Monday, November 30, 2009

$$hopper: Cyber Monday


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Cyber Monday Deals

Today, November 30, 2009 has been dubbed "Cyber Monday," as a companion to Black Friday's on-site sales. Look for big sales from online retailers like Amazon, Kmart, Best Buy, Walmart, and more. For more details, visit these links from Daily World Buzz.

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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

$$hopper: Thanksgiving Specials


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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)


APPENDIX 1: “THE LOST TOOLS OF LEARNING” (part 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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Classical Educators' Books

During November, Classical educators' books are on sale at Classical Conversations Bookstore. Get 10% off titles by Susan Wise Bauer, Douglas Wilson, and more. Click here to start shopping.

Triple Coupons at Harris Teeter

Ends Tuesday, November 10. Coupons up to 99c tripled at the register.

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Friday, November 6, 2009


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Appendix 1 (3)


APPENDIX 1: “THE LOST TOOLS OF LEARNING” (part 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)


APPENDIX 1: “THE LOST TOOLS OF LEARNING” (part 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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BIG FALL MOVING SALE - Only 5 Days Left!

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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)gmail.com. You can do it! You're 1 Smart Shopper!