Tag Archives: Classical Conversations

How Boundaries Actually Make Us Free

I work with some pretty incredible people at Classical Conversations. I often find myself entangled in a conversation where I am seriously outmatched, yet I covet these interactions as they help me to grow in my own understanding. Many times, I find that they have a way of describing something that is a vast improvement on my own thoughts and words.

Lately, we’ve been discussing forms. One co-worker, Denise, reminded us of Wendell Berry’s words, from his essay, “The Specialization of Poetry” in Standing by Words.

Formlessness is, after all, neither civilized nor natural. It is a peculiarly human evil, without analogue in nature, caused by the failures of civilization: inattention, irresponsibility, carelessness, ignorance of consequence. It is the result of the misuse of power. It is neither house nor field nor forest, but rather a war or a strip mine, where the balance between stability and change has been overthrown. The reason we need to have our false certainties shaken is so that we may see the the possibility of better orders than we have.

Berry, of course, has his own way with words, and makes an interesting point here. Shelly, another co-worker, asked the question. The good of forms, or boundaries is self-evident. For example, “When we choose to stay within the boundaries of mathematical laws to solve problems, we get answers that are true and right. Often there are multiple ways (choices) to solve or approch a problem within those governing laws. Do you think God is revealing to us something about His character when He shows us that boundaries do not limit freedom, but enhance it?”

So why do we reject forms and boundaries? Jennifer C., another co-worker, thinks we reject them because of false notions about creativity. She points out:

In contemporary society, we think of creativity as a mysterious gift that descends from on high to specially gifted people. Because it is a mysterious gift with no rules, there is no way to teach it. You’ve either got it or you don’t. This is a very new way of viewing creativity. In the past, artists, composers, authors, and dancers understood that they must learn from those who went before them. Composers mastered the styles and forms of those who went before them. Then, and only then, could they break forth with something new. Authors read and copied the style of great writers of previous generations and then wrote the great novel of their own time.

My own notion is that forms provide us with the security, confidence, and courage to strike out into new, uncharted territories. They give us enough information to know what to do to be successful, or to strive for excellence. If we teach our sons the protocol of fine dining and formal events, they will be confident enough to willingly participate in them. If we teach our children the tools of rhetoric, the meter and forms of poetry, the forms of musical composition, or the forms that make baseball baseball, we give them the confidence to step out into life and tackle any of these tasks. Not just one of these tasks, but a willingness to take on any and all of them. Without the knowledge of forms, we find that they will limit themselves to only that task which interests them enough to face it without the form. With the knowledge of forms, we will find that they can see enough interest in all of them to take them on.

Forms, then, provide freedom to my children precisely because my child is not enslaved to the fear that prevents him from dabbling in art, poetry, writing, music, athletics, or formal dinners. As he matures, he learns when to break and when not to break the forms, and his own creativity may lead to new forms. Form is freedom, formlessness is void, is chaos, is slavery.

Praying to Learn

Each week I teach a class of twelfth graders in the Challenge IV program at my local Classical Conversations community. There are eight students in my class: some of whom love math, some of whom love science, some of whom love literature, some of whom love history, and one or two who love Latin. I want them all–including myself–to love it all.

I teach every subject, and I want them all to love them and learn them in a way that they can do the same when they are moms and dads. So we begin every subject with the same prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, You have said, “Without you we can do nothing.” In faith, we embrace your words, O Lord, and bow before your goodness. Help us to learn our ________ (math, Latin, history, etc…) well, to see the beauty in _________ , and to love the study of  ____________ we are about to begin for your own glory. In Jesus Christ name we pray, Amen.

This is a modified version of a historic prayer the Church has used to pray before beginning work. We use it to ask God to help us in our studies, to remind ourselves of our dependence on God in our studies, and to form in us the desire to love, see the beauty in, and to want to learn well whatever subject God has put before us.

Today was our sixth week of classes. Students not only have begun memorizing the prayer themselves (and maybe even using it themselves at home!), but also interrupt me to remind me to pray before a class when I forget. I hope the prayer blesses them as we pray it.

What do you use to prepare yourself and your students to learn each day?

Review: The Aeneid

The Aeneid
The Aeneid by Virgil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I began reading this book I felt very strongly that Virgil was not quite the author Homer was. When I finished reading the book, I was less convinced of that opinion.

Virgil is clearly writing in imitation of Homer. But imitating greatness is not to be seen as a weakness or fault in Virgil’s own writing. In fact, quite to the contrary, Virgil was able to do in one epic poem what it took Homer two to do! Homer wrote one epic poem, The Iliad, to describe war for the Greeks. He followed that up with a second epic poem, The Odyssey, to describe the home and homecoming for the Greeks. He did both masterfully. Virgil, on the other hand, writes about both home/homecoming and war all wrapped up into one epic poem. He does it well.

I will be translating portions of this poem from the Latin into English with my Challenge 4 class (Classical Conversations) this year, as well as reading it again in English with them. I hope to discover more insights in the process.

This really is a must read–although I realize that Peter Leithart would beg to differ (at least his introduction to Heroes of the City of Man would seem to indicate) that any Christian *must* read the classics. So maybe I should say that anyone interested enough to read this review is someone who should probably read the poem.



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Hitting the Links

I’ve written a couple of articles that have been published recently on other parts of the world wide web.

The first is an article published on ClassicalConversations.com. I’ve written about my reading through the Chronicles of Narnia septet and a couple of commentaries on them. I wrote the article from the perspective of having taken a “summer vacation” in Narnia. It was a lot of fun to write, and hopefully fun for others to read.

It began on a Friday. I picked up the first book (originally) of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and moved into the home of the uncle of some friends: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Initially, we spent sunny days playing in the garden and rainy days playing hide-and-seek or exploring their uncle’s home. That was until Lucy discovered an entrance to Narnia—the wardrobe. We did not believe her at first, but eventually we all wandered through the wardrobe and into Narnia. (“My Summer Vacation in Narnia“)

The second is an article published by the CiRCE Institute. In it, I write about Solomon’s pursuit of wisdom and how it gradually went from being the pursuit of wisdom for the glory of God to the pursuit of wisdom for the glory of Solomon (seen in his accumulation of wealth, power, and women.) We face the same dangers in decision-making in regards to the things we do, especially education.

Solomon violated the three laws of the king found in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. The king shall not accumulate much gold, many horses (especially from Egypt, where Solomon was getting his horses), or many wives. Solomon’s pursuit of wisdom became the pursuit of wealth, women, and power. This pursuit turned his heart away from God.

We, of course, can be guilty of the same motivation in almost any area of our own lives. Education, however, is especially dangerous for us. To pursue education for credits, degrees, higher pay, a powerful career, or other worldly desires is akin to Solomon’s use of wisdom for women, wealth, and power.

We must, on the other hand, pursue wisdom for the sake of wisdom in our educational endeavors. And in pursuing that wisdom, we glorify God. And in glorifying God, the cares of this world will be met. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the cares of this world will be added unto you (my paraphrase). Seek first wisdom and the glorifying of God through it, and our physical needs will be provided. (“Disoriented Wisdom”)

Thanks for visiting those sites. They offer great resources in regards to education. One could do worse looking for educational wisdom elsewhere.

Review: Echo In Celebration: A Call To Home Centred Education

Echo In Celebration: A Call To Home Centred Education by Leigh Bortins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me begin by being frank. This book was written by Leigh Bortins, my employer. This means I’m probably somewhat biased, not because I have to say nice things for my boss, but because I work for her because I believe in what she is doing. So, I’m already in agreement with her, that means I probably in agreement with her book.

That being said, I am in agreement with her book–hence the four stars. I probably could’ve given it five stars, but the editing is pretty bad. This was the first book Classical Conversations MultiMedia ever published, way back in 2007. Their editing staff was non-existent at the time; it shows in the book. The lack of editing, however, does not make the book unreadable. In fact, you should read it.

At first, I was kind of distracted by all of the stories in the book. I thought to myself that the stories *might* be pleasant for moms to read, but I wasn’t really interested. I just wanted to hear why she thinks we should give our children a home-centered education. In the end, though, I was glad for the stories.

What I realized was that Leigh did something far better than offering me the logos for home-centered education (I mean than just offering me the logic-based arguments for it). She offered us the pathos for home-centered education (I mean the emotive reasons for it.) Leigh didn’t give arguments for me to contemplate in regards to education; she gave me stories so that I could enjoy home-centered education through her own life and the lives of her friends. The pathos she provided was far more convincing for the homeschooling vs. public/private/Christian schooling argument than any logical arguments she could have provided.

She made homeschooling desirable; she made it approachable; she made it real. I don’t know if this book would be convincing for someone who is opposed to homeschooling, but it certainly would be for someone who was open to it. Good book.

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Another Trail to Blaze

I work in the classical Christian education business, but this isn’t just a job for me. It is more like a dream job: I had already been interested in the topic long before I started working in it, and had been using it to home school my children.

The Trivium is the easier to grasp of the classical Christian education concepts. Folks like Douglas Wilson, the Detweilers, and Leigh Bortins have been trailblazing for home schoolers and Christian educators alike. It is easy to see how to classically educate my children after all of the work these folks have done.

What is difficult is what comes next. The Trivium is supposed to lead into the Quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. But what university or college out there teaches like that? None that I’m aware of. There are some great books schools, to be sure, but what about Quadrivium-teaching schools? Well, the sad truth is that there haven’t been any serious trailblazers in that area.

And that is why I am so excited about this upcoming event in northern Virginia! Leigh Bortins and Nancy Pearcey are going to be talking about science and the Quadrivium at an event called Toward the Quadrivium. Doug Wilson has recently blogged on the need to do work in this area. Leigh Bortins has blogged about the need for it. And this event looks like a first step in that direction. Further, it appears that it will be the first in a series of events called Toward the Quadrivium.

I’ll be there to witness the blazing trail, will you?