26 August 2006

The Power of Music

The next session I attended at CiRCE was taught by John Mason Hodges and was entitled, “The Power of Music”. John is a wonderful and energetic teacher whose enthusiasm is contagious. The Wild Bunch had lunch with him on Friday and it was a blast! He’s witty, erudite, thoughtful, down-to-earth, and simply exudes joy. During John’s workshop, he began to unpack (for me, at least) what it means “to train our affections to love that which is good”.

As usual, my rabbit trails are italicized and colored for clarity.

Plato said that the ideal forms of things reflect and are analogous to virtue. Christ is the embodiment of truth, goodness, and beauty and virtue.

In the Greek mind, there were two ideas regarding music:

1. It’s based on mathematic proportions. Pythagoras discovered the natural connection between harmony and pitch.

If we take a string and pluck it, then divide it in half and pluck it again, the second pitch will be one octave higher than the first pitch. If we divide the string in thirds, the tone equals a triad. This is based on ratios that God built into the created order. I’m a bit fuzzy on this last point about the triad - my notes aren’t complete enough, I’m not that knowledgeable regarding music, and I don’t have my CD’s yet to be able to go back and relisten to this session. I hope to revisit this and try to clarify it when I get the chance. If I remember correctly, he went into more detail about this in a later session.

The Greek word for ratio is logos. In a previous blog entry I wrote this, which I think applies (the quote is a small excerpt from Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic; the rest has been tweaked just a bit from what I originally wrote): “ ‘logos: the unchangeable and necessary law for the very nature of things; a fact; objective truth.’ ”

“Jesus is the logos, not just the Word as we conceive of it in English, or the study of something as when we refer to a branch of knowledge with ‘-ology’, but the unchangeable and necessary law of everything - ‘In the beginning was the Unchangeable and Necessary Law of Everything, and the Unchangeable and Necessary Law of Everything was with God and the Unchangeable and Necessary Law of Everything was God. Through Him all things were made.’ ”

So, how does this apply to music? Well, this mathematical basis is the unchangeable and necessary law of music. Without this structure built into the physical world during creation, there would be no music. Music is built into the very fabric and physics of creation. And Scripture tells us that Christ is actually the Logos, so he is at the foundation of what makes music music and all things hold together in him, including music.

To the Greeks, the first ideas presented in John’s gospel (that the Logos was in the beginning, that the Logos was with God, that the Logos was God, and that through the Logos all things were made) were understandable, but the the idea presented several verses later, that the Logos was actually embodied and made incarnate (the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us) was absolutely shocking.

So, we come back to the ratio and proportion at the foundation of music. Music is mathematically harmonious, ideal order made vibrant enough for us to hear it, organized sound that imparts gracefulness and begins to teach the soul to love virtue. This reminded me of Andrew’s comment that the Kindergarten teacher’s most important job is to expose her charges to beauty.

2. The Muses were nine daughters of Zeus who inspired the arts: (I looked this up on Wikipedia and cleaned up the list John was struggling to come up with from memory) epic poetry, music and lyric poetry, history and heroic poetry, lyrics and love poetry, tragedy, hymns and sacred poetry, dance and choral song, comedy, and astronomy. The Muses all had the same mother, Memory. Inspiration is impossible without looking back in time.

The Muses were said to have sung their inspiration; the whole universe vibrated with their harmony.

To be amused is to be uninspired by the Muses. Amusement is a break from being mused. Consider the irony that, today, we use music to amuse ourselves.

Augustine wrote, regarding rhythm: “The material world includes the soul, which is invisible material. It has form. Rhythm forms and gives shape to the soul. It shapes the way we perceive things and contributes to the training of our sensibilities to recognize and love beauty when we see it. There is (or maybe “should be”?) a connection between melody, harmony, rhythm, and what the student loves.

Music is numbers in audible form.

Gothic cathedral architecture of Christendom also has a harmony of number as seen in the shape and proportions of the building, the spacing of windows, etc. Musical harmonies were composed specifically for the architecture and acoustics of Chartres Cathedral. Theology is the center of the liberal arts. This is shown in the south entrance of Chartres, where the tympanum shows Christ in the middle with the seven liberal arts and a representative practitioner of each art arrayed around Him.

There were three aspects of beauty in the Middle Ages (see Art and Music in the Middle Ages, by Umberto Eco):

  1. the Greek idea of proportion and number

  2. light: a symbol of unity because white light is a unity of all color; it is essential to seeing and knowing

  3. symbol
Thomas (Aquinas?): “Art is the science of constructing things according to their natures.” We moderns no longer think about the nature of things.

Bacon started it. Instead of adapting to the nature of things, his perspective was that we can know enough to have power over things.

Virtue is doing. Art is making and requires knowing the nature of the materials being used. To apply this to music, medievally, a musical instrument player wasn’t considered a musician, nor was a composer considered a musician. Musical theorists were considered true musicians because they understood the nature (the structure and form) of music.

Aquinas said that beauty is that which pleases upon being seen and is composed of unity, proportion, and clarity (understandability). We, however, have separated the object from the subjective experience. Kant believed that appreciation is a subjective act. We need to recalibrate ourselves to feel what we ought to feel.

We current-day Christians acknowledge that there is absolute truth and absolute goodness, but we don’t acknowledge that there is absolute beauty. We must press this contradiction with our students to help them see where we are today.

We moderns have a deep-seated prejudice against reasoning about music. I was discussing this with a friend last night and she commented that a fairly well-known author told her recently that he is seeing a new attitude in Christian teens - they don’t want to discuss the story or cinematic elements of a film, even after the fact, because it will destroy the experience of enjoying the film. My dh and I have observed the same thing in many adults of our acquaintance.

The power of music is that it reveals through general revelation. It should be studied instead of used, and understood in terms of number. This reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism, which presents the same idea in terms of literature and books.

I don’t know that I can pull this together any more than I’ve done here. I also don’t know that I agree or disagree with anything. (You’ll notice that I included fewer rabbit trails on this session than I’ve had in the past.) I have a feeling that this was so new to me that I didn’t even know what to write as I tried to take notes and that I left a lot out, so it feels disjointed. I haven’t really given these points much thought. My goal today was simply to try to process it a bit more, even if I don’t understand it yet. I look forward to the arrival of my conference CD’s so my dh and I can listen to this one and try to puzzle it out together . John’s next workshop was much more practical and I might find some connections between the two workshops when I get there. (I’m working through my notes chronologically, so it’ll be awhile.)

21 August 2006

Musing About Musing

Friday night at dinner, my husband and I discussed my notes on James Daniels’ workshop regarding leisure. Ever the engineer, he thinks it sounds great, but he’s also concerned that if we become out of balance, our children’s processing speed will be affected (that was said tongue-in-cheek, but does accurately express his concern).

After our discussion, I felt that I should look again at the balance Mr. Daniels discussed that was traditional to education. We need both ratio, or discursive and analytical ability, and intellectus, or the ability to be still and contemplate. This needn’t be an either/or proposition.

Ratio is achieved in a Christian classical education by the rigor of our studies of Latin, logic, rhetoric, math, history, literature, theology, and science.

Intellectus is achieved in a Christian classical education by taking time to think, read, and discuss deeply ... by taking time to contemplate and appreciate a work of art ... by simply taking time.

In our present culture, the pendulum has swung toward the ratio side of things. Our American way of life is all rush and hurry, deadlines and goals, busyness and to do lists, information and analysis.

Lest my dear husband (who is one of my faithful readers) think that I’ll overcompensate and cut down on ratio as I seek to increase intellectus, I offer the following rambling thoughts:

In ancient Greek mythology, the daughters of Memory were the twelve Muses. The Muses were responsible for inspiring creativity in music, epic poetry, dance, theatre, the writing of history, etc. (more on this when I get to the next workshop by John Hodges). When an artist was “in the zone” it was thought that he was being visited and inspired by a Muse.

In English, the word muse means “to be absorbed in thought” (v.) or “ an instance or period of reflection” (n.) [ye olde Apple widget, again].

And thus, we have muse, with connotations of creativity and deep thought. I think there is a connection between muse and recreation or, maybe it would be more clear if I wrote it thus: “re-creation”. We aren’t creators in the ex nihilo sense that God is the creator, but we are made in his image and, to use Tolkien’s term, are created to be sub-creators. We don’t create out of nothing, but we imitate our creator when we take his raw materials and change their form, giving them structure, and in the process re-create something beautiful, just as Adam was told to tend the garden, making it even more beautiful than it already was. This is true recreation.
The opposite of muse is amuse. The prefix makes all the difference. That one small vowel changes the word to mean the opposite - without creativity, without deep, reflective thought. The French origins of the word are telling and carry connotations of causing oneself or another to stare stupidly by means of entertainment or deception [ibid.]. (There’s something to reflect on the next time you find yourself awaking from a television-induced alpha-wave stupor during a commercial and you can’t remember what show you were watching.)

I know that word meanings change through the course of time, but I find tracing the etymology of a word to be fascinating and helpful toward understanding and questioning the presuppositions I soak in simply by living during the time period I do. As I contemplate how we got from point a to point b, I begin to see the culture I live in differently. I think that, as we track these kinds of changes in word meanings and usages, we can begin to get a feel for the direction in which cultural presuppositions have shifted through time.

In our culture today, when our work is over and we have downtime, we want to watch television, sit and play a computer game, or read a novel that demands no thought or creativity from us. We want to amuse ourselves: check out, veg, zone - call it what you will.

One of my favorite films comes to mind. In the 90’s remake of Sabrina (starring Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear), Sabrina has spent a year in Paris. She arrives home in New York and changes Linus’s life. Linus is a work-a-holic; he lives at the office, has no friends, and deep down he resents it. Sabrina teaches him to live, to enjoy life, to begin to relax (and as a result, he falls in love with her, but, hey, it’s Hollywood). The interesting thing in light of this discussion is that, as we watch her in Paris, learning to live well, Sabrina isn’t plopped in front of a television set, she doesn’t spend her time playing video games, or in cyber-cafés. She develops friendships, she learns to contemplate and observe life through a camera lens, she spends time “listening to the river” from her favorite bridge, she shops for fresh vegetables at the local marché, and she writes both in a journal and real letters home to her father. She learns to speak French. She tells Linus about her favorite walk in Paris in such detail that we know it’s something she did often and that she paid attention. Linus asks her to a typical evening on the town: dinner, drinks, and a Broadway show. Instead, in one of my favorite scenes, she introduces him to Moroccan food and after dinner, as they sit quietly and talk, she plays with and enjoys the scent and texture of fresh rose petals. This is living well.

(I would like to point out that, yes, this is a scene from a film, but, as a fan of film, I can’t watch one without spending time thinking about it and discussing it with those who watched it with me. We treat films like literature in that we look at story structure, foreshadowing, character development, themes, and lots more. There’s nothing passive or thoughtless about it.)

All this to say that I don’t want to replace ratio with intellectus in our schooling, but to marry the two. And if, in the process, we have less time for amusement, so be it.

18 August 2006

Leisure: The Basis of Schooling

The next session I attended at CiRCE was taught by James Daniels. In my journal, next to his name, I wrote, “a Hobbit”. This is the workshop that almost brought me to tears and that the Lord used to roll so many burdens from my shoulders. I walked out feeling a liberation regarding our schooling that I’ve never felt before. I think I also understood better what I’d been talking and thinking about for years, but didn’t know how to do. As a good friend says, “I want not only to school well, but to live well.”

My rabbit trails are italicized and set apart by color. I hope the color makes things more clear.

There are serious problems in our schools: we are producing anxiety and fear in our students. This fear and anxiety are reflections of our society at large which mistakes busyness for productivity.

Leisure is commonly thought of as an escape. This is the whisper of the spirit of the world. Our schools remain focused on retirement. We want our children to do well in school, so they can go to a good college, so they can earn enough money to retire and live an idle life that we call a life of leisure.

On the other hand, we see work as drudgery and busyness that’s punctuated with short respites of leisure or idleness.

However, in Genesis, we read that Adam was created for work. Before the fall, God set him to tend the garden.

We misunderstand the nature of both work and leisure.

The anxiety in our schools is driven by parents who want what’s best for their kids. Schools are afraid of not doing enough. Wanting what’s best for our children isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it must be approached with discernment.

Leisure Redefined

In the traditional definition, there are two types of thinking (not thinking about leisure, but actually two ways in which we think about thinking; in other words, two different kinds of thought or ways to think). Ratio is discursive and rigorous. Discursive means “proceeding by argument or reasoning rather than intuition” [Apple’s dictionary widget]. Intellectus refers to contemplation and is meditative. Contemplation means “the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time; deep reflective thought” [ibid.]. The goal was a harmony between the two types of thought. This is the difference between overstanding and understanding. When we stand under something, we submit to it. Understanding requires time to submit and therefore it requires time to contemplate and to reflect.

The Latin word schola, from which we derive the English words school and scholar, means “leisure”. Ever the skeptic, I looked it up when I got home in our Cassell’s Latin English Dictionary, and sure enough, the first definition listed was “learned leisure”. This refers to the contemplative, meditative thought described above and not to our modern ideas of leisure as respite and retirement, kicking back and vegging out. So it could be defined as “learned contemplative and meditative thought”. This view of schola and the type of leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) it promotes or helps us gain perspective.

It is not measurable. (The idea that something immeasurable could be so important to education flies in the face of the modern industrial approach to teaching our children and is worth a post of its own...someday.)

There are two types of arts in traditional education. The liberal arts were those disciplines studied and mastered by free men and their end is honor. The servile arts were those studied and mastered by slaves and their end is money. It’s not that the liberal arts make us free, which is a teaching I’ve heard before, but that they were studied by free men.

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by God. “Be still and know that I am God.” “Deep calls to deep.”

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by our lives. We must stop in order to process. Human beings are not computers; our processing speed does not matter. We are called to walk in the patterns established by Christ, who lived an abundant life, showing us the fullness of what it means to be a human being.

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by our calling as educators and leaders in schola. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I want to make sure that I don’t slip back into a faulty understanding of this word, “leisure”.

Most of teaching is what you don’t say, but is carried in our tone and attitudes.

Schooling Examined

Theological Foundations: education must be based on who God is and his beauty. We must take time to gaze upon God’s beauty. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Christ is our Sabbath rest. This perspective results in the cultivation of the entire human being, not just a mind.

Philosophical endeavors take time and quietude.

Practice Required (unfortunately, institutional schools don’t have most of these luxuries):
  • the patterns and personal disciplines of my life These have been severely lacking for me lately. God has been so good to bring this to my attention lately in many, many ways. It is truly his kindness that leads us to repentance!!
  • How do we approach God? Are we listening? Or is our prayer time simply a list of things for God to do, good things many of them, but we must ask ourselves, are we seeking him or his gifts?
  • We must re-think the way we design schools.
  • We must re-think the way we design and teach lessons: “Take five minutes of leisure,” (contemplative and meditative thought); “Stop and think about what was just said”; “What do you notice about ...?”; “Does this look familiar?”; “Time out.”
  • We must cultivate our students’ and our own aesthetic sensibilities.
  • We must acknowledge the mysteries of life. We cannot know everything and the sooner we acknowledge that the better.
  • Don’t jump, or allow our students to jump, to conclusions.
  • Don’t reward quick or snap answers.
  • Model wonderment and contemplation for students.
This will affect the way we order our days. Don’t start with a list of objectives. When we get up in the morning, say to yourself, “Self, you can’t do everything you need to do today. Get over it.” We must accept our limitations and prioritize our day at the Lord’s feet.

This is why I”m going to try to get us to outdoorsy places this year with our sketch pads and the camera (I hope at least once each week), away from the computers, phones, DVD’s, etc. of the city in which we live. We’re also going to putter in the yard and the garden. My desire in the garden isn’t necessarily to create an English or French country garden (although I would love it if it becomes a combination of them some day). My desire is simply to spend the time. It’s about the process and the time we’ll have for intellectus, for schola, for leisure, for thinking as we work with our hands. I want to begin teaching my children this wonderment and try to give them the ability to contemplate. It’s time to slow down, to be still and know that He is God, to listen to deep calling unto deep. I was also made aware of how blessed I am to be learning this as a homeschooler. Mr. Daniels stated that, as a teacher in a private school, he and his fellow-teachers are are struggling to figure out how to apply much of what he shared with us and has been contemplating and they’ve been discussing at his school. As a teacher at home with my children, I have much more flexibility in my day. There is also less delineation between school-time and nonschool-time. That line separating the two is quite blurry and shifts at home. I hope this will be a help toward my children’s learning to apply these principles to all of their lives and not just their academic work.

15 August 2006

Method vs. Content?

Kelly wrote:
Do you think it might be a bit overstated or too simplistic to say Method is more important than Content? Your analogy points out your meaning to a degree but one could say, arsenic in any form is still lethal. Perhaps some would suggest that what I bring up is so obvious it doesn't need to be stated. However, it might be something to ponder because, if it is true, then, where on that continuum does method become a higher priority?
I had a few niggling thoughts in the back of my mind when I heard Dr. Berquist make her statement about the importance of method over content, but I didn’t include them in in my original post because I wasn’t sure how to word them. I’ve had a bit of time to think about it and think I’ve got it.

Dr. Berquist’s original analogy was that a statue of her grandfather was of her grandfather whether it was made of bronze, marble, or sandstone. It was the shape that made it a statue of her grandfather. She related the shape of the statue to the method of our instruction and the material of the statue to the content of our instruction.

However (thought I), a statue of her grandfather wouldn’t last long, nor would it be appropriate if made of red jello. Red jello (or any color jello, for that matter) just wouldn’t be proper to the form of the statue.

I think there should be a marriage of method and content (at the very least they should be extremely good friends). I think we must look at our methods and make sure that they are proper or appropriate to the content.

I also think that often when we hear or read these kinds of statements, it behooves us to investigate or at least to contemplate what might have lead to it. Conference workshops aren’t developed in a vacuum. Dr. Berquist may have been trying to remedy an overabundance of content that has been wed to improper methods.

Are we, for example, focused on the result of a simple read-and-regurgitate test or quiz grade to judge comprehension, without concerning ourselves about whether the child truly understands the subtleties of the work (age appropriately, of course)? Does the method strengthen the relationship of the parent and the child as they learn and explore together? Does it treat the child as a relational human being or as a computer whose data needs to be checked for accuracy? We need to evaluate the propriety of our methods as they relate to our content, our family’s current needs, and our children.

So, while I don’t necessarily agree with her statement as she said it, it did cause me to think about the issue and possibly begin to see its appropriate application. That, however, brings up the question of what are the proper methods for the different disciplines (or subjects, to use a more modern word) of study. How do we learn this discernment? I certainly don’t claim to know all the answers, or even many of them. The questions above are my simple start as I begin to try to develop discernment in this. And the answers to those questions will necessarily depend on the age and maturity of the child, among other considerations.

Thanks for the question, Kelly. You helped me think about this and organize my swirling thoughts.

How I Came to Classical Education

I was recently asked how I came to classical education and to describe my changing definition of classical education through my journey. I thought it might make an interesting post, so here’s the story.

About 7 years ago, I heard George Grant speak. In one of his workshops, he sought to define classical education as describing the three stages of growth children experience (and, thus, is called the stages approach) - the first, the grammar stage, being the acquisition of facts; the second, the dialectic or logic stage, being the connection of those facts; and the third, or rhetoric stage, being the application of all those connected facts. He associated those three stages to the Bible's description of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. That worked for me for quite awhile, and gave me a basic framework (according to George's definition, any subject could be taught classically), but I still often found it overwhelming.

Through the years, I began to hear about other things in association with classical education: Latin, literature, the study of logic, history, rhetoric (the skill of persuasive writing and speaking). I tried to fit in those subjects we hadn't already been covering and to continue working on what we were working on - our load was getting pretty heavy.

I became acquainted with Andrew Kern, founder of the CiRCE Institute, about 5 years ago in the context of an online email loop. Andrew's influence was imperceptible and slow to work, but it's become huge in my thinking. Andrew's definition: "Classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty so that, in Christ, a student is better able to know, glorify, and enjoy God." As Martin Cothran said in his talk, this definition deals with the end goal of a classical education, but I was still stumped on the application - what does it look like day by day in my home?

Then, last year, as I began to prepare to work through formal logic with one of my children by studying it myself, I began to understand the connection between the grammar learned in what used to be called grammar schools (funny thing about the name) with the ability to think clearly and reason rightly. I also began to understand how rhetoric (persuasion) is then built upon logic (right thinking - if we don't reason rightly, we shouldn't try to persuade anyone of anything because without order to our thinking, the structure and style of rhetoric simply become empty propaganda and we will either fail to persuade or we will persuade when we shouldn’t).

I began to see that classical education must include, and is, in part, defined by an in-depth study of the structure of language (grammar, most often through inflected languages: Latin or Greek), a rigorous study of the structure of thinking (logic, both formal and informal), and thoughtful study of the structure of persuasion (rhetoric). These three disciplines form the skeleton, if you will, of a classical education. Without them, there is no classical education.

Classical education forms the mind. I know so many people who really don't understand basic grammar and it seems that they can't think clearly - grammar helps to give structure to the mind, as does logic, and rhetoric.

However, it's not enough solely to form the mind. In order to make classical education Christian, we must also work on loving our students and teaching them to love as Christ loved. Andrew explained this so well! We must teach our students virtue (Christlikeness, as much as it can be taught and relying on the grace of God to bring to maturity the seeds we plant). We must remember and remind our students that classical education is a gift from God and that we don't deserve it (humility). Classical education becomes hard and cruel when separated from Christ (as it was in British boarding schools before it was discounted among the educational elite in the 19th and 20th centuries).

This new understanding, virtue walking hand-in-hand with the disciplines of classical education, has been truly liberating for me. I've finally been able to pare down the number of subjects we're trying to cover; to slow down our pace, not just of school, but of life itself; to realize that the intellectual training I was aiming for is simpler than I thought it was and that it must be tied to love; that the simplicity relieves the pressure and allows us the time and energy to work on relationship and virtue in the context of our studies. This paring down is a setting of priorities and yet will increase the rigor of what we're learning - less, but much more deeply.

12 August 2006

Last Things First: An Integrated Plan for Education, by Laura Berquist

While I didn’t agree with everything Dr. Berquist said, she did give me some things to chew on. As before, my rabbit trails are in italics (maybe I should’ve called this blog “The Rabbit Trail”?):

As teachers, we need not just know truth, but how to pass on that truth to our students. The point of education is to know God. The primary purpose of education is to teach our students how to think and this requires an understanding of the human soul. We are working toward not just the passing on of information, but the formation of the mind. This reminds me of Andrew Kern: “Education is not the communication of facts from one mind to another; it is the communication of ideas from one soul to another.”

There is a time and purpose for everything. There is a right time for thinking about subjects and a right way to think about them at their given time in order to produce the right formation. For example: 13 is too young to read Anna Karenina. Instead teachers should explore where their students are in more depth instead of trying to cover ground the students aren’t ready for. Reading certain books or exposure to certain material too soon will make a student less likely to do it well and with understanding; students may also find it uninteresting.

I agree with this to a point, but not to the extent that Dr. Berquist seems to take it, or maybe that some of The Wild Bunch took it. I think that we most definitely need to evaluate our students in terms of moral and emotional readiness for certain books, not just academic readiness. However, I believe in setting the bar high. My students aren’t afraid to read harder books because they’ve been reading Jane Austen and watching Shakespeare for pleasure for years. And even if they don’t fully understand a work the first time they read it, that’s okay, as long as they realize they don’t fully understand it. If they read the book in the company of someone who loves it, they are more likely to love it and go back to it again and again, understanding more of it each time. I also think an early familiarity with a great book will help them understand it better in the future.

However, last year in our co-op we read Aristotle’s Poetics and most of the kids weren’t ready for it. They came away from the experience thinking that Aristotle is boring or that they don’t have what it takes to understand him. My heart still sinks when I think about it and I saw this most definitely as a call to discernment in deciding which books my students should read. Just because it’s on a curriculum booklist, doesn’t mean that it’s the right time for my particular student to read it.

I think it’s also imperative that the person leading the book discussion (or teaching the book, if you will) be a lover of that particular work. So if there’s a book on our list that I don’t love, it’s better for us to skip it and substitute something else good and beautiful and appropriate that I do love, rather than to subject my students to an experience that just may ruin the work for them for life.

But I need to be open to learning more about those works that I’m not particularly fond of,  for the problem may very well reside in me. I want to stand on the shoulders of those giants who came before. I must remember that I’m still in the process of training my affections to love that which is good (more about that in future posts!).

Dr. Berquist went on to discuss the vicarious experience we gain from reading the great books and stated that reading them helps us see through the eyes of the author. Our children also need life experience to bring to the great books to increase their understanding of them, one of these things being natural history or natural science. In other words, have children interact with nature.

We must also allow time for reflection. We need to be careful that our and our students’ schedules aren’t so full that there’s no time to think, reflect, and wonder. “Be still and know that I am God.” This was a major theme of the conference and a major theme that Andrew’s been propounding for all the years I’ve known him. Take time to reflect. Better to read a few works deeply than to skate over the surface of lots of books. Multum non multa. This has had a huge impact on me and is becoming a dominant theme of our next school year.

We want to dispose our children to classical education. This goes back to the situation in our co-op I described above. The kids in families who aren’t necessarily classically-minded may have come away from reading Poetics with a bad taste, not just for Aristotle, but for classical education in general.

In the younger years, we dispose dispose our students to classical education by means of strengthening their memory, observation, and sequencing skills in the concrete so they can be used in the abstract later.
  • “What is the main point in this paragraph?”
  • “How did this author arrive at his main argument?”
  • “What does this mean?”
  • “What is the topic sentence in this paragraph?”
  • “Tell me the story. What happened next? And after that? And then?”
over and over and over and over and over…

We must expose them to Shakespeare and ask them to memorize soliloquies and monologues from his plays. I’ve found that, if our kids don’t know that Shakespeare is supposed to be hard, they don’t think it is. I don’t have my children read Shakespeare, but watch him, either local stage productions or DVD’s. As they watch Much Ado About Nothing or Henry V, they memorize Benedick’s and Beatrice’s monologues and the St. Crispin’s Day speech, as well as the dialogue from various scenes to recite together the same way they memorize dialogue from Finding Nemo, Newsies, and Pirates of the Caribbean 1. It becomes a natural and joyous part of life. I didn’t realize how much my kids had memorized until we were in Coos Bay. Outside our rented yurt was the stump of a large tree which our kids used as a stage, acting out various monologues and scenes, mostly from Shakespeare that they had learned in an informal and natural way. (Note to self: get Midsummer Night’s Dream (the one with Robert Lindsay) from Netflix again…the little girls have been asking for it.)

Remember that one of our goals is to prepare our children for continual education throughout life. We must also include the truths of the faith to develop the powers of their souls.

Formation comes from method. We must decide upon the goal and then plan the steps to get there. There are three general goals of education.
  • Movement from ignorance to knowledge
  • Refining of the tools of thinking
  • Application what you know
Content and Method: Of the two, method is more important. A statue can be made of anything (in other words, its content can be of marble, glass, bronze, sand, or jello), but it is the shape of it that determines what it is (my grandmother and not a horse).

There is a natural order of learning. It is crucial in the younger years to develop our children’s imagination, which is the faculty of making and receiving images. Imagination is a necessary tool of the mind, but we want an imagination that does what it’s told to do.

The dialectic stage is the time to teach our students how to summarize and analyze. Don’t make them analyze if they’re not ready. Give them the right objects to argue about.

No materials will be effective if used improperly. We must train our students to observe. We ask questions about the object to teach them to observe. Here are some of the methods she recommends:

  • Show students a picture for 30 seconds, then ask them
 to draw it from memory.
  • Sequencing for very young children: first read a short
 text, the next day narrate it, then the day after that
 copy it. It doesn’t have to be copied in its entirety;
 one sentence will do if that’s all your student is able to 
do. It’s important to separate composition (the 
 narration) from the physical act of writing when they’re just learning how to write.
  • It’s about the process rather than the finished product in the young years. Yes, I’ve known this sequence for years, 
but never did it because I was always disappointed with the 
 final result. Dr. Berquist reminded me that it’s not about the result, but the process, and that process should be repeated over and over and over and over and…well, you get 
 the picture. This perfectionist never had the patience for this.
 Laura’s reminder about process was priceless to me and will show itself to be priceless to my children. I think I can now relax and enjoy the process. It comes back to leisure - which is the next session I’ll write about.
  • Use beautiful pictures in beautiful books: The Golden Press Bible, Edith Nesbitt’s retelling of Shakespeare
  • Use books with the understanding that the
 information contained therein is formative and that the language should be challenging.
  • In the dialectical stage we should tackle Latin in order for our students to learn basic language principles (which may have been the title of a book - I need to check that out). Latin grammar trains the mind; it’s not about speaking (although I might argue that the ability to read Roman and Medieval works in the original language is a definite benefit).
  • The dialectical stage also emphasizes the importance of discussion to exercise our students’ thinking ability.
  • The rhetorical stage consists of understanding and presenting and argument. In order to truly understand an argument and be able to argue effectively, it is important to learn both sides of the argument.
I don’t think Dr. Berquist was dismissing the subject view of the trivium in her presentation. She did, however, help me to see areas that I need to work on with my children. I was doing okay in the content, but have much work to do on the method side of things. I came away with a desire, not for more curriculum or another program, but to simplify my use of the curriculum I have. That in itself was a burden lifted from my shoulders as were her admonitions not to ask my children to do what they are not yet capable of doing. I think this workshop laid some foundation for what I was to hear next from James Daniels.

06 August 2006

Reflections on the Definition of Classical Education

My second set of notes from CiRCE is from a session by Martin Cothran (of Traditional Logic fame). As before, I'm going to write out the points that hit me, with my rabbit trails in italics.

"Classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty so that, in Christ, a student is better able to know, glorify, and enjoy God." ~Andrew Kern's definition of classical education

This is a lofty definition that deals with the final cause, the purpose, or the goal of classical education. Martin then focused on the material cause, which answers the question "What is it composed of?" In other words, if we break it down into its parts, what are those parts? What are the skills and content of classical education, the how and the what? I'm reorganizing the order of his presentation for clarity.

The skills are the liberal arts. The term art is defined as "a disciplined, organized system of study" and is composed of the trivium (language arts) and the quadrivium (mathematical arts).

The trivium is the qualitative side and is made up of grammar: the study of the structure of language through Latin and Greek; logic: the study of the structure of rational thought; and rhetoric: the study of the principles of persuasion.

Why Latin? Because it is regular and organized; it reflects the culture which it came from. It is also easier to understand grammar by studying a language other than the one we learned at our mothers' knees. Unlike post-modernism, which says that language is subjective, the rigorous study of grammar teaches us, through the study of the objective rules of language, that the concepts referred to by specific words exist outside of ourselves; they're objective, not subjective.

Logic refers to Aristotelian logic and not modern symbolic logic. Aristotelian logic is verbal logic as opposed to mathematical logic. Why is this distinction important? Because in modern, symbolic logic the terms are interchangeable, whereas in verbal logic, each word refers to a concept which refers to the very nature of something. Concepts aren't interchangeable. This refers back to the objectivity of language, upon which the study of rational thought is built. Without this objectivity of language, rational thought itself is impossible.

The quadrivium is quantitative and is made up of arithmetic: the theory of number; music: the application of the theory of number; geometry: the theory of space; and astronomy: the application of the theory of space.

The content of classical education is Western Civilization, the great books, the great ideas. Western Civilization refers to 3 specific cultures: Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem (which includes both Jewish culture as communicated through Scripture and Church history). The Greeks represent speculative, philosophical, and literary man in miniature. The Romans represent practical and political man in miniature. Jerusalem teaches us how God deals with individuals and nations. This isn't exhaustive, but it is the emphasis of classical education.

We moderns have advanced in the quadrivium, but regressed in the trivium. Could this be why there's a greater emphasis on discussing and studying the trivium than the quadrivium in current-day classical education circles?

Martin's next question regarded the classification of classical education. Where does it fit? What greater thing is it a part of? He didn't really answer this question, but instead presented 3 views of education: progressive, pragmatic, and classical.

The progressive view espouses using schools and students as a means to change the culture. Its heyday lasted until the 1950's and Sputnik. It lives on in political correctness.

The life adjustment or pragmatic view espouses acclimating children to the present culture. It is a source of the anti-intellectualism in American life (says Hochtstetter). It is the reason for the proliferation of vocational training, home economics, drivers' education, etc. It is based on the Prussian system, and leads to early pigeon-holing of students. This is the basis for the push in Germany and France for students to choose a major before high school, or one is decided for them. The student is then educated for this vocation, eliminating other options as the student grows. Unfortunately, there's a segment of people in the US who think this is a good idea and are pushing for it in our government schools.

The classical view espouses as its goal the passing on of a culture with roots in the past. We mustn't jump off the shoulders of the giants who came before us. Classical education is a blessing and should cultivate gratitude and humility in us and in our students.

The first two views remind me of something from last year's CiRCE conference, A Celebration of Order, which I've been listening to lately. I can't remember who taught the workshop (Vigen Guroian?), but he said that there is a connection between the magic and the technology that came out of the 16th and 17th centuries. Before this time, education's purpose was to conform our souls to truth (i.e. the way the world really is, or to quote the mice from Babe: "the way things are"). The efforts to master magic and technology were attempts to conform the way the world is to the desires of our souls. 

So, what does this mean for our homeschooling endeavors? Well, we'll be focusing more on language this year. Our older kids will be taking Latin online, as I don't have the time to study Latin and logic and rhetoric and keep up in history and teach my little ones. The online classes will take some of the weight off of my shoulders and it will give my children a better understanding than I've been able to do so far with my struggling efforts to stay one step ahead of them in Latin. 

I also appreciate that Martin took a discipline approach to classical education and not an ages and stages approach. I used to lean toward the latter, until I began studying logic. As I saw the relationship between grammar and logic, a new perspective opened up for me. I've taught the ages and stages approach in the past at our state homeschool convention, but I'd teach a very different workshop if I were to teach again. This shift in paradigm has actually been quite liberating for me. It has given me much more practical guidance in choosing our children's course of study, and helped me set priorities.

02 August 2006

A Celebration of Knowledge

I've decided to try to follow in Cindy's footsteps and blog my way through my notes as I try to think through the issues brought up at CiRCE and think through the implications for our homeschooling endeavors. I don't write nearly as well as she does, but I think this is a somewhat safe forum for this.

Well, after typing up my notes from the first Exordium to post, I've decided instead to write out the points that actually jumped out at me and that have stuck with me (although I must say that typing them out helped me to make more sense of them). My rabbit trails are italicized for clarity.

A Celebration of Knowledge
Andrew Kern

We are created to know God. Love, in knowledge, brings life (in reference to Adam knowing his wife Eve - Andrew said that this wasn't just carnal knowledge, but a knowing of her heart and soul, too.)

We must be willing to embrace ignorance, meaning that we must recognize there are things we don't know and can't know.

Education is not efficient. Relationship is not efficient. To believe otherwise is immature.

It is thought that knowledge is of the mind, but that's not true. The mind doesn't know, the person knows. It's not about the intellect, but the person. Adam knew Eve. We know and enjoy God. This doesn't refer to propositions or the intellect, but to a deeper knowing that also includes love. Because of this, knowledge is a miracle. While there are natural triggers of knowledge, to know is a gift from God and part of the Imago Dei.

Our feelings and affections must be trained or we won't embrace knowledge when it comes. "Grace and Harmony are the twin sisters of Truth and Goodness," ~Plato. Thus, the kindergarten teacher's job is to form good taste in her students by exposing them to beauty.

In today's world, we like what we like because we're honored for liking it. Certain kinds of music bring to mind certain associations. "Oh, you like that kind of music? You're cool!" (Or not!) Instead of this gut reaction to music and its associations, we must learn to examine why we like something. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.

This extremely politically incorrect thought was expanded upon later by John Hodges especially and will be developed further as I continue thinking out loud through my notes in the coming weeks.

In today's culture, bad taste is excessive. If the form of music is objectively bad, it is harmful despite good lyrics.

This will take much more thinking about. I've felt this way for quite a long time, but had no basis for understanding what is objectively good or bad about music. John Hodges expanded much upon this through the course of his workshops and over lunch one day and I began to relate what he taught about music to what I've learned about the objective goodness of a well-written and well-made film. I liked that he didn't focus on genres or back-beats or trivial things like that, but really wants people to discern the objective foundation upon which music is built, a foundation of ratio and proportion and a foundation which God built into humanity and the created order.

CS Lewis: "God doesn't want us to be happy; he wants us to grow up." Think about that one for a bit.

Active love is the solution to our immaturity. We must do what we can, remembering that love in action is harsh and dreadful compared to love in dreams. Love in dreams is romantic and easy - and I don't just mean eros, but any kind of love: parent to child, student and teacher, friend to friend, as well as husband and wife. Active love is labor and fortitude. It requires much from us. Think about the fact that, when a baby is born, there's a bit of a honeymoon. After awhile, the honeymoon is over and the reality of the changes required in our lives sets in. You still love your infant, but it's a more realistic love and therefore much deeper. We must love individuals, not just the abstract idea of love - again, back to learning to love the specific individual who's been placed in your family, with all his quirks and foibles and inconveniences instead of continuing to hold onto the dream of a perfect child and then only seeing how the child you actually have doesn't measure up. We must let go of the dream and embrace the specific and individual limitations that God has placed in that child (we all have them, after all) and embrace our responsibilities to that child. (This is only an example - fill in any other relationship, husband, student, etc., and the example still holds true.) Only then can we really love, and love is our calling as Christians. "They will know you are My followers if you love one another."

So we need not the knowledge of abstraction, but the knowledge of active love. Love that is not a good feeling, but that embraces reality, embraces the limits that come with knowledge, and embraces the limits that come with responsibility. When we take marriage vows, we limit ourselves to loving one person in the specific way required by the vows. If we do not embrace the limits inherent in the relationship and the limits placed on us by our responsibilities, we do not have a marriage. Without limitations, there is no love.