Saturday, June 28, 2014

Harry Potter ~ A Lesson in Rhetoric


Yes, I’m reading the Harry Potter series. I waited many years for several reasons (I won’t go into those now), but I purposefully reserved judgment until I had read the books for myself. And until now I wasn’t all that interested in reading them. But at the encouragement of many thoughtful, intelligent, Christian friends, I dove in. I’m so glad I did.

Levi finished the series in four days and has re-read most of them. Luke took a little longer (a couple weeks, maybe?), but he finished the series—a huge accomplishment for him. Leif is reading book 4 (again, a huge accomplishment for him—he has never read a book with 700 pages before!), and I think I’ll stop him there for now. I have just started book 6. We are also working our way through the movies as a family.

Last night, I also read a phenomenal analysis of Harry Potter, How Harry Cast His Spell. (Well, I read the earlier version, Finding God in Harry Potter, which was written before the Harry Potter books 6 and 7 were published—perfect to read without spoilers.) The author wrote from the perspective of a conservative Christian who is also classically educated (he majored in Greek and Latin).

This blog post is not intended to be a review of the series or a defense or a recommendation (other than I humbly believe everyone, particularly Christians, should read the analysis How Harry Cast His Spell regardless of whether they intend to read the series or not simply because it is a way to thoughtfully engage the culture). Maybe I’ll write a review when I’ve finished the series.

What I do want to share today is the epiphany I had this morning regarding the Art of Rhetoric (which is the topic on which I spoke for this year’s Classical Conversations Parent Practicum) and Harry Potter. I’ve sacrificed my house cleaning and organizing today to the incarnation of these thoughts and ideas in writing (practicing the art of rhetoric!) before they vanished from my brain in a dramatic and irreversible poof. I’m currently in the grammar stage of the Art of Rhetoric, so bear with me as I share my epiphany, as rough and unpolished though it may be.


John Granger, author of How Harry Cast His Spell, differentiates between invocational magic and incantational magic. Invocational magic in Harry Potter would be evil because characters would invoke spirits or dieties which cannot be neutral. But the “magic” in Harry Potter is incantational and neutral (I've heard it described as "scientific"), meaning it can be used for good or evil.

So I thought this morning about the Latin root "cantus" which means song or music.

Then I thought about multiple quotes from Stratford Caldecott (who incidentally has good things to say about John Granger’s Harry Potter analysis), particularly when he writes about the choral art being the foundation of the educational process, and how song, poetry, and story were all part of the choral arts in the classical tradition. Anthony Esolen, I believe, writes that we use music to form our children's souls during the grammar stage. But, in essence, we are talking about words.

Rowling, author of Harry Potter, implies an abundance of meaning and symbolism in the words she uses throughout the series. The spells in Harry Potter are mostly Latin words with very specific meanings. (My personal favorite is Expecto Patronum—“I look for the figure of my father” or even “I long for my savior/deliverer.” John Granger goes into some detail on the analysis of this one.)

So we have the art of using words to create. We are made in God’s image (Imago Dei) and He speaks everything into existence (ex nihilo, out of nothing) with the creative power of words—Logos.

Psalm 33:6 By the word (Logos) of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:14 The Word (Logos) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We practice being in His image by using words to create (the closest we as humans can experience creation out of nothing). Using words we can form worlds; we can create peace, love, or anxiety; we can bless or curse.

[I highly recommend reading Angelina Sanford’s Imago Dei and the Redemptive Power of Fantasy at CiRCE, if you’d like to read more on the topic.]

The art of using words (speaking and writing), also called rhetoric, is a power. The art of rhetoric is scientific, based on observation and reason, and language is a neutral power that can be used (because of our free will) for good or evil—to bless or to curse.

Rhetoric is being persuasive with words. The more skillful your art, the more power you have. (And one can have natural talent and/or one can cultivate the art with study and practice.)

Andrew Kern says, "Rhetoric without truth is manipulation; rhetoric with truth is enchanting the soul."

Let’s go back to the word “incantation.” Not only do we have the root word "cantus" which is song, but "incantare" which means "to enchant."

Plato defines rhetoric as ‘the art of soul-leading by means of words.’

So we have a crystal clear division in the Harry Potter series: We have the house of Gryffindor (literally “golden griffin”—half eagle (king of the animals in the sky) and half lion (king of the animals on earth)), the true Rhetoricians, using words (spells or enchantments) for truth, soul-leading, sacrificial love, and selflessness. And we have the house of Slytherin (with a serpent mascot), the Sophists, using words (spells) for trickery/deception, manipulation, power, and selfishness.

(This is a good place to mention that Andrew Kern also says that if there is no knowable truth, the only things we can teach are how to get power and how to manage feelings. I think this fits in nicely with a sophist agenda of power and personal gain/comfort/selfishness.)

And then we have the three unforgivable curses: Adavra Kedavra (the death curse, this points to the sanctity of life), Crucio (a torture curse about which John Granger says, “This points to the fact that cruel treatment of our fellow human beings translates to cruel treatment of God (Matthew 25:40).”), and Imperio (the curse of complete domination of thought and action, this points to the importance of a person's free will). So, while the "magic" or "spells" or "power of language" is neutral, it is not neutral to use it to destroy life, “crucify” our fellow human beings, or remove their free will.

In The Office Of Assertion: An Art Of Rhetoric For Academic Essay, Scott Crider writes:

“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 lead 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 read that again.

“Such soul-leading is a liberal power, one which in its finest and fullest manifestation is a form of love.”

If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, you know what Rowling has to say about sacrificial love and death in every single book.

Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark…Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

3 Going on 13

Lola Golfing

We went mini golfing a couple days ago for a birthday party with our best friends. Lola, though she thought she was 13, also thought it was an obstacle course rather than a mini golf course. So I spent the whole time attempting to follow her and keep her out of other people’s way—while simultaneously dealing with two other boys who seem to have no concept of a “start at the beginning, take turns, take your time, be considerate of others, and enjoy the process” sort of game. Just keeping it real.

20140624_172215pm20140624_174502pmLola Climbing

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

From around the web...



::  Wisdom and Virtue are Best Learned at Home — A Response to Criticism @ Sandbox to Socrates. Whoa. And more whoa. Because I’m eloquent like that. This is a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, stirring, impassioned, articulate rebuttal to an article (on CiRCE, no less) about classical education. Check out the article and comments at CiRCE, as well. Much food for thought here. It plays to both sides of issues I’ve been thinking about lately, one of which is this: does criticism sting more when it’s close to home and we’re harboring doubts and insecurities or does it sting more when it’s untrue?

I was going to share a quote here, but a quote won’t do. Go read the whole thing.

::  Scarlet Letters, Waking Up, and Social Engineering @ The Imaginative Conservative.

Again, I tried to find a quote to share, but you’ll have to click the link and read the article. It is surprisingly humorous (and the end is the best bit).

::  Every Life’s Telling @ The Rabbit Room. (I’ll share a quote on this one, but that doesn’t let you off the hook of clicking on the link and reading the whole article. Grin.)

"We understand life in the context of the language that we speak. We think in words and images that are attached to words. We even have words for the wordless emotions that enrich and complicate our human existence. We live in an economy that capitalizes on words—slogans and jingles, an endless stream of marketing enticing me to buy that, go here, be this. The words never stop. Yet we lack adequate language to tell our own stories in deep truth. This is true of the most articulate among us—language will always have its limitations."

::  Why the Romans Counted Backwards by Andrew Kern @ CiRCE. Want to know how to discuss literature? This is a great place to start.



::  The Surprisingly Short History Of The Plus Sign @ Fast Code Design.



::  Can You Catch These Common Grammar Mistakes? @ Huffington Post. Test your grammar skills on this 18 question quiz.

::  Vocabulary Test. This one is in an interesting format, and it took me a while to get comfortable with the typing for answers so I took it multiple times. The words are different each time.



::  Brilliantly Simple Intellectual Jokes @ 22 Words. Just for fun.



I am completely mesmerized by this visual and auditory masterpiece.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Leif Benjamin

I had to capture the missing front teeth phase. Knock me over with a feather, my baby boy is almost 8!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Oh, How I Love Her

Lola Colette

Even when she burns up our microwave (oh, the smoke!) or stabs her brother with scissors… Life is never, ever dull with her around.

VBS season has started and it’s a sad year. Levi is too old, and Lola is too young.

I’m starting to think about signing all 4 kids up for AWANAS next year. It’s about the only thing they can ALL do, and it would give Russ and me a date night every week. I cannot even remember the last time we went on a date, just the two of us (other than when we went to see God’s Not Dead with another couple a while back). Sigh. Is that a bad reason to do AWANAS? [wry grin]

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cows, Books, Life, and Food (for Thought)

reading grazing

[I’d like to think that it takes awe-inspiring skill to deftly tie in cows and books in one post. As a curator of randomness, it is a useful skill. And I know I split my infinitive, but putting “deftly” before “to” doesn’t pack the same punch.]

Yes, we now have cows in our field. And when we aren’t chasing escaped cows, we’re reading. (Okay, we’ve only had to chase a cow twice so far.) That, dear readers, is our exciting life.

I’d like you to meet Molly, Columbus, and Ferdinand, our new foster cows (they belong to a friend).

cows and books 

Ah, reading. We’ve been embracing the idea of leisure as contemplation (see article and quotes below), and grazing through books with brute pleasure.

Levi, of course, has lead the way. After an Agatha Christie spree and the Father Gilbert Mysteries Radio Theatre, he read the Harry Potter Series (4,100+ pages) in four days. FOUR DAYS. And then he re-read several of the Harry Potter books and a couple books in the Peter and the Starcatchers Series. Then he moved on to (auto)biographies (Maria von Trapp, The True Story of a Family's Move to a Remote Island Ranch, and Noah). Next he read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra (the first two books of The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis). In the past day or two he polished off the four books in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series. This child needs more chores. Or something.

Luke read a couple books by Patricia M. St. John (she was a missionary in Tangier, Morocco when my mom and grandparents were missionaries there, and they attended church together) and then he started in on the Harry Potter series. He is hooked and on book 6. I am right behind him (hurry up, Luke!!) at the beginning of book 5. It is killing Luke not to be able to share things with me (don’t ruin the surprise!).

Leif is the ornery one. He’s super stubborn about what he reads. And he re-reads books like crazy. So we have stacks of Geronimo Stilton, Magic Tree House, Imagination Station (a Christian series similar to Magic Tree House), Magic School Bus Chapter Books, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and Life of Fred books all over the house.

I also grabbed a huge stack of beautiful picture books at the library.

Picture Books 

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything. A boldly illustrated celebration of Thomas Jefferson and his pursuit of everything.

Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud. The true story of the first woman to navigate the route from New York City, around Cape Horn, and up to San Francisco (with a world record speed, no less!). (Lovely illustrations.)

“A true navigator must have the caution to read the sea, as well as the courage to dare the wind.”

Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing. A biography of the famous children’s books illustrator and inspiration for the Caldecott Medal. (Rich, thick, ivory pages full of Caldecott’s illustrations are reminiscent of classic children’s books.)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. A vividly imaginative story that inspired this Academy Award-winning short film:


The Boy Who Loved Words. “He was a collector of words. Selig loved everything about words—the sound of them in his ears (tintinnabulating!), the taste of them on his tongue (tantalizing!), the thought of them as they percolated in his brain (stirring!), and, most especially, the feel of them when they moved his heart (Mama!).”

Which reminds me of this unrelated celebration of words written by Robert Pirosh that I’ll share just for fun:

"I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp."

Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost. A beautiful biography of Robert Frost told from the perspective of his oldest daughter. It includes more information, photographs, quotations, and poems at the end of the book in an Author’s Note.


Other than cows and books, we’ve been soaking up leisure while attending a birthday party, a graduation party, a Father’s Day dinner with family, and the beginning of my sister’s Friday night potluck and volleyball summer gatherings with friends and family in the garden.

My mom took the boys to see WWII aircraft at a local airport.

For Father’s Day, our family went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 at the theater. It had been a very long time since we had gone to see a movie in a theater. *sticker shock* *gasp* *shudder*

After that splurge, we’ve returned to our cheap, educational DVDs. The boys finished Liberty's Kids - The Complete Series (currently $5!) and Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? - The Complete Series (currently $7.75), so they’ve moved on to Schoolhouse Rock ($12.96). (The downside is that I have to hear “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” over and over and over again.)

Levi has been attending swim team practice, but Luke has had back-to-back strep or some virus and then a terrible ear infection. I’m praying he is finally on the mend.

And I’ll end this post with the best gift I have to offer you: the excellent words of other people.

Food for Thought

On Books, leisure, education, and summer:

::  Beauty for Truth's Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education by Stratford Caldecott

As we have seen, the “Liberal” Arts are precisely not “Servile” Arts that can be justified in terms of their immediate practical purpose. “The ‘liberality’ or ‘freedom’ of the Liberal Arts consist in their not being disposable for purposes, that they do not need to be legitimated by a social function, by being ‘work.’” …At the heart of any culture worthy of the name is not work but leisure, schole in Greek, a word that lies at the root of the English word “school.” At its highest, leisure is contemplation. It is an activity that is its own justification, the pure expression of what it is to be human. It is what we do. The “purpose” of the quadrivium was to prepare us to contemplate God in an ordered fashion, to take delight in the source of all truth, beauty, and goodness…"

::  Behold: Summer by Sarah Mackenzie @ CiRCE Institute

"Summer is not for the absence of work, but for work of a different order- not leisure in the sense of recreation, but leisure in the sense of re-creation. It’s for contemplation, reflection, delighting in, for the slow drinking in of great ideas and meaningful connections."

::  The Work of a Child by Andrew Pudewa @ Institute for Excellence in Writing (a beautiful, hope-filled story of his son’s struggle with dyslexia and his worry as a parent)

::  A Clean Slate by Cindy Rollins @ CiRCE

“We must know that we do not know. This is much harder than it sounds. I have spoken to my own children often about the power in the words, “I don’t know.” I have tried to practice this myself, but sometimes we deceive ourselves and when we do we have hampered our education and our soul."

::  17 Bookstores That Will Literally Change Your Life (I’m thinking I should plan an eat-and-read-around-the-world trip…)

::  What Does It Mean To Be Educated by Luke Holzmann @ Sonlight

::  Reflection Upon the Summer Institute by my friend Mindy Pickens @ CiRCE

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Groups and Programs Struggle

Because we’re human.

Because living in community and fellowship with one another is a complicated, challenging task.

We want changes made. But we don’t like to change.

We want new and improved materials and resources. But we don’t want to pay for them.

We want authority as teachers/tutors/leaders/coaches. But we want control as parents (or individuals).

We don’t want to volunteer. But we don’t want to pay others for their contributions.

We don’t want anyone to work less than we do. But we are oblivious when others work more.

We expect others to show up and pay up (on time!) for commitments. But we want flexibility to bow out of ours.

We don’t want to follow. But we expect others to accept our leadership.

We don’t want to listen. But we sure like to talk.

We expect to receive grace for our humanness. But we struggle to give it to others.

We want passion and commitment. But we accuse others of “drinking the kool-aid.”

We want everyone (us) to be included in decision-making. But that doesn’t include the person sitting next to us who would make the opposite one.

(We want more support. We want more freedom. We want more science. We want more history. We want more discussion. We want more productivity. We want quality. We want quantity. We want rigorous. We want to slow down. We want depth. We want breadth. We want popcorn. Popcorn is for heathens. (That last one is for Pastor James.))

We avoid honest, grace-filled communication with our flesh-and-blood community. But we spew words at the faceless on social media.

We don’t like dialectic tension. We don’t like give and take.


We fail to see each other as individual souls made in the image of our Creator.


[“We” in this post describes me, but by God’s grace I will grow and learn and practice being in community.]

P.S. I will return to pretty pictures tomorrow.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Classical Conversations Is Not Perfect

I feel led to share this today.

A “perfect” Classical education is not for every child, if there even were any such thing.

Our children are not products, but souls. And they are not collectives, but individuals. They have distinct personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and passions, and God has unique plans for their lives.

As no child is the same as another, no family is the same. We are made up of varying numbers of unique individuals, and each family has a unique situation and atmosphere and needs and desires.

Classical Conversations is not “the right way to educate a child” (Just as The Well-Trained Mind or Charlotte Mason or… is not “the right way to educate a child.”) It is not a perfect fit for every family. Not even most families. And each CC community is made up of humans. Very HUMAN humans. So each community experience will be different.

Wouldn’t this world be a boring place if we were all the same? I think so. Would we understand our need for God’s grace if we didn’t experience it daily—both in giving and receiving?

But if I talk about Classical Conversations as a wonderful experience, it is because that is our experience.

Perfect? No. For everyone? No. The only “Christian” way to educate a child? No. A permanent decision that should never be re-evaluated? No. A good fit for every family in every season? No. An enjoyable experience for every child? No.

[Is there anyone who wouldn’t make a few changes to the program if given carte blanche? No. Would everyone make the same changes? No. Is there any program in which there is unanimous approval? I think not.]

But a good fit for us? Yes. How we feel called to educate our children in this moment? Yes. An intentional rather than default decision on our part? Yes.

A business deal? No. If you enroll in Classical Conversations, I get nothing but the hope that it is a good experience for you. [If you make purchases using my Amazon links or my All About Learning Press affiliate button on the side, I do receive a small commission, and I’m thankful for those of you who choose to do so. But you are in no way to feel pressured to do so, and I have no way of knowing who has purchased items using my links and who has not. And when I recommend a book or resource, it is because we have found it helpful and/or delightful.]

If you read my blog, I hope you feel encouraged and supported regardless of your educational decisions.

If you came to a CC practicum where I spoke, I hope you felt encouraged regardless of your decision to enroll in CC (or not). I hope you learned something new that was applicable to your life as a parent interested in the education of your child. I hope you learned something new in your own journey as a life-long student. I felt encouraged by you and by your willingness to join in conversation. And I learned many new things, as well.

I believe strongly in choices and support and encouragement for parents. And I, for one, am so thankful that the choice to enroll my children in our local Classical Conversations community was available to me—because it is a great fit for our family in this season. I am thankful for the opportunity, for the experience, and for the community of wonderful humans that we have been blessed to be a part of.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I partied for the past three days and now…

art of rhetoric

…I have a hangover.


Truly, though, I think I talked more in the past three days than I have at any other point in my life. I was officially speaking and leading discussion roughly 5 hours a day, but “on” for conversation, questions, and socializing for about 12-13 hours a day. Those who know me well know I like to talk, but for this introvert that’s A LOT of socializing.

Rather than travel back and forth to this Classical Conversations practicum (about 1.5-2 hours each way), I stayed with a local family (thanks for your hospitality, Andrea!). I missed having Russ along for moral and technical support, but it was nice that the kids stayed home and I was able to embrace the speaking experience without having to juggle parenting duties at the same time.

After chocolate, Dr. Pepper, ibuprofen, and a SILENT drive home, I was ready to love on my family and go straight to bed. I confess, I’ve spent a couple extra hours there (bed) today, as well.

Next week I will have sufficiently recovered and will enthusiastically embrace the summer ahead!

(Thanks to my friend Maricel for capturing the above photo.)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Finding Fractals


After reading Fractals in Frozen? @ Running with Team Hogan, I had been wanting to learn a little more about fractals—just a little, mind you, as I’m still in the “grammar” stage of such complex mathematical and scientific ideas (not my forte) and I find myself easily intimidated.

Today, while at the library, I stumbled across a beautiful new picture book by Sarah and Richard Campbell. It caught my eye immediately because I remembered enjoying their book about Fibonacci Numbers, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. Their most recent book, Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature, is just as lovely. The photography is beautiful, and both are great (simple) introductions to the mathematical and scientific patterns for younger children (and their parents who did not learn such things in school).


I read it in the truck while waiting for Levi at swim practice, and my fingers were itching to do some doodling when we arrived home. Mom doodling with markers at the kitchen table is apparently an irresistible sight to young boys, so Leif joined me. He excitedly read the book and started in on his own fractal trees. And then Levi and Luke wanted to know all about fractals…

Yes, we know how to party on a Monday evening!