Sympathetic Identification or Critical Analysis?

All learning is imitation, if only we understand what imitation is. All teaching, then, is either exemplifying or presenting what the student will imitate.

This can apply to the classroom, but the truth is, we spend most of our active time teaching and learning anyway – or at least attempting to do so – so it would be foolish either to apply this only to the classroom or even to begin our reflections on learning with the classroom.

The classroom seeks to make learning super-efficient by removing every extraneous movement (usually by sending him to the office), but I remain skeptical about the effectiveness of this approach. As a teacher, I have alway found the classroom to be something with which you must do the best you can rather than the best there is, which is, I suppose, the reason why they have extended courses on classroom management at teachers colleges and at education conferences.

Imitation, however, comes in layers. I am beginning to suspect that you can see these layers played out, perhaps in reverse order, over time in European art.

The most obvious layer of imitation is when the artist (art is imitation) imitates the surface of the artifact he is imitating. For example, I can imitate a poem by Wordsworth quite easily by memorizing it. I can imitate a painting by DaVinci by coloring it in a coloring book.

Inasmuch as every following layer of imitation depends on this layer, I am unwilling to dismiss it as insignificant or unhelpful.

In the second layer of imitation, I would imitate the form of the artifact. While I simply retained the words in my head in layer one, now in layer two I would try to replace the words themselves with words of my own, but I would do so in the form (fable, lyric, etc.) of the original artist.

This is what Benjamin Franklin refered to when he used “hints of sentiment” and what Andrew Pudewa uses with IEW when he has students make key word outlines. The reason was activated by the imitation of level one, but not very vigorously. In level two, we call on it for more energetic activity.

Layer three imitation goes beyond the form to the qualities found within the form, such as voice, energy, harmony and other more abstract principles. Here the reason is seriously challenged even in analyzing, not to mention imitating, the artifact. This cannot be done by the would-be artist who is unwilling to practice the first two layers of imitation.

Finally, the artist becomes an artist in his own right when he imitates the artistic process itself: the process of creation. This varies from art to art and artifact to artifact, but there remains the universal process of creativity that applies to every art and artifact: attentively perceive, contemplate, conceptualize, re-present or articulate.

The master teacher is able to guide his students from the first through the fourth stage organically and dynamically and the gifted student is able to pass from one stage to the next with an alacrity rooted in attentive perception.

Most artists (including teachers) are unaware of this sequence and are drawn by thy mystic cords of necessity, the rational call of harmony, and the volitional impulse to beauty. But when programs are constructed to teach students en masse that disregard this organic sequence and strive instead to teach on mechanistic assumptions, a vast array of talent is squandered and human souls atrophy in the desert of negligence.

Thus scientific materialism undercuts the teaching of literature and composition by applying un-artistic, unfitting, counter-productive tools of assessment.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the greatest English philosophers of the 19th century, comes to my aid in his analysis of the poetic process. For simplicity, I quote from English Romantic Writers, ed. David Perkins, 1967 and I italicize for emphasis.

Coleridge often contrasted organic with ‘mechanical’ form. The ‘mechanical’ he said…, is predetermined and subsequently impressed on whatever material we choose, as when ‘to a mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened.’ The organic form, on the other hand, ‘shapes as it develops itself from within, and the fulness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form.’ Each exterior thus becomes a ‘true image’ of ‘the being within.’ The concept of organic form… gave rise to an approach to art that stressed sympathetic identification rather than analysis from a critical distance. And it stimulated  a criterion of evaluation that rests on the extent to which all the ‘parts’ of a work of art… interconnect and sustain one another.

I have never seen a clearer and more concise description of the heart of the classical education that arises from a close understanding of what a “logos” is, that Plato and Aristotle groped for, that Chaucer and Shakespeare expressed, and that nobody of whom I am aware ever developed in a more timely way than Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

As I continue to reflect on teaching in a manner that sustains and is compatible with liberty and as I continue to explore the impact of the German philosophers on German and American education, I will frequently return to the foregoing passage  as something of a locus classicus of sound artistic theory and therefore of how to practice the art of teaching.

I promise to try to write more clearly as I develop some of these thoughts. ; )

An Introduction to the Strategic Introduction

In the Ad Herrenium, the author explains how to come up with an opening (exordium) first. He tells us that an exordium is the first part of a speech and by it the mind of the listener is constituted to listen.

How then do we achieve this end?

Being ancient, he thinks in terms of causes. Given a cause, he says, for the suitable exordium, we must consider the kind of cause. Then he practically gives us a flow chart:

There are four kinds of cause:

  1. Honorable (honestum)
  2. Discreditable (turpe)
  3. Doubtful (dubium)
  4. Petty (humile)

Now that we have identified the kinds of causes, we need to apply the theory of exordia to those causes. To do so, we first note that there are two kinds of exordium.

  1. The direct opening (Principium in Latin, Prooimion in Greek)
  2. the subtle approach (insinuatio in Latin, Ephodos in Greek)

I’m going to ignore the confusion of language that I come across when I compare texts and that you dont’ care about unless you are into the technical side of this matter and just turn to the practical path that I have found helpful.

Remember that our speech (or as I use it, essay) will be driven by one of four causes as listed above. Therefore, we should ask: how do I apply these two kinds of opening to each cause?

To that end, let’s look first at the direct opening. What is its purpose? Our author tells us: “The Direct Opening straightway prepares the hearer to attend to our speech. It’s purpose is to enable us to have hearers who are attentive, receptive, and well-disposed”

Let me interject how much more useful this is than the common approach these days of telling students they need a “hook.” I want the reader to be attentive, receptive, and well-disposed to my speech.

OK, let’s apply that:

  1. If my speech is doubtful, then I will build my exordium on achieving the good will of my listener so that when I get to the part he is less likely to accept I will have won his favorable disposition.
  2. If my speech is petty, then I need to get his attention.
  3. If my speech is discreditable, I’m going to have to use the indirect approach unless I can earn the listeners good will by attacking my opponent.
  4. If my speech is honorable, then I can use the direct opening if I want, but I don’t need to.

I’m a bit puzzled by this, because he doesn’t talk about when you need to make the audience receptive. I will assume that he doesn’t do so because you always need a receptive audience.

In any case, we now have four kinds of cause and three states of mind we need in our audience. We have applied at least two of those states to the four causes and noted that some causes require particular attention to certain states.

The question now becomes, how do I achieve each state?

First, how we do make them receptive? He presents us with a deceptively simple approach: “we can have receptive hearers,” he tells us, “if we briefly summarize our cause and make them attentive; for the receptive hearer is the one who is willing to listen attentively.”

That sounds simple enough, and it would seem open to argument. But remember that this is a direct opening, which implies that the speech is either honorable (you are preaching to the choir), petty (they just want you to get it over with), or doubtful (you need their goodwill). He’ll come back in a moment to how we can earn their goodwill.

Meanwhile, now that he has told us that we make them receptive by getting their attention, or rather, by making them attentive, he proceeds to advise us how to make them attentive, giving us three basic options:

  1. Make a promise (I’ll come back to this)
  2. Tell them to pay attention (think Marc Antony: Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears)
  3. Enumerate your points, which means, as I understand, simply tell them how many you have. At first this seems trivial, but I find this makes it much easier for an audience to listen for the simple reason that the first question any audience has is “How long is this going to take?” If you say, “I want to make three points,” you have given them bearings. It makes it much easier to pay attention.

So let’s talk about the first option, making a promise. The promise, of course, is about what you are going to talk about. You can promise that you will discuss one of the following:

  • Something important
  • Something new
  • Something unusual
  • Something concerning the commonwealth (the city, state, country, etc.)
  • Something concerning the hearers themselves
  • Something concerning religion and the immortal gods

For example, you might say, “I want to talk to you tonight about something that concerns you personally,” or “Our topic tonight is [education and freedom], a topic that touches deeply on the well being of our country itself,” or “This morning we are going to discuss something a bizarre,” etc.

Now we come to the real challenge. You can make them receptive and attentive by standing on your head, but earning their good will is something altogether more difficult. That is why, if our cause is discreditable, we have to turn to the indirect or subtle approach.

Nevertheless, we cannot assume our audience’s good will. We must earn it, and our handbook gives us four options to help us do so:

  1. We can talk about ourselves
  2. We can talk about the person of our adversaries
  3. We can talk about our listeners
  4. we can talk about the facts themselves

We can talk about ourselves either positively or negatively. Positively, we can discuss the services we have rendered and our past conduct toward

  • The Republic
  • Our parents
  • Our friends
  • The audience

Negatively, we can plead for the aid of the audience while we present our

  • Disabilities
  • Need
  • Loneliness
  • Misfortune

Simultaneously, we confess that we have no other hope than those who hear us.

Second, we can discuss our adversary with the intention of bringing them into odium, unpopularity, and contempt. As you read this section, notice how much of the blogosphere and current news follows this pattern.

You can make them odious by showing that some act of theirs was

  • Base
  • High-handed (subperbe – think Tarquinius Superbus)
  • Treacherous (perfidiose)
  • Cruel (crudeliter)
  • Impudent (confidenter)
  • Malicious (malitiose)
  • Shameful (flagitiose)

You can make them unpopular (invidiam) by presenting their (some of this is kind of funny)

  • Violent behavior
  • Dominance (potentiam)
  • Factiousness
  • Wealth
  • Incontinence (lack of self-restraint)
  • High-birth
  • Clients (yikes!)
  • Hospitality (huh?)
  • “Club allegiance” (sodalitatem)
  • Marriage alliances

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of these in and of themselves. What you have to show is that they rely more on any of these supports than they do on the truth.

The third way you can win the good will of your audience is to discuss the person of your your audience. Here you should talk about three things:

  1. Judgments they have already rendered
  2. The esteem they enjoy
  3. “with what interest their decision is awaited.”

The second and third are pretty straightforward. On the first, you should mention how their earlier decisions demonstrated

  • Courage
  • Wisdom
  • Humanity
  • Nobility

Finally, you can earn the good will of your audience by talking about the cause itself. If you take this course, then you will extol your cause with praise and disparage the cause of your opponent with disparagement.

So much for the direct approach. First, determine the kind of cause you are defending. Then determine to use the direct approach (or else read a later blog post). Then follow the guidelines above to make your audience receptive, to secure their attention, and to earn their favor.

We are discussing rhetoric, not math, so there are no guarantees that your strategy will work. But if you are aware of these options, you will both present a better case for your own cause and be better able to anticipate the strategy of your opponent.

In Level II of the Lost Tools of Writing, we introduce the strategic introduction in lesson 3.

Teaching Grammar in Today’s Classroom

Here’s a fine video of a discussion about teaching grammar in the classroom: three brief, insightful lectures by experienced and witty veterans of the grammar wars. (here’s the link: http://juergenkurtz.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/teaching-grammar-in-todays-classroom/ – for some reason WordPress was not letting me create the hidden link. Sorry.)

Hat tip and thanks to Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany at his blog:

Foreign Language Education in the 21st Century 

Practical Teacher Training

When I conduct teacher training, my goal is as simple as I can possibly make it. I want the teachers who sit through it (and stand, and move around, and gather in groups of three and four, and talk) to better understand classical education.

Beause it is classical education we are talking about, I care a great deal about the teachers’ ability to apply what they learn. But that will arise quite nicely from understanding what we are talking about.

At the end of our time together, I hope that the teachers see that all teaching is embodying an idea. I hope they will see that classical education is different from both progressive and traditional education in that it draws what is true and useful from the other forms but reaches higher because it is driven by a higher goal and sees truths the others cannot see.

I hope they will see the different understanding of truth that the traditionalist and the progressive hold and that they can see where the Christian classical vision fulfills and corrects the others.

Furthermore, they will have experienced Socratic discussions, so I hope they will appreciate and think about the communal experience of thinking they have just gone through. If they have been involved, they will be able to think at least a little better, either because they practiced doing it or because they learned a new tool to help them think.

Some teachers will perceive that the mind seeks harmony. The applications you can make to teaching when you understand this principle are endless. The first might be that it underscores the truth of Socrates’ axiom from the Republic: “Great is the power of contradiction.”

Why? Because contradiction is disharmony.

Therefore the teacher who fears the introduction of a contradiction into the classroom necessarily weakens her teaching.

Here is a contradiction: 4+2=X.

It does not. That is why you are putting the answer in the place of the X.

Stories are about resolving contradictions. Celebrate them!

Take a moment and think about a class you are teaching.

Now select an idea you want your students to understand. Keep it simple.

Now think of the opposite of that idea or of a statement that does not agree with it.

When you want your students to think about that idea (which is the only way they can understand it), present the two statements and let them have at it.

Even younger children can thrive on this sort of instruction, because the soul hates contradiction. It loves harmony. So it gets a thrill out of harmonizing apparent contradictions.

Think of the pleasure we will gain from our Lord’s explanations at the end! Now give your students some little examples of that pleasure while you teach!

So I hope teachers gain a profound appreciation for the principle of harmony and the power of contradiction to begin thought -always with the faith that the contradiction can be resolved.

In addition, we take some time learning how to teach any history or literature lesson by asking a simple question: Should X have done Y?

All the attack skills of the reader arise from that simple question, and that simple question should never be forgotten.

Once this ground is covered, I want teachers (and this includes home school parents) to see three of the most powerful teaching tools you can find and to better understand how to use them:

First, the three columns developed by the Paideia Plan: knowledge of content, understanding of ideas, and mastery of a skill.

Next, the essential mode of all instruction: the mimetic. In other words, I want teachers to see how you teach by embodying ideas so your students can contemplate them.

Third, assessment, that most dangerous of all teaching activities. It’s hard to find a better way to undercut your teaching and demoralize your student than by inappropriate assessment.

The modern school seems to have a noble intention. But I am convinced that their failure arises from erroneous theories about what and how we learn, which are rooted, in turn, in an inadequate understanding of what a human being is.

In other words, the disagreements are philosophical, ethical, theological, pedagogical, and even, sometimes, scientific.

And the differences are practical through and through.

Practicality and Prudence

I do a lot of teacher training and one thing I have to do is meet the request by teachers for practical help. People want practical instruction from me.

They tend to show great confidence in me, as though nothing could be easier than giving sound practical counsel. They don’t realize how frightful a thing it is to attempt to give practical advice from a distance.

  • The danger of applying a general principle without regard for circumstances scares me, but that is precisely what curricular programs and formulaic counsel do.
  • The farther removed you are from a specific situation, the more you need to abstract your applications. The teacher might think, “Oh, now I can solve that problem, he has given me a technique.” If you can solve a problem with a technique, it wasn’t a pedagogical problem.
  • By drawing all these abstractions, you have already made a high level of education impossible. For example, if I say, “This is how you use this program,” anything I say will be so abstract and statistical and general that it will undercut the possibility of achieving a truly great education for the students in your class.

Thus, practical instruction is needed, but it is always much less practical than the teacher’s wisdom. We need to know principles and causes, not abstracted techniques.

On Naming Animals

In the Biblical account of Creation, God placed Adam in a garden and told him to steward it and tend it. Then He looked at Adam and determined that it was not good for Him to be alone. So He formed all the animals of the dust of the earth and brought them to Adam so that Adam could name them.

Can you imagine what that must have been like? First of all, here’s Adam, newly created, everything new, not cynical, not trying to impress anybody, innocent to the very marrow of his very bones. Since his perception was utterly unclouded by a broken, misdirected will, not only was he full of joy at everything he saw, he was also able to see deep into the heart of everything he saw.

So God brought the animals to him and told him to name them.

How would he have done that?

Surely he looked at them first, right? Then he must have touched them. Can you see him rolling around with them too: wrestling with a great cat in the joy of their strength, running with a wolf in the ecstacy of their speed, plowing with a mammoth in the newfound thrill of their power!?

And can you see him listening to them?

Standing beneath a flawless oak tree, cocking his head to listen to the starling…
Opening his ears to the still aptly named Mockingbird…
Standing beside the lion and roaring together into the setting sun..

And then… having seen, touched, heard, smelled, even tasted them (them, not their carcasses)… then he contemplated them. He compared them to each other. He saw how they were the same and how different. He grouped them into kinds. He noted their unique qualities.

And with perfect, unfallen perception, he saw into their essences. He knew them.

Now, knowing them, apprehending them with his soul, merging the personal and poetic experience with the universal and abstract idea, he could re-present them.

Before naming them, might he have drawn them? I can’t help but wonder. Maybe some of them. Did he sing like they sang? Did he walk like they walked? Might he have painted, sculpted, or even written about them?

The great thing is that he could. Now that he has taken them into his own soul, he could represent them, recreate them, in any number of ways.

But we are told is that he came up with a very concise and practical way of re-presenting them. With his pure and unfallen language and intellectual perception, he took what he knew about them, he took their essences, and he re-presented them with a sound that was fitting to them.

A word.

A name.

He represented them with a name.

Amazing.

Now draw a contrast. God, it seems clear to me, was not just giving Adam a simple task. He was teaching him and preparing him for something much bigger: stewardship. Adam’s task was going to be to ensure that everything thrived. For things to thrive, they need to be known. So God was teaching Adam.

Now compare how a modern person would have its creation name the animals. I can see it now. We would make a huge computer printout with a list of animal names on one side, most of them being more or less arbitrary, which is to say, driven by personal interest.

Then we would put pictures or carcasses or some shoddy representation of the animal on the right side.

And we would have them draw lines from the word to the non-animal. And then we would say, “There, now you know what a horse is.”

Why do I say that? Because that’s how we tend to teach everything.

We don’t let the students play with the animals. We tell them to memorize their names and then give them carcasses and call them animals. A dead frog is not a frog. A dead dog is not a dog. They are animal bodies, not animals.

For example, when we teach students grammar, we rarely let them experience the thought in their minds that is a sentence. For example, a teacher can help students see that every thought has both a subject and a predicate by playing with them. I don’t tell them those names; I introduce the animals first.

I say something like, “Think about a dog. Now tell me what the dog is doing.” I’ll do that one hundred times if I have to. What I want them to SEE – not to memorize, but to SEE – is that they cannot think a thought without thinking about something. And when they think about something, they have to think something about the thing they are thinking about.

Then I can tell them the names: subject (what you are thinking about) and predicate (what you are thinking about the thing you are thinking about).

At this point, because they have gained an insight into the nature of thinking that any third grader can get with little trouble, they have become capable of understanding that our minds work like they do because we are stewards of the creation. In other words, we think in subjects and predicates because things exist in subjects and predicates.

Our minds are formed by God to know the world we live in so that we can love and steward it.

But I find that most teachers of grammar are so caught up with the sound symbols we call words that they never take the time to look at the mind doing the thinking. So the miss this opportunity to play with the animals.

This, I believe, is Wordsworth’s famous lament, when he said, “we murder to dissect.”

We have, when we teach children, the opportunity to imitate God. Instead, we imitate factories, all the while calling out for the “joy of learning.”

The joy of learning can only be experienced by people who learn. They need no bells and whistles to celebrate what is a joy in itself.

But people given carcasses and names for things they don’t care about don’t learn. Their eyes and ears and mouths and noses are closed. So they close their minds to join them.

Two Andrews On Writing and Teaching Writing

I just finished a four city tour with Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing and what a trip it was!

We divided up six talks between us as follows:

  1. Andrew P talked about the four arts of language: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. This laid the foundation for the day.
  2. Then I talked about the five paths to writing greatness:
    1. The linguistic
    2. The literary
    3. The critical
    4. The theoretical
    5. The practical
  3. Then I discussed the three canons of classical composition and, briefly, how classical compostion went out with the rejection of the Christian classical tradition at the end of the 19th century.
  4. Andrew P talked about the four stages to lead a student from report writing to essay writing (Developing the essayist: A natural approach)
    1. Reports (facts) about animals, states, and countries
    2. Reports about people, things, and events, selecting topics based on your opionions
    3. Thesis on literature, using topics selected to support the thesis
    4. Strategic persuasive essay about an issue that matters
  5. Andrew and I discussed assessment. This talk was the one in which I learned the most over our four days and by the time we got to Dallas (echoes of Glenn Campbell?) we had combined and permutated our ideas into something really useful.
  6. Panel discussion, different in each location and always fascinating.

Keep your eyes open because the Dallas presentation was videotaped by the IEW folks and I anticipate it being available in the not too distant future.

I can’t say enough how grateful I am to Andrew Pudewa for mentoring me and bringing me into his orbit. What a fine and good man.

Thank you Andrew.