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

$$hopper: Christmas Specials and Sales

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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

$$hopper: CC Book Sale Ends Tonight!


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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.