Or “Lost Tools of Writing, the ‘How to Talk with Your Teenager’ Program”
After Levi expressed his frustration over his Lost Tools of Writing assignments, I promised him that we’ll do that subject together, every day, first thing in the morning.
We had our community day for Challenge A on Monday, but Tuesday morning he remembered. “Mom, you said you would do Lost Tools with me, first thing.”
I told him to bring his papers to the kitchen table and we’d sit down together while I ate my breakfast and drank my tea, leisurely*. (I often eat standing up because, you know, hurry, hurry, hurry. And hello, Whole30, because I didn’t have enough on my plate—ha!—and I’m modeling doing hard things.)
“Christian education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.” [CiRCE]
A liberal education is not for the purpose of productivity but for the purpose of making minds free.
I can believe that with every cell of my body. But I am also human. And a mother who has a lot on her plate. And I’m lazy. And impatient.
I like either having nothing to do, or doing something quickly and having something to show for the work.
But this educating our children and ourselves, it is not easy, and it is not a sprint. It is a marathon, a life-long labor of love.
In our rush for output, we skip the difficult, nonquantifiable but essential step of contemplation and hurry along the quantifiable products of filled-in blanks on a worksheet or, count them, 30 items in each column of the ANI chart. We succumb to the pressures of schedule- and productivity-based educational goals.
I had been using the Lost Tools of Writing as a worksheet and writing program, but I was wrong.
The Lost Tools of Writing is a program that teaches students how to think.
I KNEW this. But I had forgotten.
The problem with thinking, or contemplation, is that it takes time and a willingness to set aside time-limits, to set aside the to-do list, to set aside the expectation of a product, to set aside all the trivial distractions in our physical space and in our minds. And, for those of us (me) not accustomed to focused, structured contemplation, it is difficult.
If it is difficult for us as adults, how much more difficult must it be for a thirteen-year-old boy?! And if we cannot spare the time and energy to model the process and value of contemplation, how will our children and students learn; will they believe us when we say it is important?
The Lost Tools of Writing is also the opportunity to talk about big, formational ideas with an adolescent—indirectly (not about their own decisions), without lecturing or moralizing. It is the opportunity to educate relationally.
It’s the “How to Talk with Your Teenager” program. And it’s GOLD.
This is what I discovered yesterday morning, during a two-hour un-rushed conversation, while we enjoyed each other’s company and ideas. True leisure.
*“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…” ~ Stratford Caldecott, Beauty for Truth's Sake
I began by sharing with Levi the benefit of creating an issue and an ANI chart (more about those in a minute for those of you not familiar with Lost Tools).
We contribute ideas to an ANI chart using the five common topics of invention in order to:
1. Think about and understand a story more deeply, and return to the text to remember more details.
2. Think about and know a character more deeply.
3. Think about and understand human nature more deeply, which should make us more empathetic.
4. Think about and understand ourselves, our nature, and our own decisions more deeply.
5. Practice making better decisions, and learn to use an ANI chart when faced with big decisions.
6. Learn to study the other side of arguments for clearer (unbiased) thinking, reasoning, and debating (which will be particularly helpful for policy debate in Challenge I).
With Lost Tools of Writing, the student chooses a “should question,” which he then turns into an issue on which he writes a persuasive essay.
In Classical Conversations Challenge A, students have assigned books to read (10 books in 30 weeks) from which they pull their issue. This month (the first weeks of the second semester), students read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Levi asked the question “Should Colin’s father have stayed away from him purposely?” This question becomes the issue “whether Colin’s father should have stayed away from him purposely.”
Students then create an ANI chart—one column for A (affirmative reasons), N (negative reasons), and I (interesting statements or questions about the story that do not seem to fit in column A or N).
This is often when the instinctive, impulsive “of course he shouldn’t have” or “I don’t know” statements begin. Or the tedious torture of wringing blood from a rock and finding 30 reasons to place in each column.
But, BUT, the student is given TOOLS, and those tools are called the 5 Topics of Invention, which is the first cannon of Rhetoric. Essentially, they are five categories of questions to ask (about anything!) to help a person think—structured brainstorming, really.
These tools can help eliminate the spontaneous reactions (of course he shouldn’t have done it) and the empty head (I don’t know, I have no idea, where do I even start). They are tools of inquiry to gather an inventory of facts and ideas. They promote focused, organized, interactive thinking. They are conversational.