Friday, September 30, 2011

Two takes on 'Time'

Shakespeare on 'Time'
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked elipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
(Sonnet #60)

The Apostle Paul on 'Time'
See then that you walk circumspectly,
not as fools, but as wise,
redeeming the time,
because the days are evil.
(Ephesians 5:15-16)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Logic, Latin, and a Whole Lot More

Across the country, there is an emerging movement of parents and teachers* that believes it is not enough only to provide the right subjects for their children. More than teaching basic skills and information, these folks are starting and staffing schools that focus on teaching comprehensive content and moral conviction—the kind of education we’d have to look back to our great-grandparents’ generation to find.

This is a central aim of classical educators today, to recover a method that is missing in modern schooling. Their classrooms include the fundamentals of phonics, grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  But these “classical” subjects are only the beginning. Students are also trained to use them as tools for self-learning.  Indeed, these “tools of learning” are as important as the “subjects” they teach.

Over 60 years ago, Oxford scholar and British novelist, Dorothy Sayers, wrote about the declining ability to think evidenced in her pre-World War II generation.  She addressed this topic in an essay called “The Lost Tools of Learning.” There she lamented the fact that while teachers were successful at teaching “subjects,” as a whole they were failing to train students how to think. “They learn everything except the art of learning,” she observed. Her solution? A return to the “medieval syllabus” where teaching doesn’t focus on subjects as much as it does on the methods of handling those subjects. In this approach, students are taught how to use the “tools of learning” before they begin to apply them to study of subjects in particular.

Modern education tends to focus mainly on teaching subjects, leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be learned more by accident, or at least incidental to the learning process. But Sayers points out that in the mediaeval model, teaching concentrated first on “forging and learning to handle the tools of learning,” using the subjects as material on which “to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.” Teaching students how to acquire and use these tools is fundamental to learning any subject.

So a large part of what classical educators are doing is identifying age-appropriate tools for students so that they become life-long learners. The approach centers on the application of the trivium, the historical foundation for learning. The trivium has three parts or phases of learning that are adapted to three observable stages of childhood development:  grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Each of these phases focuses on the ways students learn best.

For example, grammar school students are taught through songs, rhythm, and repetition in order to help them develop memory and to store basic information for later use. Amazingly, this is also when they begin to master Latin, the foundation for English, and an important link to the student’s cultural roots and later learning.

Next, in the logic stage, teachers capitalize on the early adolescent’s ability to argue and draw conclusions. These mentally astute kids are taught formal logic, and their reasoning skills are sharpened through learning other advanced subjects, too.

High school is the rhetoric phase.  Students now are taught how to communicate with clarity and winsomeness at a point in their personal development when they are naturally concerned about personal appearance. Without this ability to communicate persuasively, the best ideas will go unheard.

Classical education is the legacy of Western Civilization. This method of learning was woven into the fabric of our own nation’s history. Leaders like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson—to name only a few—were products of classical training. Classical education has always provided a structured environment that also inspires students with a love for learning. While in earlier generations this approach trained the best American minds, it is being used again to develop thoughtful, articulate, and morally mature young people today.

Which leads to the final, but the most compelling component of classical education today: moral nurture. In the Western tradition, classical schooling was based on a foundation of morality. Timeless beliefs from the Scriptures were formulated into concrete values on which our greatest leaders once lived and labored. Today’s classical schools build a biblical and moral structure around which all other subjects are taught.

This, then, is modern classical education—so much more than mere subjects to be taught. In response to academic and moral decline in American schools today, this educational movement is returning to a time-tested method that worked for a thousand years until the modern age. These educators are successfully inspiring students to engage in their own learning long after the lights go out at the end of the school day.

*See, for example, the Association of Classical and Christian Schools:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Moral Relativism & Education

Like several others C.S. Lewis’s books, The Abolition of Man is a collection of lectures delivered in 1943. These dealt mainly with what Lewis perceived to be the dangers of moral relativism, a destructive modern worldview. He believed that our universe existed in such a way “that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it… that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, or reverence, or our contempt.”  This idea has profound implications for teachers.

The importance of education lies in cultivating the right attitude towards this a universal law, which Lewis called the Tao.  For some, the term is an unfortunate choice.  However, by choosing this word, Lewis was simply naming a universal moral law, which previous generations of all cultures had recognized to one degree or another. Until our age, societies typically lived and functioned within the limits of the moral law. What distinguishes our present generation is the denial of the Tao, thereby cutting itself off from its moral heritage. Educators share in the blame. Lewis particularly noticed this trend in student textbooks, the very means of handing off moral and cultural heritage from one generation to another.  He feared that the new thinkers writing these books would wield the power to “condition” succeeding generations.

Progressive education sounds innocuous and maybe even beneficial.  After all, who wants to resist progress? However, the progress that Lewis identified represented power:  power over nature, even human nature. “Each new power won by man,” he warned, “is a power over man as well.” He knew that those with the power to condition others’ thoughts, too, even to alter societal values.

The only remedy is to embrace objective standards and to apply these with emotional and intellectual conviction. Students must learn proper responses, “to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful,” says Lewis. He goes on to demonstrate that when properly trained in the Tao, students have a means to shaping Christian behavior, but that’s another book, or rather Book 3 of his Mere Christianity.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Emily Dickinson’s tribute to books

Unto my Books—so good to turn—
Far ends of tired Days—
It half endears the Abstinence—
And Pain—is missed—in praise—
As Flavors—cheer Retarded Guests
With Banquettings to be—
So Spices—stimulate the time
Till my small Library—
It may be Wilderness—without—
Far feet of failing Men—
But Holiday—excludes the night—
And it is Bells—within—
I thank these Kinsmen of the Shelf—
Their Countenances Kid
Enamor—in Prospective—
And satisfy—obtained—

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Holy Stone on the Vestal

On the trip to Pearl in 1941, my dad, Frank Dolan, was on the deck force in the forward section of the Vestal. There he said he learned how to “holy stone” the wooden deck of the ship (a method by which a brick, attached to a broom handle, is used to scrub the deck). He also learned to climb up the forward mast to the crow’s nest as a lookout. From there, he said, he could “holler down a funnel connected to the tube to someone at the other end [who] could hear the message.”

About his first few weeks on his ship, Dad said, “[Vestal] was an old ship.  Most of the men didn’t have regular bunks or hammocks in which to sleep, just cots with mattresses. These had to be stowed somewhere out of the way during the day. I usually slept on the deck someplace out of the weather. The petty officers, those with a stripe and an eagle, slept in the ship on cots.”

Source: Frank L. Dolan's personal account

Monday, September 19, 2011

Assignment: USS Vestal

Having just been assigned duty on the USS Vestal, my dad, Frank Dolan, took a Greyhound bus from his home in San Diego to San Pedro, where he went aboard his first ship on this date in 1941. He will be leaving for Pearl Harbor in a few days. He and his good friend, Guy Long, were buddies together in service school. Long was assigned to Vestal's shipfitter shop while Dad was assigned to the welding shop.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's Service Records and personal account; USS Vestal Muster Roll, September 1941

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Debt We Owe to Authors

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we would be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough.
C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Making Haste Slowly

“To be genuinely wise,” wrote Ben Franklin, “one must make haste slowly.” I like that. I’ve spent the first part of my life being way too impatient, too eager for quick results.

God has a better plan. Psalm 37 is a reminder to “Trust in the Lord... Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Indeed, the whole Psalm speaks of trusting, resting, and waiting–Christian virtues that are mainly learned in God’s school of patience.

Certainly, the Lord knows the desires of our hearts, for He gave them to us. But often for a while He wants to teach us to wait patiently in hope, while we learn to delight ourselves in Him. Postponed longing is painful for the moment, but reliance on God to fulfill our desires in His time is truly faith in practice.

So, in the second half of my life I’m going to try to make haste a little more slowly. Some of my later blogs may reflect on how I’m doing.