If you are like me, you have heard “classical education” tossed around a lot but aren’t too certain what exactly that means. I was interested in reviewing The Conversation by Leigh A. Bortins because Mrs. Bortins is a leading authority in classical education. Published through
Classical Conversations, The Conversation is the third book in the series on classical education by the founder of Classical Conversations.
While we are still a bit away from high school level work, I feel as though it is not too early to begin preparing and learning all I can about it. In reading this book, I was looking for information not only on what to study but how to learn and study. Mrs. Bortins’ book delivers, bringing excitement and encouragement.
In a quick review, there is a reminder about the two previous stages of learning in classical education, prior to the rhetoric stage, which is what this book focuses on. Stage 1 is the grammar stage which is all about words and naming. Stage 2 is called dialectic and is all about questions and relationships. Then they hit stage 3 – the rhetoric stage. At this stage, learning is all about conversations and expressing truth. This means they are ready to take what they know and apply it, or share it, or teach it to others. To help us really understand what all this means, Mrs. Bortins spends a great deal of time showing us through specific examples what rhetoric looks like in each discipline area.
One discussion I really liked, one that helped me understand more about what was going to happen in the application of the disciplines, focused around a quote by Aristotle:
Rhetoric is the use of knowledge and understanding to perceive wisdom, pursue virtue, and proclaim truth.
On pp. 39-42, Mrs. Bortins breaks this quote into pieces and uses it to explain the rhetoric phase in a way I understood.
- The use of knowledge and understanding…
- To pursue wisdom…
- pursue virtue…
- and proclaim truth.
The inclusion of Biblical truths and illustrations was a great encouragement to me, helped me connect with the purposes Mrs. Bortins was writing about, and made me want to keep reading.
Aristotle used five canons to teach and these five canons are the backbone of the application of rhetoric to academic disciplines. These five canons are:
Each of these five canons are used to show application within each of the academic discipline areas. Mrs. Bortins give specific examples of each of these canons in academics and the art of learning. These are found in part two of the book, titled The Rhetoric Arts. These are extremely practical applications in the following discipline areas:
- Speech And Debate
- Government and Economics
- Latin and Foreign Languages
- Fine Arts
Each area is covered with specific ideas and plans. Each canon is applied clearly so that, as an educator, you can easily transfer the examples and knowledge to your student and his/her topic of work.
A couple of notes:
- We are not classical homeschoolers. We are much more eclectic and literature based. I think it would be beneficial for me to go back and read Mrs. Bortins’ previous books: The Core and The Question.
- This was a tough read for me. It didn’t fly by and I had to work hard to understand some of it. This drives back to the point before this – I haven’t read her previous works which might have made this easier to understand.
- This was encouraging for me. Even if we don’t choose this style of education for high school, there are a lot of fantastic ideas for study and projects in this book.
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