“How Andrew Pudewa Teaches Writing” and other matters

Andrew Pudewa and I have had so much fun doing writing workshops together that we are at it again.

On January 18, we’ll be in St. Augustine, Fl.
On January 19, Berean Academy is hosting us in Lutz (near Tampa)
On January 20, The Calssical School is hosting us in Orlando.

Andrew Pudewa will be leading a high school essay intensive at Evangelical Free Church in Ft. Myers on Thursday, and I’ll be going to Lakeland to meet with my old friends at The Geneva Classical Academy in Lakeland.

Then we get back together again on January 22, when Evangelical Free Church Will be hosting us in Fort Myers.
We end our grand tour of FL on January 23, when First Christian Church will host us in Boca Raton.

I hope you can make it. I have learned a ton traveling around with Andrew.

He opens the workshop with a talk on The Four Language Arts, which lays out something so essential I find I need to hear it and be frequently reminded of it.

Everything arises from and revolves around and depends on our ability to use language.  That ability grows when we practice four language arts:

  • listening!
  • reading
  • speaking
  • writing

That sets the stage. Then Andrew Major hands it off to Andrew Minor (me) and I explore the five paths to writing greatness and the distinctives of classical rhetoric.

In the latter, I explain the three universal problems of writing and how to solve them using the tools that Aristotle and the great classical educators mastered.

You can probably see that each session is a bit more specific than the last. 

This is when Andrew Major presents his natural approach to Developing the Essayist, in which he explains a very effective strategy for moving children, one step at a time, from simply reporting facts to supporting an opinion of their own.

Then we address the major headache of all writing teachers: Assessment!

How should it be done? What does our mode of assessment mean? How can we asses students’ work without distracting or demoralizing them?

When we were in TX in November, Andrew and I spent more time discussing this while driving from city to city than any other matter. I know I grew in my understanding through the discussion, and we intend to pass on the fruit of our learning through these FL workshops.

We close by addressing some common teaching problems and offering counsel on where to go next.

Specifically we address the frequently asked question, “How do IEW and LTW work together?”

If you are in Florida, please come – and please invite your friends and enemies to come. We guarantee that you will leave the workshop refreshed and inspired AND better able to teach writing AND better understanding writing.

For information or to register, please visit the CiRCE website at www.circeinstitute.org and/or the IEW website HERE. (Scroll down to the nearest city and click for details).

Pudewa and Kern on Writing!


Nancy tells me that some seats remain available for this writing workshop on July 22. If you have hesitated to sign up, now’s the time! Don’t delay.

I know I think too highly of myself, but I also know that I can’t think too highly of 1. what I have learned from my superiors and 2. Andrew Pudewa.

Therefore, I am convinced that this is the writing event of the year in classical circles. Let me know if you know of something better.

July 22, 2009

Andrew Pudewa and Andrew Kern On Writing

Visit our web site for information (look on the right side).

Teaching the Transcendent

If you go to the comments from my post What is Writing you’ll see a reply from Chris in which she asks:

“Can we teach the transcendent part, the soul part, or only model it.”

Chris, I think you know you were throwing sardines to a seal, don’t you? This is like when you are teaching a class and one of the student’s raises her hand and says, “Teacher, would you please teach me how to be a perfect student?”

Writing, I suggested, is the overflow of the soul into a verbal pattern encoded in visual sybols. Chris is asking about the first part.

And what she’s asking about is the very essence of teaching. Can you cause a soul to overflow? Can you fill it?

The answer, I would argue, is “Yes, you have to, but no, you can’t.”

“So what are we to do with that?” you want to know. First, demand the explanation that I owe you. Second, read on while I try to get myself out of this fix.

I believe that you can and must “teach the trascendent part.” However, you can’t do it the same way you teach the technical side and you can’t do anything to guarantee either that you will succeed or that the effects of it will be what you intended.

Your goal is to fill their soul to overflowing. If they don’t accept what you are pouring in, they can never overflow. However, God designed the human spirit to be receptive to beautiful and good and true things. It’s just that things become complicated when our appetites confuse us.

That’s why I mentioned the great and good books as preparation for writing. Those do “teach” the “transcendent” part. We can’t measure the fruit, but the only way you can fill a soul is by pouring things into it.

When you are teaching the technical side of any art, you coach. But when you are teaching the transcendent side, you simply plant and water.

Needless to say, the transcendent side is immeasurable and is therefore neglected by conventional education. That’s why even what they can measure constantly deteriorates. They cut out the roots to measure the leaves.

Measure the lesser things, and things measurable are lesser than things infinite, and you will neglect the greater things. The measurables depend on the immeasurables, so when you neglect the immeasurable, the measurable declines. But those who don’t believe in immeasurable things will never correctly diagnose the problem.

So you can teach the transcendent, you can fill the souls with truth, goodness, and beauty. But the world around won’t understand or approve of what you are doing and they’ll pressure you to pull up the roots. If you aren’t firm in your faith and your knowledge of what is right, you’ll give in. You’ll become yet another Darwinian Christian, adapting to the environment rather than transcending it.

What is Writing

I love literature and history and ideas and letters and even blogs. I love the flow of information and narrative and personality that writing enables. Plus, I teach and practice writing.

Consequently, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes for good writing, and that leads me, in turn, to wonder about just what writing is. What is its nature?

How, after all, can I asses a student’s writing if I dont’ know what it is? How can I strive to perfect my own writing if I don’t understand what writing is?

I suppose there is a practical element that can be accomplished perfectly fine without knowing the nature of writing. For example, if I learn grammar I’ll be able to write better.

However, if I don’t have a higher reason for learning grammar than that it usually helps, then grammar itself loses its place. In time, it degenerates into a question of usage and loses its soul.

And that, in turn, undercuts the writing of the generation that doesn’t learn grammar after its own nature.

So I want to know, not only how to deal with immediate practical problems as they arise, not only techniques of writing. I want to know its nature. That way I’ll be able to sniff out techniques myself.

Even more, I’ll be less likely to miss crucial skills or elements related to writing. Maybe what follows will sufficiently illustrate this point.

This is true of any art or skill. If I get into its soul and essence, I get it. I know what needs to be done almost intuitively. But if I am governed by techniques and can’t see their relation to the nature of the art, I’ll always be bound to the techniques, unable to discern the propriety and fittingness of their use.

So let me propose a definition for writing, awkward sounding at first, but an attempt to be both precise and exhaustive:

Writing is the overflow of the soul into a pattern of words encoded in visual symbols (letters or hierogliphs) for the purpose of communication.

If you consider this definition closely, you’ll discover three general elements, each of which must be attended to for a writer to achieve true excellence.

First, the writer needs a soul that is overflowing. Second, he needs to be able to use words well to contain that overflow of the soul. Third, he needs to use those words to communicate with others.

Most writing programs, maybe all of them, necessarily focus on the second, technical, side of writing. They assume the prerequisites of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well they ought. They add to these necessary foundations the structure of an essay, a novel, a story, etc. and provide advice on how to fill out the parts of the text.

Then they teach style, usually providing somewhat random tips that the writer or even most writers find helpful when looking for the apt expression.

You can usually find communication, the third element, included under the technical, when a program teaches the writer to attend to his audience. For that reason, I simplify by combining the second and third elements into one, which I call the craft of writing.

However, if I believe a person can learn to write merely by focusing on the technical craft of writing, I am mistaken. And I’m probably mistaken because I was so focused on the practical side of teaching or learning writing that I didn’t attend to the nature of writing itself.

I failed to recognize that writing is the “overlow of the soul.”

And that means the soul needs to be filled to overflowing. Perhaps it seems ironic, but this part of teaching writing really isn’t very difficult. It’s time-consuming, but it’s not what I would call difficult.

The root of great writing, it seems to me, is the same as the root of the sciences and every other art. How to name it?

Wonder, perhaps? Reverence? Awe? Respect?

In any case, I refer to the quality of soul that underlies attentive perception, the sine qua non of all human excellence.

So how do we fill the soul to overflowing? By establishing and building on this wonder, reverence, awe, and respect that is woven into human nature.

First, through experience. People need to breathe the air, watch the sun go down, watch the stars move, hear the horse whinny, stare at the cow’s eyes, fall in love, laugh at bad jokes, feel embarrassment over their family (parents and children!), step on a worm, flip over their bicycle handlebars when they’re hot-dogging it, worry about losing someone or something they love, feel grass and sand and the tar that melts on the road on a hot summer day while they run to the swimming hole, work endless hours at tedious unrewarding labor, get mugged on the El Train in Chicago, grieve over lost loves, and all the other things that make up the wonder of life.

But we all have experience. The writer needs to be trained to pay attention to it.

He also needs to see what others have said about it and how they’ve said it, especially those who are particularly perceptive. Here we encounter the need for reading, but not just any reading.

As a rule, writer’s need to avoid jejune, puerile, pedantic, or incompetent writing. They need to read good and great literature, which is literature that expresses a great idea well, a skill that arises from close attention to experience and to the technical skills of writing.

Children who will grow up to right need their souls filled with fairy tales and fables, folk tales and legends, myths and stories, so that their imaginations are filled and refined and overflowing with stories that become part of their mental furniture, objects of comparison, the blood that flows through their soul’s arteries. Above all they need Bible stories.

They also need to worship God and revere his creation. They need to learn to love form through dance, gymnastics, music, and all the other arts that so vividly and undeniably rely on their forms.

And they need to translate, for translation merges the technical and the – what did we call this other side? It’s certainly not the theoretical. Theory/practice is not a sufficient binary to grasph this. Something tanscends both, something transformative and formative, something the theory can’t grasp and enables the practice, something essential.

Perhaps that first word is our clue. Perhaps it’s the transcendent and the practical that we need to attend to.

I however, cannot transcend the clock, so I must stop. I hope to write more on the technical side and on translation. Over time, I hope to develop this whole entry.

Let me add one more word. Andrew Pudewa provoked this entry. We met about two weeks ago to plan a writing workshop, and the discussion led to reflections on all these matters. The outcome of that discussion was an event.

On July 22, Andrew Pudewa and I are co-presenting a writing workshop in Concord, NC. If you are attending the CiRCE conference, you can come a day early to participate. If not, you are more than welcome to the writing workshop itself!

For details, please request a flyer at naubitz at circeinstitute.org (removed @ for security reasons) visit our web site (www.circeinstitute.org), which will post information shortly, call us at 704 786-9684, or visit the web site for the Institute for Excellence in Writing.

This is a new development, so you might want to wait a few days (say, until June 8) before you become impatient with our web sites!

What’s the Use of Classical Rhetoric?

Classical Rhetoric is not just about saying things persuasively, it’s about building a persuasive argument, even when you are trying to persuade yourself. That ain’t easy.

In today’s apprenticeship conference call, apprentices mentioned four different decisions people have used LTW tools to help them reason through;

  1. Whether I should go to Colorado
  2. Whether I should move out of my apartment
  3. Which school I should go to
  4. And my favorite: How can I persuade my parents to buy me an Xbox?

On the last one, a student asked her teacher to help her develop this one.

When classical education was lost, education became impractical. It never has been under the classical vision! That’s yet another reason why you need the Lost Tools of Writing (and maybe even to join the apprenticeship).

More Oscars: Steve Martin and Tina Fey and Screen Plays.

Funny opening with the typing, but man, Steve Martin is hysterical. I love this guy. Especially because sometimes he makes such incredibly bone-headed mistakes.

“Every writer starts with a blank page.” Hey, now they’re advertising Lost Tools of Writing and they probably don’t even know it!

Steve Martin is proof that the best thing to study in college is philosophy. His gift for seeing through things to the hilarity underneath is priceless – from King Tut to Michael Moore in the trunk of his limousine. He’s daring, so sometimes he falls. The only comedian who could do that so well was Johnny Carson.

Just so you aren’t worried, there’s no way I’ll be doing this for the whole show. it’s already wearing me out.

Surprise on the screenplay! Dustin Lance Black for Milk. Sean Penn is no doubt an amazing actor. Now it’s testimony time. Milk gave a gay Mormon hope. Do churches really tell gay people that they are “less than” and that God does not love them.

But at least Hollywood stays out of politics. He’s promised federal rights to gays.

“Don’t fall in love with me.” Steve Martin. If that isn’t the line of the night, I’ll be surprised. Click here for the only Youtube on line as I edit this post the next day. I hope they get the whole skit up soon because it was hysterical.

Do you think maybe Hollywood is sex obsessed, by the way?

What do assumptions make of you?

Or what do you make of assumptions? Are assumptions good or bad?

We hear the cliche all too much about what assumptions make of you and me, but have you ever thought about how much that cliche assumes? Next time somebody says something like that to you, make a simple little request. Ask, “How can I avoid making assumptions in the future?”

Whatever answer they give you will be both wrong and laden with assumptions.

But the funny thing is, there really is a great way to find your assumptions. All you have to do is take a normal every day argument and complete it.

The point is, we usually put our arguments before the public or our opponent in a form that is far from complete. For example, I got a kick out of Matt Damon’s terror over Sarah Palin. You can see the video easily enough since Americans widely assume that movie stars know a lot about politics.

What he said was something like this: I need to know if she believes that dinosaurs lived on earth 4000 years ago. I need to know that because she’s going to have the nuclear code.

Damon clearly has a flair for the dramatic, and if the dramatic doesn’t take advantage of indirection then I’m in Rio De Janeiro right now. Let’s try to see if he actually has an argument here by trying to complete it.

Sarah Palin may believe that dinosaurs lived on earth 4000 years ago.
Sarah Palin will have access to the codes for nuclear bombs.

Clearly he is implying that she is dangerous, so let’s just add that.

Sarah Palin will be dangerous.

So why will she be dangerous? Because she may believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth 4000 years ago.

So what is the link between the conclusion and the premise? That link is the assumption we are looking for. In this case, the general principle on which Damon’s argument rests is that everybody who believes that dinosaurs roamed the earth 4000 years ago is dangerous or at least that enough of them are that Sarah can’t be trusted.

Well, OK. Now we’re a step closer to an actual argument and we have identified the assumption behind it.

Now we can examine the assumptions behind the assumption. We can seek evidence. We can unfold the logic beneath it (i.e. find more assumptions). We can listen to what the authorities (like, I guess, Matt Damon) have to say about the issue. And then we can determine whether we actually agree.

Of course, what seems to happen most often is that somebody who has fallen in love with Matt Damon because he is so great in the Bourne Identity and therefore must be an authority on international relations will be soul-shaken by the frightening idea so powerfully expressed and that will be the end of logical reasoning, which, after all, is just a masculine control mechanism anyway. Oh wait, that line went out in the late nineties.

You can go through this process rather easily with many arguments. For example, here’s one from Mother Goose:

A little cock sparrow sat on a green tree,
And he chirruped, he chirruped, so merry was he

The argument could go like this: The little cock sparrow chirruped because he was so merry.

But there’s a rather pleasant assumption buried in this argument. What is it? By the way, we know there is an assumption because I could add the word because.

Premise: The little cock sparrow chirruped.
Conclusion: The little cock sparrow was so merry.

What’s the assumption? We need to connect the cock sparrow’s merryness with his chirruping. Ah, there it is! Either when you are merry you chirrup, or when you chirrup you are merry.

Now we have two premises:

The little cock sparrow chirruped
When you chirrup you are “so merry”
The little cock sparrow was “so merry”

Does it work? Maybe not enough to satisfy a strict logician, but I think we’d readily agree that most chirruping indicates merriness. But then again, maybe there’s something going on that we don’t know about…

The first argument, as it is presented in the text, is what Aristotle called an enthymeme. The second one is, loosely, a syllogism. The way we can find the assumptions behind an argument and thus examine where we stand in relation to it is as simple as converting an enthymeme into a syllogism.

When we share the same assumptions with others, it is pretty easy to have a long conversation with lots of enthymemes. But if at some point we start to feel uneasy about something somebody is saying, it is probably time to convert it to a syllogism (which is why he’ll get on to the next point as fast as possible!).

Here’s how to make the conversion:

Identify the argument you are questioning. Reduce it to its simplest terms, removing the evidence and appeals to authority. Both evidence and authority are valid and necessary, but they aren’t the logic of the argument.

In what you have left, look for logical cues and use them to structure the premises:

If X…
Since Y…
…, therefore
…, so
X, for …
X, hence …
… because

Use these cues to help you write out the enthymeme in logical form, with one premise and one conclusion.

Connect the conclusion to the premise by adding another premise. You can add the new premise by identifying the term that is in the conclusion but not in the premise and linking it to the term that is in the premise but not in the conclusion. Now you have a bridge from the first premise to the conclusion.

First premise: The little cock sparrow chirruped
Conclusion: The little cock sparrow was so merry

Term from first premise: chirruped
Term from conclusion: so merry

New premise: When one chirrups he is “so merry”

You may be helped as you try to practice this concept if you can remember these little watchwords: 

  • A syllogism is a formally complete argument 
  • An enthymeme hides an assumption or principle
  • Most or at least many common statements hide the logical cues that help us develop the syllogism
  • The hardest arguments to follow are those that hide both the assumption and the logical cues
  • The closer you get to the syllogism, the more easily you can follow the argument

Well, it’s time for me to go home, so I think I shall go chirrup. Keep your eyes open because this blog arose from a discussion with the LTW apprentices for a lesson we’re developing in Lost Tools of Writing Level II. Understanding this can help you read better, write better, think better, communicate better, and make better decisions all while getting along better with others.

The Lost Tools of Writing and Al Gore’s Speechwriter

If you are hired to write speeches by the Vice President of these United States, you can write speeches. You can imagine, therefore, why my attention was aroused when I discovered an interview of Daniel Pink (speechwriter to Al Gore) by Tim Ferriss (author of The Four Hour Work Week).

Of course, I wanted to see if he was right (i.e. agreed with everything in The Lost Tools of Writing) and had anything to add. I’ll let you decide by following this link.

One of the things The Lost Tools of Writing tries to teach students is the need for an orderly presentation that repeats the main point frequently. At first, it drives some students, especially the more “creative” (which often is a euphemism for “disorderly of mind and practice”) ones, crazy to have to write like that.

The reason we require the repetition is because LTW prepares students for public speaking just as much as it prepares them for writing. When you speak in public, you need to repeat yourself frequently for two reasons: one, the audience does not know what you are talking about and two, they have no visual clues as to where they are in the speech.

So in LTW Level I, students are required to repeat the thesis five times in all: once in the thesis statement itself, once for each of the three main points (the first reason students must repeat themselves is that… The second reason students must repeat themselves is that… The third reason students must repeat themselves is that…) and once in the conclusion (Students must repeat themselves because…)

Of course, in reading, you don’t need all those repetitions.

But in listening you do, if for no other reason than that you want some indication of when the speech will end. Listening requires pacing every bit as much as running does. The audience needs the speaker to provide this pacing or it won’t know how to listen. Regrettably, these little things provide many of us with our petty-power-opps, on a level with not letting a car pass you on the highway.

Remember, when the speaker forgets what it is like to sit in the seat, his audience will stew in the pew.

Speaking can be an amazingly egotistical act. If there is one overarching key to success, I would argue that it is humility and its correlary: respect. Humility respects the audience, remembers the subject, recalls the purpose, and reinvigorates the souls of speaker and audience. In fact, when we enter the domain of humility we have placed ourselves into the sphere of usefulness in the hands of God.

So we need to respect the audience enough to let them know what page we’re on (metaphorically).

Dan Pink would, I think, be pleased. He indicates that

It’s not about you. That’s doubly true for speeches. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. Think of it from their perspective. Again, at the risk of being too critical of all those who stride the stage or command the podium, too many speechmakers – either through nervousness or ego – seem to forget that what really matters is the audience’s experience, not their own.

Later, he reminds us that a speech is not a right, but a privilige.

When you deliver a speech, you’ve got 10 or 100 or 10,000 people who have decided that the most important thing they can be doing at that moment isn’t taking care of something at the office or being with their families – but sitting there listening to you. That’s an extraordinary — and humbling — gift.

So that’s why in LTW we try to get the student’s attention off himself and onto, first, the craft of writing and speechmaking, second, the message, and third, the audience.

I hope it is clear that when I say “First,” I mean chronologically, not first in importance. The craft of writing derives its value from the value of the audience and the meaning of the message.

Self-absorption undercuts attention to both.

Lest I seem to have created confusion, let me clarify what I’m trying to say here, which is, first, that humility is the foundation of success in writing or speechmaking and consequently that repetition provides one concrete instance of the writer/speaker humbling himself before his audience, message, and craft. Therefore, when we teach The Lost Tools of Writing or give speeches, we should not be afraid of repetition. 

I don’t think I would be presumptuous to presume that Daniel Pink agrees. He also adds two more elements. Tim Ferriss asks him:

“What are the necessary ingredients of a good speech?”

Pink replies:

I’ve said many times that the three essential ingredients in any good speech are brevity, levity, and repetition. (That bears repeating: brevity, levity, and repetition.)

On that note, I’d better let you go.





Buckley and rhetoric

I was pleased to learn that the recently deceased William Buckley was home-schooled. You can read a few paragraphs about it in this article, which included this paragraph:

As a home-schooled student, Buckley, my guess is, had lots of practice answering and asking questions. That is the hallmark of good tutoring. Most teachers acknowledge that good tutors can take a student farther, faster and provide a greater depth of knowledge than can the traditional classroom.

I may as well admit that I also included this paragraph because it makes a rhetorical mistake that no high school student will be allowed to make after the first lesson on schemes in the Lost Tools of Writing. Can you tell what it is? How would you fix it?

{With apologies to the author, a veteran of many years in education. We all make mistakes like this if they aren’t drilled out of us, so I mean no disrespect to the author.}