President’s Report: LTW and the practical benefits of classical composition and the Opportunity of the Decade

It’s that time of year when I write my president’s report so I’ve been reflecting on the last year lately. In the spirit of openness and for the sake of thinking out loud, it seems like it might be valuable to write some thoughts here.

We’re a young organization, so every year is a big deal, but 2008 has proven to be a bit of a turning point for CiRCE. The Lost Tools of Writing seems to have burst out of the blocks this year, more than doubling sales over the previous year. I get excited about that because of what LTW is.

Sure it’s a writing program, but it’s a great deal more than that. For one thing, it teaches the art of thinking. No other writing program I’ve found includes a systematic, step by step approach to coming up with something to say on your own (Invention). Quite a few of you have told us that this is the most valuable part of the program.

Perhaps that is why Dialectics was called the art of arts. Every other art and science has its own logic. But all of those logics are brought together and made universal in Logic/Dialectics. And Invention is the art of logic. Many logic programs teach the science of logic. That is, they teach the rules that govern strict logical reasoning. But they don’t necessarily teach students how to think logically. LTW does.

As a result, LTW shows as no other program can that the seven liberal arts (the trivium and quadrivium) really do enable people to think about anything more effectively.

And not just academic things. One of the great experiences students and teachers draw out of LTW is ongoing practice in making decisions. Sure, many of them are drawn from literature. But a student would have to be pretty stiff necked to not eventually see that he makes his own decisions about his normal life in the same way. It’s not an academic exercise; it’s a real world experience.

When students study LTW, they really are being equipped for leadership: i.e. decision making.

So I don’t feel it is any exagerration to say that sales of LTW are good for the Christian classical renewal. It helps every student who uses it write better, think better, and communicate better. And if they want to hear it, it helps them live better by making better decisions.

I said 2008 was a turning point for CiRCE, and LTW is one reason for that. After years of struggling to perfect the program while surviving financially, we seem to have established a strong financial foundation so that now we can start to pursue our essential function even more aggressively.

That essential function is research. CiRCE stands for Center for Independent Research in Classical Education. In fact, LTW is a product of that research, as is our consulting, conference, apprenticeship and every other resource. So much so that CiRCE has a second meaning: Consulting and Integrated Resources for Classical Educators.

God has continually provided for us to continue our research against all odds, often through last minute gifts and faith stretching provision. Never yet has His provision come from the sources I had anticipated or predicted. Except for this one thing: it always comes from the sacrificial goodness of people who believe, as I do, that our communites, churches, and country need a classical education. Our freedom depends on it. We need young people who are trained to make sound decisions, communicate effectively, and think soundly.

Now we sit, to quote the old poem, On the threshold of a dream. We’ve moved our office to downtown Concord, which is small town USA! I look out my very large windows through two arches to the street below where I see the life of the town pass by. I see people walk in and out of the Boutique across the street and, next to it, the Union Street Bistro. For the first time in a very long time, CiRCE is part of the local community.

And get this: one floor below us there is an entire floor of offices and two large rooms that could be used for conferences. Empty.

Talk about Scope for the Imagination!

Our old offices were so small that Nancy (our business manager) literally didn’t have her own cubicle, much less office. Now she has her own office where she can run the business without endless distractions.

In our old office, my mind had no room to explore and experiment and try things, which is a bit like taking a scientist out of his laboratory. Now, not only do we have adequate office space for staff, we are very close to rooms for LTW workshops, mini-conferences for school teachers and home schoolers, tutoring, classes, etc. etc.

Rabbit Trails

They are a vital element of effective teaching, especially because they are the only times when you can be highly confident your students are paying attention. But wandering takes a deep command of your subject matter, at least of the ideas being discussed, if not the details that make up the idea.

At Hope Academy in St. Paul one of the teachers described rabbit trails as “organic curiosities.” I like that. Another pointed out that the classical teacher can bring eagerness and understanding of metacognition to the the classroom discussion. I’ve been trying to figure that out ever since, but it sounds fantastic.

Why we need to be attentive to attention

In an earlier post, The Joy of Learning, I began to describe the importance of perception in teaching that cultivates that joy. There I tried to show that all learning begins with perception and that the degree to which a perception impacts us is the determined by how much attention we give to that perception.

Here is the corrollary: just as truth, goodness, and beauty can only enter the soul through perceiving them (I think), so evil finds its entry into the mind and the heart through what we perceive.

Therefore, all instruction is necessarily and thoroughly moral, though, happily, much is ineffective.

Education in Christ

The easiest thing to forget and the first thing we notice about the Christian life is that everything turns on being in Christ. In Colossians, Paul puts it this way:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk IN HIM,
rooted and built up IN HIM and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

For IN HIM dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;

and you are complete IN HIM, who is the Head of all principality and power.

IN HIM you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

buried WITH HIM in baptism, in which you also were raised WITH HIM through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

And you , being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made a live together WITH HIM, having forgiven you all trespasses…

If then you were raised WITH CHRIST, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

For you died, and your life is hidden WITH CHRIST IN GOD.

It’s rather obvious that Paul is not describing something that can be discovered by philosophy, not even in its scientific form. The ecstatic description Paul offers of our condition in Christ (dead and resurrected, hidden with Christ, alive together with Him, forgiven) is not something that can be known any other way than by a direct statement by the one who did it. I refer, of course, to God Himself, who acted in Christ.

To chase a rabbit, this is why Paul’s apostolic authority is so important. If he was not the recipient of a mystery from God, then we Christians have been badly deceived. If everything we need to know about God and how He works with the creation can be discovered through philosophy and science, I would have to suggest that God is a little boring, or at best not very intimate.

But to the point that stood out to me in reading the verses above: education severed from Christ loses all the benefits of an education in Christ. If we ca’t see how Christ orders and integrates the curriculum, then we miss out on the great blessing of Colossians 2:3, which tells us that “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasurs of wisdom and knowledge.”

These aren’t magic words that fulfill themselves by pasting them on a worksheet. They are a promise. They are the reward for inquiry. An authentic education, in Christ, is the fulfillment of every philosophical and scientific quest, and it will show science and philosophy how they can realize their purpose and find ultimate joy – in Christ.

Let us not be timid and bound by petty worldly standards in our quest to fully know Him in whom is the promise of “all the riches of the full assurance of understanding,… the knowledge of the mystery of God.”

Angelina on classical education

Angelina in Louisiana maintains one of the most interesting, thought provoking, and helpful blogs for a classical educator, especially a home schooler, which is, of course, where the freedom to experiment and explore hides out. Take a look at her Permanent Things.

Can’t we all just get along?

This week, across this marvelous country of ours that is eternally stuck in the world as it actually is, many Christian schools were surprised by a tension they should have been prepared for. The reactionary and apocalyptic nature of much Christian education and culture has so convinced Christian kids that the Obama election was a disaster that they are praying publicly that God will have mercy on us and protect us from this great danger.

It reminds me of an earlier November 4, 1980, when Ronald Reagan won the election rather handily and Bruce Springsteen got up at a concert he was putting on that night and said something like, “This is a very dark day in American history.”

It’s the nature of politics for people to go to extremes over elections. But evangelicals, we must remember, withdrew from politics from around 1930 to around 1980. When they came back they had forgotten what politics are for. They are not a means of producing a pure society. That’s what totalitarian dictatorshops do.

They are a way of making decisions without shooting each other.  I’m proud to know that we have gone through what we are repeatedly told is a revolution that will “remake” America and not a shot was fired. Our political system rarely gives us what we want, but we are mature enough to accept that the people of this country have the legal right to vote for the person whom they believe will best represent their convictions.

Barack Obama might not be good for our economy. We’ll learn that as the years go by. But while some people might end up unemployed as a result of his policies, I am confident that they will not riot or kill people over it. I’m confident that they will try to make changes through the legitimate means of political debate.

So we’ve gone through an unknown change and elected an unknown president and we’re all holding our breath to see what’s going to happen.

But that’s not entirely true. Because the tension I mentioned above has to be reckoned with. What tension? That between the African-American children who are dancing in the hallways of the predominantly white Christian schools  because they really have overcome in a way we white folk can’t begin to understand, though we can imagine and even feel it if we’re willing, and the white kids who have been told for a long time now that Obama will burn the flag, outlaw religion, bring in a socialist regime, and crown it all with either a Muslim takeover or a one world government that will usher in the anti-Christ and then the second coming.

Why should we demonstrate such an extreme gullibility at such a time as this. Common decency would allow for a little rejoicing with those who rejoice. But of course we Christians know everything and see things from this interesting little thing called a Christian worldview, so we know the real truth about Obama.

Christians, let us stop embarrassing ourselves by such mindless expressions of our narrow minded anxieties. God is not a Republican and He has not forgotten America. If we want to matter and if you expect to be respected for being wise and thoughtful, then we need to be wise and thoughtful; not knee-jerk and reactionary.

And we white folks must certainly respect and embrace the joy of our black friends and brothers who feel a justifiable sense of hope many of them have never felt before.

Maybe this article by Eugene Robinson will help some of us begin to understand.

A World for Saving

I’m introducing a new feature at the Quiddity blog. I want Presdient-elect Obama to succeed and I fear that his friends might make it a whole lot harder for him. So I’m keeping an eye out for Messianic language and exagerrated claims or expectations that he can’t possibly live up to. The flip side is the exagerrated claims about the world Mr. Obama is serving. I call this the:

Overstatement Watch (entry one):

Barack Hussein Obama did not win because of the color of his skin. Nor did he win in spite of it. He won because at a very dangerous moment in the life of a still young country, more people than have ever spoken before came together to try to save it. And that was a victory all its own.

Time Magazine today

If you have more examples, and I know they are legion, please feel free to comment below or forward them to us at CiRCE.

Mr. Obama is a real person in a real world and I think he could do some good things. Whether his followers can save our country bets a lot of questions.