Exactly four years ago in the restless discontent between winter and spring, my good friend Marcia persuaded me to consider becoming a tutor for a Challenge program in Classical Conversations. I was ready to chuck textbooks, to which I had moved out of reluctant necessity. All of my children would move to Classical Conversations in the fall, but this community had yet to establish a Challenge program for junior or senior high children. Another mother was ready to offer Challenge I and Marcia said the community would be happy with either Challenge A or Challenge B, my choice.
Challenge A intrigued me with its geography strand–after a year of that I would learn the countries and features of the world. Attractive. Students get a semester’s review of the Institute in Excellence writing program (my kids needed that) and practice it on Newbery books for the second semester. They do mini-reports in biology weekly in a nature journal. They began to study Latin. All this sounded good to me.
Challenge B offered science reports on important scientists as well as essays about Newbery literature. It had the kids discussing current events and participating in a mock trial. It included beginners Latin. Science fair, a mini Chemistry lesson, and a 10 week study of the controversy over how life began–these looked good to me. But the star of the program–logic–kept pulling me back into its orbit.
In the end I realized I could not let anyone else teach this program. Fact. I would be consumed with envy and regret if I passed up this opportunity to learn these things for myself.
So, in April I committed to preparing to become a Challenge B tutor. Since there was no training available in the north, the Challenge I tutor and I flew to Wilmington Delaware for training, where I met a veteran Ginny Franklin, who laid a solid foundation for my summer studies. Throughout the golden summer days I worked through Introductory Logic, drew countless documents off the portal for study, read several chapters of Soul of Science, looked into the current events topics, and advertised for students.
My five students and I had a wonderful-scary year, culminating in a mock trial played out in the living room of one of my families and a short story anthology I still show today as a model of what excellence students can achieve at this level.
During the school year I worked hard–maybe too hard–to know my material and a wide ring around it, putting in maybe 20 hours a week in preparation. Why so much? I was learning what it meant to be classical, studying the material, and researching websites to recommend to my families for their research. That first year I took debate way too seriously, not understanding at the time that I simply needed to get the students dialoguing. I also needn’t have done the research for the children, since the research skill was the very thing they needed to learn.
Community day more than paid off the work I invested every week. We thoroughly enjoyed our time together. I absolutely love working with young men and women; they are full of life, of life’s questions, of lively conversation. I could tell they felt enormously affirmed in class together, where their thoughts were taken seriously, where they were challenged to think seriously about what they studied.
Four years later I am still teaching at the same level. Living at a tutor has changed my life. The material I teach still fascinates me and I find connections everywhere I go. I am getting an education, learning everything I can about classical education and how its goal is to make the man whole, giving glory to God as His image-bearer. I have seen my own children develop in their thinking and writing, in their self-discipline and self-respect. Classical Conversations has helped my family achieve the goal I dreamed of but despaired of achieving: it prepared my children for the future by giving them the tools of learning so they would love to learn and be able to learn anything on their own.
It gives me great joy to be a Challenge tutor in Classical Conversations.