I remember an incident that occurred when my children were somewhat younger; I happened upon two of them in an argument. One child was angry with the other because a toy had been claimed that he wanted. Rather than resort to diplomatic measures, such as no-fly zones and trade embargoes, to encourage the sibling to return the toy, my son began yelling at the top of his lungs, demanding its return. I stepped in and demanded that he stop yelling, and I told him that yelling was not the way to resolve issues—all at the top of my own lungs. With my words, my rhetoric, I taught him that yelling, just because one is angry, is an improper response. With my actions, the volume of my voice, I taught him that yelling was the exact response demanded by one’s anger.
At that moment, I did not realize the discrepancy between my words and my actions, and I certainly would have tried to justify my actions had I been confronted with it. It was not until sometime later, when a pastor mentioned such discrepancies in parents as they discipline their children, that I was able to think back on my own actions and recognize what I had been doing and promoting.
Similar discrepancies may be creeping into the way we educate our children. We encourage our children to learn all subjects and learn them well. We consciously make the decision to have our children taught by subject specialists because we believe each specialist will have a greater grasp of the individual subject than a generalist will. We set standards and communicate to our children that they must do well in math, literature, science, history, logic, and Latin, and we provide experts for them in each of these subjects; experts who will develop them to their greatest potential within each subject. Do our words and our actions agree with one another?
Our words are clearly telling our children that we want them to master all subjects, but what about our actions? If I put a specialist teacher in front of my child for each of the subjects, what is that telling my child? A specialist teacher breeds confusion in the young learner. First, the specialist is only teaching and promoting one subject. In doing so, he is indicating that he believes his subject to be the most important. Second, the integration of subjects becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the specialist teacher who does not know what is being taught in the other classes. Because of this, in the subconscious mind of the child, the specialist teacher is confirming that his subject is the most important. Third, because the specialist teacher only presents one subject, he is indicating to the child that normal adults only master one subject. Is this not the very thing we do not want our children growing up to believe? Are we not teaching them with our words that we want them to learn all subjects well?
Thus, the generalist comes in to save the day or, rather, to help us match our words to the way we teach. The generalist, perhaps better referred to as the master teacher, teaches all subjects. This demonstrates to the child, that the child not only should learn all subjects well, but can learn all subjects well. After all, the master teacher has done it, and proves it by teaching all subjects. He also shows—through a tremendous display of beauty—that no one subject is more important than another; he is able to beautifully integrate all subjects throughout the day. While studying chemistry, he can remind them of their history lesson in the days of Boyle, then weave in Latin by reminding the students how scientific journals had, at one point, been published only in Latin, but then—to reach the masses—began being published in the vulgar tongue of each nation. He can use math and logic as he works through balancing chemical equations. He can do all of this because he was right there learning all of these things with them, through each and every subject.
This is why Classical Conversations encourages the use of a single, master teacher for all subjects through the Challenge years. Just as we expected Foundations students to master the memory work for all subjects, we continue to expect Challenge students to master all subjects. By using a master teacher, we make our actions match our words, and we show that the very thing we are expecting the children to do, the tutor (and parents!) is modeling for them. Tutors and parents are learning, mastering, and teaching every subject while they are asking the students to learn, master, and someday teach every subject.
Through this model, we are not just raising a chemist, but we are raising a chemist who can communicate beautifully using the analogies of literature and the beauty of words from his Latin training. We are not just raising a reader, but we are raising a reader who can follow the logic and orderly thought of the mathematician. We tend to believe the falsehood that the specialists will take our child deeper into each subject, only to find that our child has latched on to just one subject (often because of the charisma of a specific specialist teacher) and gone deeper into only that subject. Actually, what we will find is that the integration of the subjects will often take the child more deeply into all subjects, which is the very thing we want for them. Just as our children need consistency from us as parents, they need consistency from us as educators. Classical Conversations hopes to add to and model this consistency for parents by showing you that you can be a master teacher who raises master teachers.