Bluetooth headphones have been on my wishlist for a long time. I don’t need a lot of audio fidelity. What I need are headphones that aren’t connected by a wire to my phone.

I’ve almost pulled the trigger a few times on the ultra-cheap, totally-wireless earbuds you see on Amazon from no-name brands. The potential for a chintzy piece of electronics to, I don’t know, catch fire in my ear or develop a death rattle after a week of use has always stayed my hand. With rumors of wireless earbuds being bundled with the iPhone 7, however, my interest was rekindled. Specifically, this Daring Fireball post linking to a review from The Verge of the Meizu EP-51 Bluetooth earbuds. Short of the $299 Bragi Dash, the EP51s seemed like the best I could do.

There’s only one problem with the EP51s: finding them. I eventually ordered from Everbuying. Total cost: $28.95. (Don’t forget to register before buying to save $2.) Mine arrived yesterday from the Netherlands, a mere 19 days after ordering. They’re slightly larger and more cumbersome than I would have expected, but other than that I have no complaints. As long as they don’t fall apart—and I don’t think they will—I like them for the price.

If you’re thinking about ordering, you might also want to check out this full review from Head-Fi. If I had known it was going to take almost three weeks, I probably would have just waited to see what Apple would do. As it is, best-case scenario Apple does something amazing and I have an extra pair of headphones to abuse.

New page on the site, Now. Credit to Derek Sivers for the concept.

Several months ago I impulsively stopped at an estate sale I happened to be driving past. Among the books I rescued was REINHOLD NIEBUHR: A BIOGRAPHY by Richard Wrightman Fox. The name rung a bell, but faintly. Despite attending Christian schools for three-quarters of my educational career, America’s pre-eminent 20th century preacher and theologian had escaped me. As is my custom, I embraced my ignorance and chose to enjoy the book spoiler-free.

Aside: I confess it’s been a while since I read a book this size. It’s actually quite irritating to physically hold the thing for any length of time, to be beholden to an external light source, to forego the easy digital access of Kindle and iPhone and iPad. Anyway, I labored through it, asking myself more than once: who even reads this stuff? Judging by the $0.01 price tag on Amazon, I suspect I am in rare company indeed.

How many books will you read in your life? 1,000? 100? Should a dry recapitulation of a man you’ve never heard of make the cut? It’s certainly hard to argue it should. And yet, every biography has at least one redeeming characteristic in common. A man’s life compressed into the span of a few hours is a fearful thing. To watch a person live and strive and grow old and die in a week is, well, utterly disquieting.

Niebuhr was a giant, a restless, inconsistent, grasping giant. The gospel he preached as a young man bears almost no resemblance to the message of his later years. He was not unintelligent. He worked harder, certainly, than any man I’ve ever known personally. Yet in the end… in the end I almost pitied him. His body fell apart, his mind betrayed him. He began to be forgotten even before he died. Today, he may as well not have existed.

I say almost, however, for Niebuhr’s life was exquisitely Eccliastical. Mighty exertions, mixed results, ultimate accountability to God alone.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever … All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

We’ve spent the last two years homeschooling (or maybe unschooling) our oldest daughter. During that time, we’ve had a philosophy but not, strictly speaking, a curriculum. We’ve poked and prodded various resources (Common Core, Home Learning Year by Year), but I wanted to stay as far away from a traditional curriculum as possible. After all, what’s the point of schooling at home if you just do the same things you would be doing at school anyway?

Before we began teaching Abby at home, I outlined a few principles I believed should guide whatever methodology and material we chose:

  1. It is not necessary to have “class” every day. Every day, however, is an opportunity to learn.
  2. Encourage curiosity, problem-solving, and self-directed learning.
  3. Reading, writing, and math are the only essential subjects.
  4. Allow for creativity and non-traditional subjects: drawing, cooking, music, nature, programming, economics.
  5. Two hours per student per day is more than enough to cover all necessary subjects.
  6. iPad and iPhone apps can be used to provide additional practice.
  7. The Khan Academy app and website can be used for math practice. Videos can be watched on the app, the computer, or the TV.
  8. Notes should be taken each day tracking the student’s progress.

In summary, schooling ought to emphasize the acquisition of fundamental tools and the joy of learning. While it may sometimes be difficult, it should not be onerous. Resources are plentiful and often cheap or free. Tracking progress allows the student and the instructor to be confident their time has been well spent.

This list has served us well. I might make a few modifications, but, generally speaking, the experience of teaching kindergarten and first grade concepts has only reinforced my belief that teaching a child does not require a advanced education or training.

Abby is at grade-level (at least) in reading, writing, and arithmetic. She’s been able to spend her time as she sees fit. We discuss anything and everything. We pull in resources on an as-needed basis. We’ve played games, borrowed books from the library, watched documentaries and YouTube videos on dozens of subjects (we love The Kid Should See This), dug into educational iPad apps (my favorite iPad apps and other resources for homeschoolers), watched more PBS Kids content than you would believe possible, read books together, built things, drew things, cooked things, observed things, and generally blurred the line as much as possible between parenting and teaching.

Truthfully, this approach has not been entirely by design. Having younger children around makes the traditional stationary, repetitive classroom experience a bit difficult to pull off. Combine that with my skepticism around finding a perfect curriculum and you get a family closer to unschooling than homeschooling. While this free-form approach appeals to me, I have to confess that a) I’m not our children’s primary educator and b) it does leave a little something to be desired in terms of rigor. Unless I happened across the perfect curriculum, however, I wasn’t just going to abandon my ideas about what at-home education should look like.

And then I saw The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. Oh, what’s that? I think it might just be the perfect curriculum.

The Wise/Bauer homeschooling approach (the book is co-written by Susan and her mom, Jessie) introduces several components that were not on my list but immmediately appealed to me and confirmed many deep-seated convictions. First, schooling is broken up into three distinct stages—Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric—each encompassing four years. Each stage logically builds on the previous stage and provides a structure to guide the entire schooling experience. Students acquire fundamentals in the grammar stage, begin to apply them in the logic stage, and bring them to fruition in the rhetoric stage. These stages were not invented by the authors. They correspond to a classical understanding of education used for thousands of years.

The second appealing aspect of The Well-Trained Mind is the cohesion, harmony, and reinforcement of all subjects. Each stage covers the same material but in greater depth. Each year within a stage corresponds to a specific period of history: ancient history, medieval history, renaissance history, and modern history. Reading, writing, history, science, and art each revolve around these historical periods. First grade, for example, focuses on the years 5000 B.C. through 400 A.D. Second grade moves on to the A.D. 400–1600 period. When the student reaches the fifth grade level, the sequence resets to ancient history but jumps a degree of difficulty. Biology, chemistry, physics, reading, math, etc. all move beyond basic understanding to a more intermediate stage, but the trip through time remains the same, allowing for familiarity and excitement as students get to revisit previously studied material.

The third and clinching concept is Wise and Bauer’s emphasis on original sources and an ecclectic, comprehensive reading list. Rather than prescribe a pedestrian string of textbooks, Wise and Bauer recommend compelling books full of experiments, narrative, and substance. They consistently exhort parents to expect the most from their children rather than the least, to provide material that is above grade level, but above all to remain flexible, patient, and to nurture children’s fundamental appetite to discover and make sense of the world around them.

The Well-Trained Mind is a fantastic, possibly indispensable resource for anyone considering or actively homeschooling children. It provides a complete educational plan built on classical principles while preserving and celebrating the fundamental ideals of homeschooling: freedom, flexibility, and love of learning.

If you’re curious about the black hole between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance, I’ve got just the book for you: The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer. Concise, approachable, thorough.