Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Integrating All Knowledge Under Christ

I thought I'd post this here as an easy (although admittably impersonal) way to answer questions from friends and family members such as: what exactly is it you do on Fridays? (It may, in a round-about-way, also answer some questions such as: how come you're never on Facebook anymore, how come you never call, email, why are you so busy, and why is your house so messy whenever I come over?) Well people, here it is:

Classical Conversations' high school Challenge I program is a unique blend of socratic learning, hands-on fun, intense Latin study, in-depth literature discussions, philosophy, economics, government, debate, all blended into one learning extravaganza of a day, once a week. What makes this program unique is its emphasis that all knowledge and subjects relate to one another, even as they relate to Jesus Christ, Creator, Designer, Sustainer of all things. Academic subjects should not be studied in isolation from one another or from Christ, but students should be led to see connections everywhere. In order to make this possible, the students are together with one tutor for the whole day (with the exception that some students may move up or down one level for math.) CC's commitment to one tutor is what makes integration between the subjects possible.

Let me give you an example from yesterday's class. In American government, we were studying the historical background to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. constitution, namely the Magna Carta, and John Locke's ideas concerning the right to life, liberty, and property being innate human rights. An hour later, we were discussing the assigned chapters in Sophie's World, a novel about the history of the philosophy which gives students a broad overview of major philosophical ideas through the ages. Here we discussed John Locke again, this time in context of rationalism v. empiricism, The Enlightenment, Rousseau, and the importance that we are not tossed to and fro by the winds of doctrine (a student's observation!)

Earlier in the year, we discussed in philosophy how Aristotle is known as the first biologist, integrating philosophy with science. We see Latin popping up in both science, philosophy, and literature. Last Friday in philosophy, we studied Descartes's saying: "Cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am.) It was so exciting for my students to know what that means!

This sort of integration is only possible when they are with one tutor throughout the day. The traditional model, where the students go to the literature expert for lit class and then the history expert for history class, makes integration more difficult. I find myself often writing out my own discussion questions for our American Literature class rather than relying on the pre-written ones in their guide. This is because being with them for all subjects allows me to see the potential integration of the subjects in the novels we are reading. For example: what economic principles did Booker T. Washington live by? Can you see any similarities between Atticus's childrearing philosophy (from To Kill a Mockingbird) and Rousseau's ideas?

High school students are developmentally ready to formulate their own ideas, practice debating, think critically, and wrestle with complex systems of thought along with their peers. I've also found that students put more effort into their school work when they know they will be presenting in front of their peers. I have the students come to the board and demonstrate how to solve difficult algebra problems, encouraging them to state the math law that allows them to perform each operations. Each student reads their literature paper to the class.

For government, the students have to rewrite the constitution in their own words to demonstrate comprehension and I had them read portions of this to their peers. They translate Latin sentences for one another, perform science experiments, and engage in lots and lots of discussions.

But most important of all, we seek to find Christ in all subjects. When they read The Glass Menagerie a couple of weeks ago, I put the students on a "Christ hunt," meaning they were to see if they could find a hint of Him in the book. Even though Tennessee Williams was clearly not a Christian in any way, shape, or form, he unwittingly hints at a savior in his book, demonstrating the universal human longing to be rescued.

So there it is. The floors aren't getting mopped as often, the laundry often piles up, but we have been embarking on some exciting learning experiences, like nothing else. Gotta go clean!

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