Leigh A. Bortins, the founder of Classical Conversations has made it her mission to encourage other home educating parents and their students through a vast array of books, opportunities, and discussions. Recently I was given the privilege of reviewing Leigh’s newest book: The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education. Even though I would not consider myself a Classical Educator, I have gathered much knowledge, and a lot of encouragement, by reading from Leigh’s works and hearing her online conversations over the past few years. Regardless of whether or not you intend to Classically Educate your students, this latest book has a wealth of knowledge for those parents facing the High School years - it is definitely worth the read!
A few years ago I read one of Mrs. Bortin’s other books: The Core, and it helped share her heart for a Classical Christian Education. If you’re unsure if a Classical Education might be what you want your children to pursue, read it! The Core is a fabulous resource for any age. The Conversation, however, focuses on the joys and ever-widening experiences of educating your High School aged students. Having educated our girls at home (or on a field trip) from day one, I am always looking for encouragement to finish the journey well.
The Conversation varies from other books about Classical Education in two main ways. First, Leigh is careful to remind us that a Classical Education without Christ is in essence “gaining the whole world and losing our souls.” The second way that this book is unique is in how the topic of conversation, and what it can truly mean with High Schoolers, is covered. This 250+ page book is one part encouragement and looking at the broad picture of what High School can be like, two parts day to day instructions, and one part resources for High School and beyond.
In our home we do include elements of a Classical Education, and as you read this book you will want to include at least some of these elements in your home as well. Having High School aged students is a whole new world from having littles. It is even a far cry from having a junior higher. High School is a shift not only in age, but in maturity. These students are not just mentally capable of doing Algebra, they understand that each and every thing they study has some intrinsic value, even if they cannot yet specify that value today.
Leigh begins The Conversation with some cheerleading, and some basic definitions. She wants her readers to comprehend that the Rhetoric stage of learning “is all about conversations and expressing truth.” (pg 35) She defines Rhetoric as “the use of knowledge and understanding to perceive wisdom, pursue virtue, and proclaim truth.” (pg 38) I appreciated her words about the actual conversations that are now possible with your students. I find myself having deeper conversations with our girls (15 & 17) than ever before. While they are learning new things in some subjects, there are other subjects where they have a deeper understanding than ever before and wish to share it with others. This is how I truly know they have reached the rhetoric stage.
In the middle part of her book, Leigh shows us Aristotle’s five canons of rhetoric and how we can be helping our students to use those in each subject. This part is the longest, and meatiest, part of the book. I found myself underlining portions I wanted to be able to discuss with my friend who is a Classical Educator.
Lest you think you must be a genius to offer your children a Classical Education, I want to assure you that anyone can learn alongside their students. Leigh plainly states this in the section titled: Confident Parents. Part of this comes from not rushing through your child’s education. I have seen parents who want to “cover it all.” That is not realistic, and definitely not fun for your children. A child who loves learning grows up into a young adult who still loves to learn. As they marry and have their own families, the love of learning continues on. These two principles: having Christ, and loving to learn should be our goals for educating our children. Everything else should be secondary!
At the end of each chapter about the day to day teaching of the rhetoric stage - which is really just facilitating your student’s learning, not teaching them - Leigh includes a page with the specifics for the five canons of rhetoric for each stage. These charts can help you and your students no matter what teaching style you have chosen.
I have really enjoyed reading The Conversation. It is meaty reading, so plan for a section at at time, with some mulling over time in between. There are two statements Leigh makes that resonate with me. They are both in the section about math, although they could have been in any chapter and still have been as powerful. The second one is this: “The main thing I’ve noticed about all my friends who homeschool through adulthood is that they like talking with their children.” The first statement should resonate with all parents, whether they educate at home or not. She is talking about her students from her group, probably one of the Classical Conversations Challenge level groups, although it could be any children of any age. “They are made in the image of the living God, and nothing they do is common.” Did you catch that? Nothing a child does is common! These precious treasures that we are granted for a few years should always amaze us and make us think of our Heavenly Father. This reminds me of 3 John 1:4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (ESV)
I encourage you to read Leigh Bortin’s newest book, The Conversation for yourself. The standard price will be $16, but at the time of this review, it is on sale for $12. If your children are younger, or you’re new to the idea of a Classical Christian Education, you should also pick up Leigh’s other books: The Core, and The Question.
God is looking down on us as His creation, His children. I wonder if today when He thought about me He said “nothing she does is common.” What a comforting and encouraging thought!