keys to success

1. The key to a successful working relationship is to avoid proximity.

2. The key to success is following your first impulse!

Wait, I need to think about that.

How to Teach the Iliad as a Living Text with Living Ideas

You want to start by getting students involved in THE QUESTION that drives the text or as close as you are able to do so. The Iliad puts it right on the first line: Why is Achilles so angry? I convert the question to a judicial issue: Should Achilles have been so angry?

Before starting the Iliad, prepare your students for the theme by asking them about the last time they’ve seen a fight, the last fight they had, whether they’ve ever been dishonored, why they get angry, etc. etc. I find that the very act of asking this question and genuinely listening leads students to open up quite surprisingly (but never force a child into a therapy session in the classroom!).

You could also ask them what they already know about the story, especially the first book (this is where background sticks up its head – but you are asking them what they already know, not telling them something they may or may not care about). Ask them if they have ever heard of the Greek gods, which they know, whether they’ve heard of the Trojan war, why it was fought, etc. etc.

Then ask them to read the first book. When they come to the next discussion, ask: Who should get Briseis? Or, Is Achilles over-reacting? Or, Is Agamemnon over-reacting? Then let them have at it. They should have their books in front of them. If one person says yes and another says no, the class has just come alive.

In this context, you can begin to intoduce plot lines, character development, use of imagery and symbols, key words, even settings.

For example, say one student has argued that Achilles is in the right. Another contents that point. You are the referee! Say to them, “OK, let’s examine this together.” Be very, very respectful and don’t let either of them attack the other or lose face. And don’t ask them to side with you. That would be fatal. Also, don’t ask them to do more than they are able to do. They’re new to this.

Instead, ask a question like this: “Where did this argument take place?” Some will say, in the camp, before Troy, in front of the men, etc. etc. Let the whole class participate. Then, after the discussion has dug out a bunch of information, say, “Given where the argument occurred, does that argue for or against Achilles?” Then let them have at it again.

You could also ask, straightforwardly and repeatedly, “Why is Achilles so angry?” Another way to phrase that would be, “What did Agamemnon take from him? Why does that matter so much?” And bingo, now you can talk about kleos, and time, and athanatos (glory, honor, and immortality) – though I’d suggest doing it one at a time and reminding them that this is all about them. “Which of you would like to receive glory?” Or “Which of you likes to be humiliated?” Better would be, “Have any of you ever had this happen to you?” I’ve even asked, “Have I ever done this to any of you?”

Do you see how they are BOTH taking a close look at the text AND relating it to their own situations and experiences and that they are able to do so with no loss to either? This is THE WHOLE POINT OF LITERATURE!!!!!

And do you see how the word Kleos is not given to them in an abstract, empty form, but as something they now are beginning to realize is the very core of the soul of the heart of their spirits? In other words, kleos isn’t background to the Iliad, it’s the idea that drives it!

Praying this is helpful!

NB This is an excerpt from a post in the CiRCE forum, to which allow me this opportunity to invite you! Please come and participate in any of our forum discussions, by clicking here. See you there!

Can you be Market Driven and Please God at the same time?

And having asked that, can you please God if you don’t attend to your market?

In Galatians 1:10 Paul writes, “If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”

It is easy for the more individualistic to take this verse to mean they should be indifferent to “men,” speaking aggressively and assertively the gospel as they perceive it regardless of how they communicate it. They interpret the phrase “pleased men” to mean “showed consideration for the feelings of men” or even “loved men.” Regrettably, not a few Christian leaders have taken this attitude over the centuries and quite a few do it now.

On the other hand, even more Christian leaders over the centuries and even right now take an attitude that what they say should be directed, not to the needs of men, but to their appetites and passions. This is the market driven church or school.

Things get complicated on this side. In the 60’s and 70’s conservative Christians, reacting to the growth of socialistic dogma in American politics (but failing to set themselves outside the paradigm that gave rise to that growth) adopted the libertarian doctrine of the unfettered, free market. For many conservatives, to argue against the free market came to mean to argue for socialism or other forms of tyranny – or worse, against Christianity.

In that context, the market came to be the center of people’s affections and ambitions. People cannot imagine any other way to survive financially apart from selling things to the free market or working for a company (increasingly gigantic) that sells things to the market.

And what is the market? It used to be the agora – a public place where people gathered to buy and sell. But the publicness of the market has diminished. First of all, the public became the masses and they were efficiently gathered into impersonal malls where the sellers were exchanged frequently and where well-being depended on masses of impersonal sales. Unlike “the old days”, which still survive in some urban and rural areas, nobody knows his butcher anymore.

Our material comforts have grown wildly, like a strong addiction. We wonder how people survived before air conditioning, supersized value meals, and electronic superstores.

But our eyes are closed to the costs of our prosperity precisely because those costs are not directly obvious. For example, we’re a fat, lazy people with a few superperformers leading us by persuading us they can keep the costs of our obesity down (whether it be the price of chocolate or the price of health care). In 1980 Time Magazine described Americans as “an unloved child with ice cream: fat, full of pimples, and screaming for more.”

Even worse, I think, is the social cost. Because we no longer need our neighbors we don’t know them. The market, unfettered and severed from higher purposes, has proven that it will find the weaknesses of the masses and service them. It has become one gigantic pimp, providing the means for all of us to indulge our gluttony, our cowardice, our lusts, our pride. I could have believed in the free market at one time, but that was before the internet showed what people will spend their money on when they are in the privacy of their own heads. The Brave New World is no longer around the corner; we’ve entered it.

We could never have reached this point without an inordinate worship of the market. It cannot solve our problems. It cannot save our souls. It does not merit the worship of our hearts.

Of course, a significant number of readers is asking whether I have become a socialist. God forbid. I am a Christian. I reject every form of economic and philosophical materialism. That is precisely where the argument for the free market went astray. It is a materialist position, one into which the 20th century conservative was maneuvered by falling into a dread of socialism apart from a faith in a God who transcends the market.

We see this false dilemma played out in our schools continually. If God has called a group of people to build a Christian classical school, then they are bound to build a Christian classical school. If it succeeds, that is good. If not, He has only asked for faithful stewardship.

But stewardship is the issue. And you can’t be a faithful steward without trying to succeed and that means people coming to your school. And those people are the market. Right?

Well, it depends on what you mean by “market.” If you are using the term loosely to describe everybody with whom your school comes in contact and communicates with, sure, they’re the “market.” But if you are using the term to describe the people on whose pleasure the success of your school depends, no, they’re not the “market.”

In the end, only God can be that market.

The market, in other words, cannot be given the authority to determine what kind of an institution you are, the kind of curriculum you will teach, the philosophy you will live and die by.

I prefer to think of them, not as the market (which means their pleasure is your object – i.e. they are the boss), but as the beneficiaries of your service. They are the recipients of your Christian love. Stewardship demands authority. You can’t hand that over to the people you serve, and then blame them when you lose your way.

Besides, even if you hold to a market driven model, what the market is looking for in education is leadership. It’s confused. To listen to it is to betray it.

Now we’re back to the issue of hard-heartedness. Surely I don’t really mean you shouldn’t listen to the market – to the beneficiaries of your service.

No, I don’t mean that. I was using a sort of hyperbole. They can’t be your guide on the direction you’re moving. But they can’t be ignored either. If you are out hiking and somebody falls into a ditch, Christian love doesn’t ignore that person so you can reach the goal. They’re the ones you are leading, for goodness’ sake. You should spend endless time listening to them and their needs and their capacities. Mostly face to face.

But when they try to redirect you to from your path, you can’t compromise your stewardship. You aren’t working to please men but to please God. In the end, that’s the only way to please the men that matter most.

Strategic Plans

Peter Drucker, the godfather of strategic thinking, wrote a series of essays that have been collected in a very helpful book called Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices. The book is filled with provocative and suggestive chapter titles like Leadership is a Foul-Weather Job; What the Leader Owes; Converting Good Intentions into Results; Building the Donor Constituency; and What is the Bottom Line When There Is No “Bottom Line”?; The Effective Board, and so on.

Today, I was reviewing his chapter called Winning Strategies. In it, he points out that in many businesses planning is an intellectual exercise, but “until it becomes actual work, you have done nothing. Strategies, on the other hand, are action-focused.”

He then proceeds to describe the components of an effective strategy. First, he points out, you need a strategy to improve each of what he calls “the factors of production”: people working smarter and where they can “really produce,” money, and time.

To improve productivity means setting ambitious productivity goals, abandoning things that no longer work, and innovating.

Since he is writing for non-profits, he acknowledges the difficulty for managers because there is usually no product that needs to be improved or replaced and the bottom line is not money. So how do you judge the effectiveness of your strategy to make things better? First, by defining what better means. You can set qualitative goals. “You can set goals that are not measurable but can be appraised and can be judged.”

That last sentence is vital for a school, precisely because one school after another succumbed to the need to provide measurable proof of its success in doing an immeasurable work and the end result was the destruction of American education. As Drucker expressed it, “Quantity without quality is the worst thing and will result in total failure.”

Second, you can ask, “What have we contributed that mattered and what will we contribute in the future?”

With that background, he then describes the steps of building the strategy itself.

  1. Identify the ultimate beneficiaries of your service (in a school, that would include students, families, churches, etc. – each should be identified separately)
  2. Define your goal clearly
  3. Convert the goal into specific targets, each focused on a different group of beneficiaries
  4. Develop a “marketing plan” for each target group
  5. Allocate resources (especially people and money) to each marketing plan (tactics)
  6. Communicate a lot
  7. Train your staff (who does what, when, with what results? how will they take ownership? what tools do they need? what language do they speak?)
  8. Allocate resources to the specific tasks (logistics)
  9. Establish feedback loops (determine when you need to see results, what those results will be, how you will measure the results, what your control points will be)

Be very clear about your strategic goals and implementation and do not avoid controversy in setting your goals. And don’t try to reach different target segments with the same message.

How does your school implement the foregoing steps? Have I broken the rule in that very last sentence with my blog? Should I have one blog for leaders and another for teachers/parents? What do you think? I’m wide open to advice.

A few more thoughts about sex, guilt, multi-culturalism, and freedom

Sexual liberation is rooted, historically, in interpretations of Freud and developed by Herbert Marcuse. It’s all related to guilt.

Multi-culturalism has used a confusion strategy to assist it. Various cultures have varying sexual mores, the argument goes, therefore there are no sexual laws that are not mere cultural impositions.

The great crisis of multi-culturalism is precisely that there is no such thing as a multi-culture. Throw 50 cultures together and you have a new culture. If the leadership of that culture chooses a radical relativism as the foundation for decision making then the members of that culture will not have wise guides or principles to live by. Everything will be regarded as an imposition and everybody will be confused.

It’s analogous to learning manners. They’re binding at first, liberating later. It’s not comforting to never know what to do in a given situation.

The notion is that all conventions are impositions and limitations. They are not. They are means by which individuals become members of a community. They are means by which individuals rise from the aesthetic to the ethical. They are means by which individuals discover themselves, their powers, their tastes, their identities. And then they turn those identities, discovered in part by breaking from the stranglehold of community (something they could not have done if the community did not have a “stranglehold”!) and turning back into the community and serving it with wisdom, virtue, and self-denial.  

It’s also analogous to learning how to speak. Does it liberate you or bind you? You will always find it difficult to escape the patterns of thought and the limits of thought established by your language. So are you freer to think if you don’t know any language? Are you more liberated if your use of your own language is radically limited? Language is both the opportunity and the limitation of relationship.

But our supposed desire not to impose our morality on people from other cultures or religions or whatever is a fraud and a self-deception. First of all, it is a fraud. Those who champion the sexual revolution are not morally neutral. They have a worldview and a moral system that they have imposed with extraordinary success on our culture, especially through the colleges and universities and the entertainment industry (this may be the single most significant stupid thing Christians did in the 20th century when they regarded the entertainment industry as necessarily evil and let it go its own way rather than make movies that could have been sound aesthetically and morally responsible).

Secondly, it is a self-deception by the cowards who acquiesce. They have persuaded themselves that they are ever so kindly not imposing their own morality (as though they hold to a sound moral code themselves) on the young people under their own authority. Which is to say they are refusing to exercise authority, thereby abandoning their responsibilities. They are closet tyrants a la Dead Poet’s Society.

Do we believe for a moment that the university system would be so unspeakably immoral if it weren’t taken over by and now run by two classes of people: perverts and administrative cowards?

To be free from guilt over things that are wrong is not liberation. The guilt will submerge itself and manifest itself in other psychoses. When we do things that are self-destructive we ought to feel guilt – that is one of the evidences of self-respect.

And what about love? Isn’t that the hymn of the age? Are those free from guilt suggesting that sex without love is a good thing? Because that is the price of sex without guilt. The reason we should feel guilty about extra-marital sex is because somebody isn’t being loved; spouse, future spouse, self, person with whom one is uniting oneself. Thus the only way to avoid guilt is to completely eliminate love from our conscience in relation to the sexual act. Some freedom.

This is leading to a paganism that will enslave women into temple prostitution within two generations.

Teaching things and conventions

Much mischief has been accomplished in educating children about symbols without first giving them a thorough and dynamic experience of the living idea to which the symbol points.

Children doing math who only think conventionally may well conclude that they aren’t “math people.” Children doing letters think conventionally (letters are conventions), but hardly realize that these letters represent the sounds of normal existence – sounds they’ve been making since they were very little. But they ought to realize that.

The sounds only become symbols later in life. First they are sounds. And sometimes they take on a distinct meaning in a child’s mind – they communicate an idea apart from the conventional use.                                 

But the conventions are brilliant for a number of reasons: we can read with them. They multiply the number of sounds a child can master. They multiply our ability to think and communicate. They are undeniably powerful conventions. But they are conventions nonetheless.


Though language itself comes from God.

teaching living ideas

At the heart of the Christian classical curriculum and methodology is the presentation of living ideas. The soul feeds on ideas, and its health is determined by the quality of those ideas and the life found in them.

When we teach children about butterflies, we do not begin by showing them dead butterflies pinned to a board. We show them living butterflies in their natural environment.

When we teach them about moral habits, we do not begin by memorizing definitions of the virtues. We present living virtues by modeling them ourselves and providing vicarious experiences through literature, music, and the arts. This does not mean that we reduce stories, music, and the arts to moral lectures; rather, we concentrate on human works that are excellent themselves (the artist was virtuous in his performance) and that embody the virtues in the work (e.g. heroes who model courage, rhythms that are temperate, color selection that is appropriate).

Sometimes students need to learn things that are not “natural” but are man-made, such as letters and digits. In cases like this, an additional difficulty arises because these man-made conventions do not have a “natural” state. They are symbols for other things. In this case, the children simply need to learn the conventions (the man-made symbols). However, before learning the conventions, they will experience as much of the natural thing as possible (e.g. the sounds that go with the letters and the numbers that are represented by the digits).

Christianity and the Classical Mind

You hear a lot about Tertullian’s outcry: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Less commonly heard are these words from Clement of Alexandria, perhaps because, like Tertullian, Clement went to some extremes. Like Tertullian. Anyway:

Before the Lord’s coming, philosophy was an essential guide to righteousness for the Greeks. At the present time, it is a useful guide towards reverence for God. It is a kind of preliminary education for those who are trying to gather faith through demonstration. “Your foot will not stumble,” says Scripture, if you attribute good things, whether Greek or Christian, to Providence. God is responsible for all good things: of some, like the blessings of the Old and New Covenants, directly; of others, like the riches of philosophy, indirectly. Perhaps philosophy too was a direct gift of God to the Greeks before the Lord extended his appeal to the Greeks. For philosophy was to the Greek world what the Law was to the Hebrews, a tutor escorting them to Christ. So philosophy is a preparatory process; it opens the road for the person whom Christ brings to his final goal. Solomon says, “Surround Wisdom with a stockade, and she will exalt you; she will shiled you with a rich crown,” since once you have fortifed her with a fence by means of the true riches of philosophy, you will keep her inaccesible to the sophists….

Every line makes for a good and profitable discussion.

SAT and ACT: the Measure of all Things

In II Corinthians 10:12, St. Paul offers a pointed critique of the sophists who were maneuvering to undercut his authority. He says:

For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themsleves among themselves, are not wise.

Is this not a critique of conventional education? Do we not seek our validation by comparing ourselves to each other, and ranking ourselves against each other, to determine where we fall out in the order of society.

What do you think? Does our approach to assessment undercut the real goals of education. Are we also, to quote St. Paul, “Not wise”?

Charlotte Mason on Neuroscience

She was up on the latest before most people even knew the lastest was up! Wisdom like Charlotte Mason’s is our only hope as we progress into a biotechnological future.

There is no more interesting subject of inquiry open just now than that of the interaction between the thoughts of the mind and the configuration of the brain. The fair conclusion appears to be that each is greatly the cause of the other; that the character of the persistent thoughts actually shapes the cerebrum, while on the configuration of this organ depends in turn the manner of thoughts we think.