Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Bortins!

Bortins Family PhotoI'm proud and honored to wish you and your family a very merry Christmas, not a "happy holiday" or any other generic, empty greeting, but a soul-filled, "For unto you a Savior is born!" Merry Christmas!

It can be difficult for moms to keep our focus on the Savior when magazines and commercials put before us unrealistic expectations of beautiful trees and spotless homes and homemade feasts.

The decorations and trees and cookies and bows, though, are all "of the world". They are the wrappings that man has put on the real gift. We have to be diligent to focus on the gift, and not get wrapped up in the wrappings because God gave us children, and He gave us very clear instructions to teach them about Him. So, if we get all wrapped up in the wrappings of Christmas, we may not be teaching our children what God wants us to: that He came to earth as Jesus, the Christ, to save us. We can't do a very good job of teaching that if we're exhausted from shopping and cooking and decorating and participating in every charity in the area.

We have to narrow the "to do" list so we can minister to our family with peace in our own hearts. How can we proclaim Jesus as the Prince of Peace if we create chaos around His birthday?

Remember that God's gifts don't come gift-wrapped. Teach your children to look for gifts that don't come wrapped in pretty paper and tied up with bows: the beauty of the earth, friends and family, and the warmth of a fire and have a very merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Classic Christmas: Music (2)

More Classic Christmas

Selections from Bach's Christmas Oratorio

(Sleep thou, my dearest,
enjoy now thy rest,
Wake on the morrow to flourish in splendor!
Lighten thy breast,
With joy be thou blest,
Where we hold our heart's great pleasure!)


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Classic Christmas: Poetry (2)

More Classic Christmas

A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior
by Ben Jonson

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger;
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father's wisdom willed it so,
The Son's obedience knew no "No,"
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made Flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win?
Who made Himself the Prince of sin,
To make us heirs of glory?
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defense,
Can man forget this story?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Classic Christmas: Poetry

More Classic Christmas
-Art (1) (2)

The Christmas Night
By Lucy Maud Montgomery

Wrapped was the world in slumber deep,
By seaward valley and cedarn steep,
And bright and blest were the dreams of its sleep;
All the hours of that wonderful night-tide through
The stars out blossomed in fields of blue,
A heavenly chaplet, to diadem
The King in the manger of Bethlehem.

Out on the hills the shepherds lay,
Wakeful, that never a lamb might stray,
Humble and clean of heart were they;
Thus it was given them to hear
Marvellous harpings strange and clear,
Thus it was given them to see
The heralds of the nativity.

In the dim-lit stable the mother mild
Looked with holy eyes on her child,
Cradled him close to her heart and smiled;
Kingly purple nor crown had he,
Never a trapping of royalty;
But Mary saw that the baby's head
With a slender nimbus was garlanded.

Speechless her joy as she watched him there,
Forgetful of pain and grief and care,
And every thought in her soul was a prayer;
While under the dome of the desert sky
The Kings of the East from afar drew nigh,
And the great white star that was guide to them
Kept ward o'er the manger of Bethlehem.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Recommendations for Responsible Giving
  • World Vision
    Give a goat, chickens, sewing lessons, or other sustainable gifts to families in need.
  • Amani ya Juu
    Purchase handmade gifts from a sewing and reconciliation project in Africa.
  • Heifer International
    Help purchase animals for families around the world - the gift that "keeps on giving."
  • Ten Thousand Villages
    Buy unique Fair Trade gifts from around the world.

Classic Christmas: Art (2)

More Classic Christmas
-Art (1)

Da Vinci - Adoration of the Magi

Lotto - The Nativity

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Classic Christmas: Art

Between now and Christmas Day, I want to share with you some of the projects skilled artists have created throughout history to celebrate the birth of Christ. Their creativity is a beautiful picture of giving the Lord our best work in all things.

Merry Christmas!

Franz Von Rhoden's Nativity


Rembrandt - the Nativity

The Nativity - Rembrandt

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (13)

*After a break for the Christmas holidays, regular posts from Leigh's thesis will finish out in the New Year.*

See Note to Readers

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 13)

Let us now quickly review our material and see how it is to be related to Dialectic.

On the Language side, we shall now have our vocabulary and morphology at our fingertips; henceforward we can concentrate on syntax and analysis (i.e., the logical construction of speech) and the history of language (i.e., how we came to arrange our speech as we do in order to convey our thoughts).

Our Reading will proceed from narrative and lyric to essays, argument and criticism, and the pupil will learn to try his own hand at writing this kind of thing. Many lessons—on whatever subject—will take the form of debates; and the place of individual or choral recitation will be taken by dramatic performances, with special attention to plays in which an argument is stated in dramatic form.

Mathematics—algebra, geometry, and the more advanced kinds of arithmetic—will now enter into the syllabus and take its place as what it really is: not a separate “subject” but a sub-department of Logic. It is neither more nor less than the rule of the syllogism in its particular application to number and measurement, and should be taught as such, instead of being, for some, a dark mystery, and, for others, a special revelation, neither illuminating nor illuminated by any other part of knowledge.

History, aided by a simple system of ethics derived from the grammar of theology, will provide much suitable material for discussion: Was the behavior of this statesman justified? What was the effect of such an enactment? What are the arguments for and against this or that form of government? We shall thus get an introduction to constitutional history--a subject meaningless to the young child, but of absorbing interest to those who are prepared to argue and debate.

Theology itself will furnish material for argument about conduct and morals; and should have its scope extended by a simplified course of dogmatic theology (i.e., the rational structure of Christian thought), clarifying the relations between the dogma and the ethics, and lending itself to that application of ethical principles in particular instances which is properly called casuistry.

Geography and the Sciences will likewise provide material for Dialectic.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 14, 2009

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Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (12)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 12)

It is difficult to say at what age, precisely, we should pass from the first to the second part of the Trivium. Generally speaking, the answer is: so soon as the pupil shows himself disposed to pertness and interminable argument.

For as, in the first part, the master faculties are Observation and Memory, so, in the second, the master faculty is the Discursive Reason. In the first, the exercise to which the rest of the material was, as it were, keyed, was the Latin grammar; in the second, the key exercise will be Formal Logic.

It is here that our curriculum shows its first sharp divergence from modern standards. The disrepute into which Formal Logic has fallen is entirely unjustified; and its neglect is the root cause of nearly all those disquieting symptoms which we have noted in the modern intellectual constitution.

Logic has been discredited, partly because we have come to suppose that we are conditioned almost entirely by the intuitive and the unconscious. There is no time to argue whether this is true; I will simply observe that to neglect the proper training of the reason is the best possible way to make it true.

Another cause for the disfavor into which Logic has fallen is the belief that it is entirely based upon universal assumptions that are either unprovable or tautological. This is not true. Not all universal propositions are of this kind. But even if they were, it would make no difference, since every syllogism whose major premise is in the form “All A is B” can be recast in hypothetical form.

Logic is the art of arguing correctly: “If A, then B.” The method is not invalidated by the hypothetical nature of A. Indeed, the practical utility of Formal Logic today lies not so much in the establishment of positive conclusions as in the prompt detection and exposure of invalid inference.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (11)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 11)

So far (except, of course, for the Latin), our curriculum contains nothing that departs very far from common practice. The difference will be felt rather in the attitude of the teachers, who must look upon all these activities less as “subjects” in themselves than as a gathering-together of material for use in the next part of the Trivium.

What that material is, is only of secondary importance; but it is as well that anything and everything which can be usefully committed to memory should be memorized at this period, whether it is immediately intelligible or not.

The modern tendency is to try and force rational explanations on a child’s mind at too early an age. Intelligent questions, spontaneously asked, should, of course, receive an immediate and rational answer; but it is a great mistake to suppose that a child cannot readily enjoy and remember things that are beyond his power to analyze—particularly if those things have a strong imaginative appeal (as, for example, “Kubla Kahn”), an attractive jingle (like some of the memory-rhymes for Latin genders), or an abundance of rich, resounding polysyllables (like the Quicunque vult).

This reminds me of the grammar of Theology. I shall add it to the curriculum, because theology is the mistress-science without which the whole educational structure will necessarily lack its final synthesis.

Those who disagree about this will remain content to leave their pupil’s education still full of loose ends. This will matter rather less than it might, since by the time that the tools of learning have been forged the student will be able to tackle theology for himself, and will probably insist upon doing so and making sense of it.

Still, it is as well to have this matter also handy and ready for the reason to work upon. At the grammatical age, therefore, we should become acquainted with the story of God and Man in outline—i.e., the Old and New Testaments presented as parts of a single narrative of Creation, Rebellion, and Redemption—and also with the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.

At this early stage, it does not matter nearly so much that these things should be fully understood as that they should be known and remembered.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Support the Circe Institute

I want to share with you a letter from my friends at the CiRCE Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to Christian, classical education and supporting teachers and parents in that task.

If you attended or viewed the sessions from their conference this year, A Contemplation of Nature (see Heather Shirley's notes), or have used the Lost Tools of Writing curricula, you've seen a glimpse of their mission.

I've worked a lot with them over the years, and I encourage you to read the letter, and consider being a part of the important work they have ahead in the new year.

Further Up & Further In with the CiRCE Institute…

Dear Friend of CiRCE,

Thank you! On behalf of the CiRCE board, we are exceedingly grateful for your financial partnership and know that without your past contributions we could not have faced the challenges of 2009. With 2010 fast approaching, we draw comfort from the continued support of those who believe in the work we are doing.

Like many not-for-profit organizations, the CiRCE Institute depends upon the generosity and kindness of individuals who believe, as we do, in the mission and vision of Classical Christian education. So, drawing from C.S. Lewis, the CiRCE Board asks that you join our journey “Further Up & Further In” by supporting CiRCE during these challenging time.

We’re asking people who believe in what CiRCE is doing and want to help us keep it going to make donations of any amount. All together, we’ve set the ambitious goal to raise a total of $50,000 in contributions by the end of the year. If you are in a position to donate even a little, please consider doing so. No contribution is too small or too large.

Here's why we are asking for contributions...

CiRCE is a not for profit research center (Center for Independent Research on Classical Education). From our research come consulting services and resources for classical educators. But the conference and the resources don't come anywhere close to covering our expenses.

The 2009 CiRCE Conference, although it received excellent reviews from all the participants, resulted in a loss of over $10,00. CiRCE, like many other organizations, has tightened its metaphorical belt and demonstrated sound fiscal responsibility, but your help is needed now more than ever before.

Raising $50,000 by December 31, 2009 will help us achieve these primary goals:

-Complete the Lost Tools of Writing II
-Fund the 2010 conference.
-Build towards the creation of a CiRCE Journal
-Provide for greater financial stability going forward.

We understand that this current economic climate makes for an untimely season in which to request financial help. However, CiRCE has consistently conducted an annual fundraiser during this time, and we are praying that your desire to “come further up and further in” with CiRCE will overcome any hesitation to give.

In return, we promise to continue teaching, training, and researching. We promise to keep on spreading the word. We promise to continue providing inspiration. We promise that, if you will stand by our side, we will continue to stand by yours. Together we'll take this mission, this vision, this calling, further up and further in!

As thanks for your generosity, we are offering downloadable materials for anyone who makes even the smallest donation. Whether you donate $1 or $100 or $1000 there is a gift waiting for you.

In return for your help, you will be able to download talks like Debbie Harris's popular talk Understanding and Instilling a Love of Beauty, and Andrew Pudewa's useful and inspiring, Teaching Boys and Other Kids Who Would Rather Be Playing In Forts. You can also download Ken Myers' talk on how to Re-educate Oneself As An Adult, or Laura Berquist's insightful talk about Assessing Student Performance. Also available soon will be articles in PDF format and book excerpts.

When a few Christians receive the education that defines our heritage, there is no telling what God will do. We can't make any promises about the renewal of civilization, avoiding the impending Dark Age, or anything like that.

But we do know that we are in the early stages of a very different sort of Dark Age - one in which information drowns out knowledge and wisdom is not worth fighting for. If Christian classical education lacks champions, the age offers little hope.

Please prayerfully consider how you can support this critical work. We look forward to working alongside you in the coming years as, together, we climb Further Up & Further In.


The CiRCE Board

P.S. While you’re at it, please let us know how we can improve. What should we do (or do better) to help you fulfill your goals as educators? In what ways can we help you cultivate wisdom and virtue in your students?

P.P.S. To make a donation, please visit Or, you can send a check to the following address:

4190 Brownwood Lane
Concord, NC 28027

Monday, December 7, 2009

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Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (10)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 10)

The grammar of History should consist, I think, of dates, events, anecdotes, and personalities. A set of dates to which one can peg all later historical knowledge is of enormous help later on in establishing the perspective of history. It does not greatly matter which dates: those of the Kings of England will do very nicely, provided that they are accompanied by pictures of costumes, architecture, and other everyday things, so that the mere mention of a date calls up a very strong visual presentment of the whole period.

Geography will similarly be presented in its factual aspect, with maps, natural features, and visual presentment of customs, costumes, flora, fauna, and so on; and I believe myself that the discredited and old-fashioned memorizing of a few capitol cities, rivers, mountain ranges, etc., does no harm. Stamp collecting may be encouraged.

Science, in the Poll-Parrot period, arranges itself naturally and easily around collections—the identifying and naming of specimens and, in general, the kind of thing that used to be called “natural philosophy.”

To know the name and properties of things is, at this age, a satisfaction in itself; to recognize a devil’s coach-horse at sight, and assure one’s foolish elders, that, in spite of its appearance, it does not sting; to be able to pick out Cassiopeia and the Pleiades, and perhaps even to know who Cassiopeia and the Pleiades were; to be aware that a whale is not a fish, and a bat not a bird—all these things give a pleasant sensation of superiority; while to know a ring snake from an adder or a poisonous from an edible toadstool is a kind of knowledge that also has practical value.

The grammar of Mathematics begins, of course, with the multiplication table, which, if not learnt now, will never be learnt with pleasure; and with the recognition of geometrical shapes and the grouping of numbers. These exercises lead naturally to the doing of simple sums in arithmetic. More complicated mathematical processes may, and perhaps should, be postponed, for the reasons which will presently appear.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (9)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 9)

Let us begin, then, with Grammar. This, in practice, means the grammar of some language in particular; and it must be an inflected language.

The grammatical structure of an uninflected language is far too analytical to be tackled by any one without previous practice in Dialectic. Moreover, the inflected languages interpret the uninflected, whereas the uninflected are of little use in interpreting the inflected.

I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents.

Those whose pedantic preference for a living language persuades them to deprive their pupils of all these advantages might substitute Russian, whose grammar is still more primitive. Russian is, of course, helpful with the other Slav dialects. There is something also to be said for Classical Greek. But my own choice is Latin.

Having thus pleased the Classicists among you, I will proceed to horrify them by adding that I do not think it either wise or necessary to cramp the ordinary pupil upon the Procrustean bed of the Augustan Age, with its highly elaborate and artificial verse forms and oratory. Post-classical and mediaeval Latin, which was a living language right down to the end of the Renaissance, is easier and in some ways livelier; a study of it helps to dispel the widespread notion that learning and literature came to a full stop when Christ was born and only woke up again at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Latin should be begun as early as possible—at a time when inflected speech seems no more astonishing than any other phenomenon in an astonishing world; and when the chanting of “Amo, amas, amat” is as ritually agreeable to the feelings as the chanting of “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”

During this age we must, of course, exercise the mind on other things besides Latin grammar. Observation and memory are the faculties most lively at this period; and if we are to learn a contemporary foreign language we should begin now, before the facial and mental muscles become rebellious to strange intonations. Spoken French or German can be practiced alongside the grammatical discipline of the Latin.

In English, meanwhile, verse and prose can be learned by heart, and the pupil’s memory should be stored with stories of every kind—classical myth, European legend, and so forth. I do not think that the classical stories and masterpieces of ancient literature should be made the vile bodies on which to practice the techniques of Grammar—that was a fault of mediaeval education which we need not perpetuate.

The stories can be enjoyed and remembered in English, and related to their origin at a subsequent stage. Recitation aloud should be practiced, individually or in chorus; for we must not forget that we are laying the groundwork for Disputation and Rhetoric.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (8)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 8)

Let us amuse ourselves by imagining that such progressive retrogression is possible. Let us make a clean sweep of all educational authorities, and furnish ourselves with a nice little school of boys and girls whom we may experimentally equip for the intellectual conflict along lines chosen by ourselves.

We will endow them with exceptionally docile parents; we will staff our school with teachers who are themselves perfectly familiar with the aims and methods of the Trivium; we will have our building and staff large enough to allow our classes to be small enough for adequate handling; and we will postulate a Board of Examiners willing and qualified to test the products we turn out.

Thus prepared, we will attempt to sketch out a syllabus—a modern Trivium “with modifications” and we will see where we get to.

But first: what age shall the children be? Well, if one is to educate them on novel lines, it will be better that they should have nothing to unlearn; besides, one cannot begin a good thing too early, and the Trivium is by its nature not learning, but a preparation for learning. We will, therefore, “catch ‘em young,” requiring of our pupils only that they shall be able to read, write, and cipher.

My views about child psychology are, I admit, neither orthodox nor enlightened. Looking back upon myself (since I am the child I know best and the only child I can pretend to know from inside) I recognize three states of development. These, in a rough-and- ready fashion, I will call the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic—the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty.

The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things.

The Pert age, which follows upon this (and, naturally, overlaps it to some extent), is characterized by contradicting, answering back, liking to “catch people out” (especially one’s elders); and by the propounding of conundrums. Its nuisance-value is extremely high. It usually sets in about the Fourth Form.

The Poetic age is popularly known as the “difficult” age. It is self-centered; it yearns to express itself; it rather specializes in being misunderstood; it is restless and tries to achieve independence; and, with good luck and good guidance, it should show the beginnings of creativeness; a reaching out towards a synthesis of what it already knows, and a deliberate eagerness to know and do some one thing in preference to all others.

Now it seems to me that the layout of the Trivium adapts itself with a singular appropriateness to these three ages: Grammar to the Poll-Parrot, Dialectic to the Pert, and Rhetoric to the Poetic age.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 30, 2009

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving
from all of us
at Classical Conversations!!

Safe travels, and may you rejoice over this reminder
of how much there is to be thankful for.

  • Click here to read more about the history of Thanksgiving (History Channel).
  • Curious about how U.S. presidents throughout the years have celebrated Thanksgiving? Click here to read about Thanksgiving in the White House (Washington Post).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Not Argue?

By Pam Greenholt
Challenge I Director, North Carolina

Why would any sane teenager get up before dawn, dress in a business suit, ride for over an hour in a packed car, argue for many hours about United States environmental policies, and not get home until after dark?

The answer might surprise you. Most teenagers love to argue, but some teenagers get very excited about competitive "arguing", better known as team policy debate.

This past weekend, we took our debate club to its first practice tournament of this season. We have one veteran team and four novice teams this year. Though we're small for a debate club, our members make up for it with enthusiasm and insightful thinking and speaking.

Club meetings can become cacophonous, but careful listening will reveal constructive conversations about "cap and trade", the Kyoto treaty, the value of restricting the EPA, storage of nuclear waste, the endangered species act, and a wide range of topics all dealing with United States environmental policies, which is the topic of the resolution of our national debate group for this year.

Don't tell our team members that there are many valuable skills learned while debating. Our debaters just think it's FUN. Beside the obvious speaking skills gained while practicing debate, there are also the benefits of improving notetaking, researching, using of evidence with credible sources, thinking critically, organizing thoughts, and enjoying the company of other students who make good use of their brains.

The network of comraderie extends to debaters across the state, the region, and the nation. It's not bad company to keep. As an adult, I am always encouraged when I am around these debaters.

When dedicated to the right purposes, debating ideas can definitely produce good things!

So why would any sane teenager (or their parents) want to be involved in debate?

Here's a better question: Why not?

Monday, November 23, 2009

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (7)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 7)

Scorn in plenty has been poured out upon the mediaeval passion for hair-splitting; but when we look at the shameless abuse made, in print and on the platform, of controversial expressions with shifting and ambiguous connotations, we may feel it in our hearts to wish that every reader and hearer had been so defensively armored by his education as to be able to cry: “Distinguo.”

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.

We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished.

We dole out lip-service to the importance of education—lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

What, then, are we to do? We cannot go back to the Middle Ages. That is a cry to which we have become accustomed. We cannot go back—or can we? Distinguo. I should like every term in that proposition defined. Does “go back” mean a retrogression in time, or the revision of an error? The first is clearly impossible per se; the second is a thing which wise men do every day.

“Cannot”—does this mean that our behavior is determined irreversibly, or merely that such an action would be very difficult in view of the opposition it would provoke? Obviously the twentieth century is not and cannot be the fourteenth; but if “the Middle Ages” is, in this context, simply a picturesque phrase denoting a particular educational theory, there seems to be no a priori reason why we should not “go back” to it—with modifications—as we have already “gone back” with modifications, to, let us say, the idea of playing Shakespeare’s plays as he wrote them, and not in the “modernized” versions of Cibber and Garrick, which once seemed to be the latest thing in theatrical progress.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (6)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 6)

“Subjects” of some kind there must be, of course. One cannot learn the theory of grammar without learning an actual language, or learn to argue and orate without speaking about something in particular. The debating subjects of the Middle Ages were drawn largely from theology, or from the ethics and history of antiquity. Often, indeed, they became stereotyped, especially towards the end of the period, and the far-fetched and wire-drawn absurdities of Scholastic argument fretted Milton and provide food for merriment even to this day.

Whether they were in themselves any more hackneyed and trivial then the usual subjects set nowadays for “essay writing” I should not like to say: we may ourselves grow a little weary of “A Day in My Holidays” and all the rest of it. But most of the merriment is misplaced, because the aim and object of the debating thesis has by now been lost sight of.

A glib speaker in the Brains Trust once entertained his audience (and reduced the late Charles Williams to helpless rage) by asserting that in the Middle Ages it was a matter of faith to know how many archangels could dance on the point of a needle. I need not say, I hope, that it never was a “matter of faith”; it was simply a debating exercise, whose set subject was the nature of angelic substance: were angels material, and if so, did they occupy space?

The answer usually adjudged correct is, I believe, that angels are pure intelligences; not material, but limited, so that they may have location in space but not extension. An analogy might be drawn from human thought, which is similarly non-material and similarly limited. Thus, if your thought is concentrated upon one thing—say, the point of a needle—it is located there in the sense that it is not elsewhere; but although it is “there,” it occupies no space there, and there is nothing to prevent an infinite number of different people’s thoughts being concentrated upon the same needle-point at the same time.

The proper subject of the argument is thus seen to be the distinction between location and extension in space; the matter on which the argument is exercised happens to be the nature of angels (although, as we have seen, it might equally well have been something else; the practical lesson to be drawn from the argument is not to use words like “there” in a loose and unscientific way, without specifying whether you mean “located there” or “occupying space there.”

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (5)

APPENDIX 1: "The Lost Tools of Learning" (part 5)

Let us now look at the mediaeval scheme of education—the syllabus of the Schools. It does not matter, for the moment, whether it was devised for small children or for older students, or how long people were supposed to take over it. What matters is the light it throws upon what the men of the Middle Ages supposed to be the object and the right order of the educative process.

The syllabus was divided into two parts: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part—the Quadrivium—consisted of “subjects,” and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order.

Now the first thing we notice is that two at any rate of these “subjects” are not what we should call “subjects” at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects. Grammar, indeed, is a “subject” in the sense that it does mean definitely learning a language—at that period it meant learning Latin. But language itself is simply the medium in which thought is expressed. The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to “subjects” at all.

First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself—what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language—how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.

At the end of his course, he was required to compose a thesis upon some theme set by his masters or chosen by himself, and afterwards to defend his thesis against the criticism of the faculty. By this time, he would have learned—or woe betide him—not merely to write an essay on paper, but to speak audibly and intelligibly from a platform, and to use his wits quickly when heckled. There would also be questions, cogent and shrewd, from those who had already run the gauntlet of debate.

It is, of course, quite true that bits and pieces of the mediaeval tradition still linger, or have been revived, in the ordinary school syllabus of today. Some knowledge of grammar is still required when learning a foreign language—perhaps I should say, “is again required,” for during my own lifetime, we passed through a phase when the teaching of declensions and conjugations was considered rather reprehensible, and it was considered better to pick these things up as we went along.

School debating societies flourish; essays are written; the necessity for “self- expression” is stressed, and perhaps even over-stressed. But these activities are cultivated more or less in detachment, as belonging to the special subjects in which they are pigeon-holed rather than as forming one coherent scheme of mental training to which all “subjects” stand in a subordinate relation.

“Grammar” belongs especially to the “subject” of foreign languages, and essay-writing to the “subject” called "English"; while Dialectic has become almost entirely divorced from the rest of the curriculum, and is frequently practiced unsystematically and out of school hours as a separate exercise, only very loosely related to the main business of learning.

Taken by and large, the great difference of emphasis between the two conceptions holds good: modern education concentrates on “teaching subjects,” leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along mediaeval education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring Our Veterans

Never forget to remember and say thank you.

Nations honored those who sacrificed their lives in wars on Wednesday, in many cases for the first time without any surviving veterans of World War I. Services took place around the world to mark the 91st anniversary of the armistice signed between Germany and the Allies on November 11, 1918. Depending on where it is celebrated, the day is alternatively known as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Veterans Day.

Visit this website from the Department of Veterans Affairs for activities and teacher and student guides to studying Veterans Day. Also, if you live in the D.C. area, the Veterans Day National Ceremony will take place TODAY at 11:00 a.m. at Arlington National Cemetery. A color guard, made up of members from each of the military services, will give honors to America's war dead during a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (4)


Here is a sentence from no less academic a source than a front- page article in the Times Literary Supplement: “The Frenchman, Alfred Epinas, pointed out that certain species (e.g., ants and wasps) can only face the horrors of life and death in association.”

I do not know what the Frenchman actually did say; what the Englishman says he said is patently meaningless. We cannot know whether life holds any horror for the ant, nor in what sense the isolated wasp which you kill upon the window-pane can be said to “face” or not to “face” the horrors of death.

The subject of the article is mass behavior in man; and the human motives have been unobtrusively transferred from the main proposition to the supporting instance. Thus the argument, in effect, assumes what it set out to prove—a fact which would become immediately apparent if it were presented in a formal syllogism.

This is only a small and haphazard example of a vice which pervades whole books—particularly books written by men of science on metaphysical subjects.

Another quotation from the same issue of the TLS comes in fittingly here to wind up this random collection of disquieting thoughts—this time from a review of Sir Richard Livingstone’s “Some Tasks for Education”: “More than once the reader is reminded of the value of an intensive study of at least one subject, so as to learn the meaning of knowledge and what precision and persistence is needed to attain it. Yet there is elsewhere full recognition of the distressing fact that a man may be master in one field and show no better judgement than his neighbor anywhere else; he remembers what he has learnt, but forgets altogether how he learned it.”

I would draw your attention particularly to that last sentence, which offers an explanation of what the writer rightly calls the “distressing fact” that the intellectual skills bestowed upon us by our education are not readily transferable to subjects other than those in which we acquired them: “he remembers what he has learnt, but forgets altogether how he learned it.”

Is not the great defect of our education today—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.

It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play “The Harmonious Blacksmith” upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle “The Last Rose of Summer.”

Why do I say, “as though”? In certain of the arts and crafts, we sometimes do precisely this—requiring a child to “express himself” in paint before we teach him how to handle the colors and the brush. There is a school of thought which believes this to be the right way to set about the job.

But observe: it is not the way in which a trained craftsman will go about to teach himself a new medium. He, having learned by experience the best way to economize labor and take the thing by the right end, will start off by doodling about on an odd piece of material, in order to “give himself the feel of the tool.”

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Celebrating Challenge 1 Shakespeare

Some Fun in Challenge 1
From Heather, over at Sanctified Woman. Enjoy!

$$hopper: Books and Shopping Tips

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (3)


Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected), but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?

Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a “subject” remains a “subject,” divided by watertight bulkheads from all other “subjects,” so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon—or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?

Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read? We find a well-known biologist writing in a weekly paper to the effect that: “It is an argument against the existence of a Creator” (I think he put it more strongly; but since I have, most unfortunately, mislaid the reference, I will put his claim at its lowest)—“an argument against the existence of a Creator that the same kind of variations which are produced by natural selection can be produced at will by stock breeders.”

One might feel tempted to say that it is rather an argument for the existence of a Creator. Actually, of course, it is neither; all it proves is that the same material causes (recombination of the chromosomes, by crossbreeding, and so forth) are sufficient to account for all observed variations—just as the various combinations of the same dozen tones are materially sufficient to account for Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and the noise the cat makes by walking on the keys. But the cat’s performance neither proves nor disproves the existence of Beethoven; and all that is proved by the biologist’s argument is that he was unable to distinguish between a material and a final cause.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Soft Love/Real Love

Sometimes being a parent means saying 'no' to a soft love. Peter Leithart writes this on the concept of love in Song of Songs ("Song of Songs: Love's Violence"):

Love is “as strong as the grave” and ardor “as hard as Sheol.” [...] Love is not a soft passion.

But more, love is a match for every difficulty Israel faces. The sea that threatens Israel may be strong, but Yahweh’s love is more than enough. A king may be harsh, and invaders cruel, but love is as strong as death.

Pharaoh subjected Israel to bitter and hard bondage, but love is as hard as Sheol. Israel’s own hearts may be stubborn, stony as flint, and they may set their faces like rock against the Lord, but His love is more stubborn still.
As parents, I'm sure you have days when it feels like a lot of tough love is needed. On those days, I encourage you to remember a couple of things.

First, that God's love for us stubborn, rebellious children offers a model for love that is always strong, always just, and always seeking repentance and reconciliation.

And second, that those days are an opportunity to remind your children how much you (and God) want good for them. That means showing them real love, even if it's not always warm and fuzzy on the outside.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (2)


Before you dismiss me with the appropriate phrase—reactionary, romantic, mediaevalist, laudator temporis acti (praiser of times past), or whatever tag comes first to hand—I will ask you to consider one or two miscellaneous questions that hang about at the back, perhaps, of all our minds, and occasionally pop out to worry us.

When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day?

To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society.

The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects—but does that always mean that they actually know more?

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?

Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 2, 2009

$$hopper: Moving Sale and Homeschool Days

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Homeschool Day at the National Building Museum
Washington, DC
November 18, 2009
10:00 am-2:30 pm

Individual families can register for the Museum’s first ever Homeschool Day on Wednesday, November 18, 2009. The following programs, the same programs offered throughout the year for school groups, are offered on Homeschool Day. Pre-registration is required by Monday, November 16, 2009. You are welcome to register for a morning program and an afternoon program. $10 per program per child.

Homeschool Day at Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute
Brevard NC
November 5, 2009

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) holds Homeschool Day twice a year, in the spring and fall. Register and learn more about the next Homeschool Day at PARI, Thursday, November 5, 2009. PARI is continuing its series of events for homeschoolers with an all-new educational experience. Our astronomers and educators have designed age-appropriate (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) modules.

Know of another homeschool discount or special opportunities day? Post a comment or e-mail us at 1smartmama(at) You can do it! You're 1 Smart Shopper!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wanting More

When some of us started to center our children's education at home, it was a risky thing to do. It certainly wasn't socially acceptable. Today, it may still be suspect in the eyes of some, but it's becoming more popular every year.

On one hand, that's great news! But on the other, it requires that we monitor our motivations and our methods to see if we are still as different - in the quality of education we seek for our children - as we set out to be. Is it enough to bring your children home, sit them at a desk, and register as a "home schooler" with the state? Of course not!

Check out My Greatest Fear Realized? from the CiRCE Institute:

Everything has changed now. Home education is mainstream. The publishing companies have found it marvelously profitable. The home educators insecurities have driven them to the bottom of the heap for validation.

And now I’m hearing that a “rash” of home educated kids are unable to score high enough on the ACT to get into college. ...

Do you know why home educated kids used to think better than their peers? Because there were so few professi[o]nal materials available to them. They had no option but to think.

Some new materials and technologies can be a great supplement, as long as they remain just that: a supplement to learning and thinking.

I'm excited to see a broader group of parents wanting more for their children, but I'm just as excited when I see families who already center their children's education at home and who constantly challenge themselves and their families to master the tools of learning anything.

What do you think? How do you fight the battle against complacency in your home school?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (1)


That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology. It is a kind of behavior to which the present climate of opinion is wholly favorable. Bishops air their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw.

Up to a certain point, and provided the criticisms are made with a reasonable modesty, these activities are commendable. Too much specialization is not a good thing. There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing—perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing—our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value.

However, it is in the highest degree improbable that the reforms I propose will ever be carried into effect. Neither the parents, nor the training colleges, nor the examination boards, nor the boards of governors, nor the ministries of education, would countenance them for a moment.

For they amount to this: that if we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society, we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Source: Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Support Classical Education

Are you interested in supporting Classical Education? Visit the CiRCE Institute, a friend of Classical Conversations and a leading provider for classical educators throughout the U.S., to learn more about their year-end campaign, Further Up and Further In.

The idea is simple and elegant. You can download talks from the CiRCE conference and/or an article by Vigen Guroian just for making any size contribution to the work of the CiRCE Institute. ...

Our target for this support campaign is $50,000, which would enable us to direct the resources that The Lost Tools of Writing and our annual conference urgently need. ...

If you would like to partner financially in this work that we are committed to because we believe our country and the Christian community need it so badly, we welcome and cherish every contribution. Take a look at the website at or go to the support page.