Are you a Foundations student’s parent who is wondering what the future of your child’s education in Classical Conversations’ programs looks like? Or perhaps you are a Challenge parent with some questions about the educational vision of the middle school and high school level programs? If the question “What’s up with Challenge” applies to you, then I hope this article will provide some answers.
Let’s begin by remembering that Classical Conversations focuses on the classical Trivium: the grammar-stage skills focus on the acquisition of information (through training the brain to retain factual knowledge), dialectic skills revolve around learning how to understand well (primarily through asking lots of good questions), and rhetoric skills are directed towards using information and understanding effectively and wisely in real life (through public presentation and action in community).
Foundations is primarily grammar-focused. That is, while gently introducing our children to dialectic activities such as brief discussions and rhetoric activities such as short presentations, Foundations really hones in on the accumulation of facts and information. The bridge to the Challenge programs is built in the Essentials program which is not just about mastering English grammar, but is also about ushering students into the dialectic through inquiry into the nature of language itself. Then, the Challenge programs appropriately progress from a grammar emphasis to a dialectic focus (understanding the information, primarily through the means of group conversation in seminars) and finally to a fully rhetorical focus (applying that understanding in real-life situations through public presentations in seminars).
Of course, Challenge students continue to build on their grammar—they keep gaining information and working on grammar skills such as memorization and research. After all, this is in large part what their Foundations experience was designed for: to help them gain skills needed to keep building upon the body of facts and information (all those ‘pegs’!) that they practiced every week as they moved through the Foundations years. These form the undergirding, the ‘foundation,’ for students to begin their journey into deeper learning through the dialectic and into richer expression of what they have learned through rhetoric.
It is important to recognize that just like the Foundations students who are working on mastering information, Challenge students are doing this same thing at home in their daily homeschooling! They are gathering grammar at home as they delve into the seminar strands that explore math (the Logic strand); literature and writing (the Exposition and Composition strand); science (the Research strand); Latin (the Grammar strand); argumentation, economics, and history (the Debate strand); and Informal and Formal Logic, drama, philosophy, theology, and apologetics (the Rhetoric strand).
But—and this is the important part!—these older students receive an added and very special blessing: they are being given an extraordinary and rather rare opportunity in the weekly Challenge seminars to actively participate in dialectic and rhetoric activities within community. (I say this is extraordinary because very few other educational programs, even at the college level, actually promote, let alone actively facilitate, this kind of learning.)
The students who participate in this kind of educational environment will be blessed with substantial abilities with respect to knowledge, understanding, and wisdom which will be applicable to every area of their adult lives no matter what their futures hold in store. They will have learned not just how to acquire the information they need in life (the grammar), but they will have learned how to think well, communicate well, and lead themselves and others well (the dialectic and rhetoric).
Dialectic and rhetoric, by their very nature, flourish in community—in interaction with others. That is why they take center-stage in the Challenge programs! While the daily learning about the subjects in the six strands continues in each student’s individual home school during the week, in seminars once a week students are invited and encouraged to discuss, share, explore, inquire, problem-solve, offer explanations, lead and cultivate their own learning, and actively influence the learning that takes place in the larger class group.
It doesn’t get more ‘real’ than that!
In fact, isn’t this exactly what we are called to do in our homes, churches, vocations, towns, nations, and, ultimately, in the world? We must interact, communicate, build, nurture, and sustain. That is the commandment given to Adam to go forth and steward Creation. Therefore, as Christians we are also especially called to bless others and the world in which we live; we are called to be salt and light.
Classical Conversations provides the opportunity for students to learn and live this calling; to raise up students who know God and who are able to make Him known so that they are blessed to be a blessing!
It is vital to see that while all Classical Conversations students of all ages and in all programs are practicing the classical skills of the Trivium (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric), it is the nature of the community day activities which makes a wonderfully important advance between the Foundations and Challenge programs:
- In Foundations, the community day is devoted to modeling for parents and students how to go about daily learning in their home schools. Most present-day educational programs stop at that point (at the accumulation of facts specifically related to fragmented areas of study) and in recent years have not even been doing an efficacious job at that task.
- In Classical Conversations’ Challenge programs, however, while students continue the work of mastering subject content at home, the community day proceeds to being devoted to giving students a tremendous opportunity to engage in dialectic through integration and conversation, and to giving students the ‘floor’ with respect to the opportunity to be rhetorical with all that they are learning.
The Challenge programs—building beautifully one upon the other from a dialectic emphasis to a rhetorical one culminating in the capstone of the program, Challenge IV (in which all the students are leading in all aspects of their own learning as well as that of their peers)—offers students an exceptional chance to receive a special kind of education, one that is not only well suited to the biblical worldview, but is designed to bring about fruition in it.
So, what’s up with Challenge? My answer is that the classical, Christian education of the Challenge programs cultivates students who know how to govern; they have experienced stewardship over themselves and their own learning, and through humility and love of neighbor actively applied within weekly seminar activities, these students learn what it means to be stewards who will bless their communities. Informed, capable, truth-seeking, discerning, appreciative of beauty, equipped to communicate effectively in many ways, and truly caring towards their neighbors, Classical Conversations graduates will not only live well, they will lead well.