The starting point for becoming more active as a primary educator is pursuing the goal of education in each of our own lives. However, we have yet to explore concrete ways of pursuing this goal. Becoming more active in the education of our children can be frustrating without clear, simple, and easy methods we can incorporate into our daily lives. Here, I will present three simple and time-effective habits for becoming more active as a primary educator based on the great conversation.
In classical education, we recognize the most effective means of education as the great conversation. The great conversation plays a prominent role in our curriculum at JPG in various ways through the stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the first three liberal arts). Becoming acquainted with the great conversation is crucial for parents of lower school students—most especially for those of upper school students. The upside to this is that the great conversation gives us, as parents, a window of opportunity to actively engage with our children as primary educators regardless of our training and educational background.
What is the great conversation? The great conversation refers to the discussion of the most important ideas in Western civilization (truth, goodness, justice, love, man, courage, etc.) as developed by the greatest minds (Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Shakespeare, Faraday, etc.). We enter the great conversation by studying and discussing these great ideas using the great thinkers as our guide. While older students encounter these ideas directly, younger students in a classical curriculum become acquainted with the great ideas indirectly through their daily activities and topics.
As parents, we have busy lives and rarely find the time to do much of anything (especially to study!). Moreover, jumping into the greatest books of Western civilization can be overwhelming. Greatly appreciating these considerations, I offer you three simple, time-effective habits of entering into the great conversation with your children.
1. Have short, great conversations everyday by asking specific questions.
Most of us have already obtained the habit of asking our children each day about what they learned. It can be frustrating and difficult—downright impossible some days—to get much of a response using these kinds of open-ended questions. Asking specific and direct questions, however, makes it easier for a young person to respond (and makes it more difficult to give an indirect, evasive response).
An example of a specific question that opens the door for a short, great conversation would be to ask what the key concept from a particular subject of the day was. If they don’t know, help them figure it out by talking about the class that day. Before you know it, you will have had a great conversation about what they learned (and also helped them review and study in under ten minutes!).
Gaining this habit can be difficult, but the rewards of persistence are immeasurable. It can be awkward at first. We get better at asking good questions the more we practice. (Also, the more the student anticipates these questions at home, the more they will be paying attention in class to prepare a good response!) Pro-tip: If you are having trouble coming up with specific questions, talk to your child’s teacher for a list of good conversation starters about a specific class.
2. Read a short excerpt from their favorite reading of the week.
At the end of each week, ask about their favorite reading of the week. If they don’t have one, make them pick one. Have them find a short excerpt (a really short excerpt depending on your availability) that they really enjoyed or found interesting. Read it with them. Give them the opportunity to teach you the great idea or key concept from the reading. This is a great habit for fostering wonder in your child. It is also an easy way to become more familiar with what they are learning. An added bonus is that it provides a great way to get to know your child better by exploring the things that interest them the most.
3. Set aside a little time each week to read great books as a family.
In the age of smart phones and tablets, quality family time is becoming a scarce commodity. The qualities we instill in our family come from the time we set aside as a family. Showing is almost always more effective than telling. You will be hard-pressed to find a better way to communicate the importance of education to your children than to set aside time to pursue it as a family. Practicing the habit of reading great books together as a family builds on the common ground you have with your spouse, children, and school community.
When we discover something great, we share it with those we love. I hope these three habits help you share the great ideas with your family through the great conversation. Lent is a great time to establish new habits. During this season of conversion, take the opportunity to try these or similar practices with your children.