Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Books on my Wishlist

I have a book wishlist. It is a word document, double-spaced, size 12 font, and goes on for 6 or more pages. So many books, and so little time-- and this is a double curse on someone like me who is a slow, plodding reader (though I enjoy reading!) So below are some of the books at the top of my wish list, just as a reminder to me of those things I want to spend time thinking about, and a list for future Christmas/birthday purchases for my dear family...

Sooo... here are books yet to join my personal library:

Standing by Words by Wendell Berry

The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay by Scott Crider

Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave by Ed Welch

Only a Lover by John Pieper

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins

The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck

When No One Sees by Os Guinness

The Enjoyment of Music (with all the CDs, scores, etc.)

For the Glory of God by Rodney Stark

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

The Degradation of Language and Music, and Why We Should, Like, Care by John McWhorter

Poetry as a Means of Grace by C.G. Osgood

Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination by Vigen Guroian

Woe is I and Words Fail Me by Patricia O’Connor

The Red Shoes by Allen French

The Cross-Centered Life by Mahaney

A Landscape with Dragons by Michael O'Brien

And just in case you would like to know what my current reading input includes, I am currently reading the following:

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict by Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler

Standing by and Making Do: Women of Wartime Los Alamos ed. by Jane S. Wilson and Charlotte Serber

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

A Soldier of the great War by Mark Helprin (though i'm only a few pages into this one, and not sure if I'll stick it out or not...)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lost Tools of Writing, or what we all ought to know about teaching writing, but don't.

As promied, below are my notes to the weekend workshop in Colorado Springs with Andrew Kern of Circe Institute. These note only include Andrew's "side comments', so to speak. The curriculum-specific notes were written right into my LToW notebook. This is an excellent, new writing curriculum, using the classical approach. For more information on the curriculum, click on the Circe Institute link to the right.

My notes are rather stream-of-consciousness, since we were really talking about a curruculum, but the encouragement Andrew gave along the way was inspiring, so here you have it.

Notes from LToW Workshop, Colorado Springs, October 2006

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is a good goal for education. But what is a Christian classical education? According to A.K., it is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness and beauty, so that in Christ we may better know, glorify and enjoy God.

Locke said, “The soul is a needless hypothesis.” In many ways, this could be the moto for the U.S. public school system, and is reflected in our society’s free-fall morally. We need to be “radical”—Latin for “roots”, and return to the roots of education.

Language is a gift from God, patterned after Him for the purpose of communicating with us. Our capacity to know and enjoy God is qualified by our capacity to use the tool of language. Rhetoric (in the original sense of the word, meaning sound use of language) is important as communion with the Creator. In teaching from a classical and Christian perspective, we redeem rhetoric.

How can writing cultivate wisdom and virtue? St. Ignatius said, “The glory of God is the man fully alive.” By learning the beauty and intricacies of language, we learn more about God, and can become more fully alive. We, as teachers, can water those dry and impoverished souls to help them be restored. And restored sould respond quickly to nourishment.

One lesson that public schools teach well is anxiety: they are driven by and perpetuate it. We, on the other hand, need to cultivate and teach from a place of rest. Nourishing souls requires rest, contemplation and peace.

Wendell Berry says, “…specialization is tantamount to self-absorption.” If we exert our personal rights above all, we are failing to hope in the possibility of living in harmony with others.

The arts, including writing, are not only aesthetic, but ethical. Christian ethic is not based on a false good/bad dichotomy (since God created all things good), but on an ethic of priority. When we teach the idea of propriety, we gain discernment and judgment. Everything we teach should help aid children to make judgments in propriety. Teaching by formulae can’t teach judgment. Formulae can be good for a start, but we have to go beyond that.

95% of the times we encounter laziness, it is a symptom of despair. Students do not have the tools they need to perform the tasks we've given them.

The goal of classic rhetoricians was to name the basic principles found in all worthy writing.

Honesty leads to depth. If you try to be deep, you will be corrupted. Try for honesty instead. Writing is rooted in death to self for the Christian, like all other acts.

Writing is a craft, with particular tools of the trade. It is not about self-expression, which is thinly veiled self-absorption. An artist has firstly, mastered the craft, and secondly, has something to say.

There are three basic problems in writing: what to say, how to organize it, and how to say it. This breaks into the three important canons of rhetoric for writers: invention/discovery, arrangement, and elocution/style. All writing should fit the nature and purpose of the communication.

The quality of life is determined by the quality of the questions you ask. If your most pressing question is “how can I get a good-paying job?” that will determine many things. If your most pressing question is “how can I become more Christ-like” that will likewise determine some things, and lead to a richer life.

Likewise, the quality of your writing is largely determined by the questions you ask.

When writing, we start with a question, make it into an issue with the word “whether”, and go through the “ANI” process. (ANI is listing affirmative, negative and interesting ideas for your issue.) We can use the 5 Topics of rhetoric as powerful questions:

  1. What is X? (Definition)
  2. How does X compare with Y? (Comparison)
  3. How is X related to Y? (Relationship)
  4. What are the circumstances surrounding X? (Circumstance)
  5. Who says what about X? (Testimony)

If you ask one good question, and answer it completely, you will be made to think of the whole issue.

Always keep in mind: Nature, Purpose and Judgment.

Arrangement in writing is wired into the nature of things. Everything must have an introduction, body and conclusion. Arrangement is just becoming self-conscious about what works and what we already do. Structure *is* intelligibility.

All narratives have an intro, a rise in action, a climax, a fall in action and a conclusion. History itself is a narrative.

We ought to be obsessively teleological; that is, always asking about the purpose in everything we do.

The world is ontologically semiotic; that is, created by God to employ symbolism. Because we are created in God’s image and He is relational, we are relational, see things relationally, and the world exists relationally. Everything has meaning in relation to something else, because meaning itself is relational.

The arrangement of an essay must be consonant with its purpose and nature. Aquinas said, “It is the part of the wise man to order and to judge.” The wise man can only judge and order rightly when he knows the nature and purpose of the work. We need to concentrate more fully on this.

How do we move from invention to arrangement? We need to see the big picture; to force students to remember that orderliness is important, as is learning self-limitation. All limitations are really possibilities. Division is a moral point: we must be honest about where the agreement and argument really is. Neitsche said, “We will never be free from God until we are free from grammar.” Limitations are actually good for us.

Elocution is teaching that revision is necessary, and teaching how to do it.

Clarity is very important. You must learn to be clear before you can discuss clarity. Tools can help you master clarity, but how then do we create sound judgment? We need to instill propriety, which includes context, circumstances, etc.

Figures of speech: schemes appeal to the senses, while tropes appeal to logic.

Didactic instruction moves from particulars to universals. It explores “types”, and employs induction.

  1. Start with what a student knows. This is “pre-grammar”. Review and connect. A third of each lesson should include this.
  2. Show the particulars (examples- individuals). This is “grammar”.
  3. Make comparisons. This is dialectic.
  4. Grasp the lesson at hand- what is the teacher trying to communicate, and make it their own. This is the beginning of rhetoric.
  5. Apply what is learned. This is the end of rhetoric.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Well, a new school year is upon us. This fall I am teaching three classes to homeschooled children.

Composition II:
Composition I was imitation and analysis of sentences and paragraphs ala Francis Donnelly, and the first three progymnasmata exercises (narrative, description, and fable) ala D'Angelo and other sources. We also did a grammar review via sentence diagramming. Now, Composition II is going to introduce the rest of the progymn exercises, and the beginnings of the canons of invention. We are also taking a tour through figures of speech. I am thinking that next year, if atrophy doesn't keep me from teaching Composition III, I will use Andrew Kerns' material, The Lost Tools of Writing. To that end, I am looking f0rward to a conference in Colorado Spring next month on that subject. I'll try to post here some of the things I learn there.

This is the second of a two year class for highschoolers. Using the material provided by Summit Ministries and David Noebel's book "Understanding the Times" as our jumping-off spot, we study 10 different discipline areas from 4 different western worldviews, and prepare for college work along the way. They have lots of reading, writing, and analyzing. It is the class our homeschooled kids like to complain about :-)

This is described below. This year we have 104 songbirds in the flock, and are adding a second auditioned ensemble for high school women's voices.

All these are keeping me happy and challeneged!

Monday, September 04, 2006

On the Last One Leaving (written in the Fall of 2003)

On the Last One Leaving

This morning, I drove with my youngest child the two-hours of highway through the desert of northern New Mexico to the airport at Albuquerque. It was the first step on his 1500 mile journey to college. In the back of my car were two large backpacks and three large suitcases filled with most of his worldly belongings. But the most precious assets of the boy beside me could not be found by rifling through the tee-shirts and jeans, books, posters and CDs.

This fledgling young man has been the object of my wrestling and rejoicing in prayer for more than 18 years. The Lord called his dad and me, first with his older brother, then with him, to leave what we knew behind us and trust God in their nurturing, admonition and education. That led us often to struggle with them, and in that struggle, we discovered that the real enemy was us: our sin, our failures, our selfishness. God used this young man, once a child, to make me what He wanted me to be—to lead me where He wanted me to go. And wonder of wonders, in the process this young man became my brother and my friend. He now bears the fruit of the journey we have been on with the Lord over the course of his life.

“You know to call when you get there,” I say.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he answers.

“And you will make daily time with the Lord a priority, and get involved with a good church right away?”

“Of course, Mom,” he says with a patient smile that reminds me he has heard this before.

Then he slips off to sleep beside me as he has done a hundred times before. That gives me a chance to thank God for him quietly, for the privilege of nurturing two young men who now begin their own journeys to stand for the cause of Christ in the world. Now I can let my heart overflow into tears without dampening the joy of his day. He is ready and excited. This is a day we have anticipated, prayed for, and dreamed of together. And yet how can it be that it has arrived, already, on this beautiful, clear morning with a brilliant sun beating upon us as it has so often done?

It can be a daunting thing to drive back to an empty home which has been full. And yet this is one more step on that journey from a place of familiarity to a place of trust. The struggle, sweetness and fullness of the journey behind us make the pain of leaving it more intense, but also make the promise of the journey to come more inviting. As I drive through the high plains desert back towards the Jemez Mountains, I rejoice in the God who has made all things well—the earth, and all those who dwell there—and who once sent out a Son of His own.