Notes from the Classical Conversations Practicum 2014- Part 1

I attended the Classical Conversations Practicum in Easton, CT this year and I took copious notes.  Copious is a word I learned at the practicum, actually. Someone said to me, “You are a copious note-taker like me.” I smiled and nodded and pretended to know what copious meant. Then I heard the speaker say, “You want to create copiousness in your home school.” I know the only reason I recognized the word copiousness was because I had heard the word copious right before that. Later, I looked it up. Copious means “abundant” and it can also mean “fullness, as of thoughts or ideas.” So I have abundant notes, notes full of thoughts and ideas. I’d like to record and process some of those thoughts and ideas here.  This may take a while.

My notes begin-

Many parents quit homeschooling their kids once they get to middle/ high school because the academics get scary and because they can’t motivate their children to do the work anymore.

Parents with younger children can pick a high school subject and begin working through it on their own now. That way Algebra, Chemistry, or Latin won’t be so intimidating when we take our kids through it.

Parents of younger students should work on their parenting skills because they will need to be able to lead their kids as they get older.  Parenting resources by Paul Tripp are excellent for this. In particular, the speaker recommended his book Age of Opportunity.

Note: I had never heard of Paul Tripp before, but apparently, I should have. When I mentioned his name to my husband, I found out Tripp was a speaker and/or author of resources that were used at Biblical Counseling conferences my husband and I attended in college.

My practicum notes continue-

The Classical model of education begins with the end in mind. C.S. Lewis wrote the first Narnia books last.  Leigh Bortins started Classical Conversations with the Challenge levels and then built the Essentials and Foundations programs based on what students in Challenge would need to succeed when they got there.

So when people ask, “Why so much memorization?” in Foundations, parents can answer, “So students will have a detailed world map, timeline, vital math, history, and science facts stored in their brain to use to reason with when they are in Challenge levels.

Beginning with the end in mind is the best way to ensure you will arrive at your desired destination. So ask, “What do I want my children to be capable of at the end of high school?” and begin working a plan to get to that goal.”

The Trivium, or the three stages of learning- grammar, dialectic, rhetoric- teaches kids how to learn. It also follows the stages they go through as they grow up.

During their early years, children love to memorize. They love repetition.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” -GK Chesterton

Note: As the speaker talked about the fact that children like to memorize, it occurred to me that this is true of all children, not just the home schooled ones (i.e. that Frozen song that everyone knows). Classical parents recognize the fact that children memorize and are strategic about what they give their children to retain (i.e. the timeline song.)

As children grow, they become more (and more and more and more) dialectic (depending their propensity to argue. My daughter is well into the dialectic stage.)  They begin to reason topics out, look for truth on both sides, and pick a side to argue.  Classical Conversations gives kids rich content to argue about and students will study books like The Fallacy Detective that give guidelines for arguing well and fairly, etc.

The speaker said the kids in the early Challenge levels will read The Hiding Place (one my all-time favorite books) and argue about whether or not people in the Ten Boom family should have lied to the Nazis in order to help the Jews.  (That was one of the most interesting parts of the story, in my opinion, the fact that one sister lied and the other would not lie, not matter what. Both sisters were righteous women who wanted to help the Jews escape the Nazis.) Adults are like that. Even Christians don’t always agree.  What great practice this gives pre-teens and teens for real life!

Note: It also occurred to me that all children at this stage of life begin to argue, not just the home schooled ones. But, unfortunately, a lot of children are just arguing about how they should be allowed to buy a Lady Gaga CD with their own money or go to the mall with their friends alone. My kids will probably want to go to the mall alone, too, but God willing, we will still be in CC and they will have other, better things to argue about. And maybe all their practice in thinking will make it easier for to reason with them as to why they won’t be allowed to go to the mall alone until they are out of college.  (I’m being sarcastic.)

The last stage of learning is rhetoric. In this stage, you can communicate about your subject matter in public, apply your subject to create something useful, teach others about it, etc. Anyone who is a master at a subject has gone through all three levels of learning-grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric- whether or not they did so strategically. Obviously, no one can be called a master if they haven’t even mastered the basic grammar of their subject.

Note: That’s when it occurred to me that this is why I love Les Mills. I teach group fitness classes part-time and I have recently pursued a certification to teach an excellent weight-lifting class called Bodypump.  I have to learn every Bodypump routine by heart.  Knowing the routines by heart allows me to focus on other, more important things like changing my tone of voice to fit the tone of the music or intensity of the workout. Or I can focus on the people in my classes, making eye contact with them, watching their form, coaching them they way they need to be coached, etc. Basically, by expecting their instructors to know the material by heart, Les Mills turns their group fitness instructors into fitness rhetoricians!  It was incredible to realize that the Trivium applies to everything we learn, even teaching group fitness classes!

This has to be all for now, folks. I know, I know.  But I’ve got copious amounts of laundry to do. I’ll have to process some more of my practicum notes here later.


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