I’m going to ask you to trust me on this. It feels harder than it is, and what I am going to explain will sound too easy compared to what you are feeling, but it is this easy. First, let me share my background with you. I joined Classical Conversations with two children in Foundations and one in Challenge A. I now have a child entering Challenge B, another Challenge II, and the oldest will be part of Mandala Fellowship. I’m also helping to start the Orchard Apprenticeship, and some of that has to do with having defeated the Integration Monster.
What is the Integration Monster? Ultimately, it is a figment of our imaginations. It doesn’t exist, except where we’ve created it. When we’re in Foundations listening to people talk about the Challenge programs, we hear them talk about this idea of integration. They tell us how they integrate the subjects so that when our children are learning about math, they get them talking about its relationship to science, Latin, and history. When our children are learning about logic, they get them talking about its relationship to literature, philosophy, and chemistry. We hear all this and cannot begin to fathom how it is possible. We imagine integration is something that only special, very intelligent people can do. Then, we tell ourselves we are not in that class of people and thereby create an Integration Monster that we cannot defeat.
Why does the Integration Monster exist? It exists—in our imaginations—because we are convinced of it. This virtual existence makes it real enough to affect our thinking and behavior toward education and the education of our children, specifically. In that sense, it is a monster that must be defeated. It arises from the lack of integration in our own education. We didn’t experience it, so we can’t imagine knowing how to do it. Therefore, the special Integration Knights must be the ones to do it.
However, here’s what has really happened. It is modern education that has imposed segregation on education. Think of it this way, education was, historically, and is by nature, integrated. It took a lot of work, hard work, by John Dewey and others to make education not be integrated. They had to go out of their way to remove integration. First, they had to take God out of the picture and replace Him with the student. Then, they had to separate the students into classrooms from which they moved each hour—at the unnatural clanging of a bell—to another room designated for the teaching of a different subject. Waiting for them in each classroom was a new teacher, a specialist in that subject, who had no idea what they had just learned. The only possible way to integrate subjects was for the student to bring the other subjects with her into each classroom, but that wasn’t enough because the other students in each new room weren’t necessarily in the previous room with her. She was utterly confounded at every step where she might be inclined to integrate.
Why the Integration Monster doesn’t really exist. It doesn’t really exist because education, by its very nature and definition, doesn’t allow for it. Parents and students don’t create the integration in classical Christian education, it already exists! God, as the Author of all subjects and the Creator of all teachers and students, is the Integrator of them.
Classical Conversations doesn’t look for Integration Knights, special people to be tutors and directors, who can come into the community and create integration where none exists; Classical Conversations reorders education according to its nature so that anyone can be a director or tutor and experience and moderate the integration that is already there. This is exactly what these tutors and directors find when they take on the task.
Tools to expose the Integration Monster.The education that takes place in a Challenge program on community day is already so ordered that integration happens naturally. Some tutors may find it happening so much they want to slow the children down! Students sit in the same room with the same classmates all day, all experiencing the same lessons from the same master tutor. There is no bell, no arbitrary moving from classroom to classroom and from specialist teacher to specialist teacher. Their brains don’t stop thinking math because it is now 9:30, and start thinking history because the clock ticked over. These thoughts are all swimming together in the same beautiful mind, a mind that finds connections between all of this information quite naturally. You’ve experienced it. You’ve smelled the baking of cookies and not thought of the individual ingredients that make them up, but have instead thought of the time you sat on grandpa’s lap while he read you a story and grandma baked those same cookies. You made connections, seemingly unrelated, quite naturally. These Challenge children do the exact same thing.
Parents and tutors find it just as natural to integrate as the children do. They don’t need to be taught what the “points of integration” are; they arise naturally. Using the tools of rhetoric, such as the common topics, help even more. Briefly, the common topics are definition (who or what is the term being discussed), comparison (how are two terms alike and different), circumstance (what is going on elsewhere at the same time as the thing being discussed), relationship (what happened before and after the event), and authority (what do other people and resources say about it).
As parents, tutors, and students become more familiar and practiced with the common topics, they find themselves using them quite automatically in their thinking and discussions. When the child uses the topic of comparison, discussion of the assassination of Julius Caesar in literature class (from Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar) quite naturally draws a comparison to American history and John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It might seem forced now, but remember, the Challenge III student is studying both of those events within close proximity to each other. The connection will be quite natural in the course of their studies. Should they ask a question related to authority, they will quite naturally wonder what the Bible says about tyranny and assassination, or what philosopher X would say, or even another character from the same or another Shakespearean play. These questions beg students, parents, and tutors for further integration, and this integration occurs naturally because they’ve all been reading and studying the same things together for a long time.
The Integration Monster is imaginary. It is something we think is scary, but it is far from being so. You will actually have to work harder to keep the subjects from being integrated than you will to see them integrated. The next time you wake in the middle of the night with cold sweats and the dread of integration, tell yourself the same thing you tell your child, “The monster’s not real; there’s nothing under your bed or in your closet; see, when I turn the light on?” When you turn the light on and look at education as it actually is—rather than the way Dewey et al recreated it—you too will see that the monster’s not real. You too will see that integration already exists because God put it there, not because you had to.