Monday, September 29, 2008

Logic

In describing Formal Logic, I asserted that it is not concerned with truth. That can sound really confusing...how can an idea be logical if it is not true. Well, the "FORM" of the argument can be sound. For example:

All men are slobs.
Joe is a man. Therefore, Joe is a slob.

That, my friends, is a sound logical argument.

All men are slobs.
Rita is not a man. Therefore, Rita is not a slob.

That is NOT a sound logical argument. Non sequitur.

Regardless of the truth of the first assertion that "all men are slobs," one argument follows logically while the other does not. The job of Formal Logic is simply to recognize and point out these type of fallacies.

Material Logic, on the other hand, begins with evaluating the truth of the original assumption, and only analyzes the validity of the argument after establishing the truth of the statements involved. Can it be proven as true that all men are slobs? If so, we proceed to evaluate the form. If not, it has failed on the basis of its content.

Make sense?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Classical Education: Hallmarks 5

One final hallmark of Classical Ed is its commitment to fostering the ability to logically and artfully communicate truth, AKA: Rhetoric.

This discipline incorporates all the others: familiarity with history and literature, competency with language, and clarity of thought aid our students in their quest to communicate well.

Since I have written extensively on this in the past, I'll refer you to all the posts titled "On Rhetoric" (put that in the search window above and you'll find them). Yes, it's one of those series I haven't completed, but I've said an awful lot...so check it out, if you're so inclined.

This concludes my "Hallmarks" portion of the series. In summary, CE places a long-term and weighty emphasis on the following:

History
Language
Literature
Logic
Rhetoric

Next: The Pitfalls

Friday, September 26, 2008

Classical Education: Hallmarks 4

Classical Education requires its students to study Logic. What does that mean? One simple definition states: Logic is the science and the art of reason.

Logic is a prerequisite to the study of philosophy and it has several branches. For many of us, our only educational exposure was in mathematics...whether we knew it or not, we were learning a form of Symbolic Logic.

Formal Logic teaches students to analyze the validity of the relationship between ideas, arguments, and conclusions. These are based on formulaic connections that can be signified with symbols. You know, this is really hard to explain in an understandable way! I've never tried to do this before and it's not easy! Anyway, Formal Logic is based not so much on truth of content, as consistency of thoughts and statements: students learn to recognize and construct both deductive and inductive arguments, as well as to identify fallacious reasoning. It's all about FORM.

Material Logic follows the teaching of Formal Logic on the educational spectrum, and is primarily concerned with Truth content. It applies the forms learned in Formal Logic, but goes further in evaluating the Truth of the statements and conclusions. It requires analyzing word-use, definitions, and truth-values. It's all about CONTENT and is very philosophical in nature.

Clear as mud? In case none of that makes sense, let me redeem this post by quoting 2 men worthy of being listened to. Our friend, Augustine of Hippo, in his On Christian Doctrine, says this:

...the validity of logical sequences is not a thing devised by men, but is observed and noted by them that they may be able to learn and teach it; for it exists eternally in the reason of things, and has its origin in God. For just as the man who narrates the order of events does not himself create that order; and as he who describes the situations of places, or the natures of animals, or roots, or minerals, does not describe arrangements of man; and as he who points out the stars and their movements does not point out anything that he himself or any other man has ordained; in the same way, he who says, "When the consequent is false, the antecedent must be false," also says what is most true; but he does not himself make it so, he only points out that it is so.

G.K. Chesterton says this:

Logic and truth ... have very little to do with each other. Logic is concerned merely with the fidelity and accuracy with which a certain process is performed, a process which can be performed with any materials, with any assumption. You can be as logical about griffins and basilisks as about sheep and pigs ... Logic, then, is not necessarily an instrument for finding out truth; on the contrary, truth is a necessary instrument for using logic--for using it, that is, for the discovery of further truth ... Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

So, if I made no sense, at least draw something from these wise men!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Classical Education: Hallmarks 3

In addition to intensified programs in History and Language, CE is also unique in its early and sustained attention to Literature. Real literature. Students do not read a select chapter here and there from the canon of great books in order to pique their interest. Instead, they devour book after book after book...and love it because they feel "grown up" and because we attempt to set before them the best of the best.

As is usually the case, there remain disputes about how this literature is best approached. Some suggest taking each piece nice and slow and evaluating every single literary, biblical, philosophical, philological, historical and symbolic aspect. Others advocate quantity: read, read, read...fast and furiously...they'll pick it up on all this stuff automatically over time.

I advocate something in the middle of these two extremes.

When a student is forced to slug through a book at a snail's pace, catching every minute detail, something of the literary cadence is lost, and it can even become drudgery. Besides, a good book demands to be read! Extensive evaluation is tortuous!

At the same time, a student will certainly not become adept at identifying figures of speech and description, or at evaluating the stature of a written work, simply by exposure. For instance, if you don't teach and point up examples of "Inclusion" your student will never recognize it on his own and a layer of the joy of reading will be lost to him. Thus with dozens of other literary techniques. Likewise, if they are not taught to identify ideas and worldviews behind the story, a layer of meaning and depth is left undiscovered.

I have found that, generally speaking, from the 3rd grade on, 8-10 books a school year is a reasonable number. To gain the most educational profit, yet not lose the momentum of the story by over-analyzing it, focus in on the particular literary strengths of the author.

For example, when my 5th graders read Where the Red Fern Grows, we talked about its worldview and studied vocabulary (as we do with every piece of literature), but our special focus was on Rawls' masterful use of imagery. His ability to paint a picture in the mind's eye is stunning, so recognizing and imitating these descriptions was prominent. However, when reading Johnny Tremain, plot, and historical setting were emphasized. With Amos Fortune, we focused on the ways that time and circumstance (setting) affect character development and growth; whereas with The Hobbit, we emphasized fantasy and symbolism.

This doesn't mean that we neglect other important aspects of these books, but we touch on some features cursorily, while lingering on those which are superior or which the student is in need of learning. You might be surprised how quickly they catch on and begin recognizing these elements even when you don't point it out. It becomes habitual for them to notice similes, metaphors, foreshadowing, worldview statements, etc. so that it carries over into their independent reading...and that is the goal!

Our aim is not to have students pass a test, or correctly define terms...for a few weeks. Our aim is to teach them to read with purpose and to impose sound evaluation and judgements on what they read 25 years from now! We are not teaching mere facts, but forming minds.

Practice is essential. "Studying" through a book necessarily slows you down and extracts at least a measure of delight; however, with lots of practice, students begin to almost unconsciously absorb the literary and worldview techniques in a book without losing momentum or joy. It becomes second nature to analyze and process as you go.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Time for Some Cam-PAIN-in'!

I mostly avoid the topic of politics because it "gets my dander up," so to speak, but my Daddy just sent me this short video that I thought was hilarious...partly because it makes fun of pretty much everyone!

ENJOY!!

Classical Education: Hallmarks 2

Another distinguishing feature of CE, is its very deliberate, intense study of language.

The tools used to foster skills in this area are Phonics & Spelling, English Grammar, Latin, Greek, Literature, Composition and Systematic Vocabulary Study. The primacy of language studies cannot be overemphasized! The student who has a vice-grip on language has the wide world at his disposal!

I have written extensively on these in the past, so I'll make a few remarks, then offer links to previous posts.

We lay the foundation for continuing growth in language, by teaching our students to read, and by reading to them extensively. It is essential that as they progress through Grammar school, we set before them challenging literature and vocabulary. Not that which is beyond their reach, but that which is outside their experience. The best way to cultivate mastery of the language, is to couple systematic instruction in spelling, vocabulary, and grammar, with copious amounts of intelligent talk and intelligent reading.

If our students are to be prepared to access primary-source historical documents, they must have at their disposal a substantial word-base, the inductive and deductive skills to ascertain the meaning of new words, and the grammatical proficiency to wade through lengthy, complex sentence structures - all of which enable them to comprehend and digest these works.

An excellent, aggressive classical education will incorporate all the necessary means to ensure its students have mastered the English language. Of course, I must mention that the study of Latin and Greek are extremely helpful in this regard. Not only because of the abundance of words we draw from them (in that case, roots study alone would be sufficient), but they offer greater insight into grammar and the structure of language than the study of English grammar alone provides.

If you're interested in reading more on these topics, follow the links below.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Subscribe To She's No Lady

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Classical Education: Hallmarks 1B

Continuing from post "Hallmarks 1A" where I asserted: An unparalleled focus on history is one of the hallmarks of an excellent classical education.

After 6th grade, when students have completed a chronological study of history from Creation to WWII (with an early emphasis on their own history...family, community, state, country, etc.), they're ready to start at the beginning and do it again. This time the focus is less on biography and story and concentrates instead on firming up the chronology, which is crucial to an accurate and thorough understanding of history!

Since students will complete this 2nd cycle in 2 years (7th-8th grades), obviously the teacher is not able to teach in great depth. The goal should be for each student to identify all the major eras and movements in history, know the primary ideas that emerged during those time frames, and be able to place prominent men and events accurately within those eras. "Men" would include political figures, theologians, artists, composers, philosphers, authors, religious leaders, scientists, etc. "Events" would include the rise and fall of kingdoms, battles, influential beliefs, technological advances, etc. We want our students to KNOW THE FLOW and begin to be familiar with the cultures from which these men and events sprang as well as the cultural changes to which they gave birth.

The display of a visual timeline and students' routine interaction with that timeline is essential. They should also be involved in creating their own...not dozens of little timelines, but a coherent whole. I can't stress enough that this image of the flow of time should be firmly planted and called forth in their minds in order for their 3rd trip through history to prove most beneficial. Remember, if you (the instructor) present an overwhelming amount of data, students will never retain it. The purpose of these 2 years is to cement that information which we want them to remember decades from now. Again, concentrate on the flow and where men and events fit rather than on exact dates. Only a few handfuls of dates need to be learned...students may not know the exact dates when Magellan sailed, but they should readily and precisely place him at the right place on a timeline (i.e. in the correct era, and correctly between surrounding events).

Once students master this flow of history, they are prepared to plunge head first into a third round with an in-depth emphasis on philosophy and ideas. The purpose is for students to recognize that every cultural expression - art, politics, wars, economics, literature, movies, etc. etc. etc. - are all outworkings of belief which either conform to or challenge the "zeitgeist." None of these are isolated events occurring in a vacuum. They are influenced by and exert influence on one another. When taken together, students not only gain a thorough understanding of and "feel" for a particular era but, as stated previously, they grasp the connection between belief and action...between ideas and their consequences.

I'll try to use another post later in the series to talk about resources that provide the necessary "content" for this type of history study. For now let this suffice: I recommend lots of age-appropriate biography, historical fiction and fine-art images for the 1st round, a solid text on Western Cilvilzation provides a pretty good summary of history for round 2 (even if you don't use the text itself with your students, it will help you determine the most significant events and people that should be highlighted!). And finally, primary sources should be your greatest resource during the 3rd round...speeches, essays, autobiographies, letters, historical documents (political and religious), along with the art, literature and music produced during the age being studied.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Just Do It

Somebody please tell me. Who started this crazy, juvenile, inexplicable trend of grown men who are unable to make up their minds? Was Michael Jordan the first big-time athlete who retired, then came out of retirement...multiple times? Or is he just the first one I'm old enough to remember? :-) At least he had the good sense to stay out of the game for a year or two before "deactivating" his retirement. So, maybe he was tired or losing his edge, only to discover after a time of rest that he still had "it." I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

It seems, though, that this began what is now a routine, predictable pattern of athletes who "retire" from the game, in grand and flourishing fashion - cameras! families! proclamations of dedication to their kids! and tears! there must be tears! - only to announce, in similar grand and flourishing fashion, their return the following season...that is, at the close of off-season. Quite frankly, these men appear pitiful...at least in my eyes.

Can they find nothing worthy of their time outside The Sport? Is real life with a wife and kids just not enough? Are there no causes in their communities that would benefit from their active involvement? Do they possess no other skills that allow them to become contributing members of society? Or is it the absence of accolades and adulation that drives them back? Are they addicted to the spotlight? Or to the game itself? Perhaps their overblown egos tell them the game won't be the same without them? Maybe they're simply rash, inept decision makers. I don't know, but I'm sure a whole host of shrinks would love to dig into their psyches and figure it all out. Maybe they already have.

But the good news is: there are exceptions. Those who have resisted the pull to return to the game. What about those athletes who DO retire...and stay there? Like Ozzie Smith, or John Elway, or the best retiree ever...John Kruk. Talk about exiting in grand fashion...or memorable fashion anyway.

Or...how about Andy Benes? Granted, he's not exactly Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong or Brett Favre...but he did pitch successfully in the Majors for 14 years...and he went out on a fairly high note. And guess what? He found LIFE! He returned to college, is active with a local bank, and he rediscovered his family. Recently, when interviewed by McGraw Millhaven (550 KTRS) about his peripheral political involvement with the McCain campaign, he talked about life after baseball.

"Since I got done with baseball - I missed out on so much - and I'm gonna say it on your show: I was a bad husband and a bad dad, 'cause I was just never around. And I have really tried to pour my life into my wife and my kids, and be involved."

And you know what? It's not just empty radio talk. I've seen it. He drives carpool. He attends his high school daughter's softball games. And he shows up in shorts and a t-shirt, looking like every other dad...well, like a very large version of every other dad..., and sits on the hot, hard bleachers to watch his 7th grader play soccer. Living outside the spotlight as though nobody should know or care who he is. He's a dad...and one who is trying to expand his family.

"We have a 19-year-old gonna be 20 - and we're gonna be adopting a couple children less than, hopefully, 2-years-old, so we're gonna be 'The Great American Family.' We could have grandkids and kids the same age...isn't that awesome? [laughter]"

When McGraw [550's only host worth listening to, I might add...] asks whether or not he was really a bad husband, Andy replies: "I was just gone a lot. When you're involved...it doesn't matter if you're a baseball player or you collect garbage or you work for Ameren UE... you know...guys pour themselves into their jobs, and who suffers? Typically, it's our wives and our kids...the people that are most important, and I just really failed in that way. I was so consumed. There's so much pressure with baseball, and it's not important...it's a game...it's fun for the fans to go to...it's a great game, but it's not life or death and in the whole scheme of things...it's entertainment. But we put all that burden, and we get self-focused and anyway...I'm just really excited to be at home and involved with my kids' activities."

Aye, there's the rub. The man has perspective. "IT'S NOT IMPORTANT...IT'S A GAME...IT'S NOT LIFE OR DEATH...ITS' ENTERTAINMENT." Did you hear that Brett? Roger? All you middle-aged men who missed out on so much while you were soaking up the spotlight? It's O-K. There's is life after sports, but you gotta get out there and find it!

And for Pete's sake...when it's time to retire...please...JUST DO IT!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Very Own "Joe"

I have had a fascination with football - and especially with good quarterbacks - since the first time I saw Joe Montana complete a pass. That was a VERY long time ago, but my romance with the game has never ended. Of necessity, it has been ignored to a great extent since the birth of my first child, but now, thanks to him, I may get to re-ignite the flame.

Grant has dreamed of playing football for at least the past 8 years of his life, but only now has the opportunity been granted him. He spent his summer in the weight room, trying with every ounce of his 130 lbs. to buff-up his skinny little frame so he'd at least have a chance to compete with all his teammates who have already been playing for years.

Did it pay off...all that work? Well, he's still rather scrawny, but he's got some serious biceps and rock-hard six-pack abs to show for it. And, in his team's first 2 games, he's gotten some decent playing time: at safety, slot back, and defensive back. (Sorry, April) He's done a pretty good job of mucking up a couple plays...for the other team that is. (And that's a good thing, girls!)

But yesterday...yes, let's talk about yesterday.

Yesterday...The Boy took some snaps at Quarterback. Oh, yeah. That's my boy. The first series didn't go so well. 1st down: The Boy opts to run it himself for an 11-yard gain and another 1st down. Cool. Didn't have the faintest idea he was capable of that. However, he and his comrades failed to convert to 1st down on the next 4 plays, allowing the opposition to take over with pretty good field position.

There he is - second from the left - waiting for his first snap.

BUT...his Coach generously decided to give him another shot. And it paid off. He led the team on a drive to the endzone. YEAH, BABEEE! I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that...this was their team's first offensive drive that resulted in a touchdown.

Maybe...just maybe...I have my very own Joe.

Disclaimer: Starting QB, Davis, is an incredible athlete and probably has more yardage than any player on the team. And probably more solid tackles as well! NO discredit to him whatsoever...I'm just havin' fun with My Boy!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jeffrey

As requested by Brandy, here are a couple pictures of my brother. I posted the Marine shot, 'cause it's always been a favorite of mine. He looks like such a baby...

Here is a more recent shot of him with his wife, Dawnn.

Classical Education: Hallmarks 1A

As hinted at previously, there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter classical school. Within the community exists a diverse range of opinions and emphases; however, I will propose a couple aspects which I consider hallmarks of an excellent classical education.

CE is dinstinguished by an unparalleled focus on history: the center around which all, or at least most, other content is organized. Not only is it central to the curriculum, but it is taught chronologically - revolutionary, I know - and the cycle is completed 3 times before a student graduates from high school. I have heard 2 major arguments against teaching history this way, so I'll briefly defend the practice.

Some purport that young children don't understand the concept of "Time" and therefore do not benefit from, and can in fact be confused by, chronological study. Now, it is certainly true that they do not grasp the philosophical meaning and language of "Time" but then...neither do I! But they certainly DO, from a very early age, understand the simple idea that one thing happened before another. That is all that is required. We don't let the fact that they don't understand the relationship between "symbol" and "the thing signified" keep us from teaching them to read, do we?

Another argument is that young children cannot understand that which is outside their realm of experience, so it is sufficient to teach them the history of their own family, city, school, etc. There is some validity to this argument, but if carried too far, we would fail to teach many things to our children. A significant part of education is bringing the student face-to-face with unfamiliar people, places and ideas. Additionally, by the time children enter school, they should have already have ample experience with "that which they haven't seen or experienced" through the development of their imaginations!

The validity of this argument is found in one of the foundational principles of teaching: that you begin with the familiar and proceed to the unfamiliar. Granted. That is a highly instructive and valuable principle with which I have no disagreement. Coupling this approach with the belief that children should be most familiar with their own history, leads to this suggested course of study:

Kindergarten - Family and community history
1st Grade - State history and some early American
2nd Grade - More Early American; begin Ancient Egypt 2nd semester
3rd Grade - Ancient Greece & Rome
4th Grade - Medieval (Augustine - Reformation)
5th Grade - Explorers & Early American (through Westward Expansion)
6th Grade - Civil War - WWII

This first cycle through history should be taught using stories, images, and memorization! Stories of great men and women who sacrificed for the good of others, and stories of events that changed the course of the world. HISTORY IS NOT BORING unless we make it so. History is fraught with fascinating accounts that captivate the hearts and minds of children. A wealth of biography and historical fiction are available for these ages...use them! Along with the stories, utilize images (a good way to incorporate fine art into your curriculum) that offer realistic representation of the era being studied, allowing the children to see the stories in their minds with some degree of accuracy. Those "facts" of history that are significant enough to require retention, should be set to songs, chants and rhymes which will be reviewed year after year. The rest provides exposure to lives that are worthy of emulation, or demonstrate the destruction wrought by foolishness. Children begin to sift all of history through the grid of God's sovereignty, and they begin to recognize the way He uses both man's wisdom and folly to bring about His own purposes. Next to the Scriptures themselves, history probably provides the greatest opportunity for growth in wisdom.

Around 4th-6th grade, depending on the maturity of your students, intensify the level of critical-thinking applied to the stories. As these children enter the "Logic" phase of learning, they benefit from being asked hard questions about men, events, decisions, and consequences. Challenge them to evaluate the ideas and beliefs behind these.

As this post has already become lengthier than I intended, I'll reserve the remainder of the history discussion for the next installment!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Playing With Riesa

Riesa loves to play games, and this was one of those mornings when she voluntarily came out of her room to hang out with me. After 278 viewings of Old Yeller, I guess even I was less boring than viewing #279!


So...we played UNO. There's only one little problem with playing UNO with Riesa. She always wins. How is that a problem, you ask naively? Well, I hate to lose!
And this is how she begins: all smug and everything. Can't you just see the "I'm-SO-gonna-whip-your-butt" look in her eye?! This is what I have to put up with!
AND...she's SOOO confident that she begins each game by showing me her hand! What arrogance! "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Look what I have!"

Then....after she plays a "DRAW FOUR" card, this is what I get:
Oh...the unmitigated gall!! (movie reference there...anyone?)
Speaking of "Draw Four"...the player who lays it down gets to choose what color will be played next. Here's what the card looks like...well, sort of...I forgot to put my glasses on before I took the picture, so it's a little blurry:

Most people, after playing the card would say "Yellow" or "Red." Not Riesa...she doesn't say a color at all. She says, "Letter B" which means she wants to pick Blue.
However, when she plays THIS version of a wildcard:
She'll say, "Letter I" if she wants blue, because the letter "i" is blue. Some would say it's just the way her brain works...but me? I know this as a deceptive and clever strategy she employs to keep me off-balance...and it works!
Actually, Riesa does this in other areas of life as well. When I ask her if she wants mustard or mayonnaise on her sandwich, she'll say, "Letter W" which means she wants mayonnaise. Huh? Well, mayo is White. Juice or milk? "Letter R" for Red juice...or maybe "Letter A" for Apple juice. Thankfully, I grew up around her and understand a little bit of the way her brain operates.
Anyway, back to UNO...not that I really wanna go there...because THIS is how the game ends: with her cackling because her final card is indeed the right color...

And me...stuck with this:
Which leaves me looking like this:

She's not responsible for the haggard, unkempt look...only for the distraught facial expression. The haggard part comes from living in a testosterone-infested household and the unkempt part is a result of driving home this morning (65 beautiful degrees) with all my windows down.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Classical Education: Virtuous Living 2

So what does it mean to attain the goal of Classical Education...to "live well"? It means to manifest honesty, integrity, faithfulness, sobriety, respect, determination, compassion, charity, patience, generosity and selflessness. Even non-Christians view these as worthy traits which, if practiced by the majority, would improve the world in which we live.

At least that was once the case.

Unfortunately, a sustained and pervasive relativism and skepticism has characterized education for enough years to make it difficult for our society to agree, not only on which characteristics qualify as virtues, but also on the definition of those qualities which we all deem as virtuous.

In order to last, true virtue must be rooted in Christianity. Unless firmly grounded and held in place by a system of belief, it will be blown about by every new wind, or blown away like chaff.

Why is honesty a virtue? Because the majority of citizens views it as such? What if they cease to recognize its value? Does it then cease to be a virtue? The same questions can be asked regarding every noble quality. The only enduring answer requires belief in a system of unalterable absolutes. Christians know those absolutes spring from the very essence of our Creator. He embodies and manifests all the virtues which we desire to emulate. Because they originate in Him, they are eternal and unchangeable in their goodness. How do we determine and define virtue? We look to the Author of all virtue and in His word and actions we see the Virtuous Image which we are created to reflect, then we strive to conform ourselves more and more to that Image.

Does that mean that classical education is only profitable for Christians? Well...no. Its benefits are more permanent when its recipients embrace Christianity, but the law of God is written on the hearts of all men so, when it is not entirely suppressed, even the unbeliever recognizes the value of a life well-lived and guided by virtue.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Brother's Babies

They're beautiful, aren't they?

Fortunately, for the past week, Jeffrey has been able to enjoy them. The combination of radiation, chemo, and dozens of pills, are providing him fairly significant relief from his pain. Of course, he is a soldier...not just any soldier...a Marine...,and I'm told he can secretly endure a great deal, but it was bad enough previously that he couldn't hide it. His appetite has returned and he even drove himself to treatment on Thursday and Friday last week!

It's tempting to hope that maybe this cancer can be beaten afterall, but very quickly I remind myself of the truth and simply thank God that he is able to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life for now. One of my fears was that treatment would make him miserable and so far that is not the case at all. Thank you for your continued prayers for him and his family.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Classical Education: Virtuous Living 1

Classical education is not job-training.

The foundational philosophy of C.E. asserts that the goal of education is not economic, but living a good life.

All free men, regardless of the work they will eventually pursue, need a measure of knowledge, understanding and wisdom which will enable them to lead virtuous lives. Therefore, classical ed neglects, for a time, strictly utilitarian, job-specific skills in favor of cultivating a mastery of language, perspicuity of thought and purity of life.

The ancients believed this education must lead its students to discern the transcendent values of Goodness, Beauty and Truth. Exposure to the best and highest in all disciplines would result in refined tastes and sound judgements. They insisted that not all ideas or expressions of ideas are equally valid and virtuous, and that students do not instinctively know the difference and therefore must be trained to know. These assertions highly offend modern sensibilities and have led some to label this education as elitist. It can be, if we let it, but is not inherently so. (More about that when I address the pitfalls of C.E.)

The goal, then, of Classical Education is not for its students to achieve high SAT scores, be accepted at an Ivy League school, obtain a particular job, reach a certain level of financial gain, or to be labeled as successful, but rather to acquire wisdom which will enable its possessor to live well in every capacity of life - his home, his workplace, his neighborhod, his community, and his world.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Attention Deficit...Who ME?

It occurred to me this afternoon, that I have begun several "series" on here which I have never completed. Prayer...Figures of Description...Fundamental Tenets of Teaching...and now I've started a new 1-Part-"Series" on Classical Education! I think maybe I have a problem. Would Ritalin help, ya think? Hmmm....

I will attempt to focus and exercise some staying power, and I will try to go back and fulfill all my promises. Maybe none of you really care, but in case you've noticed and felt let down, you have my almost sincere apologies. It's just that it takes SO MUCH TIME to write, so all those ideas spinning in my noggin, are not so easy to get out in a timely and coherent fashion.

Here's my committment: NO MORE NEW SERIES UNTIL ALL THE OLD ONES ARE COMPLETE!

Classical Education: The Trivium

What is Classical Education?
If you asked that question of 10 people within the Classical Education community, you would receive 10 variations on a theme. I've had a couple people ask me this lately, so here's my take:

First of all, Classical Education does not mean that we educate the same way the Greeks or Romans did. The ancient Greeks, thank God, did not start our schools. Greek education was reserved for wealthy families who hired tutors for their boys only, and these tutors frequently engaged in homosexual relations with their students. The entire Greek culture was one of pagan, idolatrous, hedonistic belief and lifestyle. That is absolutely not what modern classical education is about. Nor do we exclusively study the civilizations of western antiquity. We do utilize the languages of the classical culture as well as their techniques for logical thinking and effective communication, and we do see these cultures as the spring of our own civilization, but I'll talk more about that later. For now, let it suffice to say that classical education draws heavily from Reformation era thinking, as well as modern theory and practices, and could probably more accurately be called a Liberal Arts education.

One practical proof of this is that most everyone in the classical community, when asked to describe this education, will first cite Dorothy Sayers essay on the "Trivium" as the defining characteristic of this education. You can't get much more modern and much less classical (in era) than Miss Sayers. I believe this Trivium only scratches the surface of a methodology which is usually supported by the philosophical underpinnings of a rigorous liberal arts education.

So, what is this Trivium that everyone loves to talk about? It is an approach to education that seeks to help children learn according to their natural bent at particular ages.

For example: young children - from about age 2-10 - have the capacity to quickly and easily memorize copious amounts of information. They really love to show off what they've learned! They love to rhyme, sing, and move. They're utterly captivated by good stories. A classical classroom will captilize on these loves, by incorporating them into the learning strategy. History stories are set to rhyme. Scientific definitions are tailored to familiar tunes. Grammar facts are chanted aloud. This is the first "stage" of learning, referred to as the Grammar or Poll Parrot stage.

The next stage is the Logic, or Pert stage. From around age 11 or so (these ages vary slightly among individual children....children enter the next stage when they begin demonstrating characteristics of that stage), children are not nearly as fond of chanting and singing but are unceasingly fond of asking difficult questions that they think you can't answer. They seek diligently for any inconsistencies in your reasoning or ideas, and are more than happy to point them out. They begin to wonder "why" and "how" about the truths and facts they have learned previously. The classical teacher uses these characteristics to his advantage. Students are taught formal logic, and they are encouraged to begin to see the connections between all the facts they have learned. Questions and vigorous dialogue are standard practice..Rather than fear the questioning student or see him simply as rebellious, the teacher welcomes those questions (obviously, Christian students must be taught to ask out of respect and genuine curiosity, not merely a desire to ensnare the teacher!). There's just one little problem: this requires a truly knowledgeable, confident and very patient teacher!

As students enter high school (age 14 or so), they desire to make their opinions known. They have begun to take ownership of certain beliefs, ideas and interests and want to express them...either through speech, the written word, music or even poetry. Therefore this is referred to as the Rhetoric or Poetic stage. Students who have been well-taught, are ready to fine-tune their preferred avenue of expression by means of repetition, exposure to masters, and a well-equipped instructor who can teach them how to bolster their weaknesses and maximize their strengths.

In this stage, students can consider an era of history and draw conclusions about actions and ideas by studying in concert: national events, political beliefs, philosophy, science/technology, literature, art, music, theology, and church history. When taken as a whole, the student is able to recognize the cause and effect between these facets of life, which are not separate subjects, but intertwined expressions and outworkings of beliefs. They begin to understand the consequences of ideas and the way cultures are shaped, which leads them to evaluate their own ideas and culture.

So, there you have round 1! Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric...or Poll, Pert and Poetic. It is generally agreed that MODERN Classical Education utilizes this "Trivium" approach to learning. After 10 years of active involvement in this type of education, I am convinced of its merits, and believe it effectively capitalizes on the natural learning inclinations of each age.

More to come...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Week Later (For You All)

As for me...

I have spent the past 40 days trying hard to suppress my excitement about the addition to our family. Knowing the risks are great at my age, I was determined not to become too attached...just in case. Well, I failed.

We learned yesterday, at our 10-week ultrasound, that our baby no longer has a hearbeat. I had begun to feel a little differently already and wondered if everything was alright, so the test just confirmed my worst fears. My reaction made it quite clear that I was already attached to this little one.

I really dreaded telling the boys, because they had been SO excited, but they were O-K. Very, very sad...but O-K. They have both been sweet and attentive to me from the moment we told them about the baby, and are even moreso now. Upon receiving the bad news, I wished we hadn't told them in the first place, so they wouldn't have to be sad, but I'm beginning to realize that experiencing this together as a family will be good for us in the long run.

I had also hesitated to tell the wide world that we were expecting, including our church family, but the excitement felt and shown by everyone, and now the expressions of sorrow for our loss, have made us realize how loved we are, and how blessed we are to belong to the large, strong and caring family of Christ.

Thank you all for your prayers and kind words.

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord."