Monday, February 8, 2016

In Which I Pour Out My Love for Khan Academy Math

Math @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Math. Honestly, it has never been my favorite subject to teach.

I started out using RightStart Math with Levi. It’s an incredible program, but incredibly teacher-intensive. It was difficult to teach Levi (my distractable non-math kid) with two younger brothers running around getting into mischief. It was even more difficult to consider teaching two boys at different levels. RightStart Math was only going to be great if I actually used it, and it started to sit on my shelf much more often than it was off the shelf in use. [I’m considering pulling it back off the shelf to teach Lola early math, however. We’ll see.]

After much math frustration with Levi and then a long break to regain sanity (around 2nd or 3rd grade), I purchased Teaching Textbooks and ended up using it for all three boys (my two younger boys were advanced in reading and math) for a few years. Honestly, it was a God-send. Math was much more enjoyable for everyone. I loved that the boys could do it independently, that it gave them instant feedback, and that it was self-grading.

Last year, Levi’s first year in the Classical Conversations Challenge program, we switched him to Saxon Math. I can see how Saxon Math is a thorough, rigorous program. But it almost killed us. Even doing only half the problems.

What I really wanted was an interactive, inspiring, engaging, self-teaching (with excellent visual/audio instruction), instant-feedback, self-grading, mastery-based, challenging, attractive, comprehensive math program. Similar to Teaching Textbooks, but better.

I had used Khan Academy occasionally in the past for a video here and there, and I loved Sal Khan’s teaching style. What I hadn’t realized is just how much they’ve added to Khan Academy recently. It is now a complete math program.

So we’ve been using Khan Academy as our main math “spine” since September and I adore it.

It is an online math (and so much more!!) program, and it’s free. Let me repeat that in case you didn’t read it correctly the first time:

It’s FREE.

It blows my mind.

Students can work online on a computer or on mobile devices with the Khan app.

Parents sign up for an account and then their students sign up for their own account under the parent.

Students choose a grade level (K-8th) or a subject (pre-algebra and up through college math). They complete a Mission Warm-Up to assess their current knowledge.

When a student logs in, they can go to their mission page (the grade level or subject they are working through).

This is what Luke’s mission page looks like:

Khan Luke

On the left it tells him what percent of the mission (grade level or subject) he has completed. It also tells him which skills he has practiced, which skills he has mastered, and which skills he has yet to complete in each topic. He can click “show all skills” to see all the little boxes, or “hide skill breakdown” to minimize it. He can click on any one of the little squares if he wants to choose his next skill to practice. When he hovers over the square, it will tell him what the skill is and give a preview.

On the right he is given suggested next tasks.

When he clicks on a skill to practice, his screen looks like this (I think this is a screen-shot of a 5th grade skill):

Khan Skill

The program is mastery-based. In the upper right-hand corner, students can see exactly how many problems they need to complete correctly and independently to successfully practice the skill. For this particular skill, they must get the first two correct or five in a row if they miss one.

If they need instruction, each problem gives them a direct link to the video with instruction for that particular skill. The video pops up on their screen. They can watch it and then return directly to the practice. If they need help working through the problem, they can click on “show me how.” Each time they click the button, they are shown one step of the problem. (This screen shot shows one hint.) They can watch every problem worked through and explained step by step! If they ask for a hint, that problem does not count as correct. Students then work through the problems until they can get the designated number in a row correct.

Students can use a scratchpad on the screen when needed (with a mouse on the computer or finger with the app), but my boys usually use scratch paper and a pencil. A calculator function pops up on the screen when they are allowed to use it for the skill.

After a student has successfully practiced a skill, they are given a mastery challenge after a specified amount of time has passed (often 16 hours). Previous skills are randomly tested in mastery challenges to determined whether the skill or concept is still mastered. If not, it gets bumped back down to “practiced” status rather than “mastered” status.

The levels are connected and build on each other. Some skills are covered in multiple levels. If a student masters a skill in 4th grade that is also covered in the 5th grade level, it will already show as mastered when they move up a level so they do not have to repeat concepts (unless they show up briefly in mastery challenges).

Students work at their own pace. They work on skills and concepts until they are mastered. They level up as soon as they are ready.

I’m not even touching the surface of the program. Students earn “badges” and avatars. They can see graphs of their activity. You can add “coaches” to their account so other adults can encourage or challenge them.

One of the best aspects of the program is the parent page. Parents have access to detailed, customizable reports for each of their students.

I can see with an easy glance at his activity summary, for any specified period of time (including daily), just how much time my child has actually spent working on Khan, what videos he watched, what skills he practiced, what skills he is struggling with, and more. Or I can click on “full progress report” (below). I can expand or minimize each category.




So here are the cons:

Students have to have internet access. (But they can log in from anywhere at any time!)

Students are not given a specified day’s lesson. I usually give my boys a set amount of time, and I can verify the time they spend and their activity from my parent account. I’ve found this helpful because the boys can work on math even if we have varied amounts of time available depending on the day.

Some kids may struggle with deciding what to do next. They are given suggestions, but they may feel it is too open-ended. Some kids may need more parental direction.

A student must be able to read and follow directions or have parental assistance. (Teaching Textbooks, on the other hand, has a narrator reading the problems aloud, so that is helpful for struggling readers.)



Khan is constantly upgrading and improving the program, as well, so look for more features in the future!

Well, there you have it. I didn’t even mention the computer programing or the science or many other subjects that Khan offers. You’ll have to check it out yourself. [grin]

I’ll end this post with one of Sal Khan’s instructional videos, just to give you a taste.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Self-Education @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I spend my days educating my children. Well, I use the term “educating” loosely. I attempt to provide an atmosphere of learning and quality content to draw from. Some days (not often) that looks like strict lessons in Latin and grammar. Most days, for better or worse, that looks suspiciously like unschooling.

One of the greatest things parents can do to create a home atmosphere that encourages learning is to let their children see them learning. This benefits children in several ways, but I’d like to highlight just one benefit at the moment.

Learning new things is hard.

I think parents forget this sometimes. 

Some of us have been long-removed from situations in which ideas or skills are brand-new to us. Maybe we forget the frustration that sometimes accompanies the learning process. Maybe we forget how it feels to be awkward at something new. Maybe we forget the stress that hits when we are asked a question we have no answers for.

Have your kids watched you struggle with something new? Something difficult? Have your children watched you choose to learn something for its own sake, because learning is a worthwhile pursuit?

When your kids are struggling with learning something new or doing something difficult, do you think of a time when you felt the same way?

Have you experienced that moment of break-through, when a skill or an idea you’ve been wrestling with suddenly (or not so suddenly) comes with something resembling ease? Have you shared that moment with your children?

I’ve had Spencerian handwriting copybooks on my shelf for a few years, always meaning to get around to them—some day. This past month I realized that I needed a now or never moment, so I pulled them off the shelf and just began. No planning. No ceremony. No beautiful fountain pen. Just the kitchen table, a pencil, and me.

It so happens that I discovered something: Spencerian handwriting is difficult for me. It’s frustrating. I, who have always enjoyed handwriting, have found a challenge.

So each day, as the boys sit down at the table to do their math on Khan Academy (which deserves a whole post of its own), I sit down at the table with my handwriting copybooks and my belated inexpensive fountain pens and write. I’m still waiting for a break-through. But my boys are watching me try and struggle and keep at it, and I’m experiencing empathy for them as they try and struggle and need encouragement to keep at it.

In addition to the Spencerian handwriting—which is just for me; I’m not requiring the kids to do it—I’ve also restarted Duolingo Spanish. Just a few minutes each day is all it takes (at home on the computer or on the go with the app, and it’s FREE!). The boys are not learning Spanish; it’s just for me. (Though guess who wants to learn Spanish now? That’s right. All of them.)

Just a few minutes each day—but I make sure my boys see me trying something difficult and keeping at it…

Because learning is a joy, even when it’s hard.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On Rhetoric ~ Socratic Dialogue 2 [Paul Harvey]

On Rhetoric - Socratic Dialogue 2 [Paul Harvey] @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

In my last post on the subject of formal rhetoric, I introduced you to the canons of rhetoric, the basic arrangement of a persuasive essay or speech, and the modes of persuasion. I’d like to focus on the modes of persuasion and a new topic (elocution) in this post.

Elocution pertains to the style in which you state your ideas. This includes word choice, sentence structure, and figures of speech.

“Parallelism is actually a “figure of speech,” a sentence pattern that varies the ordinary or conventional use of language. Figures come in two types, those which vary standard word order and those which vary standard word usage: a figure is either a scheme or a trope. If parallelism is the most important scheme, metaphor is the most important trope. Metaphor is like similie since both compare two items; a metaphor is an identity, however, where a similie is an analogy.” [Scott F. Crider, The Office of Assertion]


There are two main categories of figures of speech: schemes and tropes.


Schemes appeal to the senses.

These figures of speech have a pleasing or attention-grabbing sound to the ear. Many schemes use repetition of sounds or structure, rhyme or rhythm.

Alliteration is one of the most familiar schemes. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in close proximity, usually at the beginning of words. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is loaded with alliteration in every line.

This king lay at Camelot at Christmas-tide
with many a lovely lord, lieges most noble,
indeed of the Table Round all those tried brethren,
amid merriment unmatched and mirth without care.
There tourneyed many a time the trusty knights,
and jousted full joyously these gentle lords;
then to the court they came at carols to play.

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds rather than consonant sounds.

Parallelism (about which I’ve written at length here and here) is the repetition of structure (words, phrases, or clauses), and many other schemes of repetition rely on parallelism.

For example:

Chiasmus is reverse repetition of a group of words, clauses, or sentences.

The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. [Milton, Paradise Lost]

Antithesis uses parallel structure to contrast opposing ideas.

Eloquent speakers give pleasure, wise ones salvation. [Augustine] (Eloquent vs wise and pleasure vs salvation)

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning of clauses, lines, or sentences.

Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. [W. B. Yeats]

Epistrophe is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of clauses, lines, or sentences.

Justice is the grammar of things. Mercy is the poetry of things. [Frederick Buechner]


Tropes appeal to the imagination.

These figures of speech twist the usual meaning of words and show resemblance. The two most common tropes are similie and metaphor.

A similie shows explicit resemblance and uses the words like or as.

A metaphor shows implicit resemblance by asserting that one thing is another thing.


We could continue on with symbolism, personification, onomatopeia, and more, but this is only a brief introduction. American Rhetoric is an excellent resource for definitions and examples of figures of speech if you want to learn more.


Elocution is related to the modes of persuasion, because the writer or speaker must keep his audience in mind when considering what style will be most appealing or persuasive.

Let’s quickly review the modes of persuasion before moving on to the practicum.

Ethos is an appeal based on the speaker’s credibility.

Logos is an appeal based on reason and logic.

Pathos is an appeal to the audience’s emotions.


Now it’s time for us to practice what we’ve learned using the following video:




Here’s an imperfect transcript to make discussion easier: 

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a farmer.

God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.

"I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon -- and mean it." So God made a farmer.

God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain'n from 'tractor back,' put in another seventy-two hours." So God made a farmer.

God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor's place. So God made a farmer.

God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church.

“Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'” So God made a farmer.


And now a few questions for you. (I’d love for you all to play along in the comments.)

Is this an example of a persuasive argument?

What is this particular video’s purpose?

In the end, who is trying to persuade an audience?

Of what?

Who is the intended audience?

Whose credibility do we consider? Does the video make an appeal based on credibility? How? By association?

Does this video make an appeal based on reason or logic? In what way?

Does this video appeal to the audience’s emotions? How?

Which mode of persuasion is the strongest? Why?

How is elocution—or style—used in this video?  What is the overall style of the presentation? Do you notice any figures of speech?

Do you think this video is persuasive? Why? What is most effective about it?

Any other thoughts?


[Spoiler alert. Grin.]






The recording is a speech originally delivered by Paul Harvey in 1978. This particular video is a Ram commercial from the 2013 Super Bowl. (Paul Harvey passed away in 2009.)

I indentified some of the figures of speech as examples.

Rhyme/rhythm: seed, weed, feed, breed

Assonance: “sigh, reply…smiling eyes”

Alliteration: “planned paradise,” “plow and plant,” “ride, ruts, race”

Parallelism (so many examples!) “clear trees, heave bails, tame lambs, wean pigs…” “tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work,” “shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, make harness out of haywire…”

Anaphora: “God said, I need somebody”

Epistrophe: “So God made a farmer.”

Antitheses: “strong enough/gentle enough” and “heave bails/tame lambs”

Metaphor?: “bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing” “plow deep and straight and not cut corners” (Is he just talking about plowing here?)

Foreshadowing: Images of Ram Trucks in film before identifying item being advertised

Did you notice any others?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Reading List Challenge 2016!!

2016 Reading Challenge @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I have been slaving (delightfully) over creating a reading challenge list for myself for 2016, but I’m having trouble organizing it this year. I’m reading for several different book groups and classes, and I’m not sure how to list the books nor how many books I can possibly read this year. I’d love for that number to be over 100, but it’s never going to happen! So many books, so little time!

I didn’t want to put off posting about books until I could get my act together, so we’ll begin with a starter list and the books I’ve already finished this past month. I hope to have something resembling a final list by next month, but we all know I’ll add a bunch over the course of the year and not get around to half the books on my original “hope to read” list.


January Reading

Children’s classic novels, sci-fi, classic short stories, biography, faith/culture/education, classic novel, fantasy, devotional, picture books, Shakespeare, essays, epic poetry… I think I read a little of everything this past month!!

:: Daddy-Long-Legs [Easy, short, old-fashioned, charming, funny, romantic novel—in short, a perfect way to start the new year.]

:: The Martian [Gripping, fascinating, hilarious, and stressful sci-fi novel. The most interesting scientific and technical “manual” I’ve ever read, and science/technology/sci-fi are not my things. Lots of language and short, choppy journal-style writing for most of the book but it fit with the story. It is a fantastic tribute to human ingenuity and spirit, with an up-beat can-do attitude.]

:: The Terrible Speed of Mercy [I loved this biography of Flannery O’Connor. It is peppered with quotes from O’Connor’s own writings (letters and essays) as well as details about her stories. I feel much more equipped to understand her fiction writing.]

:: Dragonflight [Classic fantasy, and Russ’s favorite author. Fantasy is not my genre, but this one was enjoyable. Definitely some adult situations and not for young children.]

:: Far From the Madding Crowd [This was my first Thomas Hardy novel, and I loved it. His descriptions are vivid paintings, and I laughed out loud more times than I could count. His characters sprung to life. This is an early contender for 2016 favorites. I enjoyed the new movie version as well. 4 1/2 stars.]

:: Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty [There are some gems in this book, but I feel as if I had to work so hard to mine them. The last chapter of the book is fantastic, though.]

:: The Family Under the Bridge [This short children’s chapter book was a re-read for me. Our Book Detectives group had a wonderful literary analysis discussion on this one.]

:: Heidi [I don’t know that I had ever actually read this one all the way through before. The boys LOVED it. Every day they would ask for me to read just one more chapter, and then just one more! In fact, one evening Russ sat down and listened with us and he wasn’t content with the two extra chapters, so he sat next to me after the kids went to bed and I watched a movie and he read the rest of the book, laughing out loud and reading passages to me from time to time. 4 1/2 stars]

In Progress

:: Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories [I read The Geranium, Revelation, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.]

:: Mystery and Manners [I read a few of her essays this past month and hope to finish the book in February.]

:: The Iliad [I’m limping along and need to pick up the pace!]

:: Words Aptly Spoken: Short Stories [I’m reading this collection and discussing with Levi and McKinnon over the next few months. We read nine of the stories this past month.]

:: Listening to Your Life [I continue to enjoy this daily devotional filled with excerpts from Frederick Buechner’s writings.]

:: Ambleside Online Year O Reading List [I’m reading all the books on this list aloud to Lola this year.]

:: Plutarch’s Lives [I will be attempting to slow-read this one with the boys this year. I may chicken out and read the Greenleaf Guides Famous Men of Greece and Famous Men of Rome instead. Or even Augustus Caesar’s World.]

:: Julius Caesar retold by Leon Garfield [I’m working through both story volumes with the boys this year.]

:: Understood Betsy [Another re-read, but it had been a while since my last time through!]


The Beginning Stages of the 2016 Reading Challenge Master List

(Books marked out have been completed)


Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner [in progress]

Real-Life Schole Sisters

The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories [in progress]

Mystery and Manners [in progress]

Online Schole Sisters

Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness & Beauty

Leisure: The Basis of Culture (re-read)

[Also discussing Flannery O’Connor with this group.]

Symposium at Parnassus (Facebook Group)

Understood Betsy (re-read) [in progress]

Jack and Jill (Alcott)

Little Women

Little Men

Rose in Bloom

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education [in progress from 2015]

Plutarch’s Lives [In progress]

Potato Peel Pie Society (Facebook Group)

[Ambleside Online Year O book list with Lola]


Julius Caesar (re-telling by Leon Garfield) [In progress]

The Taming of the Shrew (“)

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers (re-read)

The Green Ember/ Black Star Rising

Surprised by Joy

ChocLit Guild

Far from the Madding Crowd

The Man Who Was Thursday, A Nightmare by Chesterton


Becoming Human by Jean Vanier

Book Detectives

The Family Under the Bridge  (re-read)

Dominic (re-read)

The Cricket in Times Square (re-read)

Symposium Read-Alouds (with boys)

Shakespeare (Leon Garfield, both volumes –Hamlet and The Tempest) [in progress]


The Princess Bride

Tuck Everlasting

Roman Roads Western Culture Greeks with Levi

[Also discussing with online Schole Sisters]

The Iliad [in progress]

The Odyssey

CC Challenge B short stories [2015-16] (with Levi and McKinnon)

Words Aptly Spoken: Short Stories

God Lives by Hans Christian Andersen
The Teapot by Hans Christian Andersen
The Bet by Anton Chekhov
The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde
Little Girls Wiser than Men by Leo Tolstoy
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke

Araby by James Joyce
The Schoolboy’s Story by Charles Dickens
That Spot by Jack London
The Red-Headed League by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Celestial Railroad by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A White Heron by Sarah Orne Jewett
A Man and the Snake by Ambrose Bierce
The Cop and the Anthem by O. Henry
The Necklace by Henri Guy de Maupassant
The Hammer of God by G. K. Chesterton
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain
The Bird on its Journey by Beatrice Harraden
The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde
A King in Disguise by Matteo Bandello
The Startling Painting by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet



The Martian

So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

Heart of Darkness

Monday, February 1, 2016

Food for Thought ~ Margins and Meditations

On Margins and Meditations @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Seek in reading and thou shalt find in meditation;
knock in prayer and it shall be opened in contemplation.

~ St. John of the Cross

:: Marginal Faith: You Probably Should Be Doing Less by S. D. Smith [If you read only one of these links, let it be this one, friends.]
"Margin is not the wasted space on the page where more words could have gone if only we would knuckle-down and work harder. Margin is the place where the words we carefully compose and place show their best... 

"Margin makes your story clear, legible, and beautiful. At least, if your story really is beautiful, the margin will not contradict it. It will enhance and testify to its worth and beauty, to how compelling it is."

:: When Beauty Strikes by David Brooks @ The New York Times
By this philosophy, beauty incites spiritual longing. 
Today the word eros refers to sex, but to the Greeks it meant the fervent desire to reach excellence and deepen the voyage of life. This eros is a powerful longing. Whenever you see people doing art, whether they are amateurs at a swing dance class or a professional painter, you invariably see them trying to get better. “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart,” Vincent van Gogh wrote. 
Some people call eros the fierce longing for truth. “Making your unknown known is the important thing,” Georgia O’Keeffe wrote. Mathematicians talk about their solutions in aesthetic terms, as beautiful or elegant.

:: Just Another Reason I Homeschool: A Meditation on Jayber Crow by Missy Andrews @ Center for Lit [Love, LOVE this one.]
'Crow describes this undetected pressure to create an identity for oneself as a kind of subtle bondage. He finds its source in his education: “If I was freer than I had ever been in my life, I was not yet entirely free; for I still hung on to an idea that had been set deep in me by all my schooling so far: I was a bright boy and I ought to make something out of myself…”'

:: Sir Ken Robinson: Full Body Education @ Zen Pencils [A great graphic-novel-style visual of an excerpt from Robinson’s TED Talk on education]

:: Why Introverted Teachers Are Burning Out @ The Atlantic
In some ways, today’s teachers are simply struggling with what the Harvard Business Review recently termed “collaborative overload” in the workplace. According to its own data, “over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.” The difference for teachers in many cases is that they don’t get any down time; they finish various meetings with various adults and go straight to the classroom, where they feel increasing pressure to facilitate social learning activities and promote the current trend of collaborative education.

:: To educate children, you need books on the shelves @ Like Mother, Like Daughter [Preaching to the choir]
There is a way to relieve the burden on yourself to be providing the all-too-elusive “complete education” for your children at every moment. And it’s the same solution to the opposite problem, which is resting too much confidence in that school you are sending them to — the one that you may be paying a lot for, but which simply can’t give them the depth of experience with a life lived with books that they need.

:: Christian Books and Christian Reading by Adam Andrews @ Center for Lit [I’m looking forward to reading part 2!]
“This book does not seem to have any Christian lessons in it,” she said. “It’s disturbing and full of hopelessness and despair. Is there a way to redeem this story, or at least understand it better, by reading it from a Christian perspective?”

:: Gentlemen Speak: 5 Things Pride and Prejudice Can Teach You About Men @ Verily [So interesting and full of truth]
The truth is, Darcy is sometimes placed so high on a pedestal that we forget the many ways he is very much like your modern everyday man today—full of his own flaws and far from perfect. 

Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, even Charlotte and Mr. Collins—every relationship Austen portrays teaches us what it is to be devoted, selfless, authentic, and most of all open-minded to love. But especially as a man, I can tell you, I find it all extremely relatable. Here’s why.

:: Why Can’t We Read Anymore? @ San Francisco Chronicle
Still, I am an optimist. Most nights last year, I got into bed with a book — paper or electronic — and started. Reading. One word after the next. A sentence. Two sentences. 
Maybe three. 

And then … I needed just a little something else. Something to tide me over. Something to scratch that little itch at the back of my mind — just a quick look at e-mail on my iPhone; to write, and erase, a response to a funny tweet from William Gibson; to find, and follow, a link to a really good article in the New Yorker. E-mail again, just to be sure. 

I’d read another sentence. That’s four sentences.

:: Everyone Uses Singular 'They,' Whether They Realize It Or Not @ npr [I know I do, and I’m happy for it to become standard!]

:: Brain Starvation: Could Boys Be Suffering? @ Deep Roots at Home [This blog post was the kick in the pants I needed to implement some diet and supplement ideas at our house. I’ll keep you posted.]
The left hemisphere of our brain is where our judgment resides. It is the logical part of the brain. Our right hemisphere is where our emotion resides. When boys aren’t using good judgment, they are having a difficult time accessing their left hemisphere. Sometimes, this is due to a lack of essential fatty acids, essentially brain starvation. Information can’t travel across the corpus collosum if it isn’t nourished properly. The solution is for us to fatten up their brains!

:: A Crash Course in The Art of Constructive Critique @ Psychology for Photographers (and other creative professionals) [I’ll admit it: I am not good at receiving constructive criticism. This article, however, shares great advice for giving constructive critiques in this culture of widespread online criticism. These are fantastic general tools for peacemakers in leadership positions (hello, parenthood), as well.]
A constructive critique is delivered in a manner, time, and place that the recipient will 1) hear you out and 2) be likely to take action.  That means it has to start with compassion and genuine concern.  Advice given out of frustration and anger will elicit defensiveness and retaliation – not action. 

Before offering a critique of someone’s work, check yourself:  Who are you writing this for?  You?  Them?  The gathered audience?  Know your motivations.  If you’re trying to help, meet them in a way and a place that they will hear you out.

:: Nikabrik’s Candidate @ First Things
"Did C. S. Lewis foresee the rise of Donald Trump? Not specifically, I’m sure. But Lewis had a remarkable understanding of human nature. He knew what it was like to feel that all hope was lost. And he knew that fear and despair can drive decent people to look for someone, anyone, who projects an appearance of strength."

We’ll wrap up this post of links with an entertaining and brilliant video.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

On Rhetoric ~ Socratic Dialogue 1 [Ashton Kutcher]

Rhetoric @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We’ve talked quite a bit about the 5 Common Topics of Invention (a great dialectic tool) this past year. [The Question] It’s time to learn something new. Let’s move up a rung on the ladder and chat about rhetoric. [The Conversation]

A year or two ago, I had the privilege of speaking on the topic of Rhetoric at a couple Classical Conversations Parent Practicums. As is always the case, I’ve learned so much more about the topic after the fact.

Now I’m itching to lead a Socratic discussion on the topic of Rhetoric using only two videos.

I’m not the person with answers, I’m the person with questions. Will you join me?

I’d like to introduce you to the very basics of formal rhetoric, and then we’ll practice identifying the elements of rhetoric after watching a[n entertaining] persuasive speech.

Come on—it’ll be fun!

Rhetoric is persuasion aimed at the truth. According to Plato, it is the art of soul-leading by means of words.

As Scott Crider writes in The Office of Assertion:
The study of rhetoric educates one in a particular liberty, the ‘liberty to handle the world, to remake it, if only a little, and to hand it to others in a shape with may influence their actions.’ Through this ‘office of assertion,’ the writer is a leader of souls… Rhetoric is ‘the care of words and things’; that care is associative, a practice one learns—and never stops learning—in the presence of others, the ones you lead and are led by. Such soul-leading is a liberal power, one which in its finest and fullest manifestation is a form of love; the finest rhetorician not only loves wisdom, but also loves others who do so. The finest rhetor, then, is a friend.
Let’s cover the basics briefly. [The Art of Manliness has an excellent introduction to rhetoric, if you’re interested in reading just a smidge more.]

Canons of Rhetoric

Invention (inventio): [This is where Aristotle’s 5 Common Topics of Invention belong.] The content of an argument (gathering information and ideas)

Arrangement (dispositio): The structure of an argument (arranging the content)

Elocution (elocutio): The style of an argument (discovering the best style and words in which to express the ideas)

Memory (memoria): The memorization of an argument (including the memorization of general knowledge to be used in conversation and debate)

Delivery (pronuntiato): The presentation of an argument (formatting writing or delivering a speech with effective body language and voice)
Writing in particular focuses on the first three canons.

“Invention is what you argue, organization [arrangement], in what order you argue, and style [elocution], how you argue.” (Scott Crider)

The Institute for Excellence in Writing program, used by Classical Conversations students in 4th-6th grades, focuses on structure (arrangement) and style (elocution).

The Lost Tools of Writing program, used by CC students in 7th grade and up, places more emphasis on the invention process with the 5 Common Topics and slowly guides students through the arrangement of a formal persuasive essay while adding elocution elements one at a time.

I’ve covered invention (the 5 Common Topics) frequently here on the blog, so let’s move on to a brief introduction of arrangement.

What is arrangement? It is the ordering of your thoughts.

Basic Arrangement of a Persuasive Argument

I. Introduction—Exordium [Draw in your audience with a joke, question, quote, statistic, anecdote, or challenge.]

II. Background Information—Narratio(n) [Give your audience context for your argument along with any background information they will need (time, place, characters, causes).]

III. Proof of the case—Confirmatio(n) [State your thesis, state the number of proofs you will using, and briefly state each proof (reason to support your thesis), then detail each proof with supporting information.]

IV. Address Opposition—Refutatio(n) [Refute the opposition by stating the counter position’s possible proofs and explaining why these proofs are not persuasive.]

V. Conclusion/Amplification—Peroratio(n) [Restate your thesis and proofs. Tell the audience to whom the issue matters and why. Inspire enthusiasm!]
In order to be a soul-leader, you must consider your audience as you are preparing and delivering your argument.

This is where the modes of persuasion come in to play.

Modes of Persuasion

Ethos is an appeal based on the speaker’s credibility.

Logos is an appeal based on reason and logic.

Pathos is an appeal to the audience’s emotions.

Wes Callihan introduces the modes of persuasion in the following video from his Western Culture DVD series.

Cicero on Rhetoric: Ethos, Pathos, Logos (Old Western Culture)

Now that you have a basic idea of the canons of formal rhetoric, the arrangement of an argument, and the modes of persuasion, let’s watch an unlikely example of rhetoric and identify these elements.

[Heads up: the speaker uses the word “crap” and “sexy” in this video if you are watching with kids and that concerns you.]

And now a few questions for you.

Who is Ashton Kutcher’s audience?

Does his audience need to be persuaded of something?

How does he initially connect with that audience? How does he get their attention? [Exordium]

Is his delivery (voice, body language) appropriate to the audience? [Pronuntiato]

Is his style and word choice appropriate to the audience? Is the length of the speech appropriate to the occasion? [Elocution]

Does he give any background or context for his argument? [Narratio]

Is the order of his speech clear? [Dispositio]

Is the purpose of his speech clear? Does he state a thesis or subject for his speech? Does he state the number of ideas (proofs) and introduce them briefly? Does he flesh out each idea with supporting information? [Confirmatio]

Is he familiar with his topic? Does he have enough information gathered? [Inventio]

Is his speech memorized? [Memorio]

Is his speech logical and reasonable? [Logos]

How does he establish his credibility for his argument? Is his credibility strong or weak? In what ways? Is his credibility weaker for any of his arguments? [Ethos]

Does he appeal to the audience’s emotions? How? [Pathos]

Does he restate his ideas in conclusion? Does he identify his audience and tell them why his speech matters to them? Does he inspire them to action? [Peroratio]

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Part 2 is coming up. I can see you on the edge of your seat! [grin]

Friday, January 29, 2016

Reading Flannery O'Connor

Reading Flannery O'Connor @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Yes, I have been a complete and utter blog slacker this past month, though I have been quite active on my Facebook page. I won’t bore you with excuses; let’s just get on with business as usual, shall we?]

Flannery O’Connor!

Last year, my Schole Sisters group deep-read Hamlet using the 5 Common Topics of Invention to discuss the play. It was an incredible experience and one we wanted to continue. After some deliberation, we chose Flannery O’Connor as our worthy literary project for 2016. Eleven women met this month at my house to discuss two short stories (led by my brilliant friend Mindy Pickens), and several more women read and joined us in spirit if not in body. [I am also in a small online Schole Sisters group which is also reading and discussing Flannery, so I’m digging in deep this year!]

Flannery can be intimidating.

Her stories, at first glance, may seem shocking or harsh or violent. Using her biography and essays as a background to her stories, however, has helped me in my understanding of what it is she was trying to say.

Are you unfamiliar with Flannery O’Connor? Have you tried to read her short stories (or one of her two novels) and had difficulty enjoying them? Please allow me to share a few podcasts and articles to give you a better introduction.

[Many of the following podcasts and articles, as well as her biography and essays, contain spoilers for her stories.]

Start here:

:: The Commons (CiRCE Podcast) #7: Flannery O’Connor, featuring Jonathan Rogers (author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor). This is a fantastic introduction to Flannery O’Connor as a person and as a worthy author. I found the biography of Flannery by Jonathan Rogers a fascinating and enlightening read. I’ll share some great quotes later in this post.
[You can also read an interview with Jonathan Rogers regarding Flannery O’Connor at The Gospel Coalition.]

:: A Flannery O’Connor “Starter Kit” @ CiRCE [If you are not sure where to start, you may want to begin with these stories. I purchased her Complete Stories for convenience.]

A Good Man Is Hard to Find is one of Flannery’s most memorable stories, but it is not her easiest. I appreciated reading her own comments about this story in her book of essays, Mystery and Manners. (Again, I’ll share quotes later in this post.)

If you need more help understanding or appreciating A Good Man, you may enjoy the following podcast:

:: Close Reads (CiRCE Podcast) #1: A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The following is a recording of Flannery O’Connor reading A Good Man Is Hard to Find. We enjoyed listening to much of it together at our last Schole Sisters meeting.

More blog posts and articles about Flannery O’Connor:

:: Flannery O’Connor: Gifts of Meaning & Mystery @ The Imaginative Conservative [This is a long, detailed post about O’Connor. She is a frequent topic at The Imaginative Conservative.]

:: My God [excerpts from her prayer journal] @ The New Yorker

:: Flannery O’Connor on Why the Grotesque Appeals to Us @ Brain Pickings

:: The Promise of Flawed Characters @ The Atlantic

:: Interview with Flannery O’Connor @ World Magazine

:: The Displaced Person @ The Paris Review

And some quotes from her biography and book of essays:

The Terrible Speed of Mercy

"'To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.'"

"If the stories offend conventional morality, it is because the gospel itself is an offense to conventional morality. Grace is a scandal; it always has been. Jesus put out the glad hand to lepers and cripples and prostitutes and losers of every stripe even as he called the self-righteous a brood of vipers."

"She's like an Isaiah who never quite gets around to 'Comfort ye my people.’”

"Truth is hard for O'Connor's characters; she seems to take it as a point of honor not to make truth easy for the reader either."

"In O'Connor's unique vision, the physical world, even at its seediest and ugliest, is a place where grace still does its work. In fact, it is exactly the place where grace does its work. Truth tells itself here, no matter how loud it has to shout."

"There's a kind of comfort in finally facing the truth about oneself. That's what happens in every one of Flannery O'Connor's stories: in a moment of extremity, a character--usually a self-satisfied, self-sufficient character--finally comes to see the truth of his situation. He is accountable to a great God who is the source of all. He inhabits mysteries that are too great for him. And for the first time there is hope, even if he doesn't understand it yet."

"In O'Connor's oeuvre even the most damaged sinners long for transcendence whether they know it or not, and transcendence makes its presence known at long last."

"Perhaps the most important thing that sets O'Connor's work apart from that of her Southern Gothic contemporaries is the possibility that her lame will walk again and her maimed will be made whole."

[In bad health] "'I have enough energy to write with and as that is all I have any business doing anyhow, I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing. What you have to measure out, you come to observe closer, or so I tell myself.'"

"Each day for the "hillbilly Thomist" ended with twenty minutes' reading in Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica--a daily brushup on the fundamentals of her faith. 'If my mother were to come in during this process and say, "Turn off that light. It's late," I with lifted finger and broad bland beatific expression would reply, "On the contrary, I answer that the light, being eternal and limitless, cannot be turned off. Shut your eyes," or some such thing.' It's a classic O'Connor moment. The practical, solicitous mother issues an order. The witty, overeducated daughter smarts off piously."

"'My talent lies in a kind of intellectual vaudeville.’"

"'A serious novelist is in pursuit of reality. And of course when you're a Southerner and in pursuit of reality, the reality you come up with is going to have a Southern accent, but that's just an accent; it's not the essence of what you're trying to do.'"

"Remarking on the work of another Catholic writer, she commented that it 'is just propaganda and its being propaganda for the side of the angels only makes it worse. The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it.'"

'"I have got to the point now where I keep thinking more and more about the presentation of love and charity, or better call it grace, as love suggests tenderness, whereas grace can be violent or would have to be to compete with the kind of evil I can make concrete.’ ...These aren't tender mercies O'Connor speaks of.'

"Sin and grace and forgiveness and love and mercy and hell and heaven are all mysteries. 'If they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn't be worth understanding... A God you understood would be less than yourself.' For O'Connor, the purpose of fiction was to portray these and other mysteries--to embody them--in human manners. She did not expect fiction to explain mystery, but to gesture at its unfathomable depths, and thus to preserve the mystery that dogma guards."

"’Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I am writing, and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing. It is the same with Christian self-abandonment. The great difference between Christianity and the Eastern religions is the Christian insistence on the fulfillment of the individual person.’"

“'I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic,' she wrote. 'The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.' For O'Connor, the real horror was never violence or deformity, but damnation. Horror that awakens a soul to its own danger and prepares it to receive grace is no horror, but a mercy.’"

“'The moral basis of fiction and poetry, she wrote...’is the accurate naming of the things of God.’ ‘It's only trying to see straight and it's the least you can set yourself to do, the least you can ask for. You ask God to let you see straight and write straight.’ Seeing straight, for O'Connor, first meant seeing this world and from here learning to see another world. ‘For me the visible universe is a reflection of the invisible universe,’ she wrote. ‘The visible universe is one way eternal truths are bodied forth. Another is through story--the accurate naming of the things of God. And the most important was the sacraments.’”

Writing to a friend who revealed her shameful background. "’...But there are times when the sharpest suffering is not to suffer and the worst affliction not to be afflicted. Job's comforters were worse off than he was, though they didn't know it... Where you are wrong is in saying that you are a history of horror. The meaning of the Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history, and nothing is plainer to me than that you are not your history.’"

Mystery and Manners

[Regarding A Good Man is Hard to Find, with spoilers…]

"The heroine of this story, the Grandmother, is in the most significant position life offers the Christian. She is facing death. And to all appearances she, like the rest of us, is not too well prepared for it. She would like to see the event postponed. Indefinitely.

"... I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story...This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both the world and eternity... It would be a gesture that transcended any neat allegory that might have been intended or any pat moral categories a reader could make. It would be a gesture which somehow made contact with mystery.

"There is a point in this story where such a gesture occurs. The Grandmother is at last alone, facing the Misfit...

"Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them...

"In my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.

"This story has been called grotesque, but I prefer to call it literal...Now the lines of motion that interest the writer are usually invisible. They are lines of spiritual motion. And in this story you should be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmother's soul, and not for the dead bodies."

"With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially, and I believe these are times when writers are more interested in what we are essentially than in the tenor of our daily lives... The man in the violent situation reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him; and since the characters in this story are all on the verge of eternity, it is appropriate to think of what they take with them."