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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.

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Examining Worldviews: The Difference between Common Ground and Neutral Ground

Posted by Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett is the director of The Blyth Institute, a nonprofit organizati
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on Tuesday, 26 November 2013
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One of the main intellectual focuses in evangelical circles today is on worldviews. There is quite a bit of good, open discussion about how one’s worldview affects the way we see and interpret the world around us. It is beneficial to be able to (a) understand that other people see the world differently, and (b) take the time to charitably and sympathetically look at how the world looks to another person. Aristotle says it this way, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This is an important skill for our children to learn.

 

One thing that is less well discussed is how to critically examine worldviews. Your worldview is neither an arbitrary nor a personal choice. The goal of a worldview is to match the way your mind thinks to reality. However, this means that we need a way to properly judge between worldviews.

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What if Adam and Eve had been Challenge Students?

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 Tuesday, 05 November 2013
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Recently, a few of our city commissioners tried to pass an ordinance that was clearly unbiblical. As I was discussing it with others, I stumbled upon a disturbing trend. While everyone I talked with agreed that the ordinance was wrong, most could not effectively support their position—especially when asked to use nonbiblical support. They knew it was wrong, but they did not really know why it was wrong. In my Wednesday evening Bible study for high school senior boys, I discovered the same trend. All the boys agreed the ordinance was wrong. But after letting them discuss amongst themselves the two sides of the issue, it only took about twenty minutes for them to begin convincing themselves that maybe the ordinance was not so bad after all. By the way, I forbade my son (a Challenge student) from engaging in the discussion. He alone was able to defend his position. That is what Challenge does. Ultimately, the ordinance failed, but that episode provoked me to cerebral cogitation, and generated a fairly whimsical question in my mind. What if Adam and Eve had been Challenge students?

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.

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.

It's All about Value!

Posted by Kate Deddens
Kate Deddens
Kate was born overseas, attending International Baccalaureate schools in Iran, I
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on Thursday, 01 August 2013
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Did you know that math is about more than numerical values arranged in symbolic sentences? It has great value in itself for practical application, of course, but it has much merit as well in the general skills and virtues that its study encourages.

 

Recently, I have been reading a book by Ron Aharoni called Arithmetic for Parents. In it, he claims that:

 

[M]athematics is important not only for understanding reality. It offers much more than that—it teaches abstract thought, in an accurate and orderly way. It promotes basic habits of thought, such as the ability to distinguish between the essential and the inessential, and the ability to reach logical conclusions.1

 

There is a great deal of value being asserted about mathematics in this quote, and it is worth the time to examine it for the treasures it contains.

The Many Lessons of Chemistry in Classical Education

Posted by Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett is the director of The Blyth Institute, a nonprofit organizati
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on Monday, 08 July 2013
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I find that I am better able to learn topics when I can connect them to something I already love or already understand. When I learned biology in high school, I was bored out of my mind. Later in life, I have realized that biology is God's engineering on display! This realization has caused me to take a much keener interest in biology in my later years.

 

Chemistry has the same effect on many people. If one is not already planning on being a chemist, chemistry seems an incredible waste of time. However, there are some key lessons lurking in chemistry that I think will help students take a deeper interest in it, as well as pull deeper meaning out of it.

Are You a "Geek"?!

Posted by Lisa
Lisa
Lisa Bailey, a homeschooling mom from North Carolina, has served Classical Conve
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on Wednesday, 12 June 2013
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Are you a "geek"?! Do you just naturally like to learn? If you are a learner and a thinker, what made you that way? Are you born just knowing how to think, or is this a skill to be learned? Can a "lifelong learner" be created, and if so, what encourages one to remain a learner for life?

Perhaps one of the hallmarks of a lifelong learner is curiosity; the urge to know about the world fuels learning even after graduation. How then can we help our students retain their curiosity? We can provide food for their imaginations, give them ideas to ponder, introduce them to people, places, and events, and we can make sure we never give them all the answers! As soon as we know all there is to know about a subject, we lose interest; we must keep finding new aspects to explore.

Congratulations! You Finished Latin!

Posted by Ruth
Ruth
Ruth and Robbo, her husband of 25 years, live in a house they built in Vermont.
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on Monday, 03 June 2013
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Latin’s a dead language,

As dead as dead could be;

First it killed the Romans;

Now it’s killing me!

-Anonymous

 

Dear graduating Latin student,

 

Congratulations! A year of hard work is complete and you have turned in your final exam.

 

You know the noun declensions. You know something about adjectives, pronouns, and prepositions. You know many verb tenses. You know more about Caesar and the Gauls than you ever wanted to know.

 

This summer you may have a conversation that goes something like this:

 

Curious uncle: “So, what do you learn at Classical Conversations?”

The Missing Pieces of Public Education

Posted by Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett is the director of The Blyth Institute, a nonprofit organizati
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on Thursday, 11 April 2013
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This article is modified from sections from the newly-released book MicroSecession: Simple Ways to Liberate Yourself, Your Family, and Your Community from Government Idiocy.

 

 

When people think of the word “education,” usually the first thing that pops into their minds is their local elementary schools. When we think of a “well-educated person,” we think of someone who graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. But is this really what it means to be educated?

 

First of all, let us draw a distinction between education and training. The purpose of training is to be better at something. You can train to be a welder, a computer programmer, or an engineer. Education, however, teaches you how to think and gives you a large repertoire of knowledge from which to analyze the world around you. Training helps you know what to do in a specific situation, while education helps you figure out what to do in new situations. Education also helps you know when your training is wrong. Even more, education helps you analyze the claims other people make in order to determine their accuracy or reasonableness. Still more, excellent education helps you formulate wise courses of action based on accurate information.

 

Is this what our educational system currently teaches?


The Two Most Common Misunderstandings I Have Seen Concerning Latin

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 Wednesday, 10 April 2013
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I hope the end of the school year finds you well. Memory Master testing, awards, and, perhaps, blue book exams await you! These days are very exciting and busy.

 

It seems as though God has given me two matters about which to expound.  Recently, I have received e-mails concerning these two topics and I hope that by writing this article I can prevent some confusion.

 

Spontaneous Integration: Jazz Music, Playwrights, and the Cold War

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, 02 April 2013
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What do Shakespeare, actors, newspapers, jazz, and communism all have in common? Continue reading this article to discover how one Challenge III class threaded these disparate ideas together.

 

Last week in my Challenge III class, we had some spontaneous moments for subject integration. We began the morning talking about the role of jazz during the Cold War. The students were surprised to read this in their history text. They were further astounded when I revealed that rock music played a large role in the fall of the Berlin Wall. From the rise of communism to its fall, there was an ongoing connection to music.

 

We started with the simple question, “What in the world could jazz music have to do with politics?” The students looked at me somewhat blankly, so I asked them to think about jazz music and jazz players. “Do jazz musicians usually follow the notes on the page?” I asked. One of the students responded in the negative, explaining that jazz musicians are known for their improvisations. I followed up with, “Does this quality make them more likely to follow the crowd or to live like distinctive individuals?” This one was easy—clearly, jazz musicians like to go their own way. Then, I asked, “In communism, do you want people to follow a uniform path or to improvise?” Now the light bulbs were coming on all over the room. Art reminds people that they are uniquely created individuals, that they are not designed to be state-controlled robots.

 

Skills versus Subjects

Posted by Lisa
Lisa
Lisa Bailey, a homeschooling mom from North Carolina, has served Classical Conve
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on Friday, 29 March 2013
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Classical education is a “curious thing,” viewed from the perspective of a traditional educator. Traditional education emphasizes acquiring knowledge of a host of subjects through the passing of a multitude of classes en route to receiving a diploma. Classical education emphasizes the skills of learning and the acquisition of the “lost tools of learning” we are eager to grasp. Our yearning to provide a classical education for our students includes the goal of pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness, not just a diploma. And yet, can we, perhaps, use classical education principles to cultivate virtue while satisfying a diploma program?

 

Two Jobs All Our Kids Will Have

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, 12 February 2013
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I do not yet know what my children will be called to do in this life. I do not yet know what my Challenge III students will be called to do. But I do know this: all of these children will be called to two jobs. They will all be called upon to be citizen-leaders in our democracy, and they will all be called upon to be ministers of the Gospel.

 

As I write this article, I am in Austin, Texas on the final day of the Texas state championships of the NCFCA (the national, home school, Christian speech and debate association). Recently, my oldest son began participating in team policy debate. As a parent, I was called upon to judge impromptu, extemporaneous, and interpretive speeches as well as Lincoln-Douglas and Team Policy debates.

 

This experience reinforced the speech I have been giving to my Challenge students and to parents across my state. The message bears repeating—all children will be called to be citizen-leaders and to be ministers of the Gospel. Having this perspective sheds light on the importance of speech and debate. Our children must be able to think clearly (to reason well) and to articulate The Truth (to speak persuasively about it).

 

Does Anyone Know How to Think Anymore?

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Friday, 01 February 2013
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One of my favorite scenes in C.S. Lewis’s novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, takes place when Peter and Susan have become concerned about the fantasy world of Narnia that their sister Lucy claims to have entered. They meet with Professor Kirke to get some advice. Here is a very rough paraphrase of his words: “There are only three options here. Either your sister is a liar, or she is insane, or she is telling you the truth. You’ve told me that she does not have a history of lying. Anyone who looks at her can tell she is not insane. You should, therefore, consider the option that she is telling you the truth.” Then he adds, as an exasperated aside to himself, “Don’t they teach logic in schools anymore?”

 

The answer, of course, is that we do not teach logic in the modern school. As a culture, we are not as interested in teaching people how to think as we are in telling people what to think. If we were to give this attitude a name, (picking up on the idea that something which is not moral is referred to as "amoral") such a modern-day course might be titled something along the lines of "A-logic 101": let us (the government, your teachers, your newscaster) do your thinking for you. It is so much easier.


Four Benefits of Saxon Math

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Wednesday, 30 January 2013
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Math is not scary. Say it with me: “Math is not scary.” Perhaps you might tell me you grew up believing your sister to be a math oriented person and believing yourself to be a language oriented person (and this is the reason you think math is scary). This is not true. If you have a proclivity for one over the other, it is the fault of education and our culture—not the fault of your mind. We might have natural talents that make one area of study easier for us than another—although the argument could be made that those are still the result of cultural and familial influences—but your being pigeonholed into developing only one of those talents is the fault of education and culture, not your mind. God created us in His image and He is not a left brained or right brained God. You are not left brained or right brained either. You can image God—and by this I mean you can reflect the image of God to this world—with both sides of your brain; you just need to break free from the pigeonholing that education and culture have imposed upon you.

 

We also need to train our children not to think in this way. Every time we tell them we are not math people, that we are not good at math, or that we are scared of math, we are giving them the excuse to pigeonhole—and therefore limit—themselves too. We want to avoid this.


Got Myth?

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Wednesday, 02 January 2013
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The mythos represents man’s imaginative and, ultimately, spiritual effort to make this world intelligible; the logos sets forth his rational attempt to do the same.[1]

 

Humans have two basic tools with which to make this world intelligible: the mythos and the logos; anything else results in incoherence and a rejection of order and purpose. The former, as explained above, is an imaginative and spiritual understanding of this world; the latter is a logical and rational understanding of this world. Error comes when one forces a decision of one over the other; error arises when, as Stratford Caldecott describes in Beauty for Truth’s Sake, one divorces truth from beauty or beauty from truth, and elects one without the other.[2]

 

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves—consciously or not—choosing one over the other. The mythos, remember, is an imaginative and spiritual intelligibility, or a means of understanding life and the world. We find the mythos expressed and communicated to us in many ways. Primarily, we discover it in stories. Take, for example, The Chronicles of Narnia. In it, truths are communicated beautifully to the reader about heroism, honor, duty, truth, faith, love, friendship, loyalty, honesty, and a host of other virtues. The author does not analytically define friendship and expect his reader to live it out. Rather, he displays friendship in his characters, and the reader wants to imitate Lucy and Mr. Tumnus and have that kind of a friendship in her own life. Neither does he analytically define heroism, yet the reader wants to imitate the heroism and valor of Reepicheep.

 

The Tin Soldier's Heart

Posted by Kate Deddens
Kate Deddens
Kate was born overseas, attending International Baccalaureate schools in Iran, I
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on Monday, 24 December 2012
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In the Christmas of 1838, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published The Steadfast Tin Soldier. In it, a one-legged tin soldier endures an adventure filled with many trials—including a passionate love for a beautiful paper ballet dancer—only to be spontaneously thrown into a fiery furnace by a capricious boy. The story ends on the following note: “The next day, when the housemaid emptied the ashes, she found the tin soldier [had melted into] the shape of a heart.”1

 

Toy soldiers have a prominent place in my life because I have lived intimately with them for almost a quarter of a century. My husband is a toy soldier maker, and therefore our home—which also houses his studio—is filled with toy soldiers, books about history, models, clays, metal alloys, melting pots, castings, paints, and paintbrushes…all the elements of conceiving, creating, and collecting toy soldiers. Of course, toy soldiers, the classic metal figures surrounded by nostalgia, have been around much longer than the twenty-some years in which they have been a feature in my personal life. They have been a staple for generations who have collected them, played with them, and cherished them.

 

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Fallacy Detective: Three Assumptions Made by “Lesser of Two Evils” Voters

Posted by Tobin
Tobin
Tobin Duby graduated Patrick Henry College with a B.A. in Classical Liberal Arts
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on Wednesday, 31 October 2012
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So if you have not noticed, there is a presidential election again this year, and it is therefore a good time to hear more logical fallacies than usual in the media and in political conversations.

 

It seems there are a whole lot of Party P voters out there who do not like their party nominee, Candidate P, very much, but who will be voting for him anyway based on the reasoning that he is better than the incumbent, Candidate Q. I hear that some have even been calling him the “Lesser of Two Evils” (which will hereafter be referred to as the “LOTE”). What these voters seem to be proposing is that Candidate P’s most admirable characteristic is that he is not Candidate Q, and that this is enough reason to vote for him.

 

I will not be addressing whether this is, in fact, Candidate P’s best characteristic nor endorsing or denouncing any candidate whatsoever; so far as I know, Classical Conversations is not in the business of doing either. What we are in the business of is logic, so what I will be doing is playing the role of a fallacy detective; what I will be addressing is whether or not, if this were found to be true, it would be a valid reason for electing him.

 

Homeschooling for a Nation

Posted by Admin
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on Wednesday, 17 October 2012
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Judgment: God’s purview. He will inevitably judge all individuals at the end of time. Historically, He has also passed judgment on nations here on this corporeal earth. How has He done this? In some cases, He used His divine power to squash them—for example when King Ahab angered God, He caused the rain and the dew to cease in Israel for three and a half years (1 Kings 17-18). In some cases, He used other nations—recall that Israel was overrun by Assyria and the Babylonians overran Judah. In some cases, He used the surrounding culture to influence and engulf His people which brought destruction from within; He gave them over to their wicked ways (Romans 1:28).

 

Are we so arrogant to think that we, as a nation, are exempt from God’s judgment on earth? According to apologist James L. Morrisson, there are several things that, historically, have invoked God’s judgment against His people here on earth: godlessness, wickedness, idolatry, child sacrifice, injustice, and immorality. This sounds a lot like a description of our culture, does it not? While my brain is way too small to fathom the realm of possibilities, it seems more likely that, if God were to pass judgment on this nation, it might just come from within. So, let us consider for a moment how our culture might destroy itself.


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