“I love livestock,” says Bauer, 44. “There’s something about animals: You just feed and water and clean them, and then they are content.”
The farm offers Bauer a respite from battles she has fought with her detractors in America’s increasingly diverse home-schooling community.
The English professor, historian, author of 18 books and holder of a doctorate in American studies from the nearby College of William & Mary is one of the forces behind America’s burgeoning home-schooling movement, which is growing about 7 percent each year. The National Home Education Research Institute estimates that there were 2.04 million home-schooled children in the United States as of 2010, about 4 percent of the nation’s school-age population. That’s almost double the 1.2 million home-schooled children in 2000. A June article in U.S. News & World Report said that home-schooled children graduate from college at higher rates than their peers, earn higher GPAs and are better socialized than most high school students.
Bauer is best known among home-schoolers for “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home” — writtenwith her mother, Jessie Wise, a former teacher — which has sold more than half a million copies since its first publication in 1999. Classical education focuses on the great books of Western civilization, Latin, and lessons about morality and virtue, and is based on the medieval European curriculum that divided learning into the “trivium”: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The concept of fusing classical education into modern teaching was popularized by a 1947 essay by British author Dorothy Sayers called “The Lost Tools of Learning.” But it was Bauer and her mother who provided parents with a template.
“Susan is very well known and popular,” says Anne Miller, president of the Home Educators Association of Virginia. “When she wrote ‘The Well-Trained Mind,’ no one had put feet to Dorothy Sayers’s ideas.”
“Well-Trained Mind” was followed by “The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease,” a series of textbooks that covers writing skills for first- through fourth-graders and has sold 100,000 copies. “The Story of the World,” a children’s world history series published in four volumes, has sold more than 900,000 copies — not only to home-schooling parents but also to private schools, public charter schools and parents of public-school children who wish to supplement their kids’ education.
Bauer also teaches English at William & Mary and runs her own tiny publishing house, Peace Hill Press, which distributes her books and lectures as well as those of a few other authors. She has just completed the third book of a multi-volume world history that encompasses 235,000 words, 808 pages, with a 45-page bibliography, an effort aimed more at adults than at home-schooled students. In 11 years, she has covered the ancient world through the Renaissance. She gestures toward a sculpture of a sinking Titanic on her desk. “That is a picture of my working life,” she jokes. “My ability to get this world history project done made me feel as though I was always sinking.”