Over the past few weeks, I've been reading The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins and distributed by the Classical Conversations bookstore.
I have heard of Classical Conversations for years, but we haven't had a good opportunity to be part of an actual Classical Conversations group. I must confess that I spent some of my reading time feeling a bit jealous of the educational opportunities the Bortins children have had by participating in such a rich environment. Thankfully I realized that it was pointless to yearn for a Classical Conversations group to be part of when there just isn't one in our area. When I changed my jealous mindset, I found that this book had a lot to offer all homeschooling parents.
The first section of the book was a wonderfully encouraging discussion of the joys of homeschooling students through the high school years. Leigh Bortin's intent was to empower parents to approach their child's high school years with the same confidence that they had years earlier when they were reading picture books and teaching basic addition. High school grades can be an exciting time of learning alongside my children, not a time for me to be afraid of.
Much of the rest of the book looks at traditional high school subjects and shows how they would fit into a classical model of education. According to classical educators, high school students have moved past the grammar (memorization) stage and the dialectic (questioning) stage. Generally speaking, teenagers are in the rhetoric stage -- a time when they are searching for truth and then arguing to defend what they see as truth. Conversations with parents (or other interested adults) can guide children as they start to piece together what they are currently studying and what they've learned in years past. Discussions of fine arts topics such as music history can lead into discussions of architecture, world history, and even math or science. Any news article should be evaluated based on worldviews, biases, cultural influences, etc. High school students need adult interactions to make these sorts of connections. High schoolers also need parents who will challenge them to form an educated opinion about topics and then to logically (and convincingly) defend their stance. Even in homeschool families that don't follow a strict classical approach, these conversations are still important for students to develop into mature learners.
When my children were younger, I was an integral part of every school day. I taught phonics rules, helped them memorize multiplication tables, and read history stories aloud to them. As they grew, they gradually became more independent with their studies. Leigh A. Bortins reminded me that my older students still need me, and perhaps need me even more than I already thought. High schoolers need to think deeply about what they are studying, realize the connections between seemingly separate subjects, form opinions, and perhaps most importantly, learn to defend their thoughts about those matters. My older students need me to help lead them along these paths of thinking and learning. They need me to spend as much time with them now as they did when they were younger. They need me to make time for them in our homeschooling days and devote in to meaningful conversations about what they are learning.
The Conversation is a perfect book to encourage and challenge parents who are homeschooling high school students -- those who are following a classical model of education and those who aren't. In fact, this book was so meaningful for me that I've put the two earlier books in the series, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education and The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of Classical Education, on my wish list. As Lauren enters fourth grade, I see her making the transition between the grammar and dialectic stages of learning. Although I don't consider myself a classical educator and don't necessarily choose the same subjects as many classical educators, I can still use Leigh Bortins's insights into the way children learn and the best ways for homeschool parents to teach and interact with their children.
The Conversation is suitable for parents that are already homeschooling high school students as well as parents of middle school student who will have students reaching the rhetoric stage of development in the next few years. It is currently on sale for $12 (normally $16).