Plutarch for the Homeschool Family (with Dawn Duran)

Dawn Duran Plutarch for the Charlotte Mason Homeschool Family podcast

Plutarch, anyone? If you’ve ever wondered why to study Plutarch, how to read Plutarch’s Lives (without getting confused or overwhelmed), and the value Plutarch has for a Charlotte Mason homeschool in particular, then you won’t want to miss this delightful conversation with Dawn Duran!

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Who is Dawn Duran?

Dawn lives in Maryland with her husband, their two sons, and their dog Storm. She encountered Charlotte Mason’s philosophy 10 years ago and has been following Mason’s principles in her home ever since. Prior to taking on her most-prized role of stay-at-home wife and homeschooling mama Dawn worked as a physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach, and pilates instructor. She leads a local group of scholars in the study of Shakespeare and Plutarch and also teaches classes in Health Sciences online for Purdue Global University.  

Dawn enjoys talking all things Charlotte Mason, and has been a speaker at various Charlotte Mason retreats. She is passionate about the teaching of citizenship, and her articles on this topic have been published in Common Place Quarterly and American Essence. She is a moderator on the AmblesideOnline forum and creates curriculum guides for the CMEC. She co-hosts The New Mason Jar with Cindy Rollins podcast.  Dawn  has created Swedish Drill Revisited  to assist homeschool families effectively embrace a forgotten form of physical education.  

Watch My Homeschool Conversation with Dawn Duran

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Amy: Hello friends, today I am joined by Dawn Duran. Dawn lives in Maryland with her husband, their two sons, and their dog Storm. She encountered Charlotte Mason’s philosophy 10 years ago, and has been following Mason’s principles in her home ever since. Prior to taking on her most prized role of stay-at-home wife and homeschooling mama, Dawn worked as a physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach, and pilates instructor.

She leads a local group of scholars in the study of Shakespeare and Plutarch and also teaches classes in health sciences online for Purdue Global University. Dawn enjoys talking all things Charlotte Mason, and has been a speaker at various Charlotte Mason retreats. She is passionate about the teaching of citizenship, and her articles on this topic have been published in Common Place Quarterly and American Essence.

She is a moderator on the Ambleside Online Forum and creates curriculum guides for the CMEC. She co-hosts The New Mason Jar with Cindy Rollins Podcast and has created Swedish Drill Revisited to assist home school families effectively embrace a forgotten forum of physical education. I am so delighted that you are with us here today, Dawn.

Dawn: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here and chat with you.

How Dawn started homeschooling

Amy: Here at the beginning, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and how you got started homeschooling?

Dawn: Sure, I’ve been married for 21 years today actually, and my husband Gabe and I have two sons. Lucas is 11 and Gabriel is 14. I always knew that I planned to home-school my children, but I didn’t actually discuss it with my husband until our first son was born. Apparently, it was something that we talked my head, but not out loud. Fortunately when I did discuss it with him, my husband wholeheartedly agreed to my plan to homeschool, and he’s always been very supportive while leading homeschooling decisions primarily in my wheelhouse.

I began researching homeschooling before our second child was born. At that time, I just assumed I’d use the school-at-home model because that was what I was familiar with, and it had served me well personally. When I started the research, I was so surprised to learn that there were so many different educational philosophies. About a year into the process of researching, I read the Clarkson’s Educating the Whole Hearted Child. I love that book and it gave me a better vision of what I wanted for our home school.

Shortly after that, I read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake so I was hooked, and then I began reading Charlotte Mason’s volumes directly for myself, and I just haven’t looked back since. My sons were one and four years old at that time, and so I feel incredibly blessed that I had 18 months at least of immersion in Mason’s volumes before I began officially homeschooling our oldest child, and that’s it.

Amy: Wow, how I love hearing that, because I was going to ask if you had always been interested in Charlotte Mason, how your approach to education has changed over the years, but you are a fortunate one who had the opportunity to really delve into those ideas and establish those principles. I think Mom’s mindset with homeschooling is so important, and a lot of moms are figuring it out while they are also homeschooling. It really can be a challenge, so what a blessing that you had at that time to think before you started.

Dawn: Yes it absolutely was. I am forever thankful that the Lord brought that into my sphere as I was looking, because I hear so often of people who start one way, and then try to learn the philosophy and move to another direction, so I have been incredibly blessed.

How has your approach to home education grown or changed over the years?

Amy: That being said, of course, you have these ideas in your mind, and these principles but then you had actual real children and real homeschooling, so I would love to hear how has your thought or approach to home education grown or changed in the years since?

Dawn: Well, honestly it hasn’t changed much, because we have been committed, as we alluded to already, to the CM philosophy since day one, but of course, as I’ve matured in my understanding of it, and as my sons have matured in their studies, we’ve certainly tweaked things here and there, but nothing earth shattering. As I was pondering this question I thought, “I don’t really have much to add here,” because we’ve never really moved beyond the roots in the Charlotte Mason education.

Certainly, when you have the differences of our first child, who was much more academic in nature compared to our second child, you have to tweak things here and there, but when you’re educating by the principle of “children are born persons,” that was just kind of part what I expected anyway, so it hasn’t been too difficult. I’ve just been so pleasantly surprised by how all of this has gone. Not that we’ve never had challenges, but nothing that really sticks out.

Amy: That makes me think when I interviewed Brandy Vencel, I think this was back in the very first season of the podcast. It may actually have been before I had named the podcast. I can’t even remember, but she talked about this is a misconception with Charlotte Mason’s education in particular. She talked about how if you realize that it’s a principle, the principles can be applied in many different ways with different children, with different families, in different seasons and you never abandon the principles.

A lot of times we think of it as a list of to-do’s or a checklist, but if you think of it as the principles, then you really are able to just have those as your foundation, and then live in freedom from there.

Dawn: Absolutely and that’s the thing. The principles are not rules just like when we look to the Bible, we are not confounded by what we find in it. It gives us so much liberty and freedom within a structure, so I feel the same way.

Joys of Charlotte Mason homeschooling

Amy: I hear this is already a positive surprise that you found from Charlotte Mason education that this principle that you read when your little guys were tiny has carried you all these years through. I would love to hear if there has been anything else, maybe a challenge or another positive from your Charlotte Mason education, or if you think there are aspects of CM homeschooling that might surprise other people. Maybe especially someone outside of the Charlotte Mason world?

Dawn: Yes, I absolutely think that that’s the case. I guess just to reiterate, the only thing I’ve been surprised by is how much Charlotte Mason education lives up to the promises when you follow Mason’s principles. I do absolutely know, not just think that people unfamiliar with the Charlotte Mason philosophy have all kinds of misconceptions. They are in particular surprised to learn about the way things operate in our home school.

Most people unfamiliar with a wide array of education philosophies envision what I initially did, which is just the home school merely was school-at-home model. They don’t immediately recognize how much more real learning takes place when one’s education is steeped in and reading living books, and that bring us in contact with big ideas, which we then solidify via narration. I think they need to see the traditional entries in workbooks along with the stack of textbooks, but the proof is really in the pudding when you’re engaging with children who learn via the Charlotte Mason method.

They are so delightful to converse with, because they have such a broad wheelhouse to come from. They have such a variety of topics that they touch on in their education that they can have a conversation with anybody about anything, and that’s just really delightful.

I also think, and you’ve probably encountered this too, that there’s that misconception about Charlotte Mason that it’s light and fun and entirely child-led, it lacks rigor, but not at all.

I’ve had people when I first started out say, “Oh yes, we did Charlotte Mason, but then when my children got older, we needed to get serious, so we switched to whatever.” That tells me we’ve been more truly familiar with the full depth of Mason’s philosophy if they were unaware of the vigorous education it includes for the middle and high school years. Those were the things that I think would surprise people outside of the CM world.

Jami Marstall Charlotte Mason Classical Education Homeschool

Amy: Do you know Jamie Marstall?

Dawn: Yes.

Amy: She came on the podcast previously, and talked specifically about Charlotte Mason in high school years. If someone is having this misconception thinking, “Well, it was great when were little, and we wandered in the woods or something, but now we’ve got to get serious.” That sort of misunderstanding I would highly recommend my chat with Jamie.

Dawn: Yes I would have to go back and find it. She’s wonderful.

Homeschooling Plutarch

Amy: She was lovely to talk to. Well, I am very excited to talk to you, specifically today our focus is Plutarch. I will just give a little background on my own story with Plutarch from my early childhood. I loved the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. [laughs] Don’t judge me.

Dawn: No, I’d love to hear this, this is so fun to me. I had no idea it was in there until you mentioned it.

Amy: Oh my goodness Dawn, you need to watch this now, and anyone listening. Yes I understand you have to watch it with a grain of salt, but it’s based on a story of the kidnapping of the Sabine women. The entire plot of the musical is a– It’s set in the west of Oregon Territory, but it’s the story of of the kidnapping of the Sabine women.

Dawn: Oh my God.

Amy: They actually sing songs, read from Plutarch. During the musical it’s referenced multiple times. One of the things is Millie, one of the main characters. When she is married, and she’s going off to the cabin in the woods with her new husband is showing him what she’s bringing, her dowry. She has Plutarch’s Lives and the Bible.

Dawn: Oh my God that is awesome. I am going to watch that movie this weekend.

Amy: Yes, stop everything and watch this musical, okay. I love it so much. My tween girls had some friends over yesterday. One of them hadn’t seen this musical, so we corrupted them.

Dawn: You got it really fresh on your mind for today too?

Amy: Yes so fresh on my mind. Anyway, so that is a funny version of Plutarch. “Plutarch’s Lives and the Bible” is a line from the musical, but later on in my own–

Dawn: How fabulous.

Amy: Yes, Dawn, you have to add this to your watch list. Later on in high school I actually did read actual Plutarch as well. That was part of my humanities study in high school. I’m very thankful for my parents and their homeschooling. I am very familiar in that way with Plutarch from my past. Both silly and a little bit more serious.

I think that Plutarch is a mystery to people. You hear about Plutarch if you’re in the CM or classical world. He comes up but I think he’s still a mystery and a little intimidating to people. Especially if they were not fortunate enough to grow up on this musical like I did. I would love–

Dawn: I love this so much.

Who is Plutarch and why did he write his Lives?

Amy: Yes. I would love to start super big picture first, and just explain to us who Plutarch even is, and when he wrote his famous book, and why he did it.

Dawn: Absolutely. first I have to say beyond how much I love that story. Yes, it’s on my watch list for this weekend. I am super impressed and jealous that you were introduced to Plutarch when you were a high schooler, because the first time I heard about him was when I started reading Charlotte Mason’s works. I want to give this big picture, but I want to give a disclaimer first. I am a Plutarch enthusiast but I am certainly not an expert. My interest arose completely organically through reading Charlotte Mason’s works.

I don’t have official training in this area. I didn’t study the classics in college or anything like that. With that said, I’ve learned a lot about him through my enthusiasm.

Plutarch was a Roman citizen. He was born in the Greek region of Boeotia in 50 AD. He was a philosopher and an educationalist with many thoughts on the responsibilities of parents, and the training of children, in particular, character formation and citizenship.

He wrote to warn his contemporaries what would result if the culture continued to decline morally. And that this, and I quote, “loss of moral sanity must sooner or later cause national decay.” Wow.

Amy: Wow.

Plutarch's Lives Homeschool families Dawn Duran

Dawn: How relevant is that to us today? He wrote a series of essays which are collected into a volume called morale or the morals. Most famously he is known for his parallel lives of the noble Greeks and Romans. They were written in pairs of one Greek and one Roman life, followed by a brief comparison between the two. These works include details of the greatest men of two great nations.

Understanding, as you ask, the timeframe in which Plutarch wrote his lives helps us understand his rationale for writing them even better.

At the time that Plutarch lived Greek civilization had declined, and Rome was on the rise. The Roman Empire was undergoing rapid Hellenization. Which means that they were intentionally becoming more and more like the ancient Greek culture that they so greatly admired. The Romans found so much to admire in Greek culture and often adopted Greek traditions as their own. The area of pagan religion is one prime example of this. The Romans co-opted the Greek gods and goddesses and gave them new names to reflect their place in Roman society.

That’s why when we study mythology, the gods and goddesses often have two names. One for the Greeks and another for the Romans. Part of Plutarch’s goal in writing his lives was to intentionally compare the great men of Greece to the same of Rome in order to elevate the Romans in the eyes of those who admired the Greek so much.

Another thing that I think is important for people to understand when they’re reading Plutarch is that in his time period history was written in the form of what we call today biography.

He is often referred to not just by Charlotte Mason, but by other educationalists and classicist as the prince of biographers. We can best understand it even through his own words, because in his Life of Alexander, for example, he writes the following. I quote, “For it is not histories that I am writing but lives, and in the most illustrious deeds there is not always a manifestation of virtue or vice, nay a slight thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of character than battles where thousands fall or the greatest armaments or sieges of cities.”

In writing the parallel lives Plutarch relied on the works of historians that are now lost to us. He also focused on personal details that modern works entirely leave out of the telling. According to editor WHD Rouse, who edited many volumes around Charlotte Mason’s time. Most particularly the Blacky’s volumes of– Blacky editions rather of Plutarch’s lives that Charlotte Mason liked to use in her schools. Rouse said that Plutarch did this because he knew that a man’s character is often revealed by trivial acts and sayings and character, not history, was his theme.

This is part of what makes Plutarch the right source for a study of citizenship in a Charlotte Mason education, because his emphasis was on character as much as on history. Instead of facts and dates, Plutarch wrote about the everyday lives of famous men of women– Famous men, rather of Greece and Rome and illustrated that their actions had consequences. Whether they be good or bad. Placing such scenarios before students inspires their moral imaginations, allowing them to grapple with ideas which they might not otherwise be exposed to.

Amy: It’s really fascinating to me because that approach to history is exactly the way I teach history in my own home school. We talk, and I am indebted to my parents who taught us history biographically and chronologically. In my opinion, history only makes sense if you realize it’s about people.

Dawn: Yes.

Amy: Real people, flawed people often, complicated people. It’s exciting to me to think about the impact that Plutarch had just even on the way we think about how to study history.

Dawn: Yes, absolutely. I love what you said there is that, especially in modern day people don’t understand, or they don’t respect that people are nuanced. They are not always 100% good or 100% evil but as you said, they’re complex characters. We cannot totally erase a person’s worth by one bad mistake.

Amy: Yes the Old Testament teaches us that, right?

Dawn: Amen. I love that your parents raised you that way, and it’s so resonated with you that you continue with it today in your own home school. I think that’s wonderful.

how to homeschool plutarch's lives Dawn Duran interview Charlotte Mason Classical homeschooling

Why should we include Plutarch in our homeschool?

Amy: Well, that’s already one aspect we can see of Plutarch and his value, but why has he been considered a valuable part of one’s education historically? This isn’t a new idea. This isn’t new. Charlotte Mason didn’t invent this. I guess why has he been considered important in education, and then what has his impact been over the centuries?

Dawn: I love this question, and I have a lot to say so buckle up.

Amy: Go for it.

Dawn: [laughs] While Plutarch may be an unfamiliar name to modern ears, once upon a time and understanding of the ancient past was the hallmark of any educated person in the West. A study of classical authors, including Plutarch was a staple of education that only recently has fallen out of vogue. For example, our founding fathers here in the United States were steeped in the ancients, and Plutarch was primary among them. They knew that looking to the past would help them to shape the future.

They learned from the virtuous examples as well as the not so virtuous models that were highlighted in Plutarch’s lives. In particular, they admired the democratic ideals of Greece, but they recognize the tyranny of the majority of an absolute democracy that ultimately led to the demise of Greek civilization. They held the Roman system of government in high esteem, but they saw that the decadence that contributed to the decline of Rome. So they set out to design a system of government that could only be a success if carried on by a virtuous people.

Our founding fathers were so strongly influenced by Plutarch, and so well acquainted with his lives, that they wanted sets of these books to be bought and placed in every library in the new nation, just like you saw in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It’s fantastic.

They knew that the noble ideas, the heroic actions contained within the pages of Plutarch lives were mind fodder for the citizenry. They wanted us to keep these models at the forefront of our minds. Now we can fast-forward a couple 100 years, and politicians continue to be influenced by Plutarch into the 19th century. I recently learned this, former President Harry Truman credits his father reading to him from Plutarch’s Lives as his first source of political wisdom.

Amy: Wow.

Dawn: I know. After leaving the White House, Truman told his biographer, “Plutarch knew more about politics than all the other writers I’ve read, put together. When I was in politics, there’d be times when I tried to figure somebody out, and I could always turn to Plutarch, and 9 times out of 10, I’d be able to find parallel in there.” Isn’t that remarkable?

Amy: That blows my mind.

Dawn: Right? Right. Americans were far from the only people inspired by Plutarch. Classicist CJ Gianakaris, I’m not sure if that’s how you pronounce his name, but he wrote that Plutarch was, for centuries, Europe’s schoolmaster. While in prison during World War II, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following in a letter home, “Father, could you get me from the library, Plutarch’s Lives?” While he is in prison, he wants to read Plutarch’s Lives. Obviously, he was reading his Bible too, because he was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

More than 100 years before that, Napoleon Bonaparte was a great student of the ancient biographer. I just love Napoleon’s story in this. For all of his faults, he was a voracious reader, he had a personal librarian, whom he expected to be available to him at all hours while he’s traveling during the wars. He traveled with a portable library, among which Plutarch was always found, and in particular, he was inspired by the life of Julius Caesar.

Many historians suspect that Napoleon self consciously imitated Caesar’s practices, such as that of dictating to multiple secretaries at the same time, as well as in the art of military campaigns and empire building and inflicting tyranny.

Will Durant also wrote of Napoleon that, “He breathed the passion of those ancient patriots and drank the blood of those historic battles.” Bonaparte so clearly emulated the noble lives he read about in Plutarch, that a Corsican rebel leader once said to him, “There is nothing modern in you, you are entirely out of Plutarch.” Napoleon saw this as a tremendous compliment, realizing he had given flesh to the ideas that so inspired him.

The final thing I want to say about Napoleon is that in 1812, his court painter who was, Jacques-Louis David, painted a nearly life-sized portrait of him and titled, “The Emperor Napoleon in his Study at the Tuileries.” We live near Washington DC, so we get to visit the National Gallery of Art, and this portrait is on display there, and it is bigger than life size. It is ginormous, and it is spectacular. I remember looking at it closely maybe the second or third time I visited it, and I saw in the lower left-hand corner of his painting, you can find a copy of Plutarch’s Lives.

Napoleon portrait with Plutarch's Lives

Amy: Wow.

Dawn: It was inserted in there to show the source of the ideas that inspired him. I just love that story. I love this painting and how it reflects on him.

Plutarch in a Charlotte Mason education

Well, Plutarch is obviously historical in nature, it’s now where that book was found in the syllabus of Charlotte Mason schools. Her students studied Plutarch under the banner of citizenship. Citizenship in her schools, the PNEU wasn’t limited to how the nation was governed or the installation of patriotism in the students, although it did include those things.

Instead, the study of citizenship fostered the ability to discriminate between a man’s actions as right or wrong, and inspired ideas of what makes a person a valuable citizen. Recently, I heard someone describe Plutarch as a library of human character, and I just think that is such an apt description, because the Lives inspire our moral imaginations by placing before us the life of a real man who made decisions, good and bad, which had consequences, for better or for worse.

Reading about the repercussions of these choices encourages our students to ponder what these choices say about a man’s character. The heroes in the Lives inspire us to greatness, just as the villains serve as cautionary tales for what to avoid, or who to avoid, when we recognize those character flaws in others around us. Plutarch is masterful in his ability to bring out character strengths and flaws without moralizing, or pointing to the message that he wants you to take from your reading. It’s excellent fodder for our scholars’ minds.

Amy: This is really fascinating that it’s in within citizenship. I’m sure I have heard that before, but I didn’t remember that. I liked the way you explained citizenship, because I think sometimes people can have an assumption that just means like, just rabid patriotism or love for one’s own country, necessarily to the exclusion of thought, or nuance. Instead, what I hear you saying is it was really about being able to judge right and wrong, wisdom and foolishness, virtue and error.

Dawn: Yes, she often referred to citizenship as everyday-morals. In fact, that level of patriotism that you just described, the unthinking patriotism, she warns against repeatedly in her volumes, and she calls it jingoism, which is not a term she made up. It’s that unthinking patriotism that, “My country can do no right or no wrong.” That does not have a place in the Charlotte Mason education because she knew that we had to have an understanding of things beyond our borders, and she was very much a proponent of that.

Plutarch definitely falls under a study of history, but yet, that’s not what she used it for. The students in Mason schools, after they got to a certain age, they always had a stream of history that they were studying. That helped them when they were reading Plutarch, not to get bogged down in the details, but they weren’t using the Plutarch lessons to rehash those historical details. They were focusing on the ideas and character and decisions.

Amy: Okay. Well, I have two other things, what you were just saying first of all, Napoleon had his errors, but man, I need a personal librarian, please, who can just follow me everywhere I go. Every home school mom is like, “Yes, please.”

Dawn: Yes, please. Exactly.

Amy: Then, I don’t know. This is like totally a rabbit trail, but Harry Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman is an author. Many, many, many years ago, my husband and I listened to an audiobook of a book she wrote called First Ladies. It was a fabulous book. She went through the First Ladies of the United States to see the history through that lens. One of the things that was confusing to me at the time is why she chose to do them in Parallel Lives, as opposed to chronologically, but now it’s all making sense.

Dawn: That is so fantastic. I need to find that book, too. You are just a wealth of wonderful things that I need to find and do. That is so cool.

Amy: You have something to watch, and something to read this weekend, Dawn. That’s your assignment.

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Dawn: That is so cool. I had no idea. Yes, of course, she was absolutely influenced. As much as her father loved Plutarch, she couldn’t fail, but have been exposed to him as he had been when he was a youth. Wow.

Amy: I’m going to have to dig this book back out now that my mind is blown, and read it through that other lens. I’m so excited.

Dawn: You’re right. That is so cool.

Amy: It’s the science of relations. Everything is connected!

Dawn: Yes, it is.

What age should you start reading Plutarch in your homeschool?

Amy: Okay. Well, let’s talk a little bit about some practicalities when it comes to Plutarch in our home schools. Someone’s listening and they’re like, “Wow, this all sounds very great, but I have no idea where to start.” What age do you recommend that someone begin including the study of Plutarch in the home school? Can we do it with a mixture of ages? I’ve got five kids, 10 years apart, can I do it with everyone together?

Dawn: You can, except for the seven-year-old, because he’s too young. At least I think so. Now, you will come across comments in Mason’s works, there was one stray comment that talked about a child of seven could listen to the life of so and so, and through Plutarch, and understand them. He might, but I personally go a little bit older for that. Students began to study Plutarch, formally, in Charlotte Mason’s Schools in form 2A, which is approximately fifth grade, or 10 years old.

The year before, they started to read ancient history, including one delightful book called Stories from Ancient Rome by Mrs. Beesly. Even though, as we talked about Plutarch fell under the banner of citizenship, it’s still helpful to have a handle on ancient history so you don’t get lost in the details. Plutarch is absolutely positively a subject that can be formed with mixed ages. I’ve taught classes from my local community, in which we have an age range from 10 to 17 years old. They’re all reading the same life together.

It’s so wonderful, especially this past term was just delightful. I had students, the older students that had started off with me when they were quite young, and then I had new students this year, and this was their first exposure to Plutarch. Getting to see how much the older students had matured after doing it year after year after year, and seeing how that inspired the younger students, but also how they were able to enrich the conversation with both of their age ranges, both sets of their ages. Their insights that they had to offer were just fabulous.

It’s absolutely not something that you have to add as an individual study for individual children. This is something you absolutely do combined, and should. Many parents though, like I once was, they’re eager to get their children started with Plutarch at younger ages, but there’s really no rush. There’s so many years available for students to plumb the depths of Plutarch. I think that waiting until age 10 brings a bit more maturity with which the student can more clearly recognize the character lessons, which are why we’re studying Plutarch.

I did start my oldest child at nine, and he was capable of it. With my second child, I waited until after he was 10. That was a better choice for him, but even so, I could have waited until my oldest was 10 too and he would’ve continued to get as much out of it as he does now, right?

Amy Sloan: Yes, I think, so often we get so excited. We’re excited as moms, right?

Dawn: Yes.

Amy: It’s not always from this desire to create our children into some academic monsters. We’re just so excited, and we want them to know all these wonderful things. I think that was an error I made with Plutarch. I knew in my own life I hadn’t read Plutarch until I was in high school. I was just so excited several years ago, I thought, “Oh, I’m going to throw some Plutarch into morning time.” I had some children who were probably in an appropriate age, but it was just a wreck. It was a train wreck. Nobody was enjoying it.

I felt like I ruined their first experience of Plutarch a little bit. Now they think Plutarch– I don’t know. I just wish that I had just waited. If I had just waited a little bit longer, that first experience could have been more positive and set them up for success. I think it’s just, “Learn from my mistakes, mothers. Don’t push too soon.”

Dawn: That’s true, but don’t put that burden too much on yourself too, because you were doing it out of love and desire to make them be exposed to this. I’m sure it hasn’t ruined them to experience the wonderfulness of it in the future.

Amy: We have more years to come in our home school.

Dawn: That’s right. [crosstalk] Oh, go ahead. I was going to say I know that moms are intimidated by Plutarch. I totally get that, but it really is a matter of just taking the plunge. The study guides that Anne White created that are available in book form, they’re also free online on the Ambleside Online website. They’re absolutely invaluable for helping families implement it in their home schools. This is a key point I make, so many parents say, “The language, it’s so challenging. There’s a whole page without a period in it. His sentences are so long.”

That is true, but while we are intimidated by it, well maybe not you, having been homeschooled yourself, but our children who have been reading these excellent books since they were young, it is not a problem for them. You will struggle, mama, more than they will. I can assure you that the language is not at all problematic for them. I like to encourage mothers not to underestimate themselves by overestimating the difficulty of Plutarch. It’s not our goal to do the teaching. We just put the words in front of them and let them do their work and let the ideas come out.

We can’t be effective guides in this area of study if we don’t overcome our own fear by diving into his works as preparation for the role to which we’re called. I encourage moms just to dive in. I’m absolutely confident in time that you’ll find yourself surprised at how enjoyable the study of Plutarch can be, and wonder why you ever felt intimidated about reading him. That might not happen in the first three weeks, but in the first three months, three years.

I used to not be able to read more than a page of Plutarch in any one day. Now I can read the whole life from start to finish. I remember very well how difficult it was at first, but it no longer is. Just do it.

Amy: I love that encouragement and that reminder that if it’s hard at first, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be hard forever

Dawn: Exactly.

Amy: Don’t quit just because it’s hard right at the beginning, right?

Dawn: Yes.

What does a Plutarch lesson actually look like?

Amy: Keep going. What does even a lesson look like? Are you reading it out loud as the mom or the teacher? Are the children reading it on their own and you’re discussing it? Walk me through what a Plutarch lesson looks like.

Dawn: I will. I will also share with your audience that the way I have learned this, is because Charlotte Mason outlined it for us in the appendix of one of her volumes, her third volume called School Education. There are plans for teaching 10-year-olds who are narrating from Plutarch’s life of Alexander. We can generalize how to apply these plans to any Plutarch lesson, but as to the reading, who does the reading? Plutarch was something that Mason talked about. It’s like the Bible in that you will have to make suitable omissions.

We don’t always read everything from the Old Testament to our children. Plutarch was very much the same way. When I first got my hands on unabridged Plutarch, I was like, “Wow, no wonder she said that there were some creepy, crazy stuff in there that I would never want in my kids’ heads.” Plutarch was something that the teacher read into the students. Now, they could follow along if you have a copy that had suitable omissions.

That was why Mason used these Blackie’s editions in the schools, because they had gone through the life and taken out any objectionable material that wouldn’t be appropriate for a middle-schooler, or a high-schooler to be exposed to, or an older elementary school student. Anne White’s guides have done that as well for people who are interested in obtaining those and reading from those. She has made those omissions for you. In those cases, you as the teacher still read aloud, but your students follow along, and that way, they’re getting it through their ears and their eyes as well.

4 Steps to a Charlotte Mason Plutarch Lesson

The Plutarch lesson per Mason consisted really of four steps.

1. Set up the lesson by reviewing the last reading

First, you set up the lesson by asking the students what they remember from the last time. “Last time we finished up here and Alexander had done this. What else do you remember about this?”

2. Briefly summarize and prepare what is to come in the new lesson

Then you’ll briefly summarize what you’re going to read about in the lesson to come. You allow students to locate places mentioned on maps, if it’s appropriate. This implies that it is appropriate to present proper nouns, including names of persons and places to prepare the students for the reading.

3. Read a few pages of the Life slowly and distinctly

Then you read a few pages of the Life slowly and distinctly. “Reading into the children” as much as possible. That’s a quote. Now, when you are first starting, you’re not going to read a few pages of the life to your kids and expect them to narrate. Sometimes it’s just a sentence, at most, a paragraph because as I mentioned, those things are long.

4. Students narrate what has been read

Then finally, the students narrated what was just read, and they would take turns in a group setting doing so.

It’s really just a matter of setting up the lesson, reviewing what happened before, previewing what’s going to happen in the lesson to come. That all takes less than five minutes.

Then you do 15 to 20 minutes of reading, stopping for narration after every sentence, or paragraph, or couple of paragraphs, depending the abilities of your children.

I just had this thought because this is what I did with my group of students that were such a broad age range difference this past term, was I would set up narration groups, and I had the group set up so that my new narrators, or my shy narrators, or my younger ones, they would start the narration. Then my more experienced, or my more talkative, or my more attentive narrators finished things up at the end.

It was just providing opportunities for the students to succeed. Everyone can remember one thing from the lesson. If you go to that person, you know they’re only going to remember one or two things or they’re shy, and you ask them to give it first. Then that serves as something to jump off of for the next person who’s going to carry on the narration. That’s an idea to use when you’re doing it with mixed stages in your home.

Amy: I appreciate your encouragement that you can start small. I think sometimes I look and feel like you have to read this huge chunk, or even I have one of Anne White’s guides and some of those are still several pages long. If you have someone who’s just beginning with Plutarch, or they’re a little younger, they just start zoning out and they’re like, “What in the world? These are some crazy names and places. I have no idea what’s happening.” Just that it’s okay to break it up in a shorter chunk. That’s not being lazy or unhealthy.

Dawn: No.

Amy: Just do it small and build your mental muscles.

Dawn: It is, absolutely. Those mental muscles do have to be built, but you gradually stretch them, but not all at once. I’ve heard Cindy Rollins talk about sometimes just reading a paragraph a day in morning time and slowly getting through the whole life in that manner with her family. That’s certainly something that moms can do. Not try to read it for 20 minutes, but just read for 5 or 10.

Amy: I was just going to say I still often say with other topics in homeschooling that the simple thing you actually do is better than the perfect thing that you never start. I think I’ve shot myself in the foot still. Even though I know that’s true, and I tell other moms, it’s like, “I need to remember that myself, don’t go all or nothing.”

Dawn: That’s right.

Amy: Don’t try to go sprint out and then fizzle, don’t try to do it all perfect, and then never get around to it. Just start very small.

Dawn: That’s right. We all fall prey to that though. We all do but I think that we get paralysis by analysis by overthinking things, and we lose so much time that way, rather than just diving in, just starting.

Amy: Got it. I think somebody had once asked what’s the best book you’ve got to read to your children? She’s like, “How, how do I get this started?” She was like, “Just sit down and if you think you need to read more, just sit down and pick up a book and read it.” Don’t wait until you pick out the perfect book, right?

Dawn: Exactly. Once you start that first book, then other ideas of books that you’ll want to introduce to your children will just overflow your brain, and you will need to start adding an hour a day to be able to read aloud with them. There’s no pressure there.

Amy: Yes. Sometimes mom’s voice can’t hold up that long, and then I love audiobooks.

Dawn: Yes.

Helpful resources for getting started with Plutarch in your homeschool

Amy: You’ve mentioned a couple of resources already and White’s Guides. You mentioned Blackie. Is that still around? Are there other resources or guides that would be helpful for moms getting started with Plutarch?

Dawn: Sure. The Blackie’s guides, they are rare, hard to find. They’re Blackie’s editions rather. They weren’t guides, just they were the edited versions of the Lives.

There are, I mentioned as you said, Anne White’s Guides, those are things that I point people to, because she’s also broken them down into lessons for you as well, and pulled out necessary vocabulary and dates and things of that nature. They’re tremendously helpful.

I think another thing people get caught up on is the translation. You had mentioned that to me earlier too and asked what the best translation was. I always say that the best translation is the one that you’re actually going to use.

Charlotte Mason did prefer the translation by Thomas North, which is more challenging in terms of the language. She did that because of that rich language and the poetic nature of his writing. Another compelling reason why she likely used the North translation was because Shakespeare used the North translation of Plutarch as the basis for many of his history plays.

Which are examples of how the ideas in Plutarch’s Lives inspire heroism and greatness, right? He regularly dipped into the well of the lives to find fodder for his masterpieces. In fact, five of his plays used the Thomas North translations of Plutarch’s lives as a primary source for plot and dialogue sometimes taken verbatim from Plutarch, including Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Pericles, and Timon of Athens, but because the language is challenging in North, when I initially started reading it, I did find it helpful to reference modern translations when I wasn’t quite sure I fully understood it.

There are several translations like that, but the one I frequently referenced was a translation by Louise Ropes Loomis, and there’s a newer translation that I really like by classicist Robin Waterfield. Again, the best translation is the one you’re actually going to use. Again, don’t waste too much time procrastinating, because you can’t decide on the text to read.

As to resources, besides Anne White’s guides, there are several posts on Nancy Kelly’s blog, which is called Sage Parnassus, and in particular, her posts A Program for Plutarch. Then she has a series of posts called The Plutarch Primer are incredibly helpful.

Then finally, I very much enjoy a podcast called The Plutarch Podcast. Oh, it gets even better, the person who is responsible for this podcast is a Charlotte Mason homeschooling dad, Tom Cox. He teaches Plutarch among other things at an all-boys school. He is just delightful and loves Plutarch, and makes it come to life for others. Those are my primary resources I would recommend.

Amy: Okay. That is so exciting. I’m going to have to go add that to my podcast list.

Dawn: Yes. It’s so great. It’s great for you because then you get a sense of the life before you read it with your children, and you can share that knowledge with them. It helps again for us to have that baseline understanding when we’re the ones reading it aloud to them.

Amy: Oh, that is great. What about, and I didn’t ask you this before, so maybe you don’t have anything that comes to mind. I think about with The Iliad and The Odyssey, we think about recommending children’s versions like the Children’s Homer and things like that where you get familiar with the stories before you read the original. Is there anything like that for Plutarch you would recommend?

Dawn: There are lots of Lives rewritten and I can get you a list. There are at least three or four. Like Shakespeare was rewritten for the young by Charles and Mary Lamb, and Nesbit? There were three or four written, The Young Folks Plutarch. I can’t remember the other names, but I can find them for you, but they’re really not necessary. They’re really not. That was what I was looking to possibly introduce to my students when they were younger, 7, 8, 9, because I thought, while we do this for Shakespeare, why can’t we do this for Plutarch?

I feel sometimes with too much of an introduction to the character itself, then when it comes to Plutarch, the life of that character, they almost feel like they already know who he is and they tune out. They don’t look at the decisions, and they don’t look at the consequences, and they don’t look at the character issues that we really want to use Plutarch for. I actually don’t recommend using them, but they exist.

Amy: Okay. Then we won’t even put those in the show notes. Let’s start with Plutarch.


Dawn: Sounds great.

Amy: When you’re ready.

Dawn: That’s right.

What is Dawn Duran reading lately?

Amy: Dawn, this has been so great. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about Plutarch. Here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I’m asking every guest. The first is just what are you personally reading lately?

Dawn: I always have several books going at once. I really had to think about what I was going to talk to. [chuckles] The two books that I’m reading right now that I love the most are The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and a new one, The Truth and Beauty by Andrew Klavan. I’ve read the Count before and I’m reading it again with my oldest son now that he’s a freshman in high school. I knew he was going to like it, but I didn’t realize he was going to love it as much as he does, which it’s making it all the more fun for me to read again.

It’s a story of vengeance, but also of redemption. It was something I knew my son needed to experience in the form of a well-written book rather than as a Sunday school lesson. The way it’s captivated his imagination has exceeded even my own expectations. We homeschool from January through November. We’re actually about four weeks away from the end of our second term. He does a written narration every single day on some topic.

You’re not really supposed to do this, but he, every single day, has rewritten really a chapter of The Count of Monte Cristo because he loves it so much. I’m like, “Okay, yes, just go with that.” I knew he’d like it, I had no idea he’d fall in love with it, so it’s really fun.

The Truth and Beauty, have you heard of this book?

Amy: I am not familiar with that one.

Dawn: Okay. It came out maybe a month ago. I’ve heard several people talk about how much they’re enjoying it. When I heard it first come out, I was like, “I cannot buy another new book when I have so many other books I have to read.” I heard people that I admire very much talk about how much they love it and share snippets. I was like, “Fine, I guess I have to do this.” I started it earlier this week and it’s really fantastic. I don’t regret taking the plunge.

I’m only two or three chapters in, but the premise is that the author is attempting to better know the person of Jesus and his character. He found he could do so through many of the romantic poets that he admires. So far, his writing is incredibly engaging. He’s an excellent storyteller, and the lessons that he pulls out that I would not have thought of are just amazing. He was a secular Jew who came to Christ when he was 50, if I’m not mistaken. That was part of his story. It’s just really not disappointing at all, and I’m super glad that I actually bought it.

Amy: Wow. That sounds really fascinating. What an amazing story, I think, to see someone with a unique perspective and then to come to Christ at a later age, I’m sure also gives you a unique perspective.

Dawn: Yes. Absolutely.

Dawn’s best tips for helping the homeschool day run smoothly

Amy: Dawn, the final question I have for you is what would be your best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?

Dawn: Praying that nothing happens to screw it up. [laughs] While I am kidding, at the same time, we really know that nothing will come from our homeschooling efforts unless they’re directed and fortified by the Lord, right? I fear we mamas put too much pressure on ourselves and always think that everything depends on us, including the very characters of our children. We have to acknowledge that how our children turn out ultimately is not up to us. That’s God’s job, the job of the Holy Spirit, and we’re mere stewards.

That is my one piece of advice and encouragement that I would want other homeschooling mamas to hear.

On a more practical level, I find that our best homeschool days are those when I’m not distracted myself. I do have a lot on my plate, and so learning to put each item in its appropriate time slot on my part is critical to protecting the atmosphere of our homeschool. I mentioned that I teach for Purdue. When I have a grading deadline to meet, or if I’m working, I’m writing an article or something, if I allow myself to even let thoughts of that, get into my mind like I did yesterday during school hours, then I do not contribute to a calm or enjoyable atmosphere in our home at all.

When I’m present and engaged, then we’re all happy, and our studies truly do bring joy to our home. Making that habit in myself and also helping my sons build habits so they stay focused on their studies during the school day that helps them by generating tons of free time. They’re then able to self-direct in the afternoons when I can work on those other things I shouldn’t be thinking about in the mornings, and so that’s my practical tip.

Find Dawn Duran online

Amy: That’s both really encouraging and convicting. We’re all feeling that pinch of conviction, but that’s good. The Lord’s faithfulness to convict us and help us to change. Dawn where can people find you all around the internet?

Dawn: Oh, you didn’t tell me, you’re going to ask this question, because they can’t find– No, I’m just teasing, but they can’t find me on the internet, because I have no presence. No, actually I guess that they could find me at and my website, I really, I’m not on social media at all, so they can’t find me there.

Amy: You’ve probably chosen the better part, but I’ll put the links to those two sites in the show notes.

Dawn: Sounds great. I’ve had so much fun talking to you today. This has been wonderful. Thank you for having me on

Amy: Yes, Dawn I’m I’m actually reinvigorated, encouraged to try incorporating Plutarch again, and I haven’t failed forever with him. I can bring him back in.

Dawn: That’s right. You sure can. Just start by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Just show that, and then we’ll find a life that matches that. No, but then that’s the setup for the life that we’re going to choose that incorporates the–

Amy: Sabine women.

Dawn: The Sabine Women. Yes.

Amy: I’ll start with that one in the fall. Dawn thank you so much. Guys, if you want to have links to the things we’ve talked about today, and the books that Dawn has referenced, I will have those in the show notes for this episode at humilityanddoxology com. I’ll talk to you later, Dawn.

Dawn: Bye.

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2 thoughts on “Plutarch for the Homeschool Family (with Dawn Duran)”

  1. I too love Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! We checked it out all the time from the library when my sister and I were kids. We even made up our own dance. My kids love it too. For a while, my DD5 would walk around singing, “Bless your beautiful hide!”
    I never caught that it was Plutarch that she mentioned along with the Bible, I’ll have to watch it again more closely.
    I haven’t finished listening yet, but you all have convinced me to borrow a Plutarch book from the library and get started.

    1. Oh, I love that you already know this film but are just now making the connection to Plutarch! I hope you enjoy adding some Plutarch to your reading soon. 🙂

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