I'm so pleased to bring you words from a new friend. Amy is a fellow Classical Conversations parent whose daughter just completed Challenge A. I know you will appreciate her insight and wisdom - I sure have!
She has so wonderfully put into words what I have been thinking for the past several months. In fact, I think we had parallel journeys through the Classical Conversations Challenge program.
At my church, our pastor regularly prepares a ‘series’ about something. He’s got a gift for making scripture incredibly practical and applicable. My daughter, Laine, still spends our worship hour in her middle school classroom, and rarely sits in the service with my husband and me. But a few weeks went by where she chose to come sit with us, and I think it was a little bit providential (and a little bit stomach ache, head ache, and wanting to use her dad’s shoulder as a pillow).
She sat in on a few weeks of a series called “Cold Case Christianity.” It featured an actual homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace – an atheist turned Christian after using his investigative skills to dig into the gospels, and see if there was plausibility in them from a scientific point of view. My daughter was, at this time, contemplating the topic for her final paper for her rhetoric class. She learned so much in the service that she decided to use the transcripts and video as research elements for a paper that focused on 3 main proofs that she could intelligently believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When I consider what Laine was able to accomplish at the end of her first Challenge year, I actually feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Literal gushy feelings of pride, but moreover, a ‘happy tears’ kind of excitement for how far this year has stretched her academically, and personally. We are fairly new to Classical Conversations, having started in Challenge A. We have no Foundations or Essentials experience, and when we began, I had serious doubts that Laine would be able to manage the course load. I wasn’t sure she could keep up to the level of work Challenge A placed on her. I worried it might completely ruin our ability to homeschool, knowing that if this year had been a disaster, she may have hated homeschooling, and wanted to go back to public school.
The opposite thing happened. CC has changed what we do here in our homeschool in a million ways! And they are all for the better.
In true classical form, our weeks were a bit repetitive. Every day, we would drill and review. Countries and their capitals, Latin rules and vocabulary, and various other facts and definitions. This repetitiveness exploded my daughters previous hatred of memorization. For her Rhetoric final exam, I insisted she memorize what I feel are the most important facts she has ever learned – something CC calls “catechism.” They are facts about creation, evolution, scientists, biology, scripture… and she learned every single one.
The Challenge program is often abandoned by parents who think it may be too difficult, or take too much time to accomplish. We did not find this to be the case. In fact, my daughter struggles with ADD, and some other learning and processing differences, so if we can do it, I know you can too! It brought a tremendous amount of focus to our days at home. There was no guessing or piecing together curriculum. Each day was clearly laid out for us, and we didn’t have to argue about it. That’s not to say we never argued… but we had a clear focus of where we needed to be when community day rolled around. And my child did not want to arrive unprepared.
This is because of the positive peer pressure CC facilitates. Kids have a tutor, who is also a bit like a mentor to them. My daughter genuinely loved her tutor and wanted to make her proud. She also wanted to be keeping up with the other kids in her class, and this was more than enough motivation for her to keep her nose in the books, and try her best. No matter how much our kiddos love us, when they become tweens and teens, they have very little desire to impress us. If we want our kids to produce quality work, we’ve got to give them a great reason to do it. A classroom of their peers and a tutor they respect is a great place to start!
Yes, the Challenge levels are hard. It’s right there in the name! But our kids are up for a challenge. Not every child will be able to master every element of the Challenge program. It’s okay to tailor the program a bit to best suit your child. Challenge levels, especially in high school, are asking more of our kids than the public system and other homeschool curriculum would. Even the brightest students will be challenged by the curriculum. So naturally, any success will be accompanied by a genuine sense of accomplishment.
As you can see, CC’s Challenge Program can easily deliver some elements that your current homeschool may be missing – a significant challenge, some positive peer pressure (and a bonus of regular social interaction), a mentor and tutor who will pour into your son or daughter love and knowledge, and a sense of accomplishment they may not receive in another learning environment.
But here is the thing that was most missing from my homeschool before last year (please don’t judge me!): a sense of pointing everything we learned about, back to our creator, and allowing my daughter to question her faith and seek answers willingly, and intellectually.
It wasn’t that we didn’t read the Bible, or talk about God’s love for us. We even used Christian curriculum before CC. But something special happened in Challenge A that I could never have replicated in my family room alone. My daughter, and her friends, openly conversed about their doubts, their skepticism, and their difficulties meshing what they see in the world with what they learn in Sunday School.
I want my daughter to love Jesus more than I want her to get A’s, or go to University, or marry and have children. I want her to know that his love is unconditional. Living in an urban center like the greater NYC area, we are bombarded with varying opinions (to put it mildly!) on what it means to be a Christian, and what constitutes a Christian lifestyle. Kids are influenced by much more than what their parents and their church going elders say. And the constant attachment to media means concepts like ‘spirituality,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘religion’ are thrown back into their faces daily, painting these things as cheap and intolerant.
In our house, we refuse to fear the world, or the judgement of others. But we also refuse to be defined solely by our denomination. We want to be the salt and light of the world, and that means sharpening our minds and tongues and so, I will not hide Laine under a rock and protect her from the world. But teaching a child to defend themselves during the battle is no easy task. And I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing for awhile.
CC’s moto is, “To know God, and make him known.” Read those words over a few times. To know God – that is not a simple task. It’s not common that our prayer is to really know God. We are much too selfish in our prayers. And to make him known – to be able to articulate who he is! What does that look like to our tweens and teens? What an incredible gift to give them.
J. Warner Wallace, the homicide detective, said this of our youth:
“Young people want answers. They are ready to roll up their sleeves and prepare themselves. They want their own doubts answered and they want to respond to the skeptics in their lives. It’s time for the Church to raise up a generation of young people who are equipped with a Biblical worldview and can articulate this worldview with strength and conviction.”
We need to be doing more to equip our children. I believe that my generation was not equipped to deal with the skepticism we would face in the real world. Many of us evangelicals sang songs about Jesus living in our hearts, and that having faith, and ‘feeling’ his presence was enough – and faith is enough! It saves us! But I believe God left more evidence of himself here on this earth than his spirit alone, and we can harness science and history, logic and rhetoric, to instill in our children a faith that is also based on facts and intellect.
That is what our youth need in this millennium, when they are watching Vines or browsing Instagram. Intelligent rebuttals, and knowledge that is also convincing evidence of their faith, clearly seen through creation.
This is the gift CC has given Laine. A grasp of the English language like never before, sure. An ability to translate Latin, yes. More knowledge about the human body and nature, of course. But the ability to use these things to defend her faith to the world, and to even battle her own doubts and fears? That is a priceless gift that will be with her long after she forgets what Francesco Redi discovered, or what the migratory path of a monarch butterfly is.
I believe that the Challenge program will provide her with the skills she needs to seek God – to know him – and make him known. And that has completely revolutionized our homeschool, more than I could have hoped or imagined.