Friday, July 31, 2009

Conference Notes

**UPDATE: Conference CDs now available from CiRCE!

The past few weeks have been a great time of fellowship, pondering, and sharing in discussions about the nature of man, society, and education.

For those of you who weren't able to attend the CiRCE Institute annual conference "A Contemplation of Nature," I want to share some conversations over the next week.

To get you started, here are some things written recently by Andrew Kern about topics from the conference.

*must reads

If you want to attend the conference vicariously, you will be able to purchase Conference CDs from the CiRCE Institute. Check their website to see when the CDs are available.

Early next week, check back at 1 Smart Mama for more insider stories and pictures from CC Executive Director Heather Shirley.

Remember, it's never too late to join the conversation!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Scribbling...Classically, Of Course!

Today I want to point you to Heather's latest post on Sanctified Woman, and take a minute to ask, what's on your summer "book-camp" list? Heather writes,
As a homeschool parent, every summer becomes a "boot-camp" or should I say "book-camp" of sorts for me! I compile books to be read - digested - and ideas to be apprehended.

This summer The Soul of Science subtitled Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy by Nancy Pearcy and Charles Thaxton is now in my portable book bag with tattered pages and highlighted in a multitude of colors...
While I'm not a homeschool parent, I still go to book-camp every year. An ongoing part of my list this summer has been Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind. I have to confess: I like lists, and Bauer's book has a lot of lists from which I can check things off.

But what I like even more is that she tells my inner child, who secretly longs to scribble in the margins of books, that it's okay to emerge from the shadows.

At first, reading has to do with grammar: absorbing content and noting characters, events, order, and big ideas. But then reading starts to incorporate the dialectic, or logic stage. That, for me, is the fun part, when I pull out my pencil and begin to note the connections and reactions that appear as I process the book.

For example... Author is assuming here that X is true, but has said elsewhere that Y is true. Or, When did Character begin to describe herself this way? Last chapter was different. Or, This quote sounds more like author than character.

I'm reading Eagleton's Literary Theory in prep for grad school, and I'm having a great time disagreeing with the man via pencil notes scribbled all over the pages. I don't own Homer's Iliad, so sticky notes are doing the job nicely for my less-vehement commentary.

Then, when I finish and begin to formulate my judgment of the book, I have plenty of material from which to work.

But there's another reason I like The Well-Educated Mind. I like it because it reminds me that my learning journey never ends. There will always be more lists, more books to read, more big ideas to chew on and savor, and I have a lifetime to work through them, one #2 pencil at a time.

...because everyday adventures can be classical opportunities too...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 3 (3)


Neil Postman’s Challenge to Post-Modern Educators

Neil Postman, twentieth-century cultural analyst and educator, has defined for us the main problem resulting from modern educational techniques. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman lays out his operating premise in his introduction:
As [Orwell] saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. […] What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no one who wanted to read […] In 1984 […] people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.(1)
The Lord never leaves His people without a remnant, and many Christians are working to insure the Age of Typography is not destroyed by the Age of Show Business (Postman’s labels).

An older generation of prophets like Lewis, Sayers, and Wilder echoed Postman, but a new generation of authors like Wilson, Grant, and Leithart continue to sound warnings to Christendom while offering very practical solutions that can only be implemented through the hard work of dedicated families.

Today’s pastors are often frustrated at their congregants’ inability to read God’s Word let alone to study it seriously. But then they encourage families to patronize schools that have embraced the Age of Show Business rather than Word-driven education.

Postman asks a critical question. He says the following:
I have remained steadfast to his [Marshall McLuhan’s] teaching that the clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation. I might add that my interest in this point of view was first stirred by a prophet far more formidable then McLuhan, more ancient than Plato. In studying the Bible as a young man, I found intimations of the idea that forms of media favor particular kinds of content and therefore are capable of taking command of a culture. I refer specifically to the Decalogue, the Second Commandment of which prohibits the Israelites from making concrete images of anything. ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.’ I wondered then, as so many others have, as to why the God of these people would have included instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize, their experience. It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. We may hazard a guess that a people who are being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity would be rendered unfit to do so by the habit of drawing pictures or making statues or depicting their ideas in any concrete, iconographic forms. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking. […] People like ourselves who are in the process of converting their culture from word-centered to image-centered might profit by reflecting on this Mosaic injunction.(2)
Postman is asking us to reconsider viewing ‘screens’ as a form of education. He proposes that proficient literacy builds a stronger individual and develops a culture able to understand an abstract, triune God. Teaching a child to read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and think about God is a better use of a parent’s time than encouraging a child to watch the movie version.

The child who can’t read the book cannot read the Bible either and only has personal experience as a filter for his or her worldview instead of the wealth of knowledge developed through history and expressed in literature.

(1) Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin, 1985), vii-viii.
(2) Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 8-9.

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

Tax Free in GA, MS, DC


It's here! Tax Free Weekends for Back-to-School shopping 2009. If you live in or near Georgia, Mississippi, or Washington, DC, get ready to start shopping and saving.

Here's the scoop:

In Georgia: July 30 (Thursday) to August 2 (Sunday), shop sales tax free on clothing under $100, computers/computer equipment under $1500, and school supplies under $20. Georgia will also have a tax free week on energy efficient appliances (under $1500) October 1-4.

In Mississippi: July 31 (Friday) to August 1 (Saturday), shop sales tax free on clothing under $100 and shoes under $100.

In Washington, DC: August 1 (Saturday) to August 9 (Sunday), shop sales tax free on clothing under $100, accessories under $100, shoes under $100, and school supplies under $100. Includes layaway items. DC will hold another tax-free week November 27-December 6.

Stay tuned to 1 Smart Mama for other upcoming tax free weekends between now and the end of August. Happy shopping!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Intrepid Home Schooler

You may have seen a link to this article in the News of the Day post Friday, but it's worth taking a second look.

Teen Circumnavigator Sails for Home. Zac Sunderland is 17 years old. His education has been centered at home. He's also the first man under the age of 18 to sail around the globe alone. (A year and two days after he left, Zac reached his goal on July 16, 2009).

His story is a reminder of how low our expectations for teenagers often are, and how high they can be. From his website:
Zac's dream, a dream of adventure, discovery, and challenge, is one of the simple truths of being human. There is no agenda, no political motivation, just the simple desires of a young man to go exploring, to see new places and meet new people. It is a simple testament to what is important, to working towards your goals. Most of all, with perseverance and faith in God, anything is possible.
Zac, a high school senior, didn't leave his books at home either. He took them on board the Intrepid with him. "The previously home-school senior studied on board to finish his high school education during the roughly 40,000-mile journey" (NBC). Tell that to your child the next time they offer an excuse for not doing school work!

For you who've taken Challenge A or B, it might interest you to know that Zac says one of his favorite books is Carry on Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham.

Zac's blog has a full account of his year at sea.

What Will You Learn This Year?

Time for your morning pop quiz! Is the following statement true or false? Home schooling is all about your children, what they need to learn, and how they are going to learn it.

The answer might surprise you.

It's False.

Before you get worried about my strange ideas, let me explain. Home schooling is not NOT about your children. It IS about you and your children. (Did you follow that double negative?)

In the Tampa Examiner, Kirsten Love writes,
How many other subjects do we homeschool parents review, re-learn, and, in some cases, discover for the first time in order to provide the best education we can for our children? ...Sometimes, it can certainly feel like a burden - trying to teach algebra when, perhaps, you didn’t really get it and hated it the first time around... But, somehow, it still feels like a privilege, and from my kitchen table, algebra isn’t quite so intimidating, and, dare I say it, once in a while, is kind of fascinating. ...My daughter thinks I’m absolutely crazy to entertain such notions, but I do think she sees me still learning, still using my brain, and seeking out new information, and, maybe, realizes that life is full of learning opportunities, that we can find pleasure and satisfaction in following our curiosity about this world. That, to me, is one of the best gifts homeschoolers - parents and children alike - receive.
It's a great article. You should read it in full.

I hear so many stories from Smart Mamas who are learning Latin and logic and history alongside their children. As they discover a new joy in learning, one that maybe they lost as a teenager or never found as a child, they are able to model that love of learning for their children.

It's almost August again, and you're probably starting to worry think about school books and scheduling and staying ahead of your smart ninth grader in math.

Stop and take a deep breath. I want to know what YOU are excited to learn this year. So you fell asleep in Algebra class? Well, you're awake now, aren't you? So you've forgotten everything about the Revolutionary War? Well, now's your chance!

You can do it! Remember, you and your students are about to set out together on another adventure of learning! And it's no fun if the trail guide doesn't have to sleep in a wet tent sometimes too...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 3 (2)


Formative Thoughts (cont'd)

As a Christian, I am prejudiced toward the church equipping parents to teach children to memorize God’s word and to be always ready with a defense for our faith. Being able to defend my faith implies being comfortable with core knowledge for each subject as promoted by E.D. Hirsch and studious enough to pursue rigorous academics as espoused by C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Leigh Sayers, and William Tyndale.

Because I am interested in excellence in academics for families, I am required to look at the successes of the only place and period of time where all families read well. So, I read Neil Postman, who described that defining era in early American history as the Age of Typography. Washington, Jefferson, and Adams all wrote about that period of education.

I also read Douglas Wilson with his practical advice on building classical, Christian academies. My collection of nineteenth-century American textbooks confirms the specific content children recited in that century in order to be promoted.

I am trying to determine how to help the church recover its mandate to educate, so I have read a range of authors who are interested in the same question. Augustine, Aquinas, and Tyndale offer many ideas as do more modern writers like Wilhoit, Farley Burgess, Ward, and Holmes.

And I cannot forget the secularists. Bennett, Hirsh, Adler (even after his conversion), and Damon all cry out for state schools to return to the classics and a classical education. Most researchers and writers, Christian and otherwise, promoting educational models and even educational excellence, forget that anything built on sinking sand will not prevail. In order to build an educational system that will last, we must build it on the rock of Christ and His church.

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

$$hopper: Finding coupons and sales

Get your week off to a smart start with more coupons and deals from 1 Smart Shopper!

Harris Teeter Double Coupons

At Harris Teeter, double coupons is still going on until tomorrow (July 28). Bring in all your coupons (up to $1.00) and have them doubled at the register.

The Big Curriculum Cleanout

August 2-15, a blog called Homeschool Creations is hosting The Big Curriculum Cleanout, a "blog carnival" for FREE used homeschool curriculum. HC will be the host site for all the permalinks to the various curriculum giveaways. Visit Homeschool Creations to find out more. (Via Not Before 7 Teaches)

Where Do I Find More Coupons?

Visit Balancing Beauty and Bedlam to find more sources for your coupon saving spree.

Coming Soon! Tax-Free Weekends

Just in time for back-to-school, it's tax-free weekend time! School supplies (sometimes including clothes, sports equipment, and technology) can be purchased without sales tax. Not every state hosts a tax-free weekend, and not all of them happen at the same time, so stay tuned to 1 Smart Mama for state-by-state reminders, starting this Wednesday.

You can do it! You're 1 Smart Shopper!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Classical Case of Copying

At a certain age, summertime means one thing: weddings.

This summer, I was asked to sing a duet in my good friends' wedding. The song they chose is not one that I knew or had sung before. No problem. I have time to learn it before the wedding.

My friends sent a music file with the accompaniment, and they also e-mailed me a copy of the lyrics, with notes about who sings which part.

The simple thing to do would be to print the lyrics straight off my e-mail program. Unfortunately, I don't own a printer. So, reverting to the long-lost art of handwriting, I found myself pulling out a sheet of college-ruled notebook paper, picking up that ancient writing device (a number two pencil), and beginning to copy the lyrics by hand.

As I glanced from screen to page and tried to write neatly, I realized a couple of things:

1) Handwriting really is a lost art. Even neat printing is rare these days. Think about the last time you saw someone with a legible signature that contained all the letters in their name (yes, yes, I know the security reasons, but is that really why everyone does it?).

2) Copying (active repetition) is a great memory tool. By the time I had printed the refrain three times, I no longer had to look at the screen to remember the words. After I made a mistake and had to write a line twice, that particular line was still running through my mind when I finished.

Reality check: Have I now resolved to uninstall MS Word from my computer and never purchase a printer? No.

I will be the first to admit that I love computers and printers. For speed, accuracy, and legibility, copy + paste is one of my favorite tools. Hitting "print" on a fifteen-page study guide has saved my academic life before more than one test.

Writing and copying by hand takes patience, steadiness, and hand-eye coordination. It's hard work. And yet, the benefits of setting the keyboard aside from time to time and picking up a pen and paper are also worth considering.

(For one, I could actually read the sticky note on my desk that begins "Urgent! Don't forget...").

I'll figure it out eventually....
...because everyday adventures can be classical opportunities too...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 3 (1)


Before the 1950s, almost all Americans were literate

The following reviews of easily available literature exemplifying the potential quality of a true Christian education are provided as resources demonstrating the classical model of education.

Illustrations of the current poor state of education are not given to discourage our hardworking school teachers and parents who are trying to educate children well. Instead, they are given to contrast the earlier American era with modern educational results. I offer these examples in order to raise questions about why we teach the way we do and to provide concrete answers from a time when teaching methods were more effective.

Formative Thoughts

As a prolific reader, devoted to gleaning tips and tricks to equip Christians to educate their children well, I am as easily influenced by Austen, Angelou, and Kipling as I am by Hirsch, Mann, and Wilson. All the aforementioned have had a whole lot to say about families, church, government, and educating children.

I can’t begin to review all of the literature, both American and European, that has instructed me on the history of western civilization and its formation of Christian habitus, the integration of all learning with theology as formative mistress.

I believe faith defines culture, and my belief that all thoughts must be captured to Christ defines my analytical approach. The Bible defines my prejudices, my community defines my experiences, and authors (dead and alive) inform my arguments with a culture I am trying to win to Christ.

Though James Sire or Gene Edward Veith may be considered educational experts to the Christian community, I have to live in a culture devastated by the educational ideas of Darwin and Mann.

I am required to be well read if I am to address the ideological and practical outcomes of equipping tired, overworked parents to stop and consider developing the habit of living for Christ within their family. It is hard work that can only be accomplished through the strength of the Holy Spirit. These are the thoughts I bring to conversations between myself and authors.

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

TODAY: Leigh at conference in Concord

In the Concord, NC area? Come on out starting TONIGHT (Wed, July 22) and going through through Saturday, July 25.

Leigh will be in Concord, speaking at the CiRCE Institute's annual conference. This year's theme is the Nature of Education. Andrew Pudewa, Andrew Kern, and others will also be speaking. Click here to see details and register. Act now to see if seats are still available.

Piedmont Renaissance Center
51 Union St South
Concord, NC 28025
(704) 786-9684 (CiRCE Business Office)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TOMORROW: Writing workshop in Concord

In the Concord, NC area? Come on out TOMORROW (Wed, July 22) to participate in a special one-day workshop by Andrew Kern (CiRCE) and Andrew Pudewa (IEW), "On Writing." Click here for details and to register.

The event will run from 8:30-4:30 at the Piedmont Renaissance Center in Concord. The registration fee is $59 for CiRCE Conference registrants, $89 otherwise.

Piedmont Renaissance Center
51 Union St South
Concord, NC 28025
(704) 786-9684 (CiRCE Business Office)

Students on Wall Street

It is funny to me how often the wheel is reinvented, especially in education.

In an effort to undo the last 50 years of poor educational practices, society is turning again to the family's role to look for ideas. Take a look at this example from the blog post "Securitizing Teens":
What’s the best way to pay teachers based on performance? One Planet Money listener suggests tying teacher pay to their students’ future earnings, turning the students into “investments.” The scheme is reminiscent of Monetizing Emma, a play that recently ran in New York, about a future when Wall Street traders invest in smart schoolkids in return for a substantial share of their future earnings. Naturally, in this system, some children would be seen as “too bright to fail.”
Students are an investment, no quotation marks needed. But parents used to be recognized as the primary investors. They didn't do it to get their children's future earnings, although they did hope their children would care for them in their old age. They did it in relationship, with more at stake than X dollars in Y years.

You parents know how much you still invest in your children's education: time, money, career, sweat, tears, space, carpet cleaner...the list could go on.

What the institutions don't understand is that, at least for Christian parents, our return on investment is not based on our children's income. It's much bigger than that. When we invest in our children's lives (and their education in the process), our final shares are in the Kingdom:
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."
That's why, unlike purely financial investors, we're okay when we have a bad day, and our students fail, and we fail. We know God trusts us to raise tiny babies into eternal heirs reigning with His Son, and we know He will not abandon us to complete the task alone.

So we can giggle with our investments over past and future mistakes, and then sit back down and try again.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 2 (12)


What is the goal of education?

Dabney tells us, “Every line of true knowledge must find its completeness as it converges on God, just as every beam of daylight leads the eye to the sun. If religion is excluded from our study, every process of thought will be arrested before it reaches its proper goal. The structure of thought must remain a truncated cone, with its proper apex lacking.”(1)

Douglas Wilson, author of Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, and founder of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, concludes this way:
The Christian educator’s job is not to require the students to spend all their time gazing at the sun. Rather, we want them to examine everything else in the light the sun provides. It would be utmost folly to try to blacken the sun in order to study the world around us ‘objectively.’ Because all truth comes from God, the universe is coherent. Without God, particulars have no relationship to other particulars. Each subject has no relationship to any other subject. Christian educators must reject this understanding of the universe as a multiverse; the world is more than an infinite array of absurd ‘facts.’ The fragmentation of knowledge must therefore be avoided. History bears a relation to English, and biology a relation to philosophy; they all unite in the queen of the sciences, theology.(2)
The Lord will not let the gates of hell prevail against the church. Recovering the lost tools of learning within a biblical worldview will go a long way to fortifying our families to join Him for battle.

Jeff Reed, a lecturer at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, defined the ideal for Christian education during doctoral discussions at Gordon-Conwell as, “Serious, ordered learning, taking place in the context of the local church community, under the shepherding of the parents, designed to establish their children in the faith and to launch them into their lifework and the lifelong learning process.”(3) He cites four roles that children must be taught to fulfill.
  1. Individual with duties – I am a child of God, unique, valuable, and forgiven
  2. Family member with responsibilities – I am a valuable member of a family with distinct roles and responsibilities according to God’s design.
  3. Church member with relationships – I am a vital member of a local church, with unique gifts and ministries, to be lived out under Christ’s administration.
  4. World member with leadership – invest my life in doing good.
J. C. Ryle instructs parents and Christian leaders to, “Train well for this life, and train well for the life to come; train well for earth, and train well for heaven; train them for God, for Christ, and for eternity.”(4) The biblical goal of education is therefore shaped by the idea of theology as habitus, an integration of all of learning for the glory of God.

The result we are looking for can be summarized in a word: catechesis. The word comes from the Greek meaning to resound or echo, to celebrate or initiate, to repeat another’s words and deeds.

Catechesis is the process by which persons are initiated into the Christian community and its faith, revelation, and vocation; the process by which persons throughout their lifetimes are continually converted and nurtured, transformed and formed, by and in its living tradition. It is every activity used by the church to celebrate and imitate the words or actions of God.(5)

(1) Robert L. Dabney, Secularised Education, 6, (accessed 12 January 2009).
(2) Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 63.
(3) Jeff Reed, “Global Church-based Theological Education,” (Boston: Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, 10 March 2006
(4) J.C. Ryle, The Duties of Parents: Train up a Child in the Way He Should Go (Harrisburg, PA: Triangle Press, 1996), 38.
(5) John H. Westerhoff III and O.C. Edwards, eds, A Faithful Church: Issues in the History of Catechesis (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1981), 2.

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

$$hopper: Smart spending sites

Get your week off to a smart start with more coupons and deals from 1 Smart Shopper!

Smart Spending Resources

Find weekly deals, organization tips, and meal planning guides from Faye Prosser, author of The Smart Spending Guide.

A North Carolina-based coupon and savings forum. Find out what's new, what's changed, and what does and doesn't work.

TODAY: Leigh speaking in Raleigh

In the Raleigh, NC area? Come on out TODAY (Mon, July 20) to hear Leigh speak at the John Locke Foundation.

She is speaking at a luncheon for the John Locke Foundation's Shaftesbury Society on "The Classical Mind: A Political Revolution within Education." Click here for details and lunch tickets. The event is open to the public, and the lunch starts at 12 noon.

John Locke Foundation
200 West Morgan St.
Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 828-3876

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Nature of Education

Coming Soon!!

Next week is going to be a busy one for Classical Conversations, and I want you to come along! Stay tuned for more details on my upcoming events.

Wednesday evening through Saturday, July 22-25, I'll be in Concord, speaking alongside Andrew Pudewa, Andrew Kern, and others about the Nature of Education at the CiRCE Institute's annual conference. Click here to see details and register. Act now - only 100 seats available!

To get you in the right mindset, I encourage you to read Andrew Kern's recent blog post about the subject. Take a look:
For 3000 years the goal of western learning was to come to know the nature of a thing so we would know how to relate to it appropriately. The obliteration of our civilization was ensured when that idea was first argued against, then displaced, then forgotten.

If the Christian classical schools do not begin to think more seriously about their ends, about their teaching modes and their curricula, about the nature of what they are doing, who they are teaching, and what they are teaching, they simply will not matter.
We absolutely must think harder about the nature of education. We must think harder about nature itself. The fact that it is displaced and that we are so poor at thinking about it is a symptom of our decadence and our decline. Unless we recover this idea, all is lost.
I'm excited! How about you?

Love, Leigh

**UPDATE (8-18): Conference CDs now available from CiRCE!

On Writing

Coming Soon!!

Next week is going to be a busy one for Classical Conversations, and I want you to come along! Stay tuned for more details on my upcoming events.

Wednesday, July 22, in Concord, NC, my friends Andrew Kern (CiRCE) and Andrew Pudewa (IEW) are hosting a special one-day workshop "On Writing." Click here for details and to register.

This is a great chance to get answers to the question, "How can a student move from simply reporting facts to the more sophisticated skill of using facts to support an opinion?" Together, you'll discover a gradual method of building the analytical writer, even at the elementary level.

Love, Leigh

A Political Revolution Within Education

Coming Soon!!

Next week is going to be a busy one for Classical Conversations, and I want you to come along! Stay tuned for details on my upcoming events.

Monday, July 20, I'll be in Raleigh, speaking at a luncheon for the John Locke Foundation's Shaftesbury Society. My topic is The Classical Mind: A Political Revolution within Education. Click here for details and lunch tickets.

To give you a taste of what I'll be talking about, here are a few notes from my speech:
Parents come to Parent Practicums to learn about classical education and they leave with the sense that they can be powerful because I ask two questions.

1) Why do you let the state dictate your standards of education? and
2) Why would you send your children to the same school system that prepared you to NOT be able to teach Algebra or foreign languages to a child?

As parents wrestle with the answers to these questions, they begin the detachment process from the state and feel the desire to become what C.S. Lewis called “men with chests,” a person whose heart now attaches their brain to their bodies and allows them to become whole.

As soon as a person’s educational paradigm shift towards personal freedom, his or her financial and political and philosophical paradigms soon follow. What do we get? Families hungry for the freedom of self-government in all arenas. We get revolutionaries.
Hope to see you there!

Love, Leigh

**UPDATE: Video of the John Locke speech is now available online. Click here to watch.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 2 (11)


What should be taught? (final)

God’s first story to man in the Bible was how he used words to name creation and speak it into existence. In the process of doing this, He named the major categories of creation for us to study so He can be revealed to us. Light (physics), the stars, sun and moon (astronomy), the waters and earth (geology), Plants and animals (biology), mankind (anthropology).

The first job God gave Adam was to name the animals. Our first job as parents is to teach our children to name. We say, ‘No, hot, stop, doggie…” a thousand times so our children can communicate with us. So memorizing names, vocabulary, jargon, and words is where we, too, begin.

Most of us just breeze through the scriptures rather than even noticing God’s character, gifts, and glory in every little stroke of ink. An educated Christian adult has the opportunity to worship and teach about God in every sound the Christian makes, in every idea he thinks, in every thing he touches. But these opportunities escape us as teachable moments because we don’t see God in the everyday.

Genesis 1 tells us we can know God through creation (light, time, space) and language (words). In Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning,” God had to create space, otherwise the word ‘in’ has no meaning. In what? He had to create time; otherwise the word ‘beginning’ has no meaning. The beginning of what? He had to create words that represented abstract ideas; otherwise, telling us He is ‘the Word made flesh’ can’t be communicated. He had to make sound so phonetics would have meaning. He had to create light so we could see His words. Even the language of our flesh is encoded into words (DNA).

Therefore, Christians feel a responsibility to learn about creation and words that represent creation so we can learn more about Him.

He tells us we know Him through three things:
  • His word – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2Tim 3:16, NIV).
  • His world – “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Rom 1:20, NIV).
  • Our conscience – “Since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Rom 2:15, NIV). We are without excuse if we refuse to recognize that there is a Creator.
The Bible doesn’t tell parents to teach their children algebra or science, so you may argue that home-centered education as a biblical mandate is too much of a stretch. But it doesn’t tell us to teach phonics or spelling either.

It is inferred that if you are going to teach words, you need to teach language arts. If you are going to be without excuse and read God’s invisible qualities in the visible world, you must study science and math. If you are going to be ready with an answer for your faith, you need to study people and cultures and arts.

John 13:3 relates Jesus saying that the Father gave Him all things under His power. Satan tried to negotiate ownership of all kingdoms with Jesus in the wilderness. We cannot spiritualize ‘all’ to mean that only a prayer life with character traits are required to understand the Scriptures.

All means all.

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stories about Community

One of the things I like best about Classical Conversations is the chance to be in community with so many women who care deeply about their families but are also very real about the tough times.

I was reminded of that when I read this post, Joy Comes in the Morning, from the Pioneer Woman. See if you feel the same way.
It’s simply what we do. We wave goodbye to our friends, clean out the coffee pot, start the dishwashers, then spend time reflecting on all the good times—not just during the most recent get-together, but also in years past.

Last Friday I posed a question in the Photography section of Pioneer Woman. What do you fight in your life?

I received over 10,000 responses from people listing things that challenge them in their daily lives. There were funny things like “laundry”, “Fisher Price toys”, “dog hair”, and “Twinkies.” But overwhelmingly, the responses were more weighty: prejudice against a disabled child, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, stress, obesity, grief over a lost child or spouse or parent.

It’s reassuring to know that while so many people struggle and have pain, they’re also living their daily lives, smiling and laughing at the good times and embracing what’s important.
I know you all have stories of your own to add. That's what we do, isn't it? We share our lives and our stories as we model to each other what it looks like to love the Lord in a hurting world.

Philippians 2:1-2: If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 2 (10)


What should be taught? (cont'd)

The entire Bible demonstrates effective educational techniques. The Old Testament gives us the grammar of His Story. The Gospels give us the understanding of His Story. The Epistles give the church the wise application of His laws and grace.

The Old Testament contains knowledge, also known as grammar—lists of laws, lists of communities, families, and individuals, and stories of tribes and individuals unable to save themselves. Then Jesus came to earth and explained that the purpose of all the lists, laws, and stories was for us to see Him.

Through parables He explained that all Old Testament knowledge only points to Him and our need for salvation. Then He left the Holy Spirit to instruct the Epistle writers and His followers, including us, on the specifics of wisely living out the lessons learned from the Old Testament stories in a way that reflects our understanding that He fulfills or completes every story.

The writing style and structure of the Old Testament is more appropriate for a young student than the deep logical arguments of Paul at the end of the Bible. Of course, all of Scripture is good, beautiful, and true for every student, but there is a definite progression of different literary styles that all curriculum developers should model.

The book of Deuteronomy is an incredible example of classical teaching techniques. It takes a set of rules (grammar), and repeats them over and over with just a slight difference every time they are retold. Memorizing Deuteronomy forces the mind to say the same verses over and over again, so we can “hide” the story in our hearts (Ps 119:11).

But once the stories of feasts, sacrifices, and rules are memorized, all the events and festivities of the Israelites take on a deeper meaning as does the law itself. We begin to understand that there is a lot of depth to the laws our forefathers impressed upon our hearts. We study how the Israelites lived them out. Failure, and then, success. Failure, and then, success.

Then Jesus comes to earth and important things happen at each feast that shows how He alone can fulfill the law and provide the sacrifice. Of course! We begin to understand that the Israelites couldn’t obey with their own strength. Then we read Paul and realize neither can we obey. We deserve to be sacrificed at each feast, but Jesus substituted himself for us. And so with a wiser and happier heart, we can take the knowledge of God’s word and His world, understand our place and His purpose for us, and wisely build a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell that bears much fruit.

The Lord has commanded all of us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Him, but He particularly instructs fathers to pass on their growing knowledge of God to their children. He has left the Spirit to equip us. He trusts us to raise godly children. He provided the church to nurture us, so we have resources when we are tired and confused or in trouble. Yet we don’t believe that it is possible to provide every believer’s child with a truly Christian education.

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

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Survey of Challenge Program Alumni

Over the next few weeks, CC is conducting a survey of high school graduates who completed two or more years in the CC Challenge Program. If you or your children fit that description, we need your help with the first Challenge Alumni Survey. (See below.)

Challenge Alumni Survey
To help us make the Classical Conversations Challenge programs the best they can be, and to give us more information about how we're doing, we need your help!
We are gathering data about students who have participated in the Challenge programs and gone on to apply to college.

If you have a student who has graduated from high school after completing two or more of Challenges A, B, 1, 2, 3, or 4, please ask if they would be willing to fill out a short survey about their high school experience with Classical Conversations. The survey should take no more than 5-10 minutes to complete.

Parents, you may fill out a survey for your child, but please check to make sure he/she has not already taken the survey.

For confidentiality purposes, students' names will not be associated with the data.

Click here to start the survey! If you'd like to send the survey to someone else, just copy and paste this link into an email:

Thanks for your help!

~CC Team

Friday, July 10, 2009

  • NEW! We need your help! Starting next week, CC will be conducting a survey of high school graduates who completed two or more years in the CC Challenge Program. If you or your children fit that description, look for notice in your e-mail inbox Monday, or check back on 1 Smart Mama for a link to the survey. We're collecting data to figure out how well CC is doing as a college preparatory program, but we need you to make it happen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Life Interrupted (part 3)

The Nature of Home-Centered Education

...continued from part 2...

I am accused of being a home schooler, but I prefer the term home-centered education. The problem is I can’t figure out how to turn it into a personal noun. You know, like home-schoolers home school. Do home-centered educators home-center educate? Not very catchy. So I still say home school. The reason I like the other term better, is it is more accurate. Our home is the center of so much more education than the schools ever tell a child can take place.

My boys watch a lot of arguments. Their dad and I argue over GAPP and how literally to take the talking heads on TV. We watch too much news. I argue with the insurance man about collecting money for the car collisions. My husband argues with Verizon when they say, “Sir, we can’t hear you.” And he shouts into the phone, “I know that’s why I’m calling you. Oh drat,” he mumbles under his breath. “How can they hear me if the phone won’t work? Idiots!” These kind of interruptions are highly instructional.

The boys also go with us to the bank, the attorney’s and real estate agent’s offices, the grocery store, Goodwill, and so many Classical Conversations’ trainings that they refuse to learn anything classically again. They often beg us for workbooks so they can just get through the work like everyone else.

We live in a very secure, gated neighborhood, so they see the fire engines, the police car, the security cop, and the gate officer every day. There are so many retirees in the neighborhood that they think an ambulance siren means another house is for sale. I try to teach them to pray when they hear a siren, but they really do go off a lot.

We are really blessed by one not so loud sound. Church bells. We have a belfry in the neighborhood church and I cry every time I hear them. If someone is around to see me cry, I’ll remind them that in some communities church bells that ring on the hour are outlawed.

There are so many good lessons to learn without books. That makes it worth it. Even if it does mean living most of life interrupted.

Love, Leigh

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Life Interrupted (part 2)

The Nature of Home-Centered Education

...continued from part 1...

As a seasoned, or experienced, or old home schooling parent, I am often asked to describe my school schedule.

I used to reply with a straight face, until one day I heard the Spirit prodding, “You’re a good liar.” So now, I chuckle and mull over which answer to give. Is it the ideal day that happens every third Wednesday after the first tulips first bloom? Is it the Tuesday seminar schedule that actually works very well? Or should I give the schedule where we do everything in blocks of time?

The only thing I can honestly answer is that we wake up and read the Bible and we go to bed reading books – most days. Thanks to my husband and his insistence we treat math equally with reading, they study math an hour almost every day of their lives. So, that takes up less than 3 hours out of 24. With sleep and meals and showers taking 9-10 hours, and another hour a day on things that just come up, that leaves them with about 9 hours to waste, redeem, or relax.

I used to hate staying home, so we busied ourselves with errands and friends and extra classes, but that even gets old after 25 years. Besides now they are both in their double digits, so we have Latin, Logic, Short Story, Mock Trial, and Science to read, research, and write about. Plus, I love writing and am trying to sit and write while they sit and work. So now we might work 4-6 hours a day on school work, unless something more interesting interrupts us.

Now think about what I just said. We sit 4-6 hours a day WORKING! Not waiting for a teacher to explain a lesson, or a student to get back from the bathroom, or our turn to use the lunchroom or go to assembly. We work, quietly, sharing laughs, frustrations, and questions. Then we take the dog for a mile walk or go to soccer practice or golfing or wakeboarding.

Even with this, we still have a few hours left over in the day. So I write or email or phone. William computes. David plays with the large gang of tweenage boys that abide at our house. Apparently I’m the mom who lets them do whatever they want. Hey, I’ve been sitting with them for hours. I’m tired of making them do hard things. Plus, I like taking them boating and my husband makes cookies every day.

What could be better than that?

To be continued...

Love, Leigh

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Life Interrupted

The Nature of Home-Centered Education (Part 1)

So here I am, typing away on my writing projects while my son, William 13, is developing a chart of Latin adjectives on Excel and my son, David 10, is working on a Saxon math lesson, when the phone rings.

Everyone has had a great start to the day so far. Read the Bible and worked on memorizing a timeline together. Now we’re working on individual lessons, so I look at caller ID to make sure the call is not important, so I can ignore it. Well, it’s the boy from down the street who is visiting over spring break.

Is it important to let my 10 year old stop a math lesson to talk to his friend? The boy is not a Christian, in public school, only visiting a few more hours until returning to home, David will be heartbroken if he misses saying goodbye, parents are asking us home schooling questions, invited us over even after learning how ‘religious’ we are…. "David, it’s your friend, Robert," I call out, once again allowing life to interrupt schoolwork.

I am the ultimate at justifying anything. My sin state loves making excuses and casting blame. Later in the day, David will complain when William gets a computer game break, forgetting that I gave him the morning off to fish and bike and play games with his friend that he only sees a few times a month. Then I want to berate myself for giving him the time to play with his friend -the selfish wicked little reprobate. I’m never going to let him off school work again…is what I used to say.

Now after leading our boys’ education from home for the last 25 years, I know better. Just like our Father in heaven, I get great pleasure at giving my boys gifts. And just like me, a few hours later the gift is forgotten and the complaining begins. A peaceful afternoon is now interrupted by boys squabbling over a toy. The joy of the gift is removed from both of us as I remind David that William just finished his school work and he had the day off. “Oh, yeah…” he sadly replies.

It is so hard to be good and consistent and fair and honest. be continued...

Love, Leigh

Monday, July 6, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 2 (9)


What should be taught? (cont'd)

Living as a model of Christ’s love affects not only how we teach, but what we teach. The Bible uses three key words to describe educational skills: knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

These three words relate to the three skills historically taught in American Christian education as grammar, dialectic (or logic), and rhetoric. These concepts will be expanded in Chapter 3. These samples (KJV) are listed among the theological framework so they are located in a single place for later reference.
  1. Proverbs 2:6 For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.

  2. Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

  3. Proverbs 24:3-4 Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

  4. Isaiah 11:2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;

  5. Daniel 1:4 Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.

  6. Daniel 1:17 As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

  7. Daniel 2:21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:

  8. Colossians 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
After fear of the Lord, knowledge, or grammar, is the beginning of learning. Like World Memory Master Dominic O’Brien, we need to teach students techniques that train their brain for maximum use. What an amazing muscle the brain is and how important it is to be exercised so it can truly memorize God’s Word.

But a good education can’t stop at knowledge; it must be established through understanding. Holmes’ Building the Christian Academy discusses the church’s history of teaching the dialectic or logical skills so we can understand creation and use our God-given talents well.(1)

An education is not complete if the student can’t use the knowledge they understand wisely. The rhetorical skills were taught so sermons could be preached, new students could be taught interesting ideas, and the church could manifest the kingdom of God.

(1) Arthur F. Holmes, Building the Christian Academy (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001).

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

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Friday, July 3, 2009

6 R's for 1 Smart Fourth of July

Tomorrow is Independence Day! Take a minute and get your celebration off to a great start with these 6 R's for 1 Smart Fourth of July!

Read and reflect on Kevin Schmiesing's article for the Acton Institute, "The Paradox of Liberty," and remember why we're celebrating.

Review your citizenship know-how with the civic literacy quiz from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Can you beat the 49% average of Americans who took the test last year?

Request a *FREE* pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from the Heritage Foundation. Keep one in the car so your kids can quiz each other on your next road trip.

Relax with your family, and check out my friend Jen Schmidt's blog, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam for some smart ways to enjoy the weekend. She has some great recipes and activities for you to try out this year.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Because of the July Fourth holidays, check out the News of the Week a day early. If you're traveling, be safe, and have 1 Smart Holiday either way! (Look for a special holiday guide from 1 Smart Mama tomorrow morning for family, food, and fun ideas for the Fourth.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 2 (8)


What should be taught? (cont'd)

Christ washed His disciples’ feet and then said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, NIV). Our children see what we do when we spend time with them. But the behavior we model for them must be worth emulating.

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1Thess 1:4-7, NIV, emphasis added).

If only the world could look at our families and say the same thing instead of echoing Romans 2:24 (NIV): “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Should we expect unbelievers (Gentiles) to emulate us when the majority of our own children raised in Christian homes don’t choose to be faithful as adults?

Paul continues to explain the sacrifice it takes to be a good model to those who are younger in the faith in 2 Thessalonians 3. Sacrifice is key.

1 Timothy 1:5 (NASB) admonishes, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Our families need to be trained to serve with love and really believe that the good news is good so others will be attracted to the Lord by our love for one another (John 13:35).

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

Classical Independence and Civic Knowledge

This week, we celebrate our country's independence.

Noah Webster wrote in 1788,
Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.
(On the Education of Youth in America)
That's a piece of wisdom I have begun to appreciate more and more as I become increasingly aware of national and world events, and how little I have stored in my brain about history and civics.

This morning, I found a study about civic literacy from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and I was curious, so I took the quiz the study had used. (Click here to take it yourself). The welcome page says this:
Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen? The average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the following test was 49%; college educators scored 55%.
Here are the summary results when the study took place. It's a little frightening, especially when you read this: Elected Officials Score Lower Than the General Public. Check out the other results while you're there--they're very interesting.

The Fourth of July is an everyday kind of holiday for many, an excuse to picnic and set off fireworks. Sometimes I need to be reminded that it represents a great privilege and responsibility as well.

(I was relieved to see that my score was 30/33--90.91%. What's yours?)

...because everyday adventures can be classical opportunities too...