To know God and to make Him known.

All Dressed Up for the Prom, but Will You Go?

Last week, a parent in my Classical Conversations group told me she enjoys Foundations, and looks forward to Challenge A and Challenge B, but she just does not know if she will go further with homeschooling after that.

I told her I thought that would be like getting all dressed up for the prom, but not going.

Foundations, Essentials, and Challenges A and B are all prep work for the high school years. We took facts from the upper Challenge classes to create the Foundations memory work. We looked at writing and language skills needed, and put them into the Essentials program. We noticed that logic, clear reasoning, and identifying biases were important skills and we put them into Challenges A and B. Everything is building up to the exciting final stage. Quitting before it all comes together would be like getting all dressed up and prepared, but not going out.

In classical education, we learn the grammar of a subject first, then we sort, classify, and understand the information, and finally, we ask the students to teach back or use the subject creatively. These three stages are called grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stages. Modern educators have tossed out this idea. They concentrate on creative expression in the primary grades* and then spend the rest of the time surveying content with the goal of making a competent score on a test.

If you pull out of classical education before high school, your student will have learned the grammar of the subjects and worked to understand it, but you will not be giving your student the opportunity to get to the good stuff—to use it: to solve real problems, to express themselves well, to write original essays, to enter into debate. It would be like purchasing a gown, getting your hair and nails done, and rather than going to the prom, staying home and watching TV. You would set all your grammar and dialectic studies aside and essentially go back to learning the grammar of a few more subjects without reaching the third and most rewarding stage. They do not use “rhetoric” in public school. They do not give students the opportunity to teach the class or lead the debate. The opportunity to discuss literature is also slipping away due to the recent national recommendations. When high school students are stuck in the grammar stage they are bored. Teenagers long to express themselves, to be heard, to be taken seriously, and to be treated like adults.

Why, then, are parents pulling out before completing high school with a classical Christian education and settling for a modern cap on what they started? My guess is fear. Parents fear that they are not capable of guiding their students through high school level math, science, and writing. Why are they not capable? Is it because their own education was not sufficient? How could we have spent thirteen years in a school system and not know the material enough to teach it to someone else? If you have decided that your education was not sufficient, why would you expect it to be sufficient for your children?

High school material is not that difficult for an adult to learn. You are older and wiser, and you can learn it with them. If reading the book leaves you feeling like you still do not get it, give it a “Google.” There are millions of short videos at your fingertips. I watch videos on math problems and the U.S. Constitution with my children almost every day. Watch as many as you want until you get it; it is free! Another thing that you will notice is that when your students have learned how to learn through the Foundations, Essentials, and early Challenge programs, they may not need you. My son taught himself marine biology using a textbook and the internet. We also allowed him to take scuba diving classes and become a certified diver giving him an excellent “lab” to complete his study. I provided deadlines, accountability, and encouragement. I know nothing about marine biology and I am afraid of scuba diving. He taught himself, he attended and studied for diving, and it is an accomplishment we are both proud of.

If we teach our students how to learn, then they are more than capable of learning. In the high school years, the parent role changes, but it does not get harder. Motivation may be one of your concerns, but I have found that the weekly seminars motivate my teens to do their best. They work extra hours to do well in a debate or to have a paper that will impress the class. The students work hard, but the parent role is different. We wake them up (this may be the most difficult task of the day), keep them from wasting their time, hold them accountable, encourage them, and let them reach the goal: the rhetoric stage they are prepared for. We let them go to the prom.


*For proof of this see The War Against Grammar available through


CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Homeschooling Life, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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