testimonies of others—inform the pages of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child.
After recounting her own family’s journey, Swope addresses the underlying philosophy of classical education (classical Christian education in particular) and the reasons why parents and teachers should not dismiss this beneficial pathway for children with special needs. Swope emphasizes the goal of classical education: the cultivation of human beings. She writes of this distinctive: “The formative nature of classical education distinguishes it from much of education today. No matter the skill to be taught in classical education, the formation of the child’s mind and character transcends the skill” (p.108).
With this goal in mind, the third section of Swope’s book leads parents and teachers of children with special needs to practical tools for pursuing classical learning . Swope discusses the challenging balance of informal versus formal assessment for a child whose behavior or performance suggests a special need, and she gives the reader helpful suggestions in making that determination, including recommended considerations for engaging in formal testing. To aid parents and teachers in their own informal assessment, Swope includes both checklists for “mini-screening” and tables listing typical speech, language, motor skill, and cognitive milestones by age. These helps are followed by recommended reading and a discussion of important assessment terminology.
After discussing strategies for integrated and accommodated learning which remain faithful to the philosophy of classical education, Swope presents the reader with numerous testimonies of success. These testimonies serve as illustrations of the idea that classical education is indeed an effort to contribute to the formation of a whole person, and it results in a closer alignment to what is true, beautiful, and good—a richer life.
Parents and teachers of children with any special need—mild, moderate, or severe—will find Simply Classical to be an invaluable resource for both assessing student needs and plotting a course for continuing the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness in a child’s education. Swope’s testimony of classically educating her own special-needs children is inspirational and compelling, and measurable success defends her argument: “With firm grounding in the basics of classical education, one can begin to modify for an individual child’s needs without losing the aims and purposes essential to this rich tradition” (p.113).
If there is any criticism to be made of Swope’s work, perhaps it is simply the question of whether or not—or to what extent—her methods for classically homeschooling special-needs children can be translated to the classical Christian school. This is certainly an issue worthy of further consideration amongst educators and parents alike. Swope’s text is a welcomed resource for this task, promoting dialogue and prompting further investigation into the role of classical schools in educating children with special needs.