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To learn more about Classical Conversations, go to www.classicalconversations.com.
“The classical model requires students to practice rhetorical skills such as debate, oral presentations, written exposition, protocol and performance. The dialectic skills require students to discuss current events, philosophy and literature, and to encourage others to examine their premises and conclusions within an argument.”
Source: Classical Conversations
Leah Gilreath barely can wrap her tiny mouth around all four syllables of Massachusetts, but she knows its capital is Boston.
She also can tell you that the cranium, vertebrae, ribs and sternum make up the axial skeleton. And with little prompting, she will tell you the preposition “in” is spelled the same in Latin as it is in English.
Leah is 4 years old.
Every Monday, Leah, along with her mother, Amanda, attends Classical Conversations, a weekly supplemental program for home-schoolers and their parents. Focusing on the classical style of teaching, teacher-mentors, often one of the students’ parents, provide a full day of instruction for 35 children ages 4 to 14.
Director Jennifer Butler describes Classical Conversations, which costs between $288 and $420 for a 12-13 week half-day program, as “a track for parents to run on” for the rest of the week.
“We’re not a drop-off program,” she said. “We don’t replace or take over the role of the parent-teacher, so that relationship stays intact.”
Classical Conversations is a nationwide network of classical, Christian communities, and the new group meeting at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Harrison is the first ever in the Chattanooga area, Mrs. Butler said. New communities also formed this year in Knoxville and Nashville.
Unlike a typical home-school group, parents are encouraged to attend the weekly sessions with their children and participate in instruction.
The programs focus on classical instruction, which emphasizes the Latin curriculum of grammar, logic and rhetoric. Mrs. Butler said the method teaches children how to learn about any subject, placing an emphasis on memorization, recitation and presentation.
“This curriculum is so different than how you’re taught in traditional schools,” Mrs. Butler said. “We believe it’s the best way to learn. It’s the way our brains were made.”
Classical Conversations isn’t a school, Mrs. Butler said. Parents who already have a home-school curriculum for their children can use the program as a supplement, she said.
“They don’t have to change their plan at all to join us. The parents just feel equipped,” she said. “Some parents come here for the environment. Some are here for the academic rigor.”
Pastor and patent attorney Andrew Huffman spends his Mondays teaching two of his eight children in the high school classroom at the church. During the second week of classes, he put on a slight British accent and began reading Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” in character.
Mr. Huffman said Classical Conversations is better than some of the more traditional home-school programs, where parents use tutors to teach the classes they themselves struggle with or don’t have time to teach their children.
“With Classical Conversations, everything is under one roof,” he said. “This gives us a little additional structure for the rest of the week.”
Tutor-mentor Connie Swann teaches a group of 9- and 10-year-olds every Monday, including her daughter, Alyssa. She, too, said she appreciates the structure provided by a group of like-minded home-school parents.
“It’s great motivation for us and the kids — it keeps you going from week to week,” she said.
Mrs. Butler’s program can handle 64 students, she said, and next year she expects Classical Conversations to have a waiting list.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...