How To Homeschool A High Schooler ~ A Review of “The Conversation”

How exactly do you homeschool a high school student?

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Author Leigh A. Bortins, of Classical Conversations, knows that many homeschooling parents might be asking this question.  (Along with many others!)  Her newest book, The Conversation Challenging Your Student With A Classical Education, is my latest review item from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  It examines this question, and others, as it seeks to inspire, encourage and provide a plan to parents who aren’t quite sure how to approach this level of homeschooling.

What is The Conversation?

To me, The Conversation was really like a homeschool parent’s seminar, all in one book.  And specifically, it’s written for parents who are approaching or considering homeschooling their high school-aged child.  And let’s face it:  to many homeschoolers, the idea of teaching a high schooler at home can be rather intimidating.  After all, these are the last four years our students will spend at home before they head off to college.  Suddenly, we can feel a lot of pressure.  Will our students’ homeschool educations cover everything they need to?  What will their transcripts look like?  Are they getting in enough volunteer or extracurricular experience?  Will they be able to get into college?

Ms. Bortins encouraged the reader to look beyond those very real nuts-and-bolts-type questions, to some vital points:

  • Can our children respect authority in a healthy way?
  • Are they building good habits (study and otherwise) which will carry them well when they are out of our home?
  • Can they work on challenging content alongside their parents?

And beyond these, which really have to do as much with parenting as they do with education, she clearly defines Rhetoric, which defines the classical high school experience.

What is Rhetoric?

Not only part of the high school classical experience, rhetoric is an art, a way of thinking, a way of approaching truth as well as facts.  Ms. Bortins defines it in this manner:  “Rhetoric is the use of knowledge and understanding to perceive wisdom, pursue virtue, and proclaim truth” (The Conversation, p. 38-39).  We see from both advertising and politics that knowledge and understanding aren’t always used for those purposes, are they?  Yet one of the goals of Christian parents is to train their children in excellent character.  Rhetoric can be an exceptional tool and method to enable parents and children to attain to that goal.

Rhetoric was defined further by Aristotle, who divided its practice into 5 canons:

  • Invention:  coming up with and researching ideas
  • Arrangement:  organizing these ideas in a manner that makes sense
  • Elocution or Style:  determining the style of presentation for the type of audience
  • Memory:  Memorizing the information and adding key points of remembrance
  • Delivery:  Presenting the ideas, in either a written or spoken format

So, rhetoric really defines a method of acquiring, internalizing and presenting information.  It is ideally suited to the high school student, as this age group naturally begins to wonder and ask why things are the way they are.

How can rhetoric be used in the homeschool?

In the remainder of the book, Ms. Bortins includes chapters that explain the ways that rhetoric neatly fits into the study of subjects a high schooler will study.  These subjects are:

  • Reading
  • Speech & Debate
  • Writing
  • Science
  • Math
  • Government and Economics
  • History
  • Latin and Foreign Languages
  • Fine Arts

I enjoyed and was challenged by reading Ms. Bortins’ suggestions for implementing the rhetoric canons into these subjects.  Some ideas that really stood out to me were:  asking questions to draw information out of the students, rather than just repeating the answers to them; the vitality that Latin can add to an education; the idea that chemistry is the study of the invisible.  And that’s just a taste of the wealth of wisdom and ideas in The Conversation.  I’d personally recommend that you plan to read it over a period of weeks, spending several days or even a week on one chapter at a time.  There is much to absorb, first of all; and secondly, after you have read and understood the ideas and recommendations, you can think through ways to introduce rhetoric into your own school subjects.

My impressions:

I mentioned earlier that reading this book was like attending a quality home education seminar.  We have homeschooled since Jackson was in pre-K, which means we’re coming up on our 10th year of homeschooling as he enters the 8th grade.  And, we’ve always planned to homeschool through his high school graduation.  But I must admit, I have felt qualms this year that are brand-new to me.  Am I covering everything I should?  Is he learning what he needs to?  (And…I don’t even want to talk about that transcript.)

However, after working through The Conversation, I am very encouraged.  I feel as though I am learning teaching methods that not only will carry us through high school effectively, but that I can begin to put into play this year.  I can see some habits that I feel we need to work on in a number of areas.  And, I’ve been exposed to some innovative ideas (giving speeches, memorization, projects) that will enable my son to grow in some important skills.  And these skills are important.  They’re not only ones that will prepare him for college; they’ll equip him for life.

We have never followed the classical method of homeschooling; I’d describe us more as eclectic homeschoolers.   So I admit that there were times as I read that I felt overwhelmed with the differences between our homeschooling experience and Ms. Bortins’ recommendations.  However, there really is a simple solution to that feeling.  We may not adopt the classical method completely, or use everything that she notes in the book.  But there are so many guiding principles and perspectives that are not only helpful to me now, but that will, when appropriated, educate Jackson in critical skills.

So….as a non-classical homeschooler, can I recommend The Conversation?  Most definitely.  As I read it, I was reminded of so many of the reasons we began to homeschool, years ago.  So first, this book was a great refresher of my overall vision.  Next, it has introduced me to skills that I want to develop in Jackson, and that I can implement into our studies.  And last?  It has been a book that has encouraged me to reach farther and to press on, as we prepare to move into the high school years.

You may purchase The Conversation Challenging Your Student With A Classical Education  from Classical Conversations.  It’s normally priced at $16, but right now it’s on sale for $12.

You may visit Classical Conversations at their social media hubs:


Classical Conversations ReviewCrew DisclaimerEnjoy! –Wren


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