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A Classical Conversation

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“How Am I Going to Handle All My Preparations and My Life, Too?”

Posted by Ruth
Ruth and Robbo, her husband of 25 years, live in a house they built in Vermont.
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on Thursday, 21 July 2011
in Articles

    I am in a room full of mature, bright women, Challenge tutor hopefuls, and I am dazzling them, no doubt, with the joys of leading young men and women in seminar and getting an education for themselves in the process. “We learn how to think, how to solve for 'x', how to read and write in Latin!” I say. I open for questions and invariably it is one of the first.


 “How much time is this going to take?”

    I can't blame them. These are high-achieving adults and they already have wobbling plates on top of their many poles. No fools they: experience has taught them that quality costs. “What is the price tag for my family?” Allow me to sketch out my experience and then acquaint you with my top three ideas for the home life of a Classical Conversations tutor.

    I jumped into Classical Conversations as a newbie all the way around. My three youngest went into Foundations and Essentials, two became Challenge 1 students, and my 15 year old joined me in Challenge B. Think of us as a pioneer family which had eked out a homeschool life in the plains and then pulled up roots for a new life in the fertile valleys on the west side of the Rockies. The first year had a steep learning curve. I had to learn how to work with my children in their programs, study my own material, write lesson plans, manage the administration of my program, and wrestle with recalcitrant computers in order to attend online Webinars and GoTo meetings. All this, and manage a home and love my husband, too!

    I tell you, in the strength of God, we did it!   CC has changed our family forever. The rigor of the work pushed us into resources we did not know we had. To use another metaphor, we went into boot camp unruly and slack and emerged a unit of hard-working scholars. For this, I would work just as hard again. But it didn't happen by accident. My advice for first year tutors involves Date Night, shared chores, and exclusive study hours.

    First, set up Date Night. This is the evening you let the seat in your office gather dust while you focus on your husband or wife. This means dinner out, if you can, or a movie and special dinner in a separate room if you can't. If the bridegroom isn't happy, the bride will know it! My husband and I sometimes alternate choosing what special activity we do on our dates. We chased the local train till dark and stopped for ice cream, took a canoe on a reservoir so he could fish while I paddled, watched a local baseball game, had a picnic in a park, visited dear older couples unannounced. Lately, on Wednesday nights (the day after CC meets) we tote our backgammon set to a restaurant. Alone at last, we move the pieces, playing out on a board the tangy tension inherent in a marriage of two strong-minded people. Face to face as we rarely are in parenting (where we do zone defense), we refresh our relationship.

    After your relationship with God, your marriage is the most precious part of your humanity. Nurture it. Talk about your work if you must but get beyond, if you can, into ideas larger than home life. Meet in that place of friendship beyond your roles of parents and laborers. Show your children how you delight in one another by your dating.
    Next, tweak your schedule for chores. Establish at least the bare minimum, and make it clear that everyone pitches in. You all live, study, eat, and sleep in the same small environment for 30 weeks and sanity demands it. Daily manage clutter on the tempting horizontal surfaces. Keep the floor swept or vacuumed a thorough job of it at least once a week. A clean floor speaks of a managed home to me. If you simply must clean windows, save it for a break week, or better yet, the summer. Www.flylady.net has taken many a family out of C.H.A.O.S. (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) by teaching harried homemakers to manage their tasks in 15-minute bits. This is not the year to focus on major changes in homemaking but by creating a plan to cover the necessary work in your home you unload some of the burden that rests on your shoulders. If you haven't tweaked your system in a while, summer is the time.  

    For that pesky habit your nearest and dearest have of eating every day, either major in crock pots and 30-minute meals or enlist family members to take turns. If the bridegroom is purring, he may be persuaded to take the helm one day a week, even if it means steak every time. Food we don't have to prepare always tastes better, anyway. I have one child scheduled each week as Junior Chef, with the sneaky purpose of preparing kids who can cook if I am not there to supervise.
    Now, to studies. Remember, you are a scholar now and your study hours are precious. You need to wrap your mind around the material first before you can lead discussion or present algorithms. Challenge tutors have a multi-layered task: we have to master material, which may very well be completely new to us, and we have to be transformed into classical tutors. I spent more than ten hours that first year because I was so inefficient, and I often wasted time chasing after the wrong things (e.g. formal debate rules). However, it gave me an excellent foundation.

    Faraday's motor? The Latin paradigms? Box-and-whisker plots? All of us encounter unexplored ground on this journey. But isn't it exciting to come upon new vistas? My tool belt rattles with new items, such as Adam Andrew's diagram for analyzing plots, Aristotle's three modes of persuasion, Andrew Kern's ANI chart from Lost Tools of Writing. I discovered these when I pressed on to understand my assigned lessons.

    Very few of us, I suspect, had a thoroughly Christian worldview before being engaged to lead a Challenge program and we have the daunting task of connecting every subject to Christ. We've all seen the diagrams of inferior educations, which lack those connections to God and between each subject. The insight to link ideas across disciplines does come, don't you worry, but it takes time and you have to learn your lessons. But oh! What a joy it is to get to know unfamiliar terms and then follow trails of curiosity into wider rings around the target material! This wider learning enables us to bring tasty side dishes to complement the entrée. We master this material when we can confidently make a meal of it.

    Each veteran tutor can testify to the challenge of falling very short of being a true classical tutor but having to act like one. By thoughtful preparation, you can behave like a classical tutor in the classroom. Write lesson plans that guide your students into understanding, even writing out the question flow if need be. As you press on to know and understand you will be able to ask questions that draw out insightful answers and to teach algorithms memorably. If you persevere, you will notice you are no longer pretending to be a classical tutor.

    Elsewhere others have spoken about how to arrange your home school day so I focused on home life outside of the 'school hours'. I assume every Christian classical tutor nurtures a relationship with the Lord who guides, sustains, and gives us wisdom for this adventure. Perhaps I covered familiar ground but it bears repeating: Nurture your marriage. Share the chores. Study for mastery. Through faithfulness in our duties toward our CC families, we are ruling and subduing the world in our small corner. One last word should suffice. 'Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.' (Hebrews 12:2) Consider it all joy, friends.


Ruth Holleran is a Challenge B tutor in Vermont and mother of six, 11-21. A former music teacher in Maryland, she married her childhood sweetheart in Vermont, now a consulting forester. She has several interests on hold indefinitely: quilting, composing, story writing, and playing Celtic tunes on ocarina.

Ruth and Robbo, her husband of 25 years, live in a house they built in Vermont. They taught their six children (ages 22-12) using a variety of programs until Classical Conversations staked its claim in the upper Connecticut River valley. She has been a Challenge B tutor since 2009. Her interests are open fire cooking, biking, quilting, singing harmony, and working in her perennials garden.


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