Instructor Profile: Danielle Bennette Dukes

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Danielle Bennette Dukes’ new course, “Teaching with a Golden Thread: Modeling an Integrated Christian and Classical Homeschool,” has just been released.

Danielle has deep roots in New Orleans, where she still lives with her husband and where she has raised and homeschooled six children. Her love of reading was awoken early, encouraged by the nuns who taught at the parochial Catholic school she attended in the city. Sister Ignatius, the school librarian, told the young reader that most of the books currently published would not stand the test of time. This prompted her to begin looking for lists of great books, books that would last.

As a an education major at Florida A&M University, she became interested in a diverse array of educational philosophies: Hirsch’s core knowledge curriculum; the Italian pedagoge Maria Montessori and related democratic movements in education; and outdoor education and play-based approaches to learning. When it came time to educate her own children, Danielle was drawn to the freedom of homeschooling. Although she appreciated her own Catholic school background, she felt that homeschooling would allow her to raise her children according to the ideas that inspired her.

Classical education at its best, Danielle believes, is both ennobling and freeing. It has allowed her and her children to see the world as full of grace, even in unexpected places. Reading classic texts with care and attention is a kind of tutelage for seeing the stamp of divinity everywhere — to see the image of God in the person behind the book, to suspend and reserve judgement in order to really listen to what the author is saying. When recently reading the autobiography of the racial jutsice activist Malcolm X, for example, her children were able to draw connections with classic texts that enabled them to see in his story redemption and reconciliation, to understand the dynamic of virtue and vice. Having recently read the Divine Comedy, her children pointed out that Malcom X was a pilgrim in an inferno of anger and frustration, placed there without a guide by the racial injustice he encountered. The kind of openness engendered by a classical education focused on the liberal arts, and rooted in the truth of Christ, is the opposite of ideology, which can’t contain the depth of the human story.

Danielle believes that one of the elements missing from contemporary classical education is a sense of place. Seeing this, several years ago she decided to begin looking at history through the advice contained in a West African proverb: “you have to look to the past with your feet planted forward.” Beginning in her own place, New Orleans, a city in which many threads of American history are woven together, she and her children began following some of the threads of the city’s rich, colorful tapestry to see where they might lead. What they discovered took them to some surprising places: the movement of peoples to New Orleans from West Africa, Ireland, Germany, France, and Spain, were all related to complex historical events in Africa and Europe: the transatlantic slave trade, the Reformation and counter-Reformation, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the economic troubles of early modern Germany, and so forth. They discovered all of these connections simply by starting with the local Catholic parishes that dotted the city’s landscape.

To illustrate what she hopes parents and teachers will receive from her course, Danielle relates the story of a difficult homeschooling day and what resulted when she recognized the call of inspiration. On a day when things weren’t going according to plan, she sent all six of her children outside to draw the tree in their front yard. When some of them came back five minutes later with a perfunctory sketch, she encouraged them to look closer, to attend more carefully to what was in front of them. The whole rest of that year, they returned over and over again to the same tree. As they explored it deeper, the complexity of that organism began unfolding for them. It was the most fruitful year of scientific study they have ever had.

It is the freedom to follow the call of beauty in the world — to step away from curricula and plans when inspiration strikes, holding fast to the deeper impulses that moved us to homeschool in the first place — that Danielle wants to communicate in her new course, “Teaching with a Golden Thread.”

Danielle Bennette Dukes has homeschool six children from Kindergarten onward, with her oldest graduating and going on to college and adult life. She graduated with a degree in education from Florida A&M University before deciding with her husband, Dion Dukes, to homeschool their future children. In addition to this calling as a home educator, Danielle has run a family real estate business, co-founded Nyansa Classical Community with Angel Adams Parham, completed the CiRCE Instiutute’s Apprenticeship for classical teachers and served as a school consultant. She is also a voracious reader with a deep and growing library including (just as a few examples) Catholic spiritual classics, Wendell Berry, guides to classical education, world history and African American culture.


Note: Guest bloggers share their own thoughts as classical educators and learners and do not represent or Classical Academic Press. If you are interested in writing guest blog content, please contact us with your name, connection to classical education, and ideas for a blog post.

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