I am not a classical educator by any means, but I’m always looking for resources to learn more about homeschooling. As my oldest child is beginning to outgrow his elementary school years, I am also looking for resources to be a source of encouragement and instruction for me in the middle and high school stages that Firecracker is (far too quickly) growing into. So, when I received the opportunity to read and review Leigh A Bortins’ newest book, The Conversation: Challenging your Student with a Classical Education from Classical Conversations, I knew that it was a book that I wanted the opportunity to read.
About the Book
The Conversation is the third in Bortins’ series of books about the three stages of classical education. She has also written The Core (for elementary school) and The Question (for middle school). The Conversation is targeted at the ideas and parents of classically educating high school students. Although Bortins’ frequently references the other two books, those books are not necessary for understanding and enjoying The Conversation.
The Conversation is split into three main parts. These parts are called:
- High School at Home
- The Rhetorical Arts
The first part, High School at Home, begins by giving encouragement to parents. When those of us who have younger children homeschool, it’s often seen as cute and sweet. People even applaud it as a great way to bond with your young children and tell you that they wish they could do that. However, when those same people realize that your education of your child at home is going to extend all the way through high school, suddenly you are throwing off cultural mores and education in a way that is very avant-garde. Many parents, lacking proper encouragement, and fearing for their child’s future college and career hopes, find themselves sending their children to school because of that fear and loneliness. As Bortins says,
We are more comfortable duplicating our childhood school experience, instead of going with our initial instinct that institutional education is not the best method.
Bortins’ goal in this first section is to help equip parents and empower them to be full of confidence to stay the course of educating their children at home all the way through high school. In the second chapter of this part, Bortins’ defines what the rhetoric stage of classical education is, describes how it is different from the other stages, and she introduces the idea of viewing education for high schoolers through Aristotle’s five canons of rhetoric. These five canons are:
The second section of the book, which is the main section is called the rhetorical arts. In this section, Bortins goes through each individual subject area that an high school student would encounter, and she shows examples and gives ideas about how the five canons of rhetoric are presenting themselves in these subject areas. She also makes arguments for the study of particular disciplines, such as Latin, speech and debate that many parents may be debating whether or not to introduce to their children.
The final section is a section of appendices. I mention them because they include some great ideas for conversational games, some terms and definitions of common rhetorical devices and plenty of resources for additional reading for each area that Bortins covers in the book.
My Opinion on This Book
This is a really rich book, full of wonderful education for parents who are looking to home educate through the high school years. Although my methods and philosophies are not classical, I felt like I gained a wealth of information from the book on how to organize your work using the various canons of rhetoric in each subject. There are even handy checklists to help you get started thinking about each canon in each subject.
I will say that my favorite chapter in the rhetorical arts section ended up being the math chapter. On the surface, you might not think that would make sense, but as Bortins goes through the examples, I was able to clearly see what a large part of higher level math depends on your arrangement, organization and memory. I loved the examples of different students that she was tutoring who gave the same answer, but chose different methods and arrangements for coming to those answers. It was a beautiful example of who rhetoric should work, even if at the beginning of the chapter, I was skeptical that Bortins was going to be able to find all the canons of rhetoric within math.
This is worth some time to invest and read. If you’re classical, this will provide a framework of theory for the high school years. If you’re not classical, I think you will still find some of her examples, encouragement and ideas to be ones that will be beneficial to your homeschool. I think that, in the end, my favorite quote from this book is from the chapter on reading. Bortins opens up this chapter with the statement
As classical parents and educators, we sometimes forget that we really only need four things in order to educate someone. We need pencil, paper, good books and time for great conversations.
I couldn’t agree more. Many of the ideas in this book represent a more scaled back view of education, an education of great ideas and great conversations. I can’t think of any homeschool that wouldn’t welcome more of that.