Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Essentially Yours


Hi Friends,

If you're part of an Essentials community, I have good news! The new Essentials of the English Language - 4th Edition is now available to ship! Visit the Classical Conversations Bookstore to order your copy! You can get a special discount price at Parent Practicums this summer or by ordering online today. You will need to enter your director's name for verification when you check out.

If you've just happened across my blog and you're not in an Essentials community, you might be wondering what it's all about.

An "essential" (going back to the Latin esse, "to be") is something that is absolutely necessary or foundational.

The Classical Conversations Essentials program (read more about it here) is all about the essentials of language, writing, and arithmetic. By memorizing core information and then analyzing it and asking questions about it, students -- and parents -- learn to identify and apply the structure of language arts and mathematics.

What's so important about that?

Well, first, knowing the structures of language and math prepares you to use them well. You learn to write coherently, speak persuasively, and calculate complex equations once you master the basics. From there, you might go on to testify before Congress, write a book that touches millions, or use mathematics to advance cancer research.

But there's another, equally important reason to seek out this kind of knowledge.

The intermediate origin of the word "essential" is the word "essence," or "being." Until the 1600s, essence was understood not just to mean the basic nature of something, but to point back to the Trinity. You see, the root of "es," in the earliest languages, means "I am."

So when we study the structure of languages and mathematics, we do so to discover more about God's creation. As Proverbs 25:2 says, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings."

Stop and think about that for a moment. Memorizing parts of speech and the multiplication tables can be the glory of kings. Imagine that!

That's why we get excited about the Essentials.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Who Do You Remember?


Today, May 30, 2011, is Memorial Day.

Who do you remember and honor today?

American poet Walt Whitman wrote a poem called "Dirge for Two Veterans," which was published in 1900 in Leaves of Grass. As you read his words, think about how you can say thank you to those among your family and friends who have served or are serving in the U.S. military.
"Dirge for Two Veterans"

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.)

Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,
('Tis some mother's large transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Weekend Reading


It's the end of the month, and some folks have an extended weekend ahead. In addition to enjoying the sunshine and spending time with your family, it's the perfect time for you smart moms and dads to catch up on your reading, reflect, and renew your minds.

Why not start with some of this month's articles from the CC Writers Circle?

The articles in this series reflect on the reasons we homeschool, how to homeschool more effectively, how to homeschool classically, creation and science, Latin, classical education, homeschool sports, and getting into college. The writers are alumni, directors, state managers, and individuals outside Classical Conversations.

Here's a list of articles from the month of May. You can find a complete archive on the Classical Conversations website under "Articles."
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How Do You Remember?


How do you remember?

For many Americans, Memorial Day weekend is about grilling out, going to the beach, and having picnics and get-togethers. While there's nothing wrong -- and a lot right -- with celebrating community, on Memorial Day (Monday) Americans are called to remember the men and women who have died serving their country.

In 1867, Mrs. Nella L. Sweet dedicated a hymn to southern women who decorated their husbands' graves after the Civil War. Her lyrics describe one version of remembrance. Read them closely, and take time to really think about what she's saying. Do you agree?
"Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping"

Kneel where our loves are sleeping,
Dear ones loved in days gone by,
Here we bow in holy rev'rence,
Our bosoms heave the heartfelt sigh.
They fell as brave men, true as steel,
And pour'd their blood like rain--
We feel we owe them all we have,
And can but kneel and weep again.

Kneel where are loves are sleeping,
They lost, but still were good and true,
Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting,
We weep, 'tis all that we can do.

What, or rather who, do you remember? And not only that, but how do you remember? What does it look like to honor someone's sacrifice?

These are the big questions we're invited to ask ourselves and our families this weekend.

Visit www.usmemorialday.org for more about the history and purpose of this national holiday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We're Moving!

Hi Smart Mamas, Dads, and friends,

As part of changes designed to make it easier for you to access information and get connected with other like-minded families and individuals, I'm excited to announce that the 1SmartMama blog will soon be moving over to Wordpress!

You can still visit 1smartmama.blogspot.com, but starting in June, you'll be re-directed to www.leighbortins.com/blogger. Stay tuned for notifications about exactly when the change will take place.

Don't forget to update your subscriptions when it happens!

If you have suggestions or recommendations for the new site, email TellUs@classicalconversations.com or 1smartmama@gmail.com. I welcome your feedback.

Thanks for being a part of our online community!

Monday, May 23, 2011

What Do You Remember?


This week, as we approach Memorial Day, Americans are invited to think carefully about what it means to be free.

In a 1983 address, President Reagan spoke about what a day of remembrance means. This is what he said:
...Today, as in the past, there are problems that must be solved and challenges that must be met. We can tackle them with our full strength and creativity only because we are free to work them out in our own way. We owe this freedom of choice and action to those men and women in uniform who have served this nation and its interests in time of need. In particular, we are forever indebted to those who have given their lives that we might be free.

I don't have to tell you how fragile this precious gift of freedom is. Every time we hear, watch, or read the news, we are reminded that liberty is a rare commodity in this world.

This Memorial Day of 1983, we honor those brave Americans who died in the service of their country. I think an ancient scholar put it well when he wrote: 'Let us now praise famous men...All these were honored in their generation, and were the glory of their times. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.' As a tribute to their sacrifice, let us renew our resolve to remain strong enough to deter aggression, wise enough to preserve and protect our freedom, and thoughtful enough to promote lasting peace throughout the world.

This year at Classical Conversations, one of our driving questions has been, "What does it mean to be free?"

Our goal as parents is to give our families a liberating -- freeing -- education. That means training our brains through the study of history, philosophy, science, mathematics, literature, and art. But it also means asking hard questions about what we remember and why, so we can evaluate each new idea in light of truth.

It can be a daunting task, can't it? Yet, it's also an exciting and fulfilling one. This week, I want to take advantage of the chance to talk about memory, freedom, and sacrifice.

Won't you join me?

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Do You See?


This summer at our Parent Practicums, we're talking about improving our vision in two ways--both in terms of the big picture and in terms of the details: our ability to see. (Listen to our conversation about these topics on the CC Parent Practicum Podcast.)

We learn phonics by looking at the building blocks of words; we learn grammar by looking at the building blocks of sentences; we learn Algebra by looking at the building blocks of arithmetic.

Why, then, do we assume that we can understand and respond to complex ideas and arguments about freedom, education, and beauty without looking at the building blocks of ideas?

Let me ask you again: how's your vision?

If you look at a poem or a math problem--they're not as different as you might think--what do you notice? Do you pay attention to the details? Let's try it out.

One of the most-read poems in America is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." The funny thing is that a lot of people call it "The Road Less Traveled." Think about those two titles for a minute. They're pretty different, aren't they? That just goes to show how blurry our vision can be.

Now look at the poem. Remember, don't stop at the end of the line; read to the punctuation marks. How does that change your reading?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Ask, where are the nouns? Where are the verbs? What does a semicolon tell us as readers? How many sentences are there? Are they imperative, interrogative, or a declarative sentences? Who is speaking? To whom is he/she speaking?

These are the building blocks not only of being a good reader, but also a good thinker.

When you encounter a new idea, you should ask similar questions: what does this argument assume to be true about the world (nouns)? What would happen if we applied the logic of this argument to other situations (verbs)? How does this argument get from point A to point B (punctuation)? If we accepted this argument, what would it push us to believe or do (purpose)? Do we trust the person making this argument (speaker)?

It's amazing how many basic questions modern readers gloss over and yet still "know" a poem, memorize a math equation, or support a political position.

In order to have a grand vision, sometimes we have to visit the eye doctor first. Come join us as a bunch of smart moms and dads diagnose our vision at Parent Practicums this summer!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Improving Your Vision


How's your vision?

I don't just mean your eyesight. It's the end of another school year, and if you're like the rest of us, your inspiration and vision for your home school may be running on empty.

This summer is the perfect time to improve your vision for your home school at one of our 1- or 3-day free Parent Practicums. You'll learn more about the relationship between freedom and education and be reminded of the high calling you've chosen to pursue with your family.

Just this week, 3-day practicums are taking place in Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia. Click here to find one in your state!

When your heart and mind need to be renewed, the fellowship of other like-minded (and like-wearied!) individuals is a great encouragement. You're not tackling this alone.

Read Jen @ Balancing Beauty and Bedlam's response to a 3-day practicum she attended: Brain Power: How Deeply Do You Think?. Listen in to the CC Parent Practicum Podcast (say that three times fast!) with Matt Bianco, Tobin Duby, and Heather Shirley. Then watch the video:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Understanding Civitas


This week has seen another of the rash of articles decrying American students' lack of knowledge about civics and government.

The Washington Post says only a quarter of high school seniors are "proficient" in civics knowledge and skills, even though many are now old enough to vote (Many students lack civics knowledge, study shows).

"Knowledge of our system of government is not handed down through the gene pool," retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in a statement. "The habits of citizenship must be learned. ... But we have neglected civic education for the past several decades, and the results are predictably dismal"... (Read more)

An article in EdWeek (Is Your Civics Knowledge a) Advanced, b) Proficient, c) Basic, or d) Below Basic) gives a sample of the questions from the latest NAEP exam. They include:

8th grade:
The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution of the United States to:
a) Ensure that the federal government would be run by a system of checks and balances
b) Set up two parties that would share control of the federal government
c) Establish and protect various civil liberties
d) Guarantee that large states would not overpower smaller ones
46% answered correctly (__)

The First Amendment guarantees people in the United States the right to:
a) Own property
b) Own firearms
c) Speak freely
d) A fair trial
74% answered correctly (__)

How did you do? Did this exercise make you feel anxious?

If so, you're not alone.

At Classical Conversations, we study history and civics in more than one way. We memorize a time line of world events.We learn sentences about major eras in history. We read a lot of stories about history. We copy and write paragraphs from histories. We read original documents from the foundations of American government. We debate topics in current events.

We do all of these things because we know it's by returning to the same information from different angles that we keep our knowledge limber and readily available to us.

We do all of these things because we want our children to grow into their rights and responsibilities as citizens, just as we're growing into ours.

Finally, we do all of these things because we want our children to be eager -- not afraid or apathetic -- to participate in our system of governance, so they can change it for the better.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unapologetic Parents


What is our culture telling you about what it means to be a parent?

This week, Jay Mathews wrote in The Washington Post about his experiences as a public school dad (Who says I'm an over involved dad?). Mathews shares his frustration with the current paradigm for parental involvement in education:

I think our schools, and our culture, have the wrong attitude about mothers and fathers who have skills and knowledge to share.

If I were a former college pitcher and spent much time helping my daughter perfect her rhythm on the mound, would anyone object? No. I might even get an award from the local Little League if she got us to the finals.

But if my wife and I, both journalists, edited our children’s school essays, or if our Paris-born neighbors corrected all the errors in their children’s French homework, or if my cousin the trial lawyer prepped his daughter for her graded classroom debate in U.S. government, many people, including some well-meaning teachers, would say we were going over the line.


Mathews identifies a core problem of schooling (at home or in a classroom) when it stops being a relationship between committed learners -- some further along the road, others just starting out.

Whether it's a parent proofreading without stopping to teach the child the difference between a passive and an active verb or a teacher providing just enough information to pass the End-of-Grade test, we've lost something. We've given over to the factory; we've lost sight of the human.

Every parent has knowledge and skills to share, but more than that, every parent has a relationship to build with their children. Mathews concludes,

In 2007 the National Survey of Student Engagement found that college students whose parents frequently intervened on their behalf “reported higher levels of engagement and more frequent use of deep learning experiences.” Helping your child learn should not be something shameful. Let’s say out loud that we are going to pass on what we know, no matter what anyone else thinks about it. (Read more)

Let's say more than that. Let's say we are going to give our children the chance to watch us struggle with learning, so they can copy our perseverance and character. Let's say we are going to give our children consistent, ongoing guidance that recognizes them to be whole human beings in need of nurture, not just programming.

Let's say we aren't afraid to be parents.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers Day!

Happy Mothers' Day!

Today we honor all the mothers, mothers-to-be, and surrogate mothers who dedicate time, energy, and enthusiasm to training their children to be life-long learners.

Thank you for all that you do!!

"Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it."
~ Proverbs 22:6

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

National Day of Prayer

Today, Thursday, May 5, we here at CC encourage you to join people all around the nation who will be praying for our country. As the Scripture says, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them" (Matthew 18:20). Gather together to send up prayers for our families, churches, states, and nation.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force reminds us:

Prayer has always been used in this country for guidance, protection and strength-even before we were a nation or a handful of colonies. The Pilgrims at Plymouth relied on prayer during their first and darkest winter. Our founding fathers also called for prayer during the Constitutional Convention. In their eyes, our recently created nation and freedoms were a direct gift from God. And being a gift from God, there was only one way to insure protection-through prayer.

President Abraham Lincoln knew this well. It was his belief that, “it is the duty of nations as well as men, to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God.” When it came to the fate of the nation, he practiced what he preached. Before the battle of Gettysburg, he turned to God in prayer. “I went to my room one day and I locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to him mightily for victory at Gettysburg.” Won by the Union, Gettysburg was one of the turning points in the war that ended slavery and kept the states united. Today the need for prayer is as great as ever. Our nation again faces battlefields, along with an epidemic of broken homes, violence, sexual immorality and social strife. As the heroes of our nation did in the past, we must again bow our heads in prayer. We must ask the Lord to bless our leaders with wisdom and protection, and that we will have the fortitude to overcome the challenges at hand. If Roosevelt, the Pilgrims and Lincoln never underestimated the power of prayer, neither should we. (Read more...)

For more information on this event, please visit the National Day of Prayer website. You can also listen to the archive of my interview with Executive Director John Bornschein.

To read more of what Scripture says about prayer, you can start with 1 Thessalonians 5.17-18, Hosea 10.12, Colossians 3.2, and Philippians 4.6-7.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Leigh! at Lunch Cancelled

We are sorry to announce the May 4th and May 11th Leigh! at Lunch shows have been canceled. The shows are being canceled so that Leigh can remain at her mother's side. Her mother, Pat, has been fighting a battle against cancer for some time now, a battle that is close to concluding.

Please keep Leigh's mother and family in your prayers, the Lord knows their needs. Leigh! at Lunch will resume in the fall.

Stanley Fish on Leigh! at Lunch

We're sorry, but this show has been canceled. Blog Talk Radio will resume in the fall.



Wednesday, May 4 at 12 noon on Leigh! at Lunch, I'll be talking to Dr. Stanley Fish, a well-known public intellectual, writer, and commentator for The New York Times.

Click here to go directly to the show.

Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Duke University, in Durham, N.C.

Mr. Fish is the author of 10 books, including How Milton Works, The Trouble With Principle, Professional Correctness: Literary Studies and Political Change, and There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It's a Good Thing, Too. His essays and articles have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Harper's Magazine, Esquire, The Atlantic, and The New York Times.

Join us at noon on Blog Talk Radio and call or chat in with your questions for Dr. Fish!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Toward the Quadrivium - Thank You!http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Many thanks to all who joined us this weekend at Toward the Quadrivium: A Classical Conversation with Nancy Pearcey and Leigh Bortins!! Thank you for helping us make the first "Toward the Quadrivium" event a success!

Missed it? Read Matt Bianco's Event Review.

Are you excited to learn more? Start with these articles...
These and other resources are available at TowardtheQuadrivium.com.

What are your thoughts on the quadrivium or on this weekend's event? We'd love to hear them! Email TellUs@classicalconversations.com.