Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Review: The Conversation

We’ve now reached the halfway point in our homeschool journey (actually past half way if you consider kindergarten).  I hesitate to use the term “over the hump” because that implies an easy downhill slide to the end and with middle school and high school still ahead I think we’d all agree we’re not going to be coasting to graduation.  In fact several of my friends are too intimidated to continue teaching their kids at home.  That’s why I was thrilled with the opportunity to read The ConversationAuthor Leigh A. Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, has packed this book full of tips and encouragement for teaching you own high schooler.  The book went with me on vacation and while I waited for my son at scout meetings and baseball camp.

The opening chapter covers becoming Confident Parents.  This is for those people considering homeschool for the first time or homeschooling parents wondering if they will be able to teach high school.  A key issue is the role of parental authority and how it looks when dealing with teenagers.  Then the author answers a series of questions: How can I teach my kids when I didn’t do well in school? Can my kids get into college?  What if my child is gifted or has special needs?  I didn’t need convincing that I want to homeschool all through high school, still found some hidden gems buried in this chapter.

If you picked up on the “Classical” part of the vendor name, Bortins does use a classical approach to home education.   I was very thankful for Chapter Two--Rhetoric Defined chapter to help me understand the lingo of classical education.

You may be familiar (as I was) with the three stages: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.  While it’s true that students naturally progress through these stages as they age (young children spend their time learning the vocabulary of their language and naming things they see in their world , as they get older they begin asking questions to further their knowledge), any time they begin a new course of study they will begin back at the Grammar stage. 

New to me was a second list of classical terms having to do with the Five Canons of Rhetoric:

  1. Invention—Discover ideas, research, and plan.
  2. Arrangement—Arrange ideas in a logical and organized manner.
  3. Elocution—Express ideas in the style that is most persuasive in appealing to the audience.
  4. Memory—Add memorable features to your essay or speech. Commit ideas to memory.
  5. Delivery—Deliver ideas in oral or written form.

 The next nine chapters help you to understand what high school subjects look like in the classical approach. 

  • Reading
  • Speech & Debate
  • Writing
  • Science
  • Math
  • Government & Economics
  • History
  • Latin & Foreign Languages
  • Fine Arts

Each chapter has a similar format: there are articles (some republished from Classical Conversations Writer Circle), a chart on how the five canons apply to the particular subject, and examples of conversations (remember the title of the book?) that might take place between teacher and student. It was the sample conversations that intrigued me most. They are written like a script with ME being the author/teacher and a student name.  The teacher is asking open ended questions, guiding the students yet still forcing them to think for themselves—in other words, the Socratic Method in action.  It’s a meaningful dialogue.  This is what I dreamed of when I started homeschooling seven years ago.  How different from traditional schools where the teacher does all the talking.  How different from where everything is compartmentalized and separated by the ringing of bells on the hour.

Finally the book ends with a Graduation Conversation where the author shares the secret to college admissions and life after college.  Another hidden gem was the “Am I Too Late” section.  We haven’t been following a classic approach to school.  With all our review materials, we’re eclectic at best.  As I read though I want to take the path that will lead to the types of conversations I read in the previous chapters, but could I redirect our course at the half-way point?  That’s when I read the following….



While researching for this review I learned that Leigh A. Bortins  has a degree in Aerospace Engineering—she’s literally a rocket scientist!.   The Conversation helps you understand that you don’t have to be one to teach your high schoolers at home.

Classical Conversations Review

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