Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Conversation - A Schoolhouse Crew Review

Review Crew
In June I learned that Classical Conversations would be sending me a copy of The Conversation, by Leigh A. Bortins, to read and review." target="_blank">
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I had asked to receive this product because it seemed like a perfect fit for me. I had heard of Classical Conversations, but did not know much about the organization. This book is geared towards parents who are home schooling through high school, so that is a good fit for me. The teaching style of The Conversation is a classical education, and I lean that direction.

The Conversation arrived as I was preparing to go to Boy Scout Camp with my son. I am an Assistant Scout Master, but still I figured I would have plenty of time to read during this week. The boys go off to their Merit Badge classes each day, each hour, and I'd hang out at the camp site in my camp chair and read my book.

The book did not look too daunting -- 5-1/4" X 8" X 3/4", and 267 pages, including the index at the end. So I drove the boys to camp, got settled in and began reading.

Well, if you look closely at the picture of the tent, the wood floor in my tent is wet. "Why?" you might ask? Start with rain EVERY day for seven days, and add that the tent leaks. Everything at camp that week had a moist feel to it -- even the book. There were times I was afraid to try to turn pages. Add to that some interpersonal drama between boy scouts at the camp site, and suffice it to say I put the book away to work on when I got home. I had found myself unable to focus, and The Conversation is a book that will benefit you most if you can concentrate on its content while you read.

So, got home, got back to normal routine, and began reading The Conversation each day I could for as long as I could. Very soon I was reading with a high lighter ever handy, as you see tucked into the book in the photo at the top. Initially, as I read, I was overwhelmed, wondering how I would ever remember all this information and how I could give this book a positive review when I felt like I'd jumped into the deep end of a pool only to find I couldn't swim.

However, before I knew it I had begun to float. Little by little, with gentle repetition, the author carefully builds concept upon concept, while reinforcing information already introduced. So, I won't do this perfectly, and I can't possibly give away too much (because the book contains way too much to make that possible), but here is what I am learning (present-tense because I intend to re-read to pick up what I missed the first time).

Classical education is a style of education that goes as far back as Plato and Socrates. It generally involves teaching your children Latin, and guiding them through their learning years following a specific method. I'm not prepared to define it more completely here. 

Classical education, for those of you who do not know, is broken into three stages: 
  1. The grammar stage is a stage where students are learning definitions and meanings, and where their memorization skills are strong and should be maximized to build a strong foundation for their education. For parents of students in this stage, Bortins wrote The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education.
  2. The dialectic stage, the 2nd state, is when students may appear argumentative but are actually asking questions, and gaining, examining and analyzing facts. Parents can prepare themselves for this stage by reading The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of a Classical Education, by the same author.
  3. The rhetoric stage, the main focus of The Conversation, is for young adults who are ready to progress from asking questions to making arguments, in the more formal sense, which one might think of as formal debate.
As I worked my way through the initial information, I felt grieved and unprepared, not having created the good foundation recommended during the grammar years, and not having nurtured my son's transition in the dialectic years. I didn't teach him Latin. I did not do well helping my son develop well in the area of habits. I felt there was no way for me to progress to a purer classical education now, during his rhetoric years.

Leigh A. Bortins, though, walked me back from the edge, presenting additional information in a non-condemning way and giving me hope. With care, she systematically walked me through the rhetoric stage, and she did it beautifully.

First, after explaining what rhetoric is and the goals of a Christian classical education, she then explained the "canons" of the rhetoric stage and walked through how the canons of rhetoric would be applied to each area of education. I loved one quote, that "Rhetoric is the use of knowledge and understanding to perceive wisdom, pursue virtue, and proclaim truth."

The canons of the rhetoric stage are:
  1. Invention ("What should I say?");
  2. Arrangement ("In what order should I say it?");
  3. Elocution ("How should I say it?");
  4. Memory ("How should memory inform my presentation?"); and
  5. Delivery ("How should I present this truth in speech and action?")
Leigh Bortins then shows how to apply the five canons of rhetoric to these subject areas of your student's education:
  • Reading;
  • Speech and Debate;
  • Writing;
  • Science;
  • Math;
  • Government and Economics;
  • History;
  • Latin and Foreign Languages;
  • Fine Arts
The author concludes the conversation with a discussion about graduation and what it should mean in the life of your student. Does learning now come to its conclusion, or have you developed a life-long learner? Will your student go to college? How will your child get into college? --And so many more questions. After a chapter reassuring you, the parent-teacher, that your well-educated child will be able to get into college if he or she wishes to, the author presents an epilogue in which she discusses her own experience looking back and looking ahead. She gives us one last glimpse into her own family's experiences.

The epilogue is followed by appendices with games, common rhetorical devices, resources, and parent responses (followed by an index).

As I prepared to write this review, I contemplated applying the five cannons of rhetoric to my writing. I had difficulty deciding whether I wanted to make this a persuasive argument or an informative piece. I couldn't decide, and I realized that I did not have the time to do the task justice to try to totally apply the book content to this review. Suffice it to say that my thinking has been persuaded to change as a result of the content of this book. I am excited for the new school year that is just around the corner, and for the three years I have left with my student. I also plan to purchase a copy of the previous book, The Question, and read it as well. I do not know the questions to ask to do this form of education justice, but I now know where to go.

I understand this form of education would be best applied in a "community" of learners, but find I am not yet ready to take that step. I need to see how this goes, coming into this style of education so late in my son's academic career. Maybe next year we can make that transition, if he is favorable. Otherwise we will just have to find audience for his educational output in our present community of Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, church youth group, neighborhood and family.

If you are still reading, thank you! I have loved this book, and I encourage you to order it and read it. It might be life changing!

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