“If the Challenge Guide has the weekly assignments in it, what do I do all summer?” asked a mom at a Parent Practicum. She had homeschooled her children for years before participating in Classical Conversations and she had recently decided to enroll her youngest child in Challenge I. Previously, she spent her summers writing daily and weekly lesson plans and now, she suddenly found herself not knowing what to do.
An experienced Challenge director turned to her and said with a big smile, “You just got a big promotion!”
Now, instead of the secretarial duty of putting dates and page numbers together on a calendar, she gets to study in the summer; she will read great literature in preparation for some great discussions with her son. They will be reading American literature and discussing the theme of freedom. They will discuss the American Revolution through Johnny Tremain, explore Alaska through The Call of the Wild, struggle with the issues of truth and forgiveness in The Scarlet Letter, and experience Civil War battles through The Red Badge of Courage.
She may also spend time with Shakespeare in preparation for reading The Taming of the Shrew, and she may enjoy reading Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? in preparation for economics seminar. She may watch videos on math on Classical Conversations Connected, too, which will help her explain math concepts as her son learns them in the Saxon Math book.
She may also want to read books on classical Christian education, like The Soul of Science, or Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, to further help her in her new role of guiding discussions, and mentoring her son.
I have often heard Leigh Bortins say, “We are reclaiming the education of two generations.” At first, with only young children in my house, I was learning lots of great facts along with them, but now that I am studying Challenge level books with my children, I can really feel the difference. I am not a pitcher pouring information into them. I am a fellow learner, learning alongside them. And it is transformative.
“Is this the proper role of a parent educator?” you may be asking yourself. I say resoundingly, “Yes!”
I get excited about the discoveries I make, and I share that excitement. I model wrestling through the issues: I watch videos on the internet or seek out experts. I ask questions and I take my student along with me as we discover together. I do not write all the papers, but I have great discussions as we put all possible proofs on the board before he chooses a thesis for a paper. Often, I do not have all the answers. We have to talk it through together. For example, I do not know whether Hester Prynne was right to keep the identity of her fellow adulterer a secret or not. I do not know whether the civil war soldier was brave because he acted bravely or whether he acted bravely because he was brave. These are issues we need to discuss together. In wrestling through the discussion, we will both learn more about freedom, truth, and bravery, and perhaps we will learn how to wisely judge right from wrong.
Another idea that I have been pondering this summer is that as classical educators, we need to be concerned with teaching virtue. I attended the Society for Classical Learning Conference on this topic. Evidently, there is not a worksheet on virtue. What we discovered is that virtue is conveyed from teacher (or parent) to student by mentoring and engaging in discussions. Of course, I had to ask, “How does the teacher become virtuous?” The road to becoming virtuous teachers involves worship with the Lord and fellowship with other teachers who also desire to become virtuous.
This means adding another few items on my job description: worship and fellowship with my colleagues (other parents on the journey of classical Christian education). If I did not consider this a part of my job description, it would be difficult to make time for a dinner with Challenge I parents, but now I can make it a priority and I am sure my students and I will benefit from my time of study and fellowship on the road to becoming virtuous and spreading virtue among my children and my students.