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Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category

oliver twist

Oliver Twist has reminded me why classics are classics: they are timelessly good stories. Listening to Miriam Margolyes read Oliver Twist reminded me how excellence enhances excellence.

Confession: I haven’t read a whole lot of Dickens, mostly in school assignments and therefore, didn’t really enjoy him. Great Expectations, which we called Great Expectorations in our junior high mentality, and I watched A Christmas Carol a bunch of times (I loved watching the semi-musical version with George C. Scott as Scrooge. Who knew he could sing?) I think I was supposed to read A Tale of Two Cities in college, but it put me to sleep two nights in a row around midterms, so I decided to study for other subjects and wing that test.

Anyway, Dickens and I haven’t had a great relationship, but Oliver Twist may reconcile us.

Twist is a riveting book, once it gets going. It is at first a lengthy indictment of Victorian England’s treatment of the poor. Razor-sharp sarcasm encased in a sheath of velvet words stings the conscience in a multitude of tiny pricks until the reader is opened to the sins of his age.

Just about the time that you have had all the (needed) moralizing you can take, Dickens turns to the entertaining aspect of the story. All the characters used to display Britain’s mistreatment of the poor are skillfully woven into the various twists (no pun) and turns of a plot that slowly picks up speed until it is flying right along.

Dickens seeming tangle of disconnected plot threads made me realize that Tom Clancy is a johnny-come-lately to this endeavor, and when Mr. Brownlow begins interrogating the various culprits, I was quickly reminded of Lt. Columbo.

Another great joy of listening to this audiobook of Oliver Twist was the voice of Marjory Margolyes. What a skillful reader! Each character had his or her own voice, accent, and personality. Ms Margolyes seemed to change effortlessly from one to the next, and her reading greatly enhanced the listening experience.

18+ hours of reading to great benefit and enjoyment. I will be reading/listening to more of Dickens.

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George Grant in six succinct paragraphs explains once again what is classical Christian education & why it is needed. Clear, consise, and compelling as always.

The Habit of Thinking

The students in America’s earliest schools, academies, and colleges were educated according to the great traditions of the Christian and Classical heritage—beginning at the Latin School of Plymouth, established on this day in 1623. They were the beneficiaries of a rich legacy of art, music, and ideas that had not only trained the extraordinary minds of our Founding Fathers but had provoked the remarkable flowering of culture throughout Western Civilization. It was a pattern of academic discipleship that had hardly changed at all since the dawning days of the Reformation and Renaissance—a pattern though that has almost entirely vanished today.

Indeed, those first Americans were educated in a way that we can only dream of today despite all our nifty gadgets, gimmicks, and bright ideas. They were steeped in the ethos of Augustine, Dante, Plutarch, and Vasari. They were conversant in the ideas of Seneca, Ptolemy, Virgil, and Aristophanes. The notions of Athanasius, Chrysostom, Anselm, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Abelard, and Wyclif informed their thinking and shaped their worldview.

The now carelessly discarded traditional medieval Trivium—emphasizing the basic Classical scholastic categories of grammar, logic, and rhetoric—equipped them with the tools for a lifetime of learning: a working knowledge of the timetables of history, a background understanding of the great literary classics, a structural competency in Greek and Latin-based grammars, a familiarity with the sweep of art, music, and ideas, a grasp of research and writing skills, a worldview comprehension for math and science basics, a principle approach to current events, and an emphasis on a Christian life paradigm.

The methodologies of this kind of Christian and Classical learning adhered to the time-honored principles of creative learning: an emphasis on structural memorization, an exposure to the best of Christendom’s cultural ethos, a wide array of focused reading, an opportunity for disciplined presentations, a catechizing for orthopraxy as well as orthodoxy, and a broad experience honing the basic academic skills of listening, journaling, thinking, processing, integrating, extemporizing, and applying.

The object of this kind of Christian and Classical education was not merely the accumulation of knowledge. Instead it was to equip a whole new generation of leaders with the necessary tools to exercise discernment, discretion, and discipline in their lives and over their callings. Despite their meager resources, rough-hewn facilities, and down-to-earth frontier ethic, they maintained continuity with all that had given birth to the wisdom of the West.

It was the modern abandonment of these Christian and Classical standards a generation later that provoked G.K. Chesterton to remark, “The great intellectual tradition that comes down to us from the past was never interrupted or lost through such trifles as the sack of Rome, the triumph of Attila, or all the barbarian invasions of the Dark Ages. It was lost after…the coming of the marvels of technology, the establishment of universal education, and all the enlightenment of the modern world. And thus was lost—or impatiently snapped—the long thin delicate thread that had descended from distant antiquity; the thread of that unusual human hobby: the habit of thinking.”

I have read and heard him (and others) explain cCe numerous times and in a variety of ways. cCe does not make for soundbyte definitions. It needs to be explained, and explained well, and explained winsomely, and explained again and again. Grant accomplishes. I am reinvigorated every time I hear him speak.

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Today I officially begin walking a path that I began praying for in 1999. Yesterday, I completed the necessary paperwork; today I am employed by Jonathan Edwards Classical Academy on the northwest side of Nashville (where we are, for the most part high and dry and eager for more families to move in).

Sixteen years ago, I began teaching assuming it would be a short term hiatus till I moved on to do something else. “Hah,” said God, “You’ll be a teacher. And you will love it!” After five years of teaching some of the best students God ever placed on the planet, God moved me to places unknown. But as a parting gift, two friends and colleagues recommended that I read Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. “You have to read this book, David. You will love it!”

I read the book and had my eureka-moment. Everything that I had learned about the science and art of teaching, the purposes of education, and the bigger picture of God’s working in human lives coalesced in the reading of Recovering.

I began praying about and, over the years, pursuing opportunities to teach in a classical Christian school, assuming it would quickly happen (why do I think these things?) God had a mysterious way, and far better, for me. Two more traditional Christian schools and one other non-traditional school, a wealth of friends and many more incredible teaching colleagues, five non-teaching jobs and a stint back in grad school, one marriage and three children later (the jobs ended; the family continues!), and the desire being fulfilled is indeed sweet to the soul (Pr 13.19).

(Can we skip summer vacation this year?)

soli deo gloria

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Over the years, as I have told people of my fascination with classical education, I have invariably heard variations of “What do you mean by classical education?” Frankly, a proper answer would require a fair bit o’ time, and most people aren’t ready to swallow the whole bite. I have found that it is better to give them a bite-sized appetizer. Many people will be intrigued and ask good follow up questions. If you phrase the appetizer well, you can lead them to ask the right questions.

So how do I condense the comprehensive philosophy of the classical model into a sound bite? My script often sounds something like this:

Classical Christian education is a God-centered, liberal arts education for children. Classical education recognizes that people learn in a three-step process. First, we need to learn the basic information about a subject; the who, what, where, when kind of information. Second, the information is explained so that we have a good understanding of why it fits together the way it does. Finally, the student is taught to wisely use this information, to express it well and put it into practice. Proverbs talks about knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; the Greeks called it grammar, logic, and rhetoric.”

I will often use an example, usually from sports, to illustrate the classical process. I coach volleyball, so I might say something like this:

When I coach a young volleyball player, I have to teach her the proper techniques for passing, hitting, etc, as well as the rules of the game. That is grammar level information. Soon we put the players in drills where the basic skills are practiced. That is like the logic stage. And finally a player gets to play and use the skills with her teammates in a game, reacting to new situations. That is the rhetoric stage of volleyball.”

I usually keep things this simple, finding that a thoughtful listener will have several questions which will invite further details. I often take advantage of their questions to introduce something that  they should have asked (if they didn’t). I find that it is best to explain the content of classical education later and focus on the process at first. This may be simply because I find it somewhat easier to explain the process than the content.

So how would you explain classical education in a nutshell?

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