How to Conquer Age-Segregation and Successfully Teach Students of Any Age

Leigh Bortins has recently completed her book, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education. I look forward to reading it over the next few weeks and responding with the occasional comment here.

Already in the Introduction she makes a radical and disorienting statement that makes the book worth reading. She says, “This curriculum works for a student of any age, but that is a hard idea to digest because we think in terms of grade levels.”

Exactly. One of the many ways Darwin rules Christian schools through Dewey is the application of the industrial concept of the assembly line to education. Prior to the 20th century there were occasional schools that broke students into age groups, but I haven’t seen any evidence of schools that separated students into grades that went through the day together.

It’s an amazingly harmful practice educationally in that it undercuts any number of non-linear learning opportunities and it breaks down the society of the school. But Leigh’s point is important for the content and manner of our teaching.

The classical curriculum works for the student of any age. You don’t have to be obsessed with “age-appropriate” material. You do need to be attentive to student appropriate delivery. And you need to be attentive to the students capacity to absorb the material, which is affected by, but not governed by, age, or at least maturity.

The Lost Tools of Writing, for example, is for students of any age as long as the teacher can adapt it to the readiness of the particular student. That’s because LTW, and classical education generally, is focused on contemplating ideas, not reproducing behavioral outcomes.

Because classical education focuses on ideas, it teaches the skills and content necessary to grasp the ideas. Schools that focus on skills or content to the neglect of ideas lose the skills and content because they have no meaning without the ideas.

Put the Idea back in the heart of learning and you will find that foolish practices like age-segregating students will either give way to wiser practices or will react against them.

The trouble is that we are so accustomed to this Darwinian, Naturalistic, Industrial, anti-human approach to education that we find it to inconvenient to restore the Christian, supernatural, agrarian, humane modes of education that gave us science and industry in the first place.

Living Like You Mean It

When Andrew Pudewa and I present our writing workshops, one of the topics we address is what we call the five paths to great writing. I’ve introduced them HERE.

I need to clarify that those five paths arise from a direct consideration of the use of language. There is one more thing a writer needs to do besides reading, thinking, and writing – and that is living. Some would-be writers, and I suspect I have this tendency, want to write because they love writing. This is a bit like teaching because you love teaching.

Fine. Do it. But have something to teach too!

Same with writing. I have this old New Yorker cartoon in my computer where a man’s wife is leaning over his shoulder while he is trying to come up with something to write in his journal. He has writer’s block. She says to him, “Maybe you should do something first and then write in your journal.”

Indeed. The greatest poets and writers all wrote about things they experienced or at least witnessed and their souls were informed by the experience. When poetry is written by poets who sit around writing poetry for readers who sit around reading poetry, poetry is living off the neighbor’s stream. The poet needs to dig his own well, just as the teacher needs to reinvent the wheel every year or two.

The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely,  or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. IF the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers, has not them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way.

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook (highly recommended!)

As Mary Oliver is using standing among flowers as a synechdoche for the act of living perceptively, I’m confident she will not object if I add a few more: from engaging in battle, raising children with your eyes open, holding a lover’s hand always for the first time, listening to Mozart’s Concerto for Harp and Flute with mind and ears engaged, participating in the liturgy, eating a freshly picked radish that you grew yourself, jumping out of an airplane, teaching an eager student, teaching a stubborn and unperceptive student, contemplating Euclid’s definition of a point, looking into your spouse’s eyes – you know, living like you mean it.

That’s what literature and writing should teach us.

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Andrew and I will be in California from June 7-10. Please come see us!

Trying to Thank

Renee Mathis is completing her second year as a CiRCE Institute apprentice and is one year away from achieving the status of a CiRCE certified master teacher of classical Rhetoric.

For two years she has been teaching The Lost Tools of Writing, but that doesn’t begin to describe her work for and on Level II. Before joining the apprenticeship, Renee had become a veteran teacher and she had been doing a very good job of it. So when she started contributing to The Lost Tools of Writing project, I knew we’d all derive benefits. I couldn’t foresee the extent of those benefits.

First one thing, Renee was always willing to do more. I can’t figure out how she was able to do all she did, especially given how much of it was last minute or close to it. Her work on the narrative worksheets and module guides over the past month is why we were able to finish it.

It was also the difference between level II being excellent and just really good. When you complete level I and continue to level II, you will make gains in your understanding of writing that you need never lose – because Renee worked so hard to understand, to read, to prepare, to write, and to edit worksheets and module guides.

Saying thank you can be hard because I’ve never been able to come up with a way to express the appreciation, indebtedness, and gratitude that thankfulness implies. It strains the verbal resources.Sometimes simplicity is best. Renee, will this do?

Thank you.

The Lost Tools of Writing, Level 2: Now Available!


The Lost Tools of Writing™ is the most important curricular development in the last 20 years.

 

Returning to the works of the classical world and deeply examining the modes of instruction they followed, The Lost Tools of Writing teaches classical writing – and so much more.

 

It also teaches students how to think.

Level 2 features beautiful new cover art

FEATURING:

A Brand New Story-telling Unit
12 More Schemes & Tropes

Judicial & Deliberative Essay

More On the Comparison Essay

Two Brand New Topics

 

_________________
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

 

 

“Hey, this stuff works, by the way. My kids’ writing is improving quickly. Next semester this composition class will turn into “Speech.” I am saving up some of the schemes and tropes for use therein.”
– Kevin C., California

“I knew I would learn about writing. I didn’t know I would learn so much about thinking, and virtue, and my heavenly Father. Thank you.”
– Diana A., Texas

“Lately I’ve been engaging in what I can only describe as “informal LTW seminars” with the homeschoolers at my church. The reaction is always the same. Literal tears as they are encouraged to teach from a place of peace and rest, not anxiety.”
– Angelina S., Louisiana

“I was an attendee at your LTW talk in Boca Raton. I reported to my husband that it was one of the top 5 seminars I have ever been to on any subject. Thank you for the experience of contemplation!
– Andrea H., Florida

Here is… one great program. Check it out, then buy it, then rejoice at how great it is! I am a big fan if you can’t tell!”
– Steve E., North Carolina

 

Even Poorer in Thanks

Still immersed in final preparation of LTW II so it’s been very hard to write on here. Camille Goldston called me this morning to see how I was doing  and whether there was anything I needed her to do.

It’s amazing how much work she has put into this project over the last couple years – and into studying and teaching the Lost Tools of Writing before that.

Camille has told me that she didn’t like writing before she got involved with this, and there are times when I’m sure I’ve made her like it even less. Yet she outlined and created the great bulk of the level II teacher’s guide and then subjected it to review by others, especially Dr. Timothy Diebler from Covenant Academy in Houston, TX.

That takes some courage.

Camille has written, modified, and edited module guides and worksheets, she has found others to help with various parts of the project and guided them in their roles, she has given me feedback on most of the things I’ve worked on directly.

When I review what Camille (and Leah) have worked on, and then I remember that another dozen people have been involved in this task, I ask myself what exactly I have done.

The only thing I can come up with is my normal role ever since school days: to create confusion and chaos for the people who are trying to be productive.

I hope that you will all get your hands on LTW II because it really is going to be the best upper school writing program for the teacher who wants to teach students how to think and who values practical communication skills that grow from clear and creative thinking.

And I hope that when you get the program you will drop Camille a line to thank her for the innumerable hours of work she has given to classical rhetoric, from her four years in the apprenticeship to teaching level I (including on-line with Memoria Press – see our website for details on that), to the last two years of showing constant initiative to complete level II and work through some really tough spots even when I felt like quitting.

It’s personal. I’m indebted to Camille for her work and for her encouragement. But I can’t thank her enough. Can you help me?

Nowhere Near the Honor Due

Perhaps you have noticed by now that level II of The Lost Tools of Writing will be released to the Cosmos on April 19. If I were to start publicly thanking everybody who had a role to play in the development of this work, I’d be posting for a long time. If I proceeded to enumerate all the reasons they deserve thanks, I’d never stop writing.

My invention knows no limits, not because of any genius on my part, but because of the reach of the work done.

I can begin with the topic of definition, asking the question, “Who is it?” And that leads to a list of names that fills a phone book. For example, the two superstars of LTW II are Leah Lutz and Camille Goldston.

First they studied both classical instruction and classical rhetoric for three and four years as CiRCE Apprentices. No, that wasn’t first. Both had already been teaching for years before they joined the Apprenticeship, and what a lot they had to add when they joined.

This year I can think of many things each of them did, but would shame myself and undercut them if I tried to enumerate them all. Let me, instead, present some types and reveal some kinds.

Leah pretty much oversaw the development of the worksheets and module guides for the past two years. Perhaps you know the old bromide about not wanting to see how a sausage or a law is made. That may be, but if you had watched how LTW was made, you’d have a very different feeling. Leah has an amazing mind for ordering disparate and confusing things.

She kept us all on track without once losing her temper. She gave her time sacrificially to collect and review drafts and either revise them or make suggestions for revision by the writers (of whom more later). When difficult issues needed clarification, her input and questions were always insightful, appropriate, and productive. She wrote plenty of the materials herself, first as an apprentice and then as a developer.

If you remember the first edition of The Lost Tools of Writing, Level One, (which you probably don’t since it was so much less perfect than I had credited it with being!), you will appreciate the leaps, the bounds, the works of supererogation that have been accomplished when you see Level Two. And Leah was the ordering mind behind much of the improvement.

Leah, allow me here to publicly express my gratitude for your amazing work. The world will receive your work with great joy, beginning on April 19.

Because of you, LTW II will be clearer, full of better examples, easier to use, more thorough, more effective, and easier to understand than any other writing program available – even, for now, than LTW I. In fact, because of you, LTW I has been and will continue to be improved in many ways.

As you put it in an E-mail, “The end is in sight!! And it looks like a pretty great end.”

Friends, make no mistake, for the last 125 years our approach to teaching children has undercut their ability to think and to communicate. We are living in the early years of a dark age. Unless a light can be shined on how to think and communicate.

While the classically educated in time past would not think a whole lot of what we are doing now, they would appreciate that we are doing something. A genuine renewal is possible, but only if each teacher devotes herself to teaching the child in front of her instead of trying to save the world all at once.

The Lost Tools of Writing fancies itself a tool box for such a teacher: one who wants to learn how to think herself, and who wants to teach her students how to think, how to communicate, and how to grow in wisdom and virtue even in an age that, in its darkness, reflexively scoffs at such a fanciful dream.

Leah is one of those teachers, and we are all blessed by her commitment to the Christian classical vision.

Come back soon, because I have to tell you about Camille as well. And a lot of others. This could take a while!

When you see the product of their workmanship, you’ll undersatnd why I’m so grateful.

The 2010 Lost Tools of Writing Essay Contest

High school students, don’t miss this opportunity to win a prize of up to $500!

ABOUT THE CONTEST:
Education and Liberty are themes as American as baseball and apple pie. Yet, much of American literature, and most of American pop culture see the two as antithetical. Some people seem to see school as a barrier to liberty. In the 2010 Lost Tools of Writing Essay Contest, students are asked to consider the relationship between education and liberty. Are they indeed opposites? Or can one fulfill the other? Can a person be free without being educated? Can a person be educated without being free?

You decide. Then persuade us.

FINAL REGISTRATION DATE:
MAY 1, 2010

FINAL SUBMISSION DATE:

MAY 10, 2010

INTENDED PARTICIPANTS:
Students, grades 8-12.

ESSAY FORMAT AND REQUIREMENTS:
▪ Each essay must be between 900 and 1100 words(3-4 pp)
▪ Each essay should be double spaced
▪ Per the registration instructions below,
each essay is to be submitted via email.

CONTEST AWARDS:
1ST PLACE: $500
2ND PLACE: $250
3RD PLACE: $100

HOW TO REGISTER :
Send an Email to essaycontest@circeinstitute.org with
your name, address, grade, and phone number included in the body.

HOW TO SUBMIT:
Please attach your essay to an Email and send it to
essaycontest@circeinstitute.org.


QUESTIONS?

Email David Kern via david@circeinstitute.org

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