Thursday, August 6, 2015

Practical Advice and Encouragement for Homeschooling High School {A Review of The Conversation}

I am not a classical education purist, nor do I have high school age children, so why on earth would I choose to review Leigh A. Bortin's The Conversation by Classical Conversations?


First, because I have heard nothing but fabulous things about
Classical Conversations from friends who use the program at home and in co-ops.  Second, because even if the classical education model is not a perfect fit for my family, it is an educational path that I respect and am inspired by and is, therefore, one I find myself reading up on regularly.  And, finally, because all around me I see homeschooling families suddenly enrolling their children in private, public or hybrid schools as their children hit high school age and, while I realize that one day my children may request to experience brick-and-mortar schools and my husband and I may acquiesce, I never want to send my kids to "regular school" simply because I have given up on educating that at home and in our community.

What is The Conversation?

The Conversation,  is a 267 page, soft cover book that is full to the brim with practical advice and encouragement for parents who wish to follow the home education path through high school, teaching their children to think critically and explore God-given gifts.  In it, Leigh A. Bortins looks back at 30 years of homeschooling and makes a convincing case for families to stay the course through high school, focusing themselves on the use of rich conversations that may help students:

  • get into college (if they wish to do that).
  • enliven academic content while connecting with family members
  • maintain accountability for good habits which make learning possible.
  • further develop a life long love of learning.
  • strengthen and unify family bonds
  • develop virtue 


Knowing this, it was a no-brainer for me to choose to read the book.  I thought it might cement a few ideas for me, personally, on how best to lay the foundations in our home that will continue to be built upon straight through high school and beyond, while also becoming a solid resource that  could recommend to others in the local and online homeschool communities I am a part of.

My thoughts were spot on. 
The Conversation has had me scrawling notes, mulling over ideas, discussing passages with local homechool friends and confirming that this is a book I will reread as my children get older.  It is also one that I already am recommending to those further along in their homeschool journeys than my family is

As the third book in a series of that includes The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education ad The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of Classical Education, The Conversation:  Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education focuses on the final stage of a classical educational model:  rhetoric.  It does not, however, jump right into this stage with no background.   Rather, it offers a quick primer on the classical education model overall, which, in the most simplistic terms, can be broken down into the following three stages:

  • grammar, a stage all about words and naming, where memorization is an important tool
  • dialectic, a stage all about questions and relationships, where we begin to examine and analyze the facts we have collected in the grammar stage, asking questions

  • rhetoric, a stage all abut conversations and expressing truth, where we act on knowledge gained about new subjects, write essays, present hypotheses, lead discussions and so forth

Then, it dives into detail on the rhetorical stage, focusing on how the fine art of conversation can be applied to:

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

and, most importantly, to developing students into virtuous adults that can go to college or pursue other avenues as they desire, never losing a love of learning.

Part One of the book opens with answers to questions parents might have regarding homeschooling highschool and does a dynamite job of instilling confidence in parents about this stage of education.  It also offers the aforementioned primer and defines rhetoric.

Part Two of the book is the longest and provides specific details, examples and thought-questions about how to apply the five canons of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, elocution, memory, and delivery, which are all described in the book) to each of the academic disciplines previously listed.  Of course, in doing so, it also continually points back to the purpose of education, not just the content or the how-to's, that is, to guide students to becoming virtuous adults! 


Part Three of the book includes four appendices:
  • five effective conversation games
  • common rhetorical devices (terms and definitions)
  • a comprehensive resource list aligned to the chapters of the book
  • candid parent responses to the questions, "What are your top concerns about homeschooling through high school?" and, "...what has been your greatest joy as a result of homeschooling through high school?"

There is also a helpful index.

A Worthwhile Read!

In the introduction to The Conversation, we hear about show the author's sons and young men like them she knows:

dance, sing, travel, play instruments, study rigorous subjects, work with their parents, and serve in the community... love Latin, physics, and literature.... take the SAT's, AP's and apply to college... quote Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas as well as Sherlock Homes, Bilbo, and Adele.... paint house, plant gardens, play Ultimate Frisbees... know the dames of the giants of history on whose backs we all stand.

And, depending on recent happenings in our own lives, might nod enthusiastically in acknowledgement of "me, too", smile with confidence thinking, "That's exactly what I want for my children!", or exhale disheartened, thinking, "That will never be my kid!"

Regardless of how we respond - with vigor or discouragement - as we continue reading, we discover that confidence can only build and disillusionment can be dispelled.  Teaching homeschool through high school is possibleGuiding students to positive, proactive and virtuous adult lives can be as easy as exercising the art of conversation.

In a logical, encouraging manner, Ms. Bortins whets our appetites for more in Part One of the book by addressing parent concerns and describing what rhetoric is.  Then, she makes practicing rhetoric through the high school years accessible through meaty chapters on Part Two, before she finally lays out dessert in the appendixes of Part Three.  Throughout all three parts, she offers a healthy serving of wisdom here, a delightfully tasty practical example there, and oodles of highlighter-worthy thoughts to satisfy both classical education purists and eclectic homeschoolers throughout.

Learn More

Classical Conversations Review

Classical Conversations Review 
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