Friday, August 31, 2007

"If I Only Had A Brain"

So, here is a perfect example of my "dumb-headedness."

I don't carry a purse. Primarily for the same reason I don't wear winter coats or snug clothing...I find them cumbersome, uncomfortable and lifestyle-cramping. Additionally, I have been known to set my purse down in public only to inadvertantly walk away from it. In recent years, I have taken to sticking my cash, debit cards, and driver's liscense into my pocket; however, this practice carries its own pitfalls...I often leave these items in my pockets and "lose" them temporarily. They always turn up - sometimes in the washer or dryer, sometimes on the basement floor, or occasionally in the pockets where I originally stashed and left them.

A couple of weeks ago, I lost my debit card still hasn't turned up. Then Sunday, I lost something else...2 buttons from my shirt on the way to church. I had to borrow safety pins from 2 prepared mothers who, of all things, were carrying well-equipped purses. I decided it was high time for me to grow up and be a real, purse-totin' momma.

So...last night we went to dinner at Que Pasa restaurant on Watson Rd. and I carried a purse...which I, characteristically and unknowingly, left in the booth (the margarita had nothing to do with it!). The realization didn't hit me until this morning. Alright, no big deal...except...I had made some major returns yesterday and, in addition to my checkbook, debit and credit cards and MO D.L., my wallet contained nearly $400 CASH! No way to PROVE that, of course, and very easy to steal.

After multiple phone calls today and 2 trips to Que Pasa, I finally retrieved my purse. As the manager handed it to me, I stood there and opened it, wondering if I would have to file a police report on the missing cash...only to find every single dollar still present. I was simultaneously relieved and astonished...I even began to cry! What kind of society produces men and women who resist the temptation to take such a stash of cash, and decide instead to return it to its owner?! As bad as we sometimes think things have gotten, our culture still retains lingering evidences of Christianity. In London, you can't even set your purse down next to you in a restaurant without it disappearing. Several people handled my purse and not one of them succumbed to the temptation...amazing. Of course, being the good "Calvinist" I am, I certainly cannot discount the sovereign mercy of God in this circumstance. Fortunately, His care compensates for my lack of brains!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

9th Grade Theology

You may tire of hearing about my children's education, but it occupies many of my thoughts and experiences while school is in session.

Last night, as I went upstairs to "tuck-in" my big boys - who still love a nightly backrub - my 13-year-old was working on homework. He informed me that he was writing a thesis statement for Theology class. The topic: the blending of speculative divinity and spiritual divinity...WHAT?! When I told him I didn't know what that meant, he thought he was pretty cool to explain it to me. "Basically," he says, "speculative divinity is what we can see in nature that reveals there is a god, but only leaves us with problems and unanswerable questions. In order to make sense of it, we must have the Bible, which is the spiritual divinity aspect. We are supposed to argue whether either one can be effective apart from the other." Oh, so it's a "natural revelation vs. special revelation" thing...why didn't you just say so? Well, apparently he was speaking in the terminology of Jonathan Edwards, whose essay they just read: Christian Knowledge: or, The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Things.

"So," says I, "what else do you have in that there Supplemental Theology Reader?" As I perused the Table of Contents, I was astounded at the breadth of knowledge of his 26-year-old theology teacher. This guy just graduated from Covenant Seminary last May and hopes to someday pastor in the "Free Church of Scotland Continuing." Yep, that's the denominational name! Anyway, he is creating a 4-year-cycle of theological study for PCA's School of Rhetoric...this is year II: God and Man. Here, much to my delight, are the other readings he's incorporated into the study:

William Shedd, "The True Method in Theological Science," and "Plan, Divisions, and Subdivisions" From Dogmatic Theology, Volume I

Maurice Roberts, "God of Wonders" From Great God of Wonders

Jonathan Edwards, "God The Best Portion of the Christian" From The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume II

John Calvin, "The Knowledge of God and That of Ourselves Are Connected. How They Are Interrelated," "What It Is to Know God and To What Purpose the Knowledge of Him Tends," "The Knowledge of God Has Been Naturally Implanted in the Minds of Men," and "The Knowledge Is Either Smothered or Corrupted, Partly by Ignorance, Partly By Malice." From Institutes I:1:1-4

Louis Berkhof, "The Doctrine of the Trinity" From The History of Christian Doctrines

Tertullian, Against Praxeus

John Calvin, "In Scripture, From the Creation Onward, We are Taught One Essence of God, Which Contains Three Persons" From Institutes I:1:13

John Flavel, "Meditations Upon Trees," and "Meditations Upon a Garden" From Works, Volume VI, (1770)

John Calvin, "The Knowledge of God Shines Forth in the Fashioning of the Universe and the Continuing Government of It," and "Scripture Needed as Guide and Teacher for Anyone Who Would Come to God the Creator" From Institutes I:1:5-6

Louis Berkhof, "The Doctrine of Sin and Grace and Related Doctrines" From The History of Christian Doctrines

Thomas Boston, "A View of the Covenant of Works from the Sacred Records" From Works, Volume XI

Charles Hodge, "The Conviction of Sin" From The Way of Life

O-K, so altogether, not too shabby a collection. When I approached this teacher this AM and asked how old he was, he very sweetly, as though I were a grandmother or something, asked, "Am I being reproved?" And I believe he would have received reproof as humbly and graciously as he received my thanks and admiration for the work he's doing.

By the way, this guy teaches theology to my older one, but is the primary classroom teacher for my 6th Grader! Boy are they blessed! Thanks be to God for committed, sacrificial teacher-servants who are providing our sons with a thoroughly Christian education!!

Beautiful Children's Books

I am STILL working on putting the house back together after the floor re-finishing project...a couple of years ago I wouldn't have slept until it was complete, but now I am doing a little here and a little there. As I was re-shelving some of the children's books the other day, I was reminded of the delight and beauty of so many of these picture books we own. So, I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you...they have been chosen because of their illustrations, though most of them are worthy stories, as well. In some cases, I have linked to an illustrator whose entire body of work is noteworthy.

King Midas & the Golden Touch - K.Y. Craft

Rumplestiltskin - Paul O'Zelinsky

The Nicene Creed - Pauline Baynes

Fables of LaFontaine - Gustave Dore (this guy created black & white engravings for numerous classics...including the Bible, The Divine Comedy, Perrault's Fairy Tales, Paradise Lost, Don Quixote, etc.)

St. George & the Dragon - Trina Schart Hyman

Aesop's Fables - Jerry Pinkney

Snow White - Charles Santore

The Brave Little Tailor - Olga Dugina & Andrej Dugin

Moses - Gennady Spirin (I can't seem to link, but try him on Amazon...he has dozens of gorgeous books!)

The Creation Story - Norman Messenger

The Spider & the Fly - Tony DiTerlizzi (absolutely GENIUS!!!)

If... - Sarah Perry (a riot!)

Mr. Peabody's Apples - Loren Long (yes, it is a collaboration with Madonna, and in spite of her, it is a wonderful MORAL fable! Never thought I'd use the words "Madonna" and "moral" in the same sentence!)

Those are just a few of the illustrators I love! Check 'em out online or at your local library! ENJOY!!

Monday, August 27, 2007

On Rhetoric IX: More on Chreia & Maxim

The previous post explained the overarching purpose of this Chreia and Maxim stages, but here are some representative wise sayings, proverbs, maxims or sententia that you can use with your students:

"A little learning is a dangerous thing." (Alexander Pope)

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket."

"Spare the rod; spoil the child."

"Don't air your dirty laundry."

"The root of education is bitter, its fruit sweet." (Isocrates)

"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." (George Washington)

"Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens." (Daniel Webster)

"Do your duty in all things; you cannot do more; you should never wish to do less." (Robert E. Lee)

"Each man is like those in whose company he delights."

"A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke." (Proverbs 13:1)

"He who covers an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." (Proverbs 17:9)

"No race can prosper till it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem." (Booker T. Washington)

Choose sayings that fit with a topic under discussion in Literature, History, Science or Bible class, thereby integrating writing across the curriculum and establishing the relevance of the process in your students' minds. They are usually more eager to participate in a laborious task, if they either enjoy it, or believe it to be useful.

BTW, sometimes students must be required to complete work which they neither enjoy nor understand its relevance. Immaturity may prevent them from ascertaining the benefits of a particular skill or habit, and at other times their stubborn refusal to accept the wisdom of elders comes into play. Either way, as teachers, we should attempt to bring as much joy and relevance to the process as possible, and ensure that our requirements are purposeful and productive.

On Rhetoric VIII: Progym Stages 3-6

So, Fable and Narrative comprise the first two stages of the Progymnasmata. The next four can be grouped by twos, since they are variations of one another. The first two are:

Chreia & Maxim: in which the writer aims to amplify, uncover, and support truth; isolate an idea

Mode: Exposition

Means: All mentioned in previous stages (Figures of Description, Recognition, Reversal, Paraphrasing, Outlining, Retelling by Condensing, Expanding, Altering Sequence or Changing Viewpoint, Identifying the 6 Essential Elements: Agent, Action, Time, Place, Manner, Cause)

In the two previous stages, students are given an entire story to rewrite using the means mentioned above; however, with Chreia & Maxim, the student is only given a proverb, or wise saying and must utilize the skills mastered in Fable & Narrative to explain why this particular saying is worthy of our consideration. Whereas before, it was important to "isolate an image" in the mind and communicate it clearly, students are now asked to "isolate an idea" and communicate and support it effectively. They are asked to do so by following a pattern of paragraphs (or "heads") which comprise essential elements of advanced rhetoric and which are designed to establish as second nature, certain habits of thinking.

8 Heads:
Encomium - praise the sayer, gain your audience; though you do not need their assent at this point, you DO need their attention
Paraphrase - restate the original saying in different words or phrasing
Cause - narrate the situation or explain facts that underlie the truth of the saying
Converse - develop a contrast based on the "Cause" paragraph; "If this is not true, then...." or "If the opposite happens, then...."
Comparison - create an analogy; an analogy discovers similarities in dissimilar objects or events (i.e. the hard labor of education and the hard labor of farming - dissimilar activities - both produce sweet fruit - similar effects)
Example - provide a particular demonstration of the truth of the saying; examples should be immediately and universally recognizable for the intended audience (well-known persons or events)
Testimony - back up your position by calling on the testimony of "ancients" - quoting well-known sources who are recognized as authoritative lends credence to your position
Epilogue - admonishes the audience to believe and requires their assent

Teaches: This stage teaches how to support a given idea

The following two stages are:

Refutation & Confirmation: in which the writer aims to overturn or secure a given fact

Mode: Argument

Means: All of the above, plus...
Blame or Praise the "teller" of the story
Summarize story
Praise or Discredit the source
Attack/Confirm the narrative, act, fact or detail as:
Obscure / Manifest
Implausible / Probable
Impossible / Possible
Illogical / Logical
Improper / Fitting
Unprofitable / Profitable

Teaches: How to attack or defend a given idea

In these stages, students are asked to argue both sides of the same mythological, historical, or legal facts in a given narrative (i.e. George Washington and the cherry tree incident); they both refute and confirm, as outlined above, the likelihood that this incident occurred in the way we are told it occurred. This exercise requires students to evaluate a situation/idea from more than one perspective. This prepares them to anticipate and answer opposing viewpoints.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

6th Grade Reading List

Here is my other son's reading is not as ambitious, but still substantial.

Tuck Everlasting

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry

Hound of the Baskervilles

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare (selections)

The Hiding Place

Carry A Big Stick

Sargeant York & the Great War

Any Landmark History Book

Children of the Storm

The last four are read independently for book reports, while the first 8 are studied and discussed for their literary value, historical context or worldview evaluation. I wonder if I'll have time to tackle my OWN reading list this year...not likely, I suppose.

"My books are my tools. They also serve as my counsel, my consolation, and my comfort. They are my source of wisdom and the font of my education. They are my friends and my delights. They are my surety, when all else is awry, that I have set my confidence in the substantial things of truth and right." Charles Hadden Spurgeon

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back to School

Today begins a new school year. This year looks to be a tad different from the previous one. Last year I taught full-time, so my duties as wife and mother remained entirely neglected as I devoted myself to preparation, curriculum writing, grading, etc. My family was fortunate if I cooked one decent meal a week, or if they had clean underwear, or if I remembered to take them to basketball practice. And housekeeping? Let's just say that when "the baby" came, I actually swept and mopped the kitchen so he could leave my arms...but only in the kitchen, mind you!

This year, though I anticipated not teaching at all, I recently committed to teaching 6th grade Latin and English grammar. I will take the boys to school, teach for an hour and be finished for the day...oh yeah, and I only have 5 students! Now I have no excuse for piled up dishes or filthy floors! And I get to be a mom again...COOL!

I began this post early this a.m., but left it midway to go to school. For some reason, it was a very emotional experience today. Partly because I talked to one mom who just dropped a daughter off at college and put her youngest in 4th grade's the first time in about about 15 years that she is not homeschooling and she was tearful. Then, another new PCA mom with #6 on the way, who has also been a homeschooler, dropped the oldest four at school for the first time. THEN, I stood, along with many other parents who lined the hallways, watching all the classes file through to their rooms. It is so sweet to watch their faces...the anticipation, excitement, fear, dread, etc....and they just kept coming and coming and coming! It was emotional for me and I don't quite know why.

Maybe because this school has struggled for 10 years to make ends meet - last year at this time we were $90,000 in debt - as of 2 weeks ago, we are debt free for the first time since inception. We have also labored to draw and retain families and growth has been nearly impossible - the Schools of Dialectic & Rhetoric grew from 20 last year to 55 this year, and two of our Grammar School classes are completely full (at 18)! We actually have some cash flow now and purchased beautiful new furnishings for the Humanities room...we've been living off ugly, worn, hand-me-downs forever...and now the room is aesthetically pleasing! It's somewhat astounding! Anyway, in spite of an administrative change which has led to major chaos and disorganization, it promises to be an exciting year.

Even my boys were excited. The oldest, who was forced to leave a school he loved to return to PCA, had an incredibly sweet spirit and an air of eager anticipation. THAT is evidence of the mercy of God. The sixth grader is always ready to go back...he even got up and STAYED UP when his alarm went off this morning.

Happy Back to School to you all!

Monday, August 20, 2007

No Starving Minds Here!

Benjamin Franklin once quipped: "Reading feeds the brain; it is evident most minds are starving to death." If he is right, then my children, who usually have fairly ambitious reading lists for school, will soon have "obesity-of-the-brain" syndrome. I attempt to read any books on their lists with which I am unfamiliar. Here is what the 13-year-old will read this year. The ones in green are the only ones I have read in their entirety: it's gonna be a busy year for ME!!

Attributes of God

Bondage of the Will

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Courtship of Miles Standish

The Scarlet Letter

Billy Budd


Leaves of Grass

Ethan Frome

Death Comes for the Archbishop

The Great Gatsby

As I Lay Dying

The Old Man & the Sea

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

To Kill A Mockingbird

The first two are for theology class (the school is providing 3 additional books...), while the rest are for Humanities where, as you can probably tell, they are focusing this year on American history.

"Books are the food of youth; a delight at home; no hindrance abroad; companions at night, in travel. Indeed, no wise man ought ever to be found apart their company." Cicero

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Good Listening

Some of my favorite new songs: (new to ME) They are mostly bluegrass, big band, folk:


Guy Clark - Cold Dog Soup


Doc Watson - Black Mountain Rag


Asleep at the Wheel - Bob Wills is Still the King


East Mountain South - So Are You to Me


Alison Krauss - A Living Prayer


Red Molly - Long Gone Lonesome Blues


Pierce Pettis - Alabama


The Wailin' Jennys - The Parting Glass


The Roches - We


Hank Williams Sr. - Why Don't You Love Me


David Grisman - Old and in the Way


Check 'em out on i-Tunes...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Help Wanted

I cannot figure out how to make paragraph or list indentations on this blog thing! Any advice? In the meantime, I am color-coding all those items which should be nicely aligned in columns! HELP!!

Rhetoric VII: ProgymnasmataTheory - Stages 1-2

Let me back up before I expound on particular Figures of Description and explain a bit more about "Classical Composition" theory and specifically the Progymnasmata.

Problem: Writers trained under modern composition theory produce an abundance of faulty grammar and logical fallacies, while their style is characterized by an absence of elegance. We often frustrate our students by asking them to perform tasks for which they have not been adequately prepared, or which cut against their bent for learning at a particular stage.

Premise: Good composition must be driven by both the intellect and the imagination. Plausible, well-organized information/plot/argument, coupled with a winsome presentation, draw your audience in and increase the likelihood that you will actually be heard.

Purpose: To learn to engage the audience's imagination through vivid, effective images created through words. To teach students to isolate an idea/image in their minds and describe it with words. To develop logical thinking and rhetorical structures in the mind.

Pedagogy: From about the 3rd-4th grade through the 9th or 10th grades, teachers strive to lay the foundation for logical and rhetorical structures which will be necessary for the final 2-3 years of Aristotle's Rhetoric.

Progymnasmata Stages 1 and 2:
Fable: imitate and amplify
Mode: paraphrasing
Figures of Description - isolate and describe an image
Recognition - identify points of discovery or delight in the story
Reversal - when the proud are humbled or the low are exalted
Paraphrasing - choosing word and phrase synonyms; sentence variety
Outline - deconstruct story
Retell - reconstruct story from outline
Teaches: Many ways to say the same thing.
Narrative: imitate, uncover truth, amplify, abbreviate
Mode: paraphrasing
Means: Same as Fable, plus...
Identify 6 Essential elements (AKA: 6 Historical questions)
Agent - who?
Action - what?
Time - when?
Place - where?
Manner - how?
Cause - why?
Outline: deconstruct story
Retell: reconstruct from outline
Condense - eliminate all unnecessary data
Expand - add elements to story using Figures of Description
Alter Sequence - tell backwards or from the middle
Change Viewpoint - tell from a character's point of view, etc.
Teaches: Many ways to tell the same story.
So there you have a summary of the first 2 of 14 stages...I just realized I have been awake for 22 hours. I think I'll retire for a couple and finish this later!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sleepless in St. Louis

I sleep so little, that typically, once I fall into that blissful oblivion, I don't stir until the alarm goes off...not so tonight, or should I say this morning? I awakened at 2:22 a.m. and an hour later, find my mind so active I can't fall back asleep.
We had dinner "guests" last night for a sort of "last supper" celebration/mourning. My dearest friend for the last 12 years is sending her oldest off to's a beautiful thing to watch these children grow up. His leaving has prompted all sorts of emotions I didn't expect...I have been perusing our family picture albums looking for photos of him through the years. I have the most adorable picture of him at age 5 wearing an Aladdin costume I made for his birthday...precious! Suddenly, I find that those sentimental-and-somewhat-cheesy lyrics "turn around and you're 2, turn around and you're 4, turn around and you're a young man going out of the door" bring tears to my eyes! What's happening to me?! I can only imagine what his mom must be feeling.
I guess we old folk realize that this is the end of an era...their family and home will never be exactly the same again. This young man brings a vitality to all our family conversations...he participates easily (and entertainingly) in any dialogue, whether about theology, vacations, philosophy of education, baseball, politics, literature, ETC...he will be sorely missed.
It is also the beginning of an era. He is heading off to Chattanooga - the absolute BEST college town - and I know many delights are in store for him (like hiking, rappelling, hang gliding, coffee shops, Riverbend, great folk concerts...oh yeah, and studying!). This, afterall, is the culmination of all those years of training - we don't raise them to keep them under our wings, but to go away confident and strong with a vision for making a difference in the world. I envision him now, instead of following all of us grown-ups, walking beside us...may he do so in a manner worthy of his calling in Christ Jesus! He will continue to be a blessing to many.
My prayer for him: "That our Father, according to the riches of his glory, may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph 2) O-K, I am all cried out...for now. We love you, Alex! The LORD be with you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rhetoric VI: Progymnasmata

After ensuring our children are acquiring "Copia" through literature, intelligent conversation, and systematic vocabulary study, we can then focus on the Progymnasmata, or the "before exercises." While copia is designed to teach our children many ways to say the same thing, the first two Progym stages (Fable and Narrative) are designed to provide them with tools of description. Vivid descriptions create an image in the mind of the reader and every successful literary author has learned to do this well.

Remember that the best writing engages both the intellect and the imagination. Though we easily recognize the importance of the imagination in narrative, we often forget its significance in argumentation. The more effectively you create images in your audience's mind, the more likely they are to remember and be persuaded by your reasoning. However, the place to begin learning to communicate vivid images is with narratives...later on, these skills of description will transfer to the more advanced stages of rhetoric, such as refuting or confirming arguments, etc.

How do we train young students in Progymnasmata? First of all, we teach them names and definitions of particular "Figures of Description." Naming and defining, though often ridiculed in modern educational theory, is the most fundamental form of knowledge - think about toddlers learning to talk...they don't begin by forming and verbalizing a rational thought, but by naming things. This constitutes the primary step of "taking dominion" over a thing. "What is it?" and "What is it called?" not only precede, but are essential for securing abstract understanding of the thing named.

Secondly, we identify superior examples of these Figures of Description in real literature, so students recognize how the masters use words to create pictures. During this process, both you and your students may begin to realize that astute powers of observation are necessary to create vivid descriptions and how very dull many of our senses have become. The awakening of our senses requires discipline...the formation of new habits which can be practiced in everyday situations. In order to vividly describe facial expressions, one must actually pay attention to others' features and responses. To communicate personality, one must attend to habits of dress, gait, gesture, posture, speech, etc. Observation is a vital prerequisite to creating vivid descriptions.

Traditionally, when asked to describe an object, place or event, students tend to resort to adjectives...afterall, they ARE "describing" words. C.S. Lewis writes, in one of his Letters to Children: "In writing - Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was 'terrible,' describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say, 'it was delightful,' make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, 'Please, will you do my job for me?'" Teaching and modeling the various Figures of Description will lead students away from excessive use of adjectives, while providing tools for "showing" rather than "telling."

More next time on actual Figures of Description and how to practice them...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What I'm Thankful For

Disposable paint trays... Cordless Power Drill... Studfinder... Dolly... Self-sufficient husband...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Do not panic! Do not panic!

I have officially reached the stage of panic into which I inevitably enter every year about this time! Yes, school starts in about 10 days (teacher meetings in about 5!), and I still have to:

Order my son's 13 Humanities & 2 theology books

Empty, clean, paint, organize and decorate the 6th Grade classroom

Meet with & orient the new 5th Grade teacher

Create a timeline for the 6th grade room

Copy Latin Primer III for my students' use

Paint baseboards & chair rail in my sons' bedrooms

Find new, reasonably priced bedding, lamps, pillows, etc for boys' rooms

Move all furniture, curtains, clothes, books, and stuff back to the second story of the house...yes, my boys are expecting to sleep in BEDS before school starts after an entire summer on the floor of the living room!


And here I sit blogging instead of working! Gotta run!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

On Rhetoric V: Vocabulary Acquisition

In order to produce an abundance of expressions - and this may seem overly obvious - students must be engaged in a systematic vocabulary study, which should include, above all things, immersion in Greek and Latin roots, because they provide access to thousands of English derivatives.

This vocab study must also include practice in what I call "word discrimination." Which is the best word to communicate your exact meaning: "cool" "composed" "collected" "unruffled" "imperturbable" or "nonchalant"?

In this sentence: "The ____________ went across the road." Fill in the blank with snake, bear, chicken, dog, cat, robin, pony, dolphin or cheetah and then replace the word "went" with a stronger, more descriptive verb (slither, lumber, waddle, flutter, prance, sped, etc.) To choose wisely, in either case, requires familiarity with the idea of denotation and connotation, as well as the nuances of particular words. While this ability can increase over time through exposure to good literature and intelligent conversation, it will never be as finely tuned without systematic word study.

Should students be allowed to use a Thesaurus for this type of exercise? Sometimes. Often, one of two things happen: the child foregoes the attempt to actually THINK and draw from his own resources; after all, why exert mental effort if someone else can do it for me? OR, from inexperience, he chooses a word listed in the thesaurus without understanding its meaning or connotation and it doesn't fit the context! So, here's my advice: practice using the thesaurus with your students, explaining the implications of each word under a particular heading, and allow them LIMITED independent use (for example, if they have to re-word 5 sentences, let them use it for 1 of them). Students who are natural "wordsmiths" will be most adept at using this tool, because they instinctively understand differences and they often acquire new vocabulary through its use.

In summary, help your children and students achieve "copia" through:

Reading Good Literature
Listening to Good Literature (Jim Weiss produces high-caliber recordings of Myths, Fairy Tales, Classic stories, G.A. Henty, Shakespeare, etc...these are excellent, intelligent sources of vocab acquisition!)
Systematic Vocabulary Study

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

On Rhetoric IV: Abundance of Expression

Too often, early instruction in composition requires students to simultaneously invent original thoughts, arrange them logically and express them effectively. This expectation is unrealistic at best, and generates a level of frustration and discouragement within students, which often results in hatred of the writing process. Combining invention, arrangement, and expression into a cohesive whole is a highly advanced ability which should be reserved for the Dialectic and Rhetoric stages of learning. 

Our students are better served when we separate these processes, allowing the child to focus on refining one at a time. Where do we begin? We begin with "copia." In addition to perpetual reading - as discussed in the previous post - how can we develop this "abundance of expression" referred to by Erasmus? Classical methodology relies heavily on teaching these skills through imitation.

Rather than ask students to create original thoughts, plots or opinions, we select stories, essays, and passages worthy of imitation...those written in an exemplary style which we would like our students to eventually achieve. At about the 4th-5th grade level, we utilize the fables of Aesop or LaFontaine, classic fairy tales, myths, and Bible narratives which students are asked to re-word or re-phrase using one or more of these processes:

Using a double-spaced copy of the story, the child writes an appropriate synonym above as many words as he can. If time allows, the student usually loves to read his version aloud to an "audience" because he has created his own "original" is new and different, but he has copied a master and therefore his end-product will be worthy...not some incoherent, sloppily planned, implausible story which no one wants to hear!

The child is asked to re-phrase 4-5 sentences from the story in as many ways as he can, by choosing synonyms and altering word order.

The child is asked to take a single sentence and change it, utilizing specific kinds of phrases and sentence openers. 

For example, when my 5th graders were reading Where the Red Fern Grows, I had them rewrite the sentence "Old Dan ran into the woods" 40 different ways based on criteria I gave them.  

1) Old Dan dashed into the woods. (strong verb)
2) Old Dan, our coonhound, ran into the underbrush. (concrete noun)
3) Old Dan dashed into the ominous, black forest. (quality adj)
4) Old Dan ran tentatively into the woods. (quality adv)
5) Old Dan, who wanted desperately to tree a coon, dashed into the woods. (who-which clause)
6) Old Dan ran into the woods because he caught the coon's scent. (Because Clause)
7-13) "" Clauses (these stand for "when, while, where, as, since, if, although") - do one for each
14) Impulsively, Old Dan darted into the woods. (Opener "ly": adverbial)
15) Panting, Old Dan disappeared into the underbrush. (Opener "ing":participial)
16) Frightened, Old Dan dashed into the dark forest. (Opener "ed": past participle)
17) After Billy gave the order, Old Dan darted into the woods. (Prepositional Phrase Opener)
18-24) Clausal Openers (same as above, only used at beginning of sentence - should be different, of course)
25) Why had Old Dan rushed so quickly into the forest? (Question)
26) Old Dan ran into the woods. "Come back!" shouted Billy. (Dialogue)
27) Old Dan sprinted. (VSS: very short sentence 3-5 words...for effect)
28) Old Dan stopped. He listened. He took off. (3SSS: short stacatto sentences)
29) Old Dan shot into the woods like a bullet from a gun. (simile)
30) Old Dan was a speeding bullet, disappearing into the woods. (metaphor)
31) Old Dan dashed daringly into the darkened forest. (alliteration)
32) Swiftly, Old Dan ran into the woods. Swiftly, he pursued the coon. Swiftly, he caught his prey. (Triple Extensions: Words)
33) Old Dan ran across the road, through the fields and into the woods. (Triple Extensions: Phrases)
34) Chasing, howling and panting, Old Dan chased the coon into the woods. (Triple Extensions: "ing")
35) Old Dan, willingly, rapidly and confidently dashed into the forest. (Triple Extensions: Adv)
36) Young, fearless, impetuous, Old Dan rushed into the woods. (Triple Extensions: Adj)
37) Old Dan ran through the dirt, grass and leaves into the underbrush. (Triple Extensions: Nouns)
38) Old Dan smelled, pursued, and treed his coon in the woods. (Triple Extensions: Verbs)
39-40) I forgot the Openers "because" and "who-which"

NOTE: Andrew Pudewa, author of "Excellence In Writing" coined many of these phrases and utilizes them, though somewhat differently, in his program.

Some students love the challenge of finding 40 ways to say the same thing...others become bored or frustrated with it. When that's the case, provide a new sentence for every 10 alterations. This is an excellent exercise to do aloud as a group, because all benefit and receive ideas and motivation from those who are creative, have large vocabularies, or excel with words. It's fun too! 

The point is to teach students that there are many ways to express the same idea...the facts in the "base" sentence never changed.  Through this exercise, students also learn to use a variety of sentence styles, which is designed to can help them avoid endless repetition of the monotonous Subject-Verb-Object, S-V-O, S-V-O pattern in their own writings!

Another way to utilize these 40 elements of style is to either have your students find examples of each in their literature book, or YOU find them and ask students to identify which they are. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of pointing out techniques of structure and style within actual books/stories. Eventually, students begin to see that all really good authors utilize similar elements of writing. This also prevents these drills from becoming mere busy-work for you or them! It really is purposeful!

Enough already! More next time on "abundance of expression" through imitation.

Les Miserables

I experienced Les Miserables, the musical, for the first time tonight. The performances were quite good, and though necessarily truncated, the story line retained its integrity. Since this IS one of my favorite books, I must quote it!

Here are excerpts of Hugo's description of Javert:
Javert, when serious, was a bull-dog; when he laughed, he was a tiger. This man was a compound of two sentiments, very simple and good in themselves, but he almost made them evil by his exaggeration of them, respect for authority and hatred of rebellion . He had nothing but disdain, aversion, and disgust for all who had once overstepped the bounds of the law. His whole life was contained in these two words: waking and watching. His life was a life of privations, isolation, self-denial, and chastity: never any amusement. The whole person of Javert expressed the spy and the informer. Probity, sincerity, candour, conviction, the idea of duty, are things, which mistaken, may become hideous...they are virtues with a single vice - error. Nothing could be more terrible than Javert's face, which revealed what we may call all the evil of good.

Here is a representation of Javert's internal struggle after Jean Valjean spares his life and sets him free, then in return he lets Valjean go:
He saw before him two roads, both equally straight; but he saw two; and that terrified him. One of these two lines excluded the other. Which was the true one? One thing had astonished him, that Jean Valjean had spared him, and one thing had petrified him, that he, Javert, had spared Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean confounded him...his generosity overhwhelmed him. Javert felt that something horrible was penetrating his soul, admiration for a convict. He shuddered at it, yet he could not shake it off...he was reduced to confess before his own inner tribunal the sublimity of this wretch. A beneficent malefactor, a compassionate convict, kind, helpful, clement, returning good for evil, returning pardon for hatred, loving pity rather than vengeance, preferring to destroy himself rather than to destroy his enemy, saving him who had stricken him, kneeling upon the height of virtue, nearer the angels than men. Javert was compelled to acknowledge that this monster existed.

His supreme anguish was the loss of all certainty. There was in him a revelation of feeling entirely distinct from the declarations of the law, his only standard hitherto. He perceived in the darkness the fearful rising of an unknown moral sun: he was horrified and blinded by it.

He was compelled to recognise the existence of kindness. This convict had been kind. And he himself, wonderful to tell, he had just been kind. Therefore he had become depraved. Javert's ideal was to be irreproachable. Now he had just failed. "What have I done? My duty? No. Something more. There is something more than duty." Here he was startled. Order was his dogma and was enough for him...he had scarcely thought, until today, of that other superior, God. He had lost his bearings in this unexpected presence.

Truths which he had no wish for inexorably besieged him. He must henceforth be another man. He was emptied, useless...authority was dead in him. He had no further reason for existence. To be granite and to doubt! To suddenly perceive that you have under your breast of bronze something preposterous which almost resembles a heart! To be ice and to melt!

To be obliged to acknowledge this: infallibility is not infallible! there may be error in the dogma! all is not said when a code is spoken! judges are men! What was passing in Javert was the throwing of a soul out of its path...irresistibly hurled in a straight line and breaking itself against God. Under the pressure of this incontestable incomprehensible, he felt his head was bursting. He was less the transfigured, than the victim of this miracle. He saw in it only an immense difficulty of existence...he was dismantled completely!

There were only two ways to get out of it. One, to go resolutely to Jean Valjean and to return the man to the dungeon. The other -

Of course, here he heads to the bridge and plunges to his death...