The first thing Matt Spanier said to me when I started to interview him as a Tapestry alumni was this: “I can’t conceive of a program that would have prepared me better for college than Tapesty did.”
I blinked. “Well, okay then!”
Matt Spanier, son of Lampstand Learning Center director Barb Spanier, is pictured here (in the red shirt) with his younger brothers David and Timothy.
Matt became part of one of the first online Tapestry co-ops while he was still a Dialectic student. He is now a Senior at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. This university is small, Christian, and focused on classical liberal arts. It ranks in the prestigious Tier One according to a national rating, and the median SAT score of entering students is 1270.
Matt is a Philosophy major and a bright student. He says his classmates are also smart people. Yet, Matt feels, he came to college better-prepared than anybody he knows there. He told me several times how strongly he feels that Tapestry made all the difference in his ability to sail smoothly through some classes where others struggle. As Matt began to tell me his story, I realized that he was prepared to defend that thesis to the hilt!
I don’t know all the homeschool curricula out there, but from my interactions with other students at both community college and a private liberal arts university, I can’t imagine a high school program that would have prepared me personally better than Tapestry did. First of all, I think it helped me to achieve a high score (about 750 out of 800) on the reading part of the SAT. (By the way, my math score was just “okay.”) I also think you can see the difference it made in that, when I took college placement tests for dual enrollment in my senior year of high school, I got perfect scores on reading, writing, and critical thinking.
The biggest ways in which Tapestry prepared me over and above the usual were things I saw clearly only after I came to University. The most black-and-white way of measuring the difference is that I’ve gotten easy A’s in three humanities courses. They aren’t easy courses. In one of them the average grade is a “D,” and that’s not because my fellow classmates aren’t smart people. So I could see right away that I was ahead of the curve in my preparation–but it took time to see why.
Discussion skills are something that I think a lot of students don’t get, that you do get through Tapestry. By “discussion skills” I know I could mean a lot of things: what I mean here is the ability to define your terms and articulate your reasons for defining them the way you do. Let me give an example. One of my University professors asked on the first day of class how we would define freedom, and I remembered from discussions in Tapestry a definition of freedom that we used. After five or six other students gave answers that she rejected for various reasons, I gave her a bit of a sketch on how I would define freedom from my Tapestry discussions. My professor was amazed.
I feel like a lot of kids grow up using basic terms like freedom, but don’t really know how to define it and articulate reasons for why they would define it that way. I think Tapestry is quite the opposite: in this curriculum, you learn how define, articulate, and give reasons for what you believe.
I think the freedom thing is an example of the Socratic method at work in Tapestry, which is so effective. Tapestrydoes use some lecture (and I think some lecture is always necessary), but the bulk of it is, “Read the material. Okay, now you have all the information you need. Now, let me ask you questions and walk you through the process of thinking about that information.” It teaches you how to think, rather than just telling you what to think.
I have a professor who says that one of the chief skills you learn from the study of history is learning what is important and what’s not important. I thinks Tapestry helps you to learn how to do that mental sorting of “important” and “not important” really well, both in history in literature. A lot of people get that either in college or not at all, but to start getting it in high school is excellent.
I feel that 100% of kids at normal mental development levels in high school can do the kinds of analysis that I’ve been describing, whether in literature or in learning to define terms and articulate reasons for their thinking. I’ve done a little teaching of 13-14 year old students, and they are definitely capable of it. I also know that for myself, and I believe for some of my peers in high school, we actually loved learning how to analyze and define. Not only could we do them, but they actually motivated our school lives, because it was so interesting to learn how and engage ideas!
I did the Philosophy elective in Tapestry and it has helped me plenty with my major (which is Philosophy), because it gave me an overview of the basic ideas of all the major philosophers throughout history, and taught me to understand them from their own perspectives.
Let me stop a minute to talk about the “from their own perspectives” part, because that’s important. One of the things I really appreciate about Tapestry is that, while it doesn’t claim to be any sort of elite apologetics course of study, it does a really solid job of introducing you to all the major worldviews and teaching you not just what to believe about them, but how to evaluate them biblically for yourself. Tapestry exemplifies an approach that is fair and kind, but also absolutely committed to Scripture. It doesn’t ever set up a straw man of a worldview [a “straw man” is a portrayal that describes only the most extreme and negative traits, without presenting any positive traits]. Tapestry gives every worldview a fair shake, explaining it in a way that those who hold that worldview would agree is what they believe.
At the same time, Tapestry isn’t afraid to test each worldview against Scripture and stand by what God says. In my college experiences so far I have at times found myself talking to Buddhists and Muslims, agnostics and atheists. I think that Tapestry has prepared me to handle these situations with more understanding and yet also with a clear idea of where the differences are and why they matter. Of course, this also helps me to understand better what I believe, and encourages me to study the Bible for myself to deepen my understanding of it.
To get back to Philosophy after my aside about straw men and other worldviews. . . It’s huge to have that basic acquaintance with the philosophers and worldviews as you are going in. It’s also huge to have them all on a basic timeline and to know where they fit into history, partly because you understand their ideas a lot better if you know the historical environment to which they are responding. To really understand somebody’s ideas, you have to understand the times in which they are writing. Most people in my philosophy classes don’t have that.
Honestly, here at college I miss the integration of subjects (history, literature, church history, philosophy, etc.) that I had in Tapestry. You learn more when you’re studying one time period from the perspectives of several different subjects, rather than experiencing gaps in, or skewed interpretations of, what you know about any one subject because you’re not aware of what else was going on in other subjects during the same period.
Speaking of integrated subjects, I really love the way literary analysis is helping me across the board. The tools I learned in Tapestry are enabling me to take apart and unpack all kinds of books that I didn’t read in Tapestry, and of course for all the books I did read in Tapestry (which so far includes the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, among others), it’s been really easy to write good papers on them.
I’ve found that a lot of the literary terminology that I learned in Tapestry translates perfectly to college, and my professors are pleased and surprised that I know how to use those terms. “Experiment in living” is the one term that I think of as being more unique to Tapestry literature, but the concept is certainly there in my Literature classes, so when I use the term with even a little explanation, everybody gets it. I also think that “experiment in living” is one of the most powerful tools you can have for literary analysis, because it takes you straight to the heart of any given story’s themes, so I’m really glad that I already know how to use it.
That’s why I feel that Tapestry has prepared me so well for college, not just in Philosophy but in all my humanities classes: History, Literature, etc. But in closing, I do want to say a word about Mom. She was great. She encouraged me in everything and helped me get my work done. She had a vision for our education that we, being young, didn’t. I think a lot of us, when we were home schooled in high school, don’t hear many people saying “this is good,” because being homeschooled still isn’t exactly normal, especially in high school. So you can begin to wonder if this education is a good idea. But then you get to college and you realize that it was so good—and I think that is true for Tapestry especially.
So there you go. That’s me “defining and articulating reasons” for why I think Tapestry did the best possible job of preparing me for college!
Whether or not Matt is right that Tapestry was the best possible preparation for college, this is his story and he’s sticking to it! I know that Tapestry is not for every student or for every family. Also, not all stories of journeying with Tapestry are success stories. Yet, I think it is good to pass along encouragement for those who believe that God is calling them to this journey withTapestry for the present, from those who did enjoy and find enrichment in their own journey!