Classical Conversations is an organization that provides a classical, Christian curriculum to homeschooling families, who then meet in Classical Conversations communities once a week to model that learning and engage in the conversations necessary to classical education. Classical education is the education of the medieval and ancient learners, emphasizing learning through three of the seven liberal arts: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric (the Trivium).
Through the art of grammar, students learn to memorize the basic facts that makeup a subject. In American history, for example, they would memorize the presidents and other dates and events that pertain to the subject. In science, they might memorize the steps of the scientific method and various scientists from history. While some may object to the practice of rote memorization, Classical Conversations families find that it is often the parents who dislike memorizing, not the young children. Young children, on the other hand, tend to enjoy the repetition of songs and chants that help them to learn the facts (think about how each of us learned the ABCs.)
Through the art of dialectic, students discuss the facts they’ve learned, comparing them and discovering the definitions, circumstances, and relationships that help them to realize the ideas and truths they communicate. Dialectic learning tends to be conversational, and the students enjoy the process of discovery that it promotes. They are more engaged than students who are forced to learn at the opposite end of a lecture.
Through the art of rhetoric, students learn to take the ideas and truths they’ve learned and practice the art of communicating them, persuasively, to an audience. They tend to practice essay-writing and public speaking so that they can develop an understanding of the subject that allows them to teach it to others.
Classical Conversations uses these arts through the education process and realizes the necessity of community for the practice of these arts, especially the arts of dialectic and rhetoric. Thus, families meet in community one day a week where their children break off into classes, led by a trained tutor, to practice these arts in small groups. Classical Conversations, then, emphasizes the best of homeschooling within a family unit and the best of learning in school-type community. Teaching methods and best practices are modeled by the tutor to the parents, as well as learning methods and best practices being modeled to the students by the tutor.
The program, moreover, asks that a single tutor teach all six subjects each week, so the ability to teach all subjects is modeled to the parents and the ability and willingness to learn all six subjects well is modeled to the students. The students, ultimately, learn their subjects well–as can be attested to by those who have completed the program–and learn that the expectation for them to learn all subjects well is a reasonable one. The single tutor model, furthermore, enables the students to fully integrate what they have learned in every subject.
In can be frustrating, though, for interested families to find a Classical Conversations community in their area. The program started just sixteen years ago in Winston-Salem, NC. While it has spread to all fifty states and fifteen countries, and has over 60,000 students enrolled, it is not available in every area. Interested families can find one, or start one, by visiting the website.