Rhetoric: the art of using words effectively in speaking or writing (Webster’s New World Dictionary)
When we first started homeschooling, we read Debra Bell’s Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling and felt compelled to write down our vision for homeschooling our children.
Among other things, our family vision stated that at the end of fifteen to twenty years, we want our children to:
- love to learn and be able to teach themselves,
- be capable of testing what they are told instead of just believing it,
- be capable of communicating in a variety of social situations and [to] respond appropriately to others,
- be able to witness to others (“shine their lights” before others) and stand for their convictions, and
- be thoughtful and impact others in a great, positive way.
But, how would we get there? We had no real idea—no direction—just hopes and dreams of what could be.
When we first heard of Classical Conversations, we joined simply because we were seeking a way to connect with others after moving to a new state. It was not until later that I realized this was how we could get from Point A [first grade arithmetic and phonics] to Point B [the bullet points listed in the above photo]. We finally had an avenue for fulfilling our vision!
About the Challenge Program
In the article, “Spontaneous Integration: Jazz Music, Playwrights, and the Cold War” Jennifer Courtney asks, “What do Shakespeare, actors, newspapers, jazz, and communism all have in common?”
At one time, I would have stared blankly into space instead of actively seeking the answer to such a question. After all, I am not “naturally gifted” in any of these areas! But after a few years of classically educating my children myself, this question intrigues me. To read Jennifer’s eye-opening recollection of a day of learning in the Classical Conversations Challenge program reveals the fulfillment of a grand vision we are awaiting as we patiently sow seeds of Foundations (grammar stage) and Essentials (grammar and dialectic stages) in our children’s hearts and minds.
The Classical Conversations Challenge Program offers Socratic circles that provide us with the opportunity to hone the skills of rhetoric. The linked video of Matt Bianco with an extended group of Challenge students more effectively expresses these thoughts, because it is rhetoric in action.
For our children to choose to have these conversations with one another, to hone their skills in thinking and articulating their thoughts, to have mentors that encourage the dialectic discussion as students arrive at absolute truth—these are the skills that will fulfill our family’s vision for educating our children.
About a Classical Conversations Parent
Although I am not naturally gifted in the area of rhetoric (which is obvious from my writing), my rhetorical skills have been improved by the dialectic discussions I have pursued with other parents in our community. The local and global community and the overall vision and structure of Classical Conversations allow our family to strengthen our weaker areas as it exposes us to opportunities. Take, for instance, my current lack of artistic knowledge and skill. Even though I never pursued art, I am strengthening my artistic skills now that I am part of a community who says, “Anyone can learn anything and teach it to another.” That, in itself, does not mean I will ever become a master artist, but it does help me to more effectively express myself in that medium and to appreciate art and how it is used to glorify God. The same holds true for any subject because all subjects belong to God.
About Abraham Lincoln
Edward Everett, an American politician and orator of the 1800s, was the main speaker at Gettysburg whose two-hour oration preceded Abraham Lincoln’s brief Gettysburg Address.
In a letter to Lincoln following that famous event, Everett wrote, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”1
This gift of words, this ultimate gift of rhetoric, to say so much in the few words we speak, to be of service to others for the glory of God—this is what we are aiming for, is it not?
About the Power of Words
Our words have great impact on others. Our words matter.
In fact, does not the Bible boldly proclaim, “In the beginning was the Word….” and
“And God said…”?
How can I even wrap my mind around the importance of words?
The reason I am so devoted to Classical Conversations is not because of the memory work that has been chosen at this foundational stage of learning. It is not because of the curriculum we will use for the Challenge program. It is not even because I feel as though I now know more than I ever have in my entire life. It is because of the vision of where we are headed. It is this gift of rhetoric that I feel I lack.
It is this gift of rhetoric that I want my children to be equipped with as we launch them into the world.
It is this gift of rhetoric that reveals God’s love for others in ways beyond that which we can imagine.
This is what every member of our family is aiming for as we struggle to reclaim The Lost Tools of Learning2 in our own education as we attempt to teach and equip the next generation for God’s glory.
 Edward Everett papers, volume 120, letterbook, 23 October 1863-28 March 1884, page 27. http://www.masshist.org/database/1780
 Reprinted in Classical Christian Education Made Approachable