Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy
of Science at Green Templeton College, explains why science and faith are not in conflict:
God no more conflicts with science as an explanation for the universe than Henry Ford conflicts with the laws of the internal combustion engine as an explanation for the motorcar. The existence of mechanisms and laws is not an argument for the absence of an agent who set those laws and mechanisms in place. On the contrary, their very sophistication, down to the fine tuning of the universe, is evidence for the Creator’s genius.
His article is the feature article in Knowing and Doing, a publication of the C. S. Lewis Institute. Read the rest here.
Holy Trinity Classical Christian School has been a member of the Classical Latin School Association since 2012 and has been growing by leaps and bounds. In their fourth year of operations they already have 240 students enrolled.
They recently released a promotional video that is worth watching.
Check out their new website here.
by Brett Vaden
There are many reasons why private schools employ standardized tests for students in lower grades:
- They want to have a measure for their student’s learning.
- They want to know how well they are doing their job.
- In some states, they are required to do it.
- Not least of all, having a standardized test can boost a school’s credibility in the eyes of parents and prospective families.
Assuming a third-party assessment can be a valuable asset for a private school to use, what kinds of standardize tests are out there, and which should you use?
Norm-referenced standardized tests are made to show how students compare with a representative sample, or norm, of their peers. Tests like these place test-takers’ results on a bell-shaped curve. A score of 50 would be considered the average, placing a student in the 50th percentile. The higher a student’s score is above the average, the more he or she outranks others in the same general age-group.
Schools who use norm-referenced tests should recognize that the purpose is to reveal how students compare with others across the nation in the same grade level, not to prove how well the school is teaching its particular curriculum. A school shouldn’t look at their results to see how well teachers are teaching the content of their subjects. Rather, they should use the results to see how well students are growing intellectually and skill-wise against students in other schools.
For private schools and charter schools with the freedom to choose their own standardized test, the biggest factors to consider when choosing one are relevance, reputation, and price.
The test should be fairly relevant to the academic objectives of your school for each grade level; the fit doesn’t have to be perfect, but you don’t want too much of the test to cover skills or content wildly different from what’s been taught in your classrooms.
The test should also have a wide, solid, and long-standing reputation. For example, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) is taken by a large number of students both nationally and internationally, is well-attested, and has been around since 1935.
Price is also a factor. Some states pay up to $65 a student for standardized tests (Hawaii pays $105 per student!). While this is a drop in the bucket in overall spending in public schools, smaller private schools will want more affordable options. One option is to purchase scoring forms yearly, but to buy the test booklets once and use them year after year (making sure students know not to mark on them). Public schools often give four or five different standardized tests a year, but for private schools one should be adequate.
These are commonly used norm-referenced tests: California Achievement Test, Metropolitan Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, Terra Nova, and Stanford Achievement Test.
Our recommendation to schools modeling themselves on the CLSA flagship, Highlands Latin School, is to use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
The other kind of standardized test is criterion-referenced, meaning that results are compared to a set criterion, or standard, which is set by the test-makers. Criterion-referenced tests are commonly used by states who set certain standards they want students to meet.
In contrast to norm-referenced tests, the purpose of criterion-referenced tests is not to rank students nationally but simply to show how they are meeting particular bench-marks in knowledge and skills.
For many private schools that have decided their own standards, their own self-made tests may do. Classical curriculum publishers like Memoria Press provide schools with well-crafted, ready-made assessments.
by Brett Vaden
Public school teachers in Detroit have not been happy. In fact, about 800 of them called in sick on Wednesday, causing almost 90% of Detroit’s public schools to shut down. The reason they gave is that their current working conditions make it impossible to do their job: low pay, unmanageable class sizes, inadequate materials, and decrepit school buildings.
Private schools and charter schools might think themselves immune to such woes, but it is not so. Even teachers who have worked in the best schools will testify that their working conditions could be better.
If administrators could hear what their teachers are thinking (but not saying), they’d likely hear:
“I want better pay.”
Teachers might be afraid to ask for it, but like workers from any other profession, they want to be fairly rewarded for what they do. Granted, some teachers may not deserve it, but if that’s the case, then the problem isn’t pay, it’s quality control.
Before they hire anyone, administrators should first make it very clear to themselves and to prospective teachers the work that is expected and what it’s worth. This measure will prevent teachers from later feeling they’ve been hoodwinked or short-changed.
But that’s not all. It’s just as important to make clear what the teacher can expect from the administration. There is a psychological kind of “payment” that goes beyond money in the bank. If schools build up adequate emotional support, or morale, then even less than stellar pay may be tolerated. However, the best schools will pay teachers both in deserved dollars and deserved support.
“I want feedback.”
Teachers spend hours in their classrooms every day, usually with no one watching but themselves and their students. As a result, their only sense of how well or poorly they are doing is left up to their own subjective judgment. For an administrator to come in for a few minutes and simply see what’s happening is itself a form of support. To take it a step further, imagine an administrator spending 30 minutes or an hour and taking notes on what he or she sees. I’ve had this happen many times. Yes, there is a bit of anxiety for the teacher as he wonders what his boss is writing down, or what might be said afterwards. Yet, in my experience, feedback (good or bad) is better than silence, especially when I know my administrator has my back.
“I want to know you’re on my side.”
Another important aspect of emotional support consists of administrators giving teachers steady reminders that they have their backs. During my years as a teacher, there have been a few unfortunate instances when parents have bypassed me and brought up an issue with my superior. Admittedly, sometimes we as teachers need to admit we’ve made a mistake, and in most situations we can own some part of the problem, even if very small. However, I’ve always had the good fortune to be completely supported by those above me. It helps tremendously to know that, even if I make a mistake, my superiors aren’t going to throw me to the wolves, but are willing to back me, even if it means taking some heat themselves.
“I don’t want more frills or tech, but a simple classroom with essential materials.”
If you frequent this blog, you know that we are ‘open but cautious’ about technology in the classroom (see here and here). If schools invest in iPads, videos, or the latest software apps without a clear understanding of how they actually help students learn the curriculum, then they are useless at best, and a distraction at worst. The same can be said about other frills and teacher-store brick-a-brack that often festoon primary and elementary classrooms. What teachers really need (though they may not know it) is a clean, reliable, and simple classroom, fitted out with only those furnishings and materials that are essential for providing a safe, comfortable, and efficient work environment.
“I want a curriculum.”
A man was telling me about a meeting he had with his son’s Math teacher the other day, because of his son’s poor grades. He wanted to know if he could have an extra Math book, so that he could supplement the in-class learning with tutoring at home. The man had been a Math major in college, so even having a rough scope-and-sequence for the year would be adequate. Unfortunately, the teacher was at a loss and she had nothing to give the man: there was no Math book (all the lessons were on Ipads), and because her lesson plans were provided online every couple of weeks, she had no idea what they might be learning very far ahead, much less the whole year.
While this may be an extreme example, it illustrates the fact that teachers need a solid curriculum. Flying by the seat of one’s pants, ‘winging’ lessons, and relying on worksheets or other activities to fill time are all symptoms that usually stem not from teacher laziness but from curricular chaos.
Although frequent doses of spontaneity can enliven students’ interest and bring pleasure to the work of learning, it cannot take the place of a clear curriculum, which brings continuity and direction to a teacher’s work.
“I need to be reminded why I’m doing this job.”
Every school needs a mission, and every teacher needs to be part of fulfilling that mission. Good teachers don’t teach merely to get paid. They teach because they believe teaching is meaningful.
Inspiring teachers to live up to their calling is perhaps the hardest task administrators have. It requires them to constantly be doing two things: looking at the big picture (the mission) and communicating it in compelling ways. I’ve never been an administrator, and so I’ve not had to bear the weight of that task. However, I have seen how powerful it can be when done well: even the most downcast spirits will rise up when reminded of their value and calling.
by Martin Cothran
There are three reasons to study Latin.
The first is that Latin gives the student a mastery of academic vocabulary. One of the chief reasons students struggle in advanced high school and college subjects is unfamiliar and complex vocabulary. Most multi-syllabic English words are derived from Latin. A mastery of Latin enables the student to more easily understand the more technical academic vocabulary of both the sciences and the humanities.
The second reason is that Latin teaches grammar better than the study of English grammar. Traditionally, the teaching of grammar was done in Latin and Greek. Teaching grammar in these other languages has the advantage that, for one thing, it is different than our own language and it prevents us for taking so much for granted. It is hard to analyze the grammar of a language you already speak and write in, particularly a language so unstructured as English. Latin and Greek are also much more highly structured, since they are inflected, meaning that the grammar of their nouns and adjectives is as explicit as verbs in modern languages. The nouns and adjectives display their function through their endings, enabling the student to see the grammar of words and sentences in a way that is impossible in English and most other modern languages. In addition, Latin is pedagogically better than Greek and inflected modern languages like German because it is more regular in its structure and has fewer exceptions in the rules that govern its use.
Finally, Latin is the best critical thinking skills subject on the language side of the curriculum. The reason math and science are seen as being great critical thinking subjects is that they are objective, structured, and systematic. Language, on the other hand, is seen as subjective, imprecise, and disorderly. Indeed the unstructured nature of English grammar contributes to this belief. But the highly structured nature of Latin grammar brings order into an otherwise fluid and unmethodical subject. Latin grammar is both more complex than English and less imprecise, enabling the student to learn the two fundamental thinking skills, analysis and synthesis, in a much cleaner and less frustrating way. Studies of students taking college entrance exams have repeatedly demonstrated a close correspondence between the study of inflected languages like Latin and high performance on tests that largely measure thinking skills.
by Brett Vaden
In a report by the National Research Council, Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, the Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills gives the following definition for “deeper learning”:
We define “deeper learning” as the process through which an individual becomes capable of taking what was learned in one situation and applying it to new situations … The product of deeper learning is transferable knowledge, including content knowledge in a domain and knowledge of how, why, and when to apply this knowledge to answer questions and solve problems … While other types of learning may allow an individual to recall facts, concepts, or procedures, deeper learning allows the individual to transfer what was learned to solve new problems.
As a model for deeper learning, the authors of Equal Opportunity for Deeper Learning describe how Brooklyn teacher Jordan Fullam was able to get students to think for themselves and express their opinions after reading selections from philosophers like Plato and Nietzsche:
Through debate, highly interactive Socratic seminars, and connecting the philosophical subject matter to familiar contemporary themes, Fullam created a classroom environment in which his students felt comfortable asking questions and probing the underlying meaning of material they initially regarded as dense and impenetrable. In follow-up interviews, several remarked that they felt “smarter” because they had been challenged—and pushed themselves—to grapple with material that took them time to grasp.
After seeing a video of students in Fullam’s class, I was impressed by how these low-income teenagers seemed not only engaged in their discussions/debates, but that at least some of them seemed to have read and formed opinions about the assigned reading. Indeed, it seemed they were diving into a deeper level of learning than many people might expect from them. On the other hand, what stood out even more was the great value placed on subjectivity and individual opinion. As the teacher, Mr. Fullam, said, “I think that students learn best when they are just able to sit in a circle, to talk about their interpretations and perspectives…. I want them to be able to be creative, and I also want them to feel like they’re running the class, like they’re facilitating the class and the class revolves around them and their interests, rather than me standing up in the front and having the class revolve around me and my opinions and perspectives. It is student-centered: centered around the student and their perspectives.”
On the one hand, there’s something very right about training students to think for themselves. Classical education is all about producing thinking, feeling individuals who can form their own opinions and express them in public. Being able to speak for oneself is one of the twin goals stated in what is probably the oldest definition of classical education: “to teach [a student] … to be both a speaker of words and a doer of deeds” (Iliad, Book II).
On the other hand, there is something more important than being able to express oneself, or to be able to apply one’s knowledge and experiences to answer difficult questions or state one’s opinion. What proponents of “deeper learning” seem to overlook is Truth. While it may be well and good to push students beyond parroting what they hear from their teacher or read in a book, what good is it if, at the end of the day, students can freely express their perspectives without worrying if they are actually correct? When the student is placed at the center, what happens to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?
People who ascribe to this view make a fundamental error by assuming that the task of education is not to teach a specific body of knowledge (i.e., a curriculum), but to train students how to find answers for themselves (often in peer groups, not from older authority figures). In other words, a teacher’s purpose is not to provide good answers for students or even good guidelines for discerning good answers, but to provide an ‘environment’ in which students can hash it out themselves. The folly of this assumption is summed up in the words of the sage who said, “The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin” (Proverbs 10:8).
No, teachers should not think they have served students well if they haven’t trained them to think and speak for themselves. But neither should they forswear their highest task: to help students become ‘wise of heart’ by directing them to the Truth that is beyond them.
by Martin Cothran
Q: Our school is a classical school. We just received a few thousand dollars of grant money for technology. What can we do with it while trying to remain classical?
A: Buy a Promethean Board.
Q: But what about iPads?
A: Don’t do it.
Q: Why? I mean, if a Promethean Board is good, then why are iPads bad?
A: Because you are talking about two very different kinds of educational technology that have two very different educational purposes. A Promethean Board will assist you in teaching your students. Properly used, its purpose is to help focus them on what you are trying to teach. It contributes directly to one of the chief purposes of education which is to know more.
Q: Isn’t that what an iPad does?
A: No. An iPad does not necessarily focus a student’s mind on what it needs to be focused on. In fact, in many, perhaps most cases it distracts students. It is a way to outsource teaching to a machine, which is almost always a bad idea. This is why modern progressive educators like iPads: because it is one more way to divest themselves of the responsibility to teach students. Modern progressive education is “child-centered.” Its goal is to get the teacher out from in front of the classroom and make learning as non-directive as possible. This is the idea behind progressive classroom fixtures such as “learning centers.” With learning centers the idea is to give children the maximum level of choice in what they learn. But a student is not the best person to make the choice of what he or she is to learn. Students are not in school to make decisions. They are in school in order to learn how to make decisions they are not yet ready to make by people who know how to make decisions and can teach that ability to students. This is why there are teachers and students: Because the former knows more than the latter and it is their responsibility to pass that on and the former cannot do that if you take authority away from him. The goal of classical education is not to develop a child; it is to form an adult. That involves the guidance of a teacher who knows more and is wiser than the students he or she is teaching. A Promethean Board empowers the teacher. An iPad disempowers the teacher, making it harder to form the student in the way the teacher knows he or she should be formed.
Q: That’s a lot to think about!
A: Yes it is, but if you want the short version, then think of it this way: A Promethean Board is classical; an iPad is progressive.
Q: Thank you.
A: You’re welcome.
by Brett Vaden
For the past century, the agenda of “progressive education” has been to convince us to abandon the methods and content that students were taught for thousands of years. In the worlds of homeschooling and private education, the degradation that progressivism has brought upon American public schools is an assumed fact. But it can be surprising how much progressive education has seeped into homes and private schools as well. Well-intentioned educators can be deceived about the underlying dogma driving their pedagogy, even those who’ve taken a little time to trace their pedagogical family tree.
The other day I came across a school’s website and was initially impressed. It had a sharp look, and right at the top of the home page was a link labeled “Philosophy Background.” “Oh,” I thought, “this school takes its philosophy seriously!” And it did. However, I soon found that the pride it took in its philosophy was misplaced. The explanation confidently espoused the belief that students shouldn’t be merely given information from outside, but allowed to “construct”knowledge for themselves.
The school went on to cite the work of Friedrich Froebel, a German educator living in the 1800’s. In The Education of Man, Froebel claims that children learn best when they are allowed to develop “naturally,” for the nature of the child is holy, pure, and like the Divine. Accordingly, Froebel writes, “Education and instruction should from the very first be passive, observant, protective, rather than prescribing, determining, interfering.”
To Froebel and other Romantic thinkers (e.g., Rousseau, Wordsworth, Schiller), children are innately good. If allowed to blossom and run freely, like other living things in nature, they will express the beauty and goodness of humanity in fuller and richer ways as they mature.
How then, according to the Romanticists, does evil enter the child’s life? Through custom and culture. E. D. Hirsch comments on this Romantic view, saying, “The idea that civilization has a corrupting rather than a benign, uplifting, virtue-enhancing effect on the young child is a distinct contribution of European Romanticism to American thought. The contrast between the instinctive holiness of the child and the corrupting principle of custom and civilization is a conception for which Romanticism deserves full credit.”
Modern, progressive education is grounded in the tenet that the best way to educate children is to avoid forming their minds and hearts, and to instead let them develop on their own, since the seed of wisdom is inherent in the child, not in the teachings and values of those who’ve gone before. Thus, in one blow, the Romantic viewpoint denies the doctrine of original sin and impugns the value of doctrine itself.
Friedrich Froebel was a big contributor to the progressive movement, but not the only one, and certainly not the most seminal. That distinction belongs to Rene Descartes, who made the radical assertion that true knowledge comes through one’s own rational pursuit and not from outside teaching. Andrew Seeley explains,
“In his delightful and exciting Discourse on Method, Descartes reviewed the education he had received, the finest classical education in Europe, and patronizingly rejected it point by point as a means of discovering truth. . . . Descartes thought that, if he wanted to know the truth, he had to doubt all of his received opinions, anything he had heard or read, thoughts that had come to him naturally from the beginning of his conscious awareness, even anything he sensed. He believed that if he could cut himself off from every opinion he had ever received, he could find truth through himself alone with absolute certainty. He did not believe he was creating his own personal truth, but he believed he had discovered what is universally true all by himself.”
Likewise, in Descartes’ Meditation–his most notable work, in which he distills all certain knowledge down to the idea “I think, therefore I am”–he departs from all previous thinkers by avoiding the mention of or appeal to any previous thinker.
What is the impact on schools that adopt this kind of thinking? Instead of imparting knowledge, wisdom, and virtue, the focus is on giving students methods and tools for learning, not on learning anything in particular. In place of memorizing, drilling, and practicing the best of what human beings have thought and said, students are given Ipads. The thinking goes that, if students become proficient with technology, they will be equipped to learn anything they want. Rarely do these educators ask whether helping students master what Western civilization has already discovered would be better than expecting students to figure it out on their own, albeit with fancy tools. Russell Kirk once said, “If we are to be masters of the computer, rather than its subjects, we need to understand physics and mathematics.”
Before a school buys into a particular philosophy of education, I’d challenge them to consider where that philosophy comes from and where it will lead their students. Does it originate from Cartesian rationalism and Romantic sentimentality, or from the deep roots of classical education and the Christian tradition? Will it lead students to intellectual stagnation and make them prey to whatever they stumble across on the Internet, or will it train them in wisdom and virtue?
Earlier this week, the entire Los Angeles Unified School District shut down today because of an e-mail terrorism threat from someone who claimed to represent a group of jihadists. But New York schools received the same threat and considered it a hoax.
Why? Because of a spelling error.
Here is NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, explaining one of the reasons New York decided not to close its schools:
Bratton said one reason authorities believed the email was a hoax was because the word Allah was not capitalized: “The language in the email would lead us to believe that this is not a jihadist initiative… That would be incredible to think that any jihadist would not spell Allah with a capital ‘A.'”
So the literate police in New York noticed something that the apparently semi-literate educators in L.A. missed, causing them to lose a whole school day.
by Brett Vaden
Recently, someone told me about the “4 Christmas Gift Challenge.” The idea is to buy only four presents per person in your family: something to they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. Regardless of whether you limit your gift-giving to four presents, the categories themselves provide a handy method for deciding what to get that classical educator in your life–or to help others decide what to buy for you.
In this post, I will give seven gift ideas for “something to read” for a classical educator.
Classical educators usually have a long and formidable reading list. To get the most out of their reading, it is vitally important to have a tried and true method. How to Read a Book contains clear and useful instructions on how to systematically go about reading for deep, comprehensive understanding. As the author says, “Our subject . . . is the art of reading good books when understanding is the aim you have in view.”
From Achilles to Christ by Louis Markos
How should a Christian educator approach the great literary and dramatic works of the Greeks and Romans? In his book, Louis Markos, a distinguished professor of English and a respected C. S. Lewis scholar, tackles this question with verve, wit, and wisdom.
For classical educators who want to brush up on their fine arts knowledge (or get their first introduction), these “5 X 7″ cards display beautiful pieces of art from the most influential artistic movements in history, including the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism.
Having a working knowledge of geography is vastly underestimated in our culture, but for anyone wanting to get a solid handle on history and current world events, it is an essential skill. The Geography III text and study guide not only helps readers identify the countries, major landforms, and topography of the world, but trains them to freehand-draw each continent using the Robinson Map Project.
Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons
The term “classical education” means different things to different people. For a clear, informed understanding of this idea, classical educators should look first to this book by Tracy Lee Simmons.
The Story of Christianity by David Bentley Hart
Classical education aims to pass on to students the wisdom and virtue of the Christian West. To understand this culture of sapientia et virtus, classical educators need to know its history. In this book, David Bentley Hart, a widely revered Christian scholar, gives a scholarly but readable portrait of the Christian Church from its origins in Judaism to the “house churches” in contemporary China.
The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them by E. D. Hirsch
Classical Christian educators need to understand what makes modern progressive education different from traditional education. They need to know where the chaos we see in our schools today came from, and they need to know how to sweep it out. To address the disease of progressivism, E. D. Hirsch, a first-rate scholar and the author of Cultural Literacy, provides the diagnosis and cure in The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.
Bonus: Registration to the CLSA Teacher Training Conference, July 6th-8th, 2016
As a bonus gift idea, consider giving the classical educator in your life “something to experience.” Hosted by The Classical Latin School Association, Memoria Press, and Highlands Latin School, the 2016 Teacher Training Conference is a great opportunity for professional development. Plenary sessions will be led by Martin Cothran, Louis Markos, and Andrew Pudewa. The two days will also be jam-packed with workshops detailing curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom discipline. Breakfast and lunch will be provided on Thursday and Friday.
Brett Vaden is assistant director of the Schools Division of Memoria Press.
From the article “What is Classical Education?” by Martin Cothran in the upcoming Classical Teacher magazine. Look for it in your mailbox in the coming weeks.
I read a magazine article recently in which the reporter went to two Christian colleges, one a more standard Christian college, and another with an explicitly classical emphasis. When asked what their objectives were, the first college answered, “To save America.” The second answered, “To save Western civilization.”
Why is this significant? It is significant because the second school realized that our problem is not of recent origin and that it isn’t unique to this country.The decline in our country and our culture is much more fundamental than most people think. And this decline has a lot to do with changes in education over the last century.
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by Martin Cothran
My new article, “Ten Great Christian Books,” is up at Memoria Press’ website:
This is a list, not of the ten greatest Christian novels, since I haven’t read all the Christian novels ever written, but at least ten of the greatest. Any one of these would make a great Christmas present for the reader in your family (hopefully there is more than one). These are not children’s books, of course, but they are books that an adult or even a well-read, classically educated highschooler could read for profit and enjoyment. They are also books that warrant spending a little extra money on and getting a nice, hardback edition, maybe one with nice illustrations—one someone could hand down to his children or grandchildren …
Check out the annotated list here.
I was recently reading an article arguing that technology will eventually replace public education. While I disagree with some of the author’s premises and his conclusion (he ignores human nature), his analysis of how we got to where we are in education was utterly fascinating:
The origin of comprehensive, state-sponsored schooling in the industrial era can be traced to 19th Century Prussia. In the early 1800’s Prussian military rulers implemented a national schooling program to ensure a supply of disciplined young soldiers capable of resisting any future Napoleonic-style invasion of their country. Under the guise of teaching young boys how to read and do numbers, Prussian schools grouped students by age, rather than by knowledge or ability, sat them at rows of desks facing a teacher, rather than arranging them in discussion circles, and rang a bell regularly, so as to discipline their day while they studied a variety of subjects.
The British adapted the Prussian model when they needed to create their own cadre of professionals to administer their far-flung empire. And Horace Mann, one of the early proponents of public schooling in America, returned from an 1843 visit to Prussia full of ideas for implementing the same kind of system in the U.S.
While there are definite advantages to this “Prussian model” (for example, sitting in rows), it raises the question of “What is the goal of education?” It is clear that our current system of education aims for “college and career readiness.” Shouldn’t we be seeking the formation of the entire person in wisdom and virtue?
by Brett Vaden
A friend once said to me, “I don’t know how you literature teachers do it—finding stuff to talk about in class.” He, like many people, was mystified by the subject matter of literature. What does a literature teacher teach students?
In the upcoming issue of The Classical Teacher (Winter 2015), master Highlands Latin School teacher Kyle Janke answers this question, and he does so specifically in regard to teaching one of the greatest American literary works, Moby-Dick. Check out this passage from Kyle’s article:
As a literature teacher, my primary goal is to cultivate in students an appreciation for the human imagination and its unparalleled power to convey truth. This requires looking deeply into a text, past its sheer size and even its most tangible subject matter, to the greater significance beneath the surface. Melville’s novel proves invaluable as a means of training students to read in this way. He addresses his work directly to the reader’s imagination and, in doing so, defends the very practice of telling stories. His novel works as an apology for the human imagination, developing in the student a literary mind able to perceive and appreciate the truths apparent only through fiction. Moby-Dick derives its meaning and its greatness not from its sheer volume, but rather from its robust study of the human imagination and the titanic monster that is its subject.
(Click here to subscribe for free to The Classical Teacher magazine).
by Martin Cothran
The following is my “Letter from the Editor” in the new Winter edition of The Classical Teacher, coming to your mailbox soon!
My wife and I live on a little hill on a country lane in Kentucky. From my front porch, which is surrounded by trees and flowers, I can see farmland for twenty miles or so. It is my favorite place to be. And my favorite thing to do is to sit there in my oak rocking chair and read on a summer afternoon.
I do it for no other reason than just to do it. I can sit there, listening to the birds, and ponder whatever book I happen to be in the middle of, which, right now, is William Faulkner’s Light in August.
Of course, a good book is about more than what it’s about. It points to realities larger than it describes. It makes you think about your life, or the lives of others, or the world around you. It can also make you think about God.
What Faulkner made me think about was time. He uses it in his stories in a very interesting way, and the other day, I just had to close the book and ponder how we modern people think about the future.
The first problem with the way we think about the future is that, basically, that’s all we think about.
We are always thinking about what we are going to do. We are always preparing for something that has not yet happened and is not yet happening. Everything we do seems to be for the sake of something else. We never do anything for its own sake.
Now there is nothing wrong with being prepared, but it would be kind of nice if what we were always preparing for would actually come to be so that we could enjoy it. We seem to spend our whole lives this way, always looking forward, sometimes looking back (usually to help us look forward better), but we never exist in the present.
When does now come?
I was reminded of this little existential reflection recently when listening to a friend talk about whether schools should be wasting their time with things like literature and philosophy. He didn’t mention it in his little diatribe, but he could easily have included the fine arts in his indictment.
In fact, it is interesting that the term “fine arts” refers to things done for their own sake. The word “fine” comes from the Latin finis, which means “end,” as opposed to “means”. Fine arts—for example, dancing, painting, architecture, music, poetry—means, literally, things done for their own sake. They are things we do, not in order to produce or bring about anything else; They are their own end.
We don’t place the humanities—literature, history, and philosophy—under the fine arts, but they are similar in this regard: They too serve, to a great extent, as ends in themselves.
Why are we so tempted to think that school should be about means only, and not ends? We think that studying, say, business is worthwhile because it can help us make money. Or computer science because it will help us get a job.
In fact, we have our priorities upside down. The things that are really worth something—those for which we do everything else—are the very things we think are less valuable.
But what’s wrong with spending some time in a curriculum studying the things that are worthwhile in themselves—those we would do once we had worked for years and had enough money?
Well, that’s enough pondering. I’ve got to get back to Faulkner.
According to Louisville Magazine, Highlands Latin School had the highest ACT scores of any other school in Jefferson County, Kentucky:
HLS does not “teach to the test.” It focuses on the liberal arts and the great books. Its emphasis on Latin, math, and music and on the best that has been thought and said has resulted, not only in high tests scores at all grades every year, but in graduating seniors who can think and who know their cultural heritage.
A recent opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal makes the seemingly obvious assertion that students should be required to “sit up and pay attention.” The success the author, Eva Moskowitz, has had with underpriveliged children in New York using this philosophy highlights the truth of the assertion. Read the article here.
The education technology train wreck in the Los Angeles Unified School District should serve as a lesson to schools on the inadvisability of trying to throw technology at education problems. It’s hard to fathom the mindset of people who think that simply distributing iPads will solve the education woes of schools.
As I observed in a recent Classical Teacher magazine article, technology can serve three purposes:
- Increasing administrative efficiency
- Improving instruction
- Improving student learning
In regard to the first purpose, computers can indeed do wonders to ease the burden of record-keeping, grade reports, and keeping track of students. In regard to the second, technology can help a teacher get her or her point across better–through PowerPoint presentations, etc. (and of course even overhead projectors count as technology).
But it is the third goal of educational technology that is the most problematic. As education researcher Larry Cuban has pointed out, the research simply doesn’t support the idea that digital technology has improved student learning. In fact, some suggest it has done the opposite.
But even if it was possible for digital technology to assist student learning in some measurable way, there are numerous questions as to whether schools are even equipped to do it, particularly on a wide scale. How do you make sure the technology will do what you want it to do? How do you ensure that school staff know what it is supposed to do? Does anyone know what it is supposed to do?
How are schools supposed to handle the administration of widespread individual devices like iPads anyway? Modern individualized digital technology by its very nature defies this kind of administrative centralization. Herding cats would be easier.
And then there is the problem that we live in a world in which many students themselves know more about the technology their teachers.
Technology by its very nature is limited in its educational application. It can play a part in knowledge transmission and testing, but it is less well-equipped to further other learning goals, such as skills development (which requires hands-on coaching) and the understanding of ideas and values (which requires discussion).
But there is no sign that the educational establishment has a competent understanding either of technology’s capabilities or its limitations.
One response is to point out that the thinking skills you get from studying an inflected grammar and the interpersonal skills you learn from literature are far more useful. But here’s another perspective from a tech CEO, who says that tech education, even at some of our most prestigious schools, doesn’t make graduates any more attractive to him:
The thing I don’t look for in a developer is a degree in computer science. University computer science departments are in miserable shape: 10 years behind in a field that changes every 10 minutes. Computer science departments prepare their students for academic or research careers and spurn jobs that actually pay money. They teach students how to design an operating system, but not how to work with a real, live development team.
There isn’t a single course in iPhone or Android development in the computer science departments of Yale or Princeton. Harvard has one, but you can’t make a good developer in one term. So if a college graduate has the coding skills that tech startups need, he most likely learned them on his own, in between problem sets. As one of my developers told me: “The people who were good at the school part of computer science—just weren’t good developers.” My experience in hiring shows exactly that.
This is a shame because the young people who get degrees in computer science or engineering often have the makings of great software developers—the interest is there. But the education is a failure.
Today we insist on higher-education for everything—where a high-school diploma for a teacher or a reporter was once adequate, a specialized degree in education or journalism is now required. But my lead developer didn’t graduate from college, and neither did my other full-stack developer. I do have one developer with a degree in electrical engineering: Did he learn any of his development skills in college, I ask? No.
From “Why I’m Not Looking to Hire Computer Science Majors,” by Daniel Gelernter, CEO of tech startup Dittach in the Wall Street Journal, August 29-30. (There may be a paywall to negotiate)
From the excellent Imaginative Conservative blog:
Dionysios Thrax, an ancient Greek grammarian, outlined the hierarchical structure of grammar from the least to the greatest. He began with prosody, followed by an understanding of literary devices, followed by considerations of phraseology enhanced by etymology. At the upper reaches of grammar we find analogy and metaphor, followed by the highest aspect of grammar: the art of exegesis. Exegesis has its etymological roots in a word that means “to demand”; we demand from a written work what it is most deeply trying to convey considering its origins, the author’s intentions, the validity and value of its assertions, as well as the range, breadth, and depth of its knowledge. This complete understanding of grammar has long since been abandoned.
Grammar has suffered the same fate as theology and philosophy in this reductive age. Grammar has been cut off from its transcendent and philosophical roots. Grammar ought to embody the rules for the structure of language, which intend to reflect the hierarchical structure of the Cosmos. The lowest level of grammatical concern for the ancients has become the highest in the modern school. Prosody has gone under the knife of dissection to the point that literacy has become a sort of pseudo-linguistic analysis of the written word.
Read more here.
To restore the liberal arts, those of us who teach should begin by thinking about students. Almost all of them have serious questions about major issues, and all of them are looking for answers. What is right? What is love? What do I owe others? What do others owe me? In too many places these are not questions for examination but issues for indoctrination. Instead of guiding young men and women by encouraging them to read history, biography, philosophy and literature, we’d rather debunk the past, deconstruct the authors and dethrone our finest minds and statesmen.
… Finally, a word to secondary schools and their teachers: You may be the last hope many of your students will have to think broadly and seriously about literature, science, math and history. If they don’t read Homer or Shakespeare, or marvel at the working of the universe, or read and understand the Constitution, they never will. The hope of liberal learning rests on your shoulders. Please don’t shrug.
When properly conceived and taught, the liberal arts do not by themselves make us “better people” or (God knows) more “human.” They don’t exist to make us more “liberal,” at least in the contemporary political sense. But the liberal arts can do something no less wonderful: They can open our eyes.
They show us how to look at the world and the works of civilization in serious and important and even delightful ways. They hold out the possibility that we will know better the truth about many of the most important things. They are the vehicle that carries the amazing things that mankind has made—and the memory of the horrors that mankind has perpetrated—from one age to the next. They teach us how to marvel.
I think Agresto may needlessly downplay the role the humanities in making us better people. It is in history and literature, after all that we see the best and worst in human beings, learning how to imitate the former and avoid the latter. But he does say the can’t do this “alone,” about which he is probably right.
Read more here.
“Throughout the major U.S. tech hubs, whether Silicon Valley or Seattle, Boston or Austin, Tex., software companies are discovering that liberal arts thinking makes them stronger. Engineers may still command the biggest salaries, but at disruptive juggernauts such as Facebook and Uber, the war for talent has moved to nontechnical jobs, particularly sales and marketing. The more that audacious coders dream of changing the world, the more they need to fill their companies with social alchemists who can connect with customers–and make progress seem pleasant.”
Read more here.
How many times have you been told that some trendy new education practice is “research-based”? The implication, of course, is that the mere application of this scientific-sounding label to the practice should cause the hearer to lay aside any further critical inquiry on the matter.
When it comes to education (and many other things for that matter) the expression “research-based” is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The expression is the equivalent of the philosopher’s QED (Quod Est Demonstrandum: “It is demonstrated”). It is a discussion-ender about the legitimacy of the practice. The only response considered appropriate is to nod in obedient acceptance.
But what exactly does this expression mean?
What it means is that there has been some study (perhaps more than one), conducted by someone, somewhere, that seems to indicate that the practice is effective. Or, more likely, that someone has heard someone else say that such a study exists. It almost never indicates that the person making the reference has actually read the study (or studies) to which he refers.
But there is something even more worrisome and it comes in the form of a study–one that you can actually read yourself.
In a study released last year by the Educational Researcher, Matthew C. Makel of Duke University and Jonathan A. Plucker of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, conducted a wide-ranging meta-study of educational research, to determine how many of the education studies published in the 100 most prominent education journals met one of the most basic research criteria. The question they asked was: What are the replication rates of education studies?
Replications, say the authors (quoting another researcher) serve five functions:
- Controlling for sampling error
- Controlling for artifacts
- Controling for fraud
- Generalizing different/larger populations
- Assessing the study’s general hypothesis
H. M. Collins calls replication “the Supreme Court of science.”
Replication is a common procedure in both the hard sciences (biology, medicine, genomics, computer science), as well as the soft ones (economics, political science, and sociology).
And when you consider the low rate of successful replication in the hard sciences, say the authors, the need for replication in the social sciences (such as education) “becomes even more acute.” One review found that only 44% of studies in health care research are successfully replicated; another found only 11% replication success rate of highly cited cancer trial studies.
The rate of successful replication in psychology is peculiarly high–91.5%, “making psychologists nearly five times better at predicting results than actual rocket scientists. It is an outcome the authors attribute to “collecting the data until the desired result is found, not reporting unsuccessful trials, and eliminating observations and variables post hoc that do not support the targeted hypotheses.”
So, when the Markel and Plucker looked at all the studies ever published in the top education journals, what did they find?
- Of the 164,589 studies published in these education journals, only 221 of them were replications–an overall replication rate of .13%.
- Of the studies that were replicated, only 67.4% were successful.
- Also, 48.2%, nearly half of the replications, were conducted by the same people who did the original study.
Now let’s do a little math here: If you multiply .13% (number of replications) by 67.4% (the success rate), you get .08762%. That’s the percentage of education studies with successful replications. What does it say about education research that only roughly .09% of it has been successfully replicated–and almost half of these replications performed by people who had a stake in seeing it successfully replicated?
This is a colossal indictment of the legitimacy of education research.
So the next time you hear a professional educator touting some exotic new education idea as “research-based,” ask him this question: “Has the research been successfully replicated?” Chances are he won’t know. When he confesses his ignorance, tell him that there is a higher than 99.9% chance that it hasn’t.
The Common Core standards are important because of the number of children that will be affected by national standards which are eliminating content knowledge and trying to replace it with amorphous “critical thinking skills.” I’m obviously not against critical thinking skills, since that’s what the liberal arts are. The trouble is that public school policy-makers have no clue what constitute critical thinking skills. It’s a nice-sounding phrase that has no definitive meaning. The lack of content knowledge will further corrupt the process of passing our culture down to the next generation, which is the most important educational goal.
Read the rest here.
Modern literature studies always raise the question “Who was Shakespeare?” Some claim he was the Earl of Oxford using a pseudonym while others say he was a man from a poor background in Stratford-upon-Avon who actually had the name of Shakespeare.
Whatever side of the discussion one takes, this article’s defense of the poor Shakespeare through classical education should cause one to think (see the second section, ‘Snobbery’). It is true that in his era, the small town grammar school would have given him the tools he needed to write such masterful plays. By the age of eight, all the school children would have been speaking Latin–a skill that would open them the doors of Roman literature. Once those doors were open, nothing would have stood in the way of a boy who thirsted for wisdom and knowledge. If his desire was strong enough, he would have been able to educate himself to a level that surpassed even that of the aristocracy.
Why does our modern educational system insist on keeping those doors closed to all?
I just found this article about Latin “not being dead yet.” It is a great apology for Latin–it points out that it should be for everyone, not just for the “smart kids.”
It covers just about every reason why one should learn Latin. What astounds me is that a journalist can understand and present the argument so clearly while the educational establishment continues to ignore it.
Latin should be required in all schools. Read the article to find out why.
It is amazing how many people are now defending learning Latin in school. This blog post points out its fantastic benefits in learning English grammar and vocabulary. I found it to be very well written and to the point. Honestly, even though I work day in and day out promoting Latin, it nearly knocked my socks off with its straight-forwardness. It is well worth the read.
But Latin teaches something much greater than the English language when a student learns it early: critical thinking skills. The effort a student must put into analyzing grammar forms and then synthesizing them into a translation forces that student to start thinking in an organized, systematic way.
Modern languages like Spanish or Portuguese just don’t do the job. Since their nouns and adjectives are not declined as they are in Latin, the student misses the whole exercise of learning the parts of a sentence–and consequently miss the majority of the critical thinking development.
What other benefits do you see to learning Latin?
In the midst of a recent conversation, a logical syllogism started to form in my mind:
1. Modern progressive education teaches students what to think and not how to think.
Modern political discussion is rife with people who spout ideas without reasoning.
Therefore, modern progressive education has lead to the polarization in today’s politics.
2. Classical education teaches students how to think.
People who know how to think will have reasonable political discussions.
Therefore, to help society have better political discussions, students should be taught with a classical education.
Is this argument flawless? Post your comments below!
Whether or not you have a passion for Latin, you’re inevitably struck when you hear about a radio news program broadcasting in the ancient tongue.
You may ask what the advantage is of such news programs. If it were nothing more than sparking the students’ interest, it would be enough. But it is also keeping the importance of Latin in society’s sight. Vivat Latina!
We have always said that Latin boosts students’ scores on the SAT. However, concrete data has never been provided. Here is an article that gives average scores for the SAT, not only of Latin students versus the average, but also compared to students of Spanish and French. The stats are about a third of the way down.
Our motto is “Sapientia et Virtus” which means “Wisdom and Virtue”. Why?
When many people speak about classical education, they focus on the superior academics found at a classical school. This is true, but classical education is not just about information. It educates the mind in a deep way, not just filling it up to repeat it on exams, but leading it to wisdom.
But there is more than just the mind–classical education also trains the soul. We always advocate teacher-directed classrooms to help foster discipline and self-control. The literature classical students read teaches them about virtue and vice.
That’s our motto in a nutshell. Just thought you should know.
The motto of Highlands Latin School is “Docere, Delectare, Movere,” or “To Teach, To Delight, To Move.” That school, where the Classical Core Curriculum is developed, believes that the key to teaching is making sure that the students enjoy learning.
But a distinction has to be made: the students are to delight in learning not because they are having fun but because they are taught to enjoy the pursuit of truth. At Highlands Latin School you will typically see students sitting quietly at their desks (which are in straight rows facing the teacher), working away or paying attention to the lecture. Almost every child on the planet will tell you there are more enjoyable things they could be doing–and most teachers would tell you their are more engaging ways to teach–but in general the students do not complain or dread the school day.
The teachers take advantage of the occasional game or activity, but most class time is dedicated to serious intellectual pursuit. And yet you can see the children’s eyes light up when they can answer a question correctly or when something becomes clear for them. “Man by nature desires to know” as Aristotle would say, and Highlands uses that innate desire to foster a love for learning. Challenging the students to learn, keeping the bar high, motivates students more deeply than “fun” activities. Teaching truth, goodness, and beauty is the key to delighting in learning.
by Paul Schaeffer
In elementary school I learned the story of Cincinnatus from the book Famous Men of Rome. When I try to recall the stories I learned that year, he is the first one to come to mind. Romulus and Remus came second, followed by Horatius. So I had to ask myself, “Why would Cincinnatus come even before the founders of Rome?”
The answer was simple: because Cincinnatus embodied all that was noble in Roman culture. He was a man of simple taste. Though he was from a noble family and a man of great renown, he lived on a small farm outside the city. When the Roman army found itself in dire need, the Senate thought it appropriate to name Cincinnatus dictator for a period of six months. They found him plowing in his field and asked him to take control of the situation. By the end of the day, Cincinnatus had raised a new army and marched to the rescue of the regular Roman soldiers. He immediately defeated Rome’s enemies and marched back in triumph.
This story sounds like all the other stories of Rome’s greatness, but what really stuck with me was what Cincinnatus did after coming back to Rome. He had the right to hold on to his dictatorship for six months. And yet, within a few days of returning home, he renounced his office, gave the power back to the Senate, and returned to his farm. I recall my teacher emphasizing this point: a noble, upright person should not have an inordinate desire for power, but serve his community in the office that they entrust to him. Since Cincinnatus had done his duty, it was right for him to give up his office once he returned home.
I tell this story to show how classical education can affect a student. After almost 20 years, I still remember that lesson about virtue. Not only do I remember it, but I also let it influence what I do. After all, isn’t classical education about teaching students how to think and what to do?
by Charles Moore
A great explanation and defense of Latin poetry. Read it here.
by Paul Schaeffer
My high school chemistry teacher’s favorite word was “wonder.” Nothing was done in class because some outside power required us to do it. After a while, we all knew that we learned what we did because it was worth knowing–and that’s why we wanted to learn it. The first day of class he taught us to use our sense of wonder in our observations.
“When you observe something, use all five of your senses,” he said. “Look at it, touch it, smell it, taste it, drop it on the floor to hear what it sounds like.”
We followed his counsels to the letter. Any chemical substance he gave us, we observed completely. We began to wonder!
The bad news was that occasionally he would let us taste a substance that was not conducive to our health (to put it euphemistically) . He did not want to shield us from real-life experiences, but taught us what unrestrained wonder could lead to. I no longer remember what chemical it was, but one day he passed out a white powder that we were to observe. We all dutifully tasted it (among our other observations). He continued with the lesson and our tongues started to go numb. Ten minutes later, he stopped in the middle of his lecture and said, “By now your tongues should be numb. I will be passing out some vinegar now which will act as an antidote.” And then there we were, all drinking small portions of vinegar to get our tongues working again! He had a deeper point: the pursuit of knowledge can be arduous and even dangerous.
The good news was that our sense of wonder, with his support, continued beyond physical observation. We learned about the pre-Socratic philosophers and the difficulties they encountered. We followed the quest of the Greeks to figure out what was the underlying substance of the entire world. We drank at the fountain of Socrates’ wisdom and continued into the world of Plato’s forms. All this time we were dying to know what really made up our world. And then we met Aristotle. We picked up his book Physics and struggled to follow his strict logic. We expected him to posit one underlying substance for everything as his predecessors had done. But no, he taught us that everything in this world is made up of matter and form.
The course did not stop there–we continued to learn about the development of the periodic table of the elements as well as different chemical properties. But we knew what the world was really made of. We understood from the beginning that the periodic table was a method of discovery and manipulation, not a philosophical interpretation of existence. So while we needed to understand modern chemistry, it was grounded in a classical understanding of the world. We were not stuck manipulating formulas for days on end, but rather our wonder drove us to think about reality more deeply and still drives me every single day.
by Paul Schaeffer
Current educational trends either ignore public speaking all together or attempt to teach it by making the student do it repetitively. However, this approach does not seem to be working. Look at the people who make their living by speaking to the public: talk show hosts try to persuade their listeners by shouting more than their opponent while others bore their audiences to death with long, drawn-out monologues. The fruits of our education beg us to find out what current trends miss.
Aristotle defines rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Observation is active by its very nature. It requires processing and analysis. So then it must be concluded that rhetoric is not about flailing your hands as you speak, nor is it just a wild attempt at public speaking. It is a deliberate effort to decide which method would be most apt to convince your audience of your point. It is therefore a conscious process (something largely ignored in modern public speaking classes). In classical rhetoric, there are three methods of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the quality the speaker holds as a respectable person. Because he is good, we listen to him. Logos is persuading by means of logical argument. Because it makes sense, we agree with it. Pathos is using the audience’s emotions to convince them of your point. Because we feel attracted to it, we like it.
While the speaker must take these aspects into account, it is very advantageous for the audience to be aware of the art of rhetoric. A listener equipped to “observe in any given case the available means of persuasion” will be able to glean the truth or falsity of arguments based on ethos, logos, or pathos. Whether or not a student will ever be in a situation where he needs to speak to a large group of people, it is worth teaching him rhetoric. It will make him a better speaker and a better listener.
“Qui res mundi vellet scire linguam Latinam cognosciat.”
If you don’t know what that means, then join all the reporters who missed one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the 21st century.
When Pope Benedict XVI recently abdicated the papacy, he did it in a speech that was supposed to be about the canonization of three saints. But all of a sudden, he began almost whispering in Latin.
Giovanna Chirri, the Vatican reporter for ANSA, the leading news wire service in Italy, was covering the regularly scheduled speech. She immediately realized what the Pope was saying.
She knew Latin.
She quickly called Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi to confirm what she thought she had heard: that Benedict was going to do something that no pope had done for 717 years: voluntarily step down from his office. But Lombardi could not be reached.
Chirri then reported to her editor at the ANSA News agency that the Pope had just announced his abdication. But the editor got cold feet, and a heated argument ensued between the reporter and her editor, the editor doubting her story, and Chirri insisting that her Latin was good enough to understand what the Pope had said.
At 11:46 a.m. GMT, ANSA sent out the alert to a surprised world. Chirri had scooped the rest of the press corp because she knew Latin.
Oh, and that Latin sentence above? It means, “He who wants to know what’s happening in the world should know Latin.”
via Blogger http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-knowing-latin-helped-one-reporter.html
- John Lennox Explains Why Science & Faith are not in conflict February 5, 2016
- A Classical School Promotional Video Worth Watching February 3, 2016
- Picking a Standardized Test for K-8 Private Schools February 2, 2016
- What Teachers Need to Do their Job January 28, 2016
- Why Study Latin: The short version January 26, 2016