Saturday, January 2, 2016

"Just More School"/FAQ

Over the past couple of months, I've had the pleasure of having a lot of meaningful conversations about education, family life, and community involvement in reference to Classical Connections. And after explaining Classical Connections and what we do, I inevitably get a couple of the same questions. I thought it might be useful to address some of these frequently asked questions all together for anyone who's asked these for himself.  There are some short, simple answers to all of them (included with the questions) and one long, intertwined answer (written below). If you'll indulge me, I'll give you both. Or, make it a choose-your-own-adventure/answer and take what you need ;)



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1 "My son has a hard time sitting still, so I feel bad enrolling him in more school-- especially right after he's finished a long day of school. Will this be torture for him?”
No, it won't be torture. And he will probably surprisingly enjoy it. I think I can speak for every child and say that your kid definitely needs lots of playtime outside! One hour a week for some pretty significant academic developments may be ultimately worth the sacrifice, but you know your son best. We actually will spend some time most weeks outside doing nature and science study, so it's not a full hour inside sitting still.

2 "Will my son hate me for signing him up for more school? We already struggle with school as it is.”

Maybe. He's a kid. But it's designed to not feel like school. In order for this program to work and be effective, kids are going to have to want to do it, so that's what I've tried to make happen. During our summer camp, one boy who'd gotten in trouble in the morning begged his mom to not make him miss "reading camp" that afternoon. She tried not to guffaw and told him she'd take it under consideration. :)

3 "My son hates to read stuff for school. How much reading is involved?”

Lots/None. We do a lot of reading-- it is a language-intensive program, meaning that we work to develop language skills because those develop thinking skills, and ultimately, our goal is to develop thinkers and learners. However, all of the reading we do is together. We spend about 10 minutes each week reading a book together-- the teacher will read and students will take small turns reading as well. Our reading selection is thoughtful and purposeful and tends to engage students more than typical school selections. There isn't any extra mandated reading. Students receive some cool incentives (gift certificates to local stores and restaurants) for reading books from the Classical Connections list, but nobody has to do that. Kids who think they don't like reading will be surprised to realize how much reading they're actually doing in the program.

4 "Will my child love reading after this program?”

We aren't wizards. However, we hope to instill an appreciation for reading and to develop students who love to learn. But being a part of the program shows your child that you value this kind of learning and reading and that makes a big difference.

5 "Am I being a crazy mom by signing my kid up for extra educational stuff when she's in 1st or 2nd grade?!”

It depends. This definitely warrants a longer answer, so read long answer below, but as short as I can make this: if your main goal in signing up at this age is to improve scores and grades later on, then you might be crazy, but I feel bad being the one to tell you! Now, signing up at this age will improve scores and grades later on, but that's not the goal. The goal is to develop thinkers and learners. The sorts of skills needed to form and articulate arguments is dependent on understanding arguments. You can't understand an argument if you can't ask the right questions about it. And you can't ask the right questions about information if you don't have a firm foundation of knowledge. The first several years of the program are when you develop that foundational knowledge that you then use to develop later skills. If you skip out on the first several years, then yes, you can catch up, but it's a lot more work to do so.

6 "We have so many things on our plate. I don't know if I can add one more thing!”

Not a question, but I get it. It's a valuable thing to think about, and we should take it into consideration about far more things than we actually do. Absolutely do what works best for your family and what makes most sense for your son and daughter. The Lord has charged you with raising him, which includes protecting his time, his energy, and his youth. Let him be a kid. But here's why I think this is valuable. I want there to be a whole slew of young Christians armed with this kind of education. I want to send my sons and daughter into the world armed with the power to think for themselves and to be able to discern Truth from untruth. I want my sons and daughter to be surrounded by friends who think for themselves rather than follow what the rest of their generation is telling them to think and care about. I want them to think critically about what they learn in public school and to eventually be able to articulate an argument for why they may think and believe something different. I want my children to not just think differently, but to use that knowledge and understanding to make a difference.  These are learned skills, but they aren't being taught in public school. Teach these things to your kid. If you want to, but know you won't get around to it because of everything else on your plate, join us.


LONGER ANSWER(S):

Here's the deal: your son (or daughter) will learn things as if he were in school, but this isn't school. That alone makes a difference. He'll be doing the program with other kids (even better if he signs up with some buddies) and, as if that weren't enough for a young boy, there will be some fun and silly things mixed in with the learning. We will be up and down and moving around. We move from one subject to another before they can get bored, and the students talk a lot and engage with the material, so that kind of restless energy at the end of school has some sort of outlet and channel.  We definitely do some serious learning (more on this later), but when we did these same sorts of things over the summer at our summer camp, either the students didn't realize they were learning or they did and just really loved it. Another different element for the students is that they don't have the pressure of mandatory homework or the label of school. What normally happens to students is that when they do something just for fun, it tends to be more fun. Students end up being encouraged by all they learn because they're learning without the typical pressure of "schoolwork." When you add in reading incentives and prizes, the excitement only grows.  

This same phenomenon with the stigma of schoolwork applies to the stigma of reading. I can't promise that your son will magically start to love reading, but the program will instill a value of reading, which may ultimately turn into a love of reading. I think it's worth saying again here that the ultimate aim of the program is to develop thinkers and learners. We're not trying to develop students who read simply to pass the time, but students who read and think and share that knowledge with the world to make a difference for the Kingdom.

Now, the tricky thing here is adding another valuable thing to an already overloaded schedule. I'm not going to try to convince you that this is the most valuable thing you can do for your kids. We are inundated with great opportunities for our families and children, but I will say that this is not "just another thing". And, while it's a very academic program, that's not the ultimate aim of the program. We hope to capture the minds and hearts of the students enrolled and teach them how to think and how to learn. When a student knows how to think and how to learn, there is no limit for her! As Christians, we also have a very pointed commandment from the Lord to love Him with all of our hearts, minds, and soul.  We need to teach our young people how to use their minds, not only so they can discern Truth from untruth and make a difference in our culture and society, but also (and mainly) so they can love the Lord more fully and completely.  

For those who don't know my background, after teaching in classical and non-classical private schools, I tutored students from home. When high school seniors came to me for help with AP exams or SAT or college entrance essays, I could help improve some technical skills, but I could only build upon whatever foundation they had. It was difficult to help students articulate an argument for an essay when I had to spend so much time teaching how to write a complete sentence or explaining parts of speech. These basic foundational elements weren't learned (or taught) in elementary or junior high, so the more difficult skills in writing and forming arguments also weren't learned. I knew that the lessons needed to be learned much earlier in the educational development if there was to be any sort of difference made later. The contrast between students I had taught in the classical system and those taught via (new) traditional systems was quite stark. If there were some way to make up the difference while still embracing the public education system, then I wanted to find it. And here we are. I know what a student ought to be able to do at the end of his high school career, so we back that up and try to start at the beginning to achieve that goal. This isn't some sort of "tiger mom" goal where I simply want my kids to do well on the SAT and get scholarships to college. I think that may be a by-product, but even if it isn't, I will have taught my children how to think, how to learn, how to be agents of change rather than consumers of culture. 

I think this program is valuable for any kid in the public education system. Having it enables our family to be involved in our immediate community in a way that is both active and counter-cultural. I know it's hard to add another thing to your schedules, and I wouldn't want to convince anyone to overwhelm their schedules simply for the sake of another good opportunity. But if this is something that works for your children and your family, then we'd be honored to have you join us. Registration forms are available here on the website at the top right of the page.



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