I know there has been much discussion (and concern) about whether Classical Conversations emphasizes memory work without context, and whether that is beneficial (or not) to the young student, so I'd like to address that here.
I want to first acknowledge the elements of CC that I value 'as is.' I love the weekly community of beautiful families. I love the friendships my boys have been given the opportunity to develop. The boys are learning appropriate classroom behavior (in an ideal classroom situation) as well as having the opportunity to be mentored by other adults. The boys and I enjoy the social time during lunch. They love the active games played in the gym.
The science experiments/projects/demonstrations are ones I'd not likely get around to doing at home. The geography (amazing!) and fine arts can be stand-alone studies (though it is easy to expand on them during the week and year if so desired). The public speaking experience is almost impossible to duplicate in a home setting.
I appreciate the creativity and fresh spirit of the tutors in teaching my boys when I'm feeling overwhelmed or depleted. I appreciate the consistency and accountability of the classes when I'm having trouble getting self-motivated.
And so we come to the memory work.
The memory work is an added value and lasting component of our core skill-based lessons content-rich studies.
[It is important to note that the memory work outlined in CC Foundations corresponds with my educational philosophy and goals. We have been and will be studying chronological world history, English grammar, Latin, science, geography, math, and fine arts regardless of our affiliation with CC.]
The memory work in math, Latin, and English grammar allows the boys to be more competent and confident in those subjects.
The memory work in history and science is used as a spring-board for our studies during the week.
Having memorized the most basic information gives the boys a feeling of ownership of facts and ideas which leads to interest and enthusiasm.
For example, it seems to me when I am pregnant that I notice every pregnant woman in public. I am much more likely to strike up a conversation, enthusiastically (or sympathetically) asking questions such as, 'When are you due?' 'Do you know if you're having a girl or boy?' 'Do you have names picked out?' 'How are you feeling?' And so forth.
When you've just made a new car purchase, are you more alert and notice every time you pass one of that model on the road?
The boys seem to have this experience when they read a book or watch a video about something when they already have a little (tiny, even) bit about that thing stuck in their head. For this reason, I find that memorizing first and expanding soon afterward works best for us. Information and ideas stick, and the boys stay interested. Like that 'I know, I know!!' with hands raised wildly when the teacher asks a question. And I have to tell you, I want my boys to feel that sort of intellectual confidence and excitement. The kind that leads them to want more.
In my opinion, it is a very simple thing to expand on the history and science topics introduced at CC each week. The history is chronological and the science is grouped by topic. We read the corresponding chapter in The Story of the World (and use the activity guide if we so choose), read the corresponding pages in the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, find books at the library on the subject (or grab books off of our own shelves), cover the unit in our science book, or watch videos. Not too hard to provide context and content.
We've also used our new vocabulary in conversations at home. Because the boys and I have memorized the parts of the food chain, we have discussed producers, consumers, and decomposers while making dinner together.
Another benefit to the memory work in history, science, and grammar is that it trains the boys to answer in complete sentences. Each of those subjects is prompted by a question, which is answered in a complete sentence. Such as, 'What are three characteristics of light?' 'Three characteristics of light are...' Or, 'What is a preposition?' 'A preposition is...' Or, 'Tell me about the Magna Carta.' 'English King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215...'
The concern over whether the boys will remember any of the memory work in a few years applies equally to any subject we study (with the possible exception of math). Is that a reason to not study history? Or grammar? If anything, the memory work will give them the best possible chance at retaining something about the French revolution, even though we also read about it in The Story of the World and the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia.
In my next post, I'll give you a glimpse into our week of lessons at home.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments.