What kids learn

At a retreat I’m attending, Bob Ingram made this really profound statement. Try to draw out the implications for your school.

The kids glean from the spillover of the intellectual life of the faculty

Abbot and Costello on math

7 X 13 = 28! Here’s another version of this gag from a week or two ago. Abbott and Costello add so many little details that it’s even more hilarious.

“Did you ever go to school, stupid?”

“Yeah, and I came out the same way.”

DO NOT let your children watch this!!

Liberal Arts and Servile Arts

Christian and classical school often find themselves in a dilemma in regard to what they should offer by way of classes. A school must make a multitude of choices concerning curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular offerings. Recovering a basic understanding of classical education as a liberal arts education will assist in helping schools with these decisions.

The pre-modern educational models made a clear distinction between the liberal arts and servile arts. The two models are different in regard to the goals that they pursued. The goal of the liberal arts was to cultivate a wise and virtuous man. The goal of the servile arts was to cultivate skills for a given trade (like blacksmithing). The liberal arts focused on producing the student that had the general skills that apply to all studies (such as thinking) and the servile arts focused on specific skills that only applied to one vocation. Today, our universities, colleges, and high schools have succumbed to the influence vocational and servile training.

C.S. Lewis contrasts liberal arts education with what he calls “vocational training,” – the educational model prepares one for employment. Such training, he writes, “aims at making not a good man but a good banker, a good electrician, . . . or a good surgeon.” Lewis does admit the importance of such training–for we cannot do without bankers and electricians and surgeons–but the danger, as he sees it, is the pursuit of training at the expense of education. “If education is beaten by training, civilization dies,” he writes, for “the lesson of history is that civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost.”

Many schools seek to add courses such as computer science to their curriculum. While I have no problem with students having a basic understanding of computers, especially in this day and age, schools must understand that they are providing a course that is not a liberal arts offering. Also, with a school’s limited time and resources, we must understand that such servile courses are taking the place of other core curricular liberal arts training in the schedule of each day. We should focus on providing a strong, quality liberal arts education first and then, if we have left over time and money (which we probably won’t), we can offer other “extra” curricular courses.

As Lewis reminds us, it is the liberal arts, not vocational training, that preserves civilization by producing wise and virtuous men.

If Something is Worth Doing…

My pastor included this quote in our order of worship today.  I had seen it before, but was glad to see it again.  Here’s to those of you that have entered a good work and continue to persevere:


“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; but he who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

~ Teddy Roosevelt

End of Apprenticeship report

Two very full days of work have just ended, so I was unable to fulfill my dream of more or less regular updates. I’ll have more to add, but we’re about to go out for one last meal and I want to at least touch in with you.

The journeymen spent hours developing ideas about teaching students to apply the three canons to narration. When it’s done you’ll see tools for teaching story telling like you’ve never seen before (along with some common tools that are quite useful as well). Specific notes to follow.

The apprentices spent Friday practice teaching and reviewing each other’s presentations. Then today they applied lessons learned to develop samples of the various essays, which I hope you’ll be able to access to better understand the elements of the program.

We also set up an agenda for future LTW workshops. They’ll do a better job introducing the overall program instead of dwelling so closely on the early lessons. On February 28 I’ll roll out the new agenda here in Houston, so if you are nearby come on out.

They’re impatiently dragging me out of here, so I need to go.

Godly Self-indulgence?

Oh, I’m anxious to write about what I’ve learned and witnessed today, but we all need to run to A Taste of Texas for some of the most incredible steak a man can possibly eat! So while I’m sitting in the restaurant eating warm buttered bread, cutting steak that melts like butter, luxuriating in the sweetness of a gourmet dessert, and otherwise spoiling myself along with the rest of the apprentices, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait.

Check in soon.

Apprenticeship: End of Day One

I eat “not wisely, but too well” on these apprenticeship retreats! Tex Mex for lunch and Texas BBQ (brisket, chicken, and sausage) for dinner. But I also feed deeply on the friendships that have grown and been growing over the past few years. Today was spent with the journeymen, all of whom have been in the program for at least one year prior to this one. Tonight the apprentices (first years) arrived and those who could joined us for dinner. Buck and Jeannie will arrive a little after midnight. Poor kids!

I love this group. Leah Lutz and Camille Goldston have demonstrated a devotion to classical education and a loyalty to CiRCE and the apprenticeship that I can’t begin to express. Leah has brought the insights gained and her talents to Covenant Family Tutorials in California. Camille has applied her learning and LTW to Whetstone Tutorials here in Houston.

Kathleen Wrobleske and Lisa Baldwin are each in their third year and have labored to bring the deeper principles of Christian classical education into the curriculum and teaching of Covenant Academy here in Houston. They’ve described the transformation it’s produced in their students and the liberation it has brought to the teachers. Lisa has brought LTW all the way down to fifth grade with amazing skill and creativity. And Kathleen has generously hosted the retreat for the second straight year (I hope to post pictures of the setting soon), while Lisa and Camille are also hosting apprentices for the nights.

Ann Rogers teaches writing at Gloria Deo Academy in Springfield, MO, where I’ll be conducting a teacher training conference in May of this year. She’s in her second year and has shown a quick grasp and application of the ideas of LTW and also of the modes of classical instruction (mimetic and Socratic). She brings an enthusiasm and joy that keeps us all going when the days seem to extend too long.

Like today. We had some business and administrative matters to discuss tonight and the meeting lasted until 10:00, but now we have a much clearer grasp of standards and certification requirements. This group of journeymen have been the pioneers, learning with me as we’ve figured out the best way to do an apprenticeship. If, by the grace of God, you are ever able to participate in a CiRCE apprenticeship, I hope you’ll genuflect before their icons – well, I hope you be thankful for what they have done to help figure this strange amalgam out.

At the end of this year the third year apprentices (journeymen) will be CiRCE certified master teachers of the Lost Tools of Writing (which is basically classical rhetoric). They’ll have gone quite the journey with me and we’ve all conquered quite a few obstacles and overcome a lot of uncertainties. As a result, because of their eagerness and flexibility, the CiRCE apprenticeship has been refined and prepared for new apprentices to go even farther on the path of mastery. Although, there’s nothing like being a pioneer. All the dilemmas, uncertainty, experimentation – how can you replace those thrills?!

OK, I fell asleep without finishing this post. It’s morning now and I’d go to breakfast but when I looked in the mirror my reflection jolted me and warned me not to appear in public. So it’s a quick shower and then to action.

This morning we’ll be discussing the essence of classical education for  little while (I’ll be inquiring into their understanding to see where we are as a group – then we’ll probably make some comparisons between classical and conventional education depending on what comes up in the first discussion and what kind of time we have left). Then we’ll break into two groups. The journeymen will continue to develop lesson plans for level II lessons while the apprentices will present lessons on level I lessons, which we’ll then assess using the CiRCE teacher assessment rubric.

I’ll tell you all the gossip as the day progresses!

Judgment, Introductions, and Audiences

We’re on lunch break and the five journeymen are outside sitting at a picnic table in the moist warmth of a Houston January day with the sound of the Wrobleske’s pool in the background and the sun joining them for a quiet meal.

We’ve just completed a pretty intense couple hours discussing how to teach paragraph development and introductions in level 2. The challenge in the first case arises from the need for second year students to exercise a great deal more judment than they were required to exercise in level I of LTW. That makes it harder for the teacher because, while it is pretty easy to know whether a person can duplicate a process, it’s much harder to assess how much judgment they are capable of exercising and how much they have exercised. So we’ve identified some principles of a good paragraph and some ways to make sure the students can think about them.

The introduction (exordium) challenge arises from the need to take your argument (the part level I focuses on most) and relate it effectively to the audience and the circumstances (which level II attends to much more closely). The Ad Herennium gives a series of questions you can ask to develop your introduction, but they’re very concise and not altogether consistent, so that led to some heated discussions around the planning table. Years ago I developed some exercise templates based on my best understanding of the Ad Herennium, but I couldn’t find them this morning so I hope they are in my old computer or at least that I have hard copies in my office.

Now I need to take a moment to review Aristotle on Rhetoric to see what he has to say about the introduction. You’ll see the fruit of our labour in Level II of The Lost Tools of Writing.

See you soon

Socrates and Meno at the apprenticeship retreat

Here I am at the apprentice retreat and everybody thinks I am dutifully typing notes, but really I’m blogging.

Just kidding. We’ve just completed a brief discussion about Plato’s short dialogue called the Meno in which Socrates discusses whether virtue can be taught with Meno and Plato gives two very clear models of Socratic dialectics. I highly recommend this dialogue to anybody who wants to understand the Socratic approach. In one case, Socrates models his approach to learning with Meno. In the other, he abbreviates it by interacting with a slave boy to teach him geometry. No time for detail, but here’s a very brief summary:

The Socratic mode

Stage one: Socrates and Meno are on different sides, Socrates striving to reveal the contradictions in Meno’s argument

Transition: metanoia (turning point/repentance): Meno admits: “I don’t know”

Stage two: Socrates and Meno are on the same side, journeying toward truth TOGETHER, neither pretending to know it.

Requires that both parties acknowledge that they don’t know

Thus Meno’s question: how can you seek something you don’t know

Anytus never hits metanoia so they never join together in the quest


More later. Now we have to discuss LTW II.

Apprenticeship retreat launch

I’m in Houston for the winter apprenticeship retreat so I’m going to try to post an entry or two during the day to let you know what’s happening. I’ll say this to embitter you yangki’s: it’s about 70 degrees outside. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I can hardly absorb a January day in the 70’s.

Also, I have to report on a church I saw driving to my present abode (the Wrobleske’s). This church was just off the highway and it had a marvelous sign out front announcing its presence. But the building itself didn’t even measure up to the common warehouse architecture of the typical American church. What are they trying to say about themselves? More importantly, what are they saying about their God?

One topic of discussion I hope to pursue over the next couple days is Latin in the grammar school. Leah Lutz, a leader among the journeymen, wrote an essay for this retreat about the way we teach Latin and she included some very provocative reflections. I am eager to hear more of what she has to say. Hopefully, I can seek in a post or two here.

The apprenticeship meetings go Thursday to Saturday, so keep your banana peeled and your alerts alert.