Thursday June 01, 2017
In 1947, renowned author and scholar Dorothy Sayers gave a lecture at Oxford challenging educators to think about learning in a different way. She asked, “Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt…but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves?” Sayers answered her own question with a practical solution, a return to the classical model of education. Teach just three skills, grammar, dialectic and rhetoric, utilize the best of literature, science and math resources, and students will develop the ability to learn anything. Thus the foundation for Classical Conversations (CC), an international homeschool support organization, led locally by Deanna Plourde in her South Burlington home. According to Plourde, the South Burlington CC group will be meeting for its tenth year this fall and the Plourde family has been involved from the beginning.
Recently, eight students in Plourde’s CC group were awarded the distinction of Memory Master. Through a yearlong preparation, the students memorize over 400 pieces of information including a 161-point timeline, history, science, Latin, geometric formulas and algebraic laws, English grammar definitions, and over 100 geographical locations throughout the world. Noting that the Memory Masters testing process is approximately four weeks, Plourde explains, “First the student must proof through the material with a parent with three or fewer errors per subject area. If they succeed in this first round, they may then advance to the second round, in which another adult will proof the entirety of the material and the student must have no more than one error per subject. Thirdly, the student must test with their CC tutor, and they may not have any errors in their responses, save ones they might automatically self-correct. The third proofing is really the meat of the testing.” The final step to earn the title of Memory Master is an abbreviated, random-order test in which the student must answer quickly, confidently, and correctly.
As a homeschool parent herself, currently Plourde is directing the initiative’s Challenge A program, which caters to students around 12 to 14 years of age in the sixth through eighth grade levels. Meanwhile, Plourde says CC hosts free three-day “parent practicums” around the country. Attendees study a similar range of subjects, training parents to learn as they prepare to teach their children the same skills. Plourde says, “Each program of CC is designed to reinforce the parent’s role as primary teacher.” This year’s free practicum will be held at Christ Memorial Church in Williston, June 6 through 8. The theme is “Discovering the Art of Rhetoric.”