I’ve recently decided to become a classical tutor for other people’s children. This fall, I will tutor a class of nine sixth-/seventh-graders, in the Classical Conversations program. Having participated last year (with my kids) as attendees, I have now fully embraced the program to the point of teaching it. But, let’s face it, this is not the easy thing to do.
What convinced me to ramp up my participation to this level? A few things, actually. First, we had a very good experience this past year. I love not only the classical model, but also the way it is presented through this organization. Second, I was desperate to find out who would be tutoring my oldest for the six, hour-long seminars each week. (My lovely program director kept repeating, “I don’t know, but I’m certain somebody great will turn up!” She would smile sweetly, probably to hide her secret – she intended it to be me.) Finally, I prayed about it and decided that my running (screaming) from this incredible and awesome burden (and opportunity) – it looked so hard – was reason enough for me to volunteer for it. I am thrilled and excited beyond belief to be doing it, and I am honored that other discerning parents have deemed me fit enough to advise them and their young children.
The class I’ll conduct is a seminar. The small group of students and tutor sitting around a table encourages interaction and discussion. It welcomes debate, challenging the students to contribute. You can’t fade into the scenery in a class of nine. But even more importantly, the class will be studying the classics – books that will also challenge the students to think, consider, and justify.
You may have read my previous posts expounding on the great benefits of the classical model, arguing for why we enlist the classics and classical language as a basis for instruction, but I daresay I have never put it as succinctly and beautifully as this other home schooling mom who also works for the Classical Conversations organization:
By reading the classics, we initiate children into adulthood. We train them to exercise their reason on fictional issues so that they may be able to exercise discernment and sound judgment in their own lives. Reading great books and entering the great conversation that has continued throughout history is a critical part of maturing to both the love of wisdom and the practice of virtue.
This quote came from an article by Jennifer Courtney as a response to another arguing that kids should simply read what they enjoy. That’s like offering kids exactly what they want for dinner – oh, and the green M&M’s are healthier, right? It reminds me of what our local superintendent of schools said: I’m not sure it’s even necessary for kids to learn long division, what with calculators. Then, by extrapolation, why learn anything at all? The reason we learn is to be able to make our own choices and decisions. Education is the basis for freedom. Without knowledge and reason, how can we be responsible citizens of this great country?
The new Common Core system does not even pretend to return to the stringent educational standards of yesteryear, but instead relaxes current standards even more. In California, one of the approved literature choices on the high school reading list is Invasive Plants of California. It’s, literally, a list – not exactly literature.
It might seem, to a discerning eye, that the government is acting against the interests of private liberty and individual responsibility. So, what of the citizens’ response to their government? Are we so very willing to give our freedoms away at the first offer of a food stamp and a band-aid? Have we entirely lost our reason? Although it may seem like the easy thing to do, allowing the government (ostensibly “the experts”) control of various aspects of our lives is, in fact, cowardice.
Sometimes, you have to do something that is hard simply because it is hard. Just for “practice.” But sometimes it’s hard because it’s the right thing to do. If you go to the gym and don’t lift the weights, you won’t get strong. Do we really want our children to be weak and stupid?
The classical model requires students to read challenging literature because that’s how they grow, learn to think, and hone their ability to reason. Teaching is actually the final stage of learning, according to the classical model, the opportunity to exercise one’s knowledge of the material. My seminar will encourage the students to challenge each other, and, yes, even me. That may prove difficult for me, but I know it’s the right thing to do, and I expect I’ll grow and gain insight in the process, right alongside my students.