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A Classical Conversation

Join the conversation! An eclectic group of folks have joined in to carry out the classical conversation; some of these folks may share or represent views we don't hold. We need them to be dialectic and have a classical conversation, and they need us too! So thanks for being patient with us and our fellow participants.

Category contains 219 blog entries contributed to teamblogs

Man in the Moon, God in the Sun

Posted by Ruth Holleran
Ruth Holleran
Ruth and Robbo, her husband of 25 years, live in a house they built in Vermont.
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on Wednesday, 11 September 2013
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On the flight into Raleigh to deliver my son to Mandala Fellowship, I shared with him the printout of a poem I had just discovered, “The Church-porch,” by George Herbert (1593-1633). It is the first of three parts of a larger work called The Temple. My son was impressed no less by his insights than by his manner of delivery. When we came through the gate in the Raleigh airport and saw 2nd Edition Booksellers, we stopped on a whim to check out the poetry section. To our astonishment, we found it! It became my parting gift of wisdom to my quadrivium-bound son.

 

“The Church-porch” counsels the young adult how to handle himself in the world. Herbert wrote it specifically for those who flee from didactic preaching. Poetry, Herbert said, may find its way to the heart of one who cannot or will not hear wisdom preached. The verses are rich in jewels of apt analogies. You can find the entire piece here. I have taken three counsels to heart: to feed on the true, beautiful, and good; to avoid common errors of parenting; to learn how to educate for nobility.

 

I direct my reader’s attention to stanzas 16 and 17:

Homeschool and Leisure—those words don’t go together!

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Tuesday, 10 September 2013
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When I hear the words homeschool and leisure together, I don’t think of them as a fit. I’m not sure it’s possible to conceive of parenthood and leisure in the same sentence. Over the course of this summer, however, I’ve been convicted to rethink my conception of both school and leisure. A number of my friends were reading Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper. Since I rarely meet a book I don’t like, I purchased a copy at a conference.

 

Did you know that our word for school actually means leisure? On the first page, Pieper talks about the possibility of us rebuilding the Western tradition. He argues that the foundation of our culture is leisure, “that much, at least, can be learnt from the first chapter of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. And even the history of the word attests the fact: for leisure in Greek is skole, and in Latin scola, the English ‘school’” (19). This was such an astounding revelation that I had to set the book aside for a day to contemplate what this could possibly mean.

Travel Tips and Teaching

Posted by Beth Watson
Beth Watson
Beth Watson graduated from Cairn University (formerly named Philadelphia Biblica
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on Monday, 09 September 2013
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Our family LOVES to travel! We have adopted the goal of visiting all "50 States before they graduate" as our own. Besides the hundreds of photographs I take while we travel, we have two main methods of documenting our travels.

Math and the Nature of Reality

Posted by Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett is the director of The Blyth Institute, a nonprofit organizati
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on Friday, 06 September 2013
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It is easy to be deceived about the true nature of both math and reality based on elementary mathematics. When we are young, we look into very simple mathematical operations: counting, addition, subtraction. It is interesting that in these first operations we learn that there are no exceptions and no strange cases. Any number can be added to any other number and it works exactly the same. Addition is commutative (the two addends can be swapped) and associative (it does not matter what order you do it in). Thus, addition is simple, flexible, and reversible. Subtraction is slightly harder as the order of operations starts to matter, but it remains true that any number can be subtracted from any other number. Multiplication is more complicated, but everything still works.

 

The first inkling we get that mathematics is not the perfect beauty that we imagine it to be is in division. It turns out we can divide any number by any other number, except zero. Here we have the first exception to a methodology; the first instance in which the numbers simply do not work, but we treat dividing by zero as a radical outlier.

 

Going further into math, we learn to graph functions. The functions we graph are usually nice and smooth. y = x makes a nice line, and y = x2 makes a nice parabola. The functions we study in fundamental mathematics are all smooth, all continuous, and usually defined for nearly every point on the graph.

How to Ask Better Questions (and Why It Matters)

Posted by Jennifer Greenholt
Jennifer Greenholt
Jen Greenholt was an early participant in the Classical Conversations Challenge
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on Thursday, 05 September 2013
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Why is it so difficult to ask good questions?

 

This year, I have been part of a team working on Leigh Bortins’ forthcoming book, The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of Classical Education. Leigh’s book is a survival guide for homeschooling through junior high and high school. As you can probably guess from the title, she proposes that asking a lot of good questions is the key to surviving the teenage years while training your child to think and argue well.

 

Asking questions is not limited to teaching, however. People ask questions when they are curious, afraid, enthusiastic, frustrated, angry—in short, to cope with the whole range of human emotions. Asking questions is essential for succeeding at any job, building and maintaining relationships, and being a responsible citizen and community member.

 

Asking questions is as natural as learning to talk. Asking good questions requires greater effort, but it does not have to be a mysterious skill limited to philosophers and college professors. Everyone is capable of asking better questions with a little concentration and practice. To prove my point, I want to share with you two common mistakes that I make when asking questions, and ways I have learned to avoid them.

Words, Words, Words – And the Trouble with Them

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Wednesday, 04 September 2013
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Words are hard to use, right? I mean, I think it's hard to write stuff and say stuff because you never know how people are going to, like, take it. There's this one essayist, I like him, named Wendell Berry. He wrote this essay called "Standing by Words," which sounds like it could be good, but I don't know if I can really go along with it.

 

He says there are these three rules for using language:

 

1. It must designate its object precisely.

2. Its speaker must stand by it: must believe it, be accountable for it, be willing to act on it.

3. This relation of speaker, word, and object must be conventional; the community must know what it is.

 

Do you see what I mean, though? Every reason is a "must." I think I wanna say these are helpful, but I don't want to be bossy about what others must do. In fact, I kinda like the approach he describes of these other guys in the essay. They say that our communication should not be evaluative because evaluative communication is judgmental; it makes people respond defensively. They say we should be either descriptive or provisional, right?

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Zombie Contagion Spread by Glowing Screens?

Posted by Kate Deddens
Kate Deddens
Kate was born overseas, attending International Baccalaureate schools in Iran, I
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on Tuesday, 03 September 2013
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Have you noticed the revolution exploding around us? I am sure you have, because it is impossible to miss it—although the fact that it is tumultuous, as all revolutions are by nature, might be something we do not always consciously grasp. Make no mistake, however: a revolution is swirling, and although it does not seem at first glance to be violent, its impact is just as potentially destructive as any fierce upheaval. We are literally living through a digital revolution that has dramatically changed, not just our lives, but our very perceptions about life (for a quick video about the impact of Social Media alone go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yxuljHX09I&feature=youtu.be; disclaimer: the sources for the information are not provided).

 

Everywhere you go, people are ‘plugged in’ on their phones, laptops, and other devices. In many ways, this has positive implications: it allows us to communicate with our friends and loved ones to a degree that was impossible even just a decade ago; it helps facilitate our business communications; it gives us instant access to information on a scale unprecedented in human history; it aids us in our daily tasks of tracking our responsibilities and appointments, managing our bank balances, and keeping in touch with others. But, as I think we are all aware, this technological revolution also has negative consequences, from increased social isolation to decreased ability to focus (go here to view a series of articles from the New York Times related to this: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/features/timestopics/series/your_brain_on_computers/index.html).

You Are Not a Bad Person, Allison Is Wrong

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Friday, 30 August 2013
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I am hesitant to write a response to the recent Slate.com article, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person,” for a few reasons. First, it is entirely possible that the article was meant to be satirical. If this is the case, the author is quite poor at writing satire. The satire of the article is absolutely unclear, and statements such as the one below exacerbate the lack of clarity.

 

Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids.

Truth or Consequences: On Practicality

Posted by Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author
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on Thursday, 29 August 2013
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It was twenty years ago this fall that I plunged wholeheartedly and somewhat heedlessly into Christian classical education when some comrades and I started Providence Academy in Green Bay, WI. Since then, I have been hearing repeatedly the very sensible call for a practical education.

 

In theory, I have no objection to a practical education. In practice, however, the focus on the practical is not as easy and the necessity for it is not as obvious as many make it out to be. 

 

Perhaps the greatest difficulty is that the word is usually undefined and taken as obvious. It is not. At least not to this listener, who has tried to understand what people mean when they use the word only to encounter reactions that range from cloudiness to frustration with me for even asking the question. 

 

Some people only say they want something practical because they know they should. We are Americans. We invented practical. Of course we want practical, and it is insolent of you to distract us by insisting we clarify what we mean. 

 

However, many people do include some degree of precise meaning when they demand a practical education. The trouble is, their meanings vary from what others mean. 

Mandala Fellowship Departs for Europe

Posted by Barnabas Holleran
Barnabas Holleran
Barnabas Holleran is one of the young men with the Mandala Fellowship. He hails
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on Wednesday, 28 August 2013
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Here at Mandala Fellowship, we are all very excited about our Europe trip. Nobody is actually ready yet, so we are all looking forward to Tuesday with some trepidation. Mrs. Bortins has been working night and day to make sure we are all set for the trip. We leave on August 27th, actually going straight from math class to the airport. After a nine hour flight, we will arrive in Rome with enough time to get a taste of the city. After a few hours, we will take a bus to Villa Morghen, right outside of Florence, where we will make our home for the next two weeks.

Life Lessons I Learned from Canning Tomatoes

Posted by Kathy Sheppard
Kathy Sheppard
Kathy Sheppard has a B.A. in Latin from the College of William and Mary and a M.
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on Monday, 26 August 2013
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Photograph submitted by Anna Rose Sheppard

 

I was going to write a post about how to prepare for Latin for this school year, but then I realized that you could just read my article from last year to help you prepare. (http://www.classicalconversations.com/easyblog/entry/preparing-for-next-years-latin-classSo instead of writing such a post, I thought I might ruminate on some things I have pondered while canning tomatoes in the past few weeks.

Heart Experience...Some Reflections

Posted by Linda Tomkinson
Linda Tomkinson
Linda Tomkinson homeschooled her three children from grades K-12. Linda not only
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on Friday, 23 August 2013
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Another year has begun and, again, I am directing a Challenge program. I have tracked my seasons which have been positive, delightful, and always different. My current Challenge II group has already met twice and this week we completed our first biology experiment. Historically, this is the approximate time when I consider the current year’s student dynamics, ponder the unique mixtures of abilities and skills, and reflect on my previous customs with students. Then I may adjust my agenda accordingly and ”experiment” to achieve goals for classic skill building, to consistently meet expectations for Classical Conversations, and to support parents with the primary focus of making community day meaningful for everyone.

 

This year is different. I may ruminate, but I am resolved to endeavor deeper waters, rest, and float.  Rest is active and involves great trust. Floating is the challenge; it requires rest or one sinks. At first, I thought I should chiefly “experiment” on myself, keeping some ideas in the forefront of my heart, rather than classroom practices.  After contemplating over the summer, I rejected this experiment. It was far too analytical and contained too many variables. I considered afresh and prayed. I should purposely experience rest to grow classically and humbly. I want to grow in order to empower, to encourage, and to enlist, not only for my benefit, but most importantly for those I serve.

How Revolutions Affect the Way We Teach

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Wednesday, 21 August 2013
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Foundations parents and students will recognize what we call the “Age of Industry” from c. 1760—c. 1969.1 The Age of Industry “ushered in the factory production of goods with the development of…new technologies.”2 Among these technologies were the mechanization of production, factories, and assembly lines. Factory production of goods, besides reducing costs, made it easier to create consistent products.

 

However, the Age of Industry did far more than usher in factory production of goods. It also ushered in factory production of humans. It was during the Age of Industry that schools began populating cities and the countryside, near their factory counterparts—often similar in appearance to a factory—and began mimicking the model of factories. Grade levels became stopping points along the assembly line. Letter grades were given, imitating the letter grades given to beef—think about that the next time you purchase a pound of Grade A beef! Teaching was managed the same way factory production was managed and with the same goal: consistency in production! No more the individuality of handwoven garments; no more the individuality of home-educated children.

The Educational Waters in Which We Swim (Part Two)

Posted by Brian Tonnell
Brian Tonnell
After 22 years as an Air Force pilot, God poked Brian in the chest and said, “Yo
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on Monday, 19 August 2013
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In Part One of this mini treatise, we began by regarding our culture’s worldview as an ocean in which we swim. Likewise, our society’s children also swim in an educational, philosophical ocean for eight hours every day. To examine the flaws in our educational system requires an examination of the philosophical waters of that system. What does this ocean look like? We explored a bit about the founders of our modern educational system, including G. Stanley Hall and John Dewey. Dewey was a committed Humanist and signer of the Humanist Manifesto (1933) which sought to establish Humanism as a new religion. Dewey’s personal philosophy/worldview deeply affected his ideas on education, as we will see in Part Two.

 

Dewey believed that education was “a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness.”1 Further, he believed “the only sure method of social reconstruction” was “the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness.”1 His goal was to reconstruct society via the education system. He believed that the teacher’s job was “to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences.”1 He believed that the “right character” of children should be formed by “the influence of a certain form of institutional or community life upon the individual, and that the social organism through the school, as its organ, may determine ethical results.” In a nutshell, he believed that society must be shaped via the school system, that the character of future generations should be molded by the governmental institution, and that the idea of right and wrong should be determined by rigorous inquiry.2 Based on his godless, humanist philosophy, the waters of his educational philosophy fell squarely within the ocean of his humanist religion.

 

So what? If we buy into the idea that Hall and Dewey’s philosophical waters overwhelmingly affected our modern educational system, what results might we expect? Might we expect a generation (or more) of students to grow up sharing this philosophy? That seems reasonable. Abraham Lincoln once said that “the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” If his statement is accurate, might we expect to see a government that swims in the humanistic philosophical waters?

It’s All about Conversation: Discovering Pearls of Great Worth

Posted by Kate Deddens
Kate Deddens
Kate was born overseas, attending International Baccalaureate schools in Iran, I
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on Friday, 16 August 2013
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One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4, KJV

 

The Classical Conversations Challenge programs are composed of six, hour-long seminars every week: logic, research, grammar, exposition and composition, debate, and rhetoric. All the seminars center on conversations (hence, Classical Conversations!). That is, the primary emphasis in each seminar is discussion among the students about various interrelated topics. The tutor walks alongside the students, facilitating and guiding the conversation.

 

Since conversations are such a critical part of the Classical Conversations Challenge seminars, it is important to have an idea of what those conversations aim towards. They are, in fact, modeled upon the conversations of the famous ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, recorded by his student Plato in a series of extant texts called Socratic Dialogues.

College Profile: Gutenberg College

Posted by Shawn Stewart
Shawn Stewart
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on Thursday, 15 August 2013
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I received a phone call in the spring from the director of admissions at Gutenberg College. He had heard of my website—www.homeschoolcounselor.com—and he was inquiring about using the site to get the word out about Gutenberg. I had not heard of Gutenberg. As I inquired more about the college, I decided it might be in everyone’s best interest to know more about Gutenberg College in Eugene, OR.

 

Gutenberg is truly unique and for the record, I did not charge the college to run their ad. Here is a little information from Gutenberg’s President:

 

Gutenberg is different from most colleges in a number of respects. For example, rather than encouraging early specialization, Gutenberg is designed to provide an outstanding broad-based undergraduate education. Rather than having large lecture classes, Gutenberg has small discussion-based classes. Rather than reading textbooks that describe the ideas of the great thinkers of the past, our students read the great thinkers’ works firsthand.

 

At the heart of Gutenberg’s distinctiveness is the impact that it has on students’ spiritual lives — an impact both rare and profound. Students do not study Christianity as a separate subject in the curriculum; rather, Christianity is woven into the warp and woof of every part of the college.

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"Why do I homeschool?"

Posted by Beth Watson
Beth Watson
Beth Watson graduated from Cairn University (formerly named Philadelphia Biblica
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on Wednesday, 14 August 2013
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On the first morning of our 3-Day Parent Practicum, our speaker, Erin Barry asked this question. She said finding the answer in July would carry us through the entirety of the upcoming school year.

 

Erin asked us another question, "When did you know you really believed in this homeschool idea?" For me, this answer came quickly to mind, because I had recently asked my husband how much life insurance we had planned for me—ha!—knowing that I would wish for my husband to continue on with homeschooling our children, even if I could not be around to do it with him and even if it meant he did not work a traditional job again until our youngest child turned eighteen. When I told him why I was asking about life insurance, he totally agreed with me.

Pig Out on Good Food and Great Ideas

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Tuesday, 13 August 2013
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Imagine a banquet hall with a long table staggering under the weight of varied foods. Imagine a night filled with music, laughter, and stories. Imagine reasoned discourse about the issues of the day and about the nature of man.

 

In the not too distant past, people gathered to celebrate life together. Whether they gathered to commemorate important civic and historical events or important religious holidays, they paused to share life together. They understood the importance of good food and good conversation.

 

Recently, I had the privilege of having such a feast with the Mandala Fellowship students. For one hour, we paused from our intense morning study of rhetoric. We gathered in small groups at round tables for pizza, salad, cookies, and discussion. In the morning, the students had submitted various topics for the discussion. At the start of the “Pig Feast,” Leigh Bortins randomly selected a topic and set a timer. We spent about fifteen minutes on each topic which gave time for the five or six of us at each table to share. During the course of the meal, we discussed current issues such as women in the military and philosophical ideas such as whether color or music is more important. At the fifteen-minute mark, the bell rang, and the moderator announced the new topic. The hour flew by. At the end of the feast, our minds were satiated as well as our bellies.

I'm Different, Therefore I Am

Posted by David Bailey
David Bailey
David Bailey is the founding pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Stokesdale
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on Monday, 12 August 2013
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Last week, in celebration of our twenty-seventh anniversary, my wife and I spent a couple of nights at a bed and breakfast in Black Mountain, NC. The whole town treated us like home folks and we really needed it. We experienced car trouble as soon as we arrived in town, so we had to find a car repair place. Fortunately, we could walk everywhere we needed to go and folks kindly pointed us to the perfect auto shop. We felt like old friends in nearly every encounter.

 

After we checked out of our B&B, we traveled west to Mast General Store in Asheville. We were struck by the cultural differences in these neighboring towns. Both towns are full of friendly people, but Asheville seems to be a magnet for unusual folks. We found a T-shirt declaring: “If you are too weird for Asheville, you’re too weird.”

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Rethinking the Daily Grind

Posted by Jennifer Greenholt
Jennifer Greenholt
Jen Greenholt was an early participant in the Classical Conversations Challenge
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on Friday, 09 August 2013
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When I was in high school, one of my favorite attention-getting quotations came from the famous German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750): “Without my morning coffee, I’m just like a dried-up piece of roast goat.”1 Reciting this line was guaranteed to generate, if not a laugh, at least a look of surprise and renewed interest from my audience. No one expected a sentence like that to come from the dignified, bewigged figure who had composed The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations.

 

Interestingly, Bach’s interest in coffee makes perfect sense in light of its historical context. When Bach was composing music, coffee was a relative novelty in Europe. Venetian and Dutch traders began to import the rich beans from the Arabian Peninsula in the early 1600s, and coffeehouses quickly became essential locations for conducting business and exchanging ideas, much as they are today.2

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