Magnanimity--Volume 1, Issue 6
"Who aimeth at a star,
Shoots higher, far,
Than he who means a tree."
A Charlotte Mason and Classical Education Newsletter
Volume 1, Issue 6--December 10, 2002
Copyright 2002 Karen Glass
All Rights Reserved
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
--A Word from the Editor
--E-text of the Month, by Leslie Noelani Laurio
--Narration: Getting Started, by Karen Glass
--A Living Conference, by Athena Reedy-Danoy
Best wishes and joy to you during this Christmas season! Magnanimity's
focus is on education and philosophy, and we've kept that emphasis in this
December issue. However, you will find that this month's "e-text" will
bring some holiday cheer.
Earlier this year, I shared the information for a special classical
education conference that was taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina.
CiRCE Institute held their first conference. As promised, this issue
includes information about ordering tapes, but we also have a first-hand
account from one of those who were fortunate enough to attend and enjoy this
terrific event in person!
When you can find time during this busy season--read and enjoy!
E-TEXT OF THE MONTH
As my children are getting older and outgrowing picture books, I thought it
would be nice to have something more substantial to share with them during
the Christmas season. The first place I looked was online, and I found a few
promising texts. The best so far has been "This Way to Christmas" written by
Ruth Sawyer in 1916.
It is the story of David, a nine-year-old boy during WWI whose parents send
him to stay with the Irish nurse, Johanna, who once cared for him as a baby.
She and her husband live on a mountain but have never met their few
neighbors because, as Johanna says, they are "outcasts, speaking strange
tongues and worshiping other gods and quite unfit to cross the doorsteps of
honest Christian folk."
But, in his loneliness, David visits these people. He meets a young South
American man with a lung disease and his aged mother; an old Negro cook
staying in a lumber camp that's been deserted for the year; a German
railroad flagman who has been regarded with suspicion ever since WWI
started; and an Eastern European trapper. As they tell David Christmas
stories remembered from their native homes, and as David retells them to
Johanna and her husband, the realization grows that these people are not the
heathens Johanna had thought, and barriers of misunderstanding begin to
With the help of a painter friend who blames Christmas for perpetuating a
bad economy with its tradition of buying unneeded gifts while others have
nothing, David brings these outcasts together and what David had anticipated
as a sad, lonely holiday away from home becomes a chance to share the true
spirit of Christmas with new friends.
Besides being a wonderful story of overcoming prejudice, the book is
interwoven with Christmas stories, about both the nativity and Santa, from
around the world. Ruth Sawyer is a wonderful storyteller, and the story
draws the reader in from the first sentence: "I wonder if you know that
sometimes stories have a way of beginning themselves? Sometimes they do even
more than this. They tell themselves -- beginning and ending just where they
please -- with no consideration at all for the author or reader..."
It's online here:
Copyright 2002 Leslie Noelani Laurio
Used With Permission
Reading about narration as a natural, powerful educational tool can be
exciting. Reading what Charlotte Mason says about narration, what other
educational writers have to say about narration, or hearing the glowing
testimonies about families who have used narration can build up our
expectations. Narration sounds deceptively simple and in truth, it is
natural. We listen to our children narrating as a natural part of their
lives, and it seems as if it would be a simple matter to channel that
chattiness into use in a more formal setting.
Then reality descends. An expectant and unsuspecting mother reads a page,
or perhaps a few paragraphs, to her bright, talkative six-year-old, and
sweetly invites him to retell what he has heard.
At this point, anything can happen. He might repeat the last sentence
verbatim. He might say, "I can't remember." He might ask, "Why?--you
already know what it says." He might offer a bit of legitimate narration
amidst a blur of "ums" and "ers." He might give a two sentence summary that
covers the main information--"It was about a man who rode a horse in the
night," but leaves the poor mother wondering if he recalls the details of
names and places, such as Paul Revere and Lexington. In short, the average
six-year-old sitting on the couch can dash an educational theory to pieces
in a matter of moments. In spite of admonitions to the contrary, the mother
is reduced to asking questions about the material in an attempt to ascertain
if the child really was listening. The happy mother of the six-year-old who
narrates fluently from the start will immediately feel the benefits of
narration, but this mother will soon be wondering if narration is really the
best thing to be using with her child.
However, regardless of the initial difficulties to be overcome, narration is
too important an educational method to be lightly set aside. We must not get
discouraged! The incoherent ramblings or cryptic monosyllables of the
beginning narrator could be compared to the early crayon-and-paper
explorations of a young child. When you give your two-year-old a red
crayon, you do not expect the marks on the paper to resemble a rose.
Similarly, you should not expect the beginning narrator to gush forth
eloquent re-tellings of history and stories. Simply lowering those initial
expectations will make the early narrations less frustrating.
If you think of narration as a child's oral "picture" of what he has heard,
you can compare his progress with that of a budding artist. The chubby
two-year-old fist gripping a crayon is happy to be getting color or lines on
paper. In the same vein, beginning narrators should simply be encouraged to
use words--their own words--to "tell" a picture. If the result is as
impressive as a two-year-old's scribble, it is no more than we should
expect. While a child may be accustomed to chatting or telling his own
thoughts, narration is a different skill. Asking a child to narrate a
specific story is similar to asking an unskilled child to draw a tiger.
Transferring the information from his brain into a form that someone else
can recognize is a daunting task. A two-year-old knows what a tiger looks
like, but probably can't draw one. A six-year-old may know the story of
Paul Revere, but may not be able to communicate the material in a lucid,
But practice and familiarity will make the process comfortable. The young
child who scribbles with glee today will be drawing flowers, trees,
airplanes, cars, and the family dog within a few years. We would not dream
of eliminating crayons, papers, and pencils for young children, even when
their early drawings show little promise. The very action of drawing and
using their fingers makes them more "fluent," and the desire to do better
grows with their skill. A child will draw the same picture again and
again--a horse, or a helicopter--refining their techniques in search of a
Even so we must not set the practice of narration aside because the first
attempts do not yield masterpieces. If narration is encouraged and required
frequently, it will become easier in time. Charlotte Mason tells us to
allow as much as a term--three months--for young children to get used to
narrating. But they will not grow into this skill if it is not required of
them. Even at the end of a year, a young child may not be giving the kind
of full and complete narrations that we envision when reading books about
education. Each child is, of course, an individual. While some children
will quickly catch on and narrate fluently within a short time, others will
struggle to produce a fluid narration for several years. It may be that the
discipline of narration will be of greater benefit to the child who
While drawing is a skill that involves the visual arts, narration is an
exercise in the skillful use of words--nothing but words. There are ways of
narrating that involve play-acting, drawing, or modeling, but these are
bridges and stepping-stones to lead us to the ultimate goal--the facile
command of language. For those children who narrate easily from the start,
the regular practice will refine and polish their "compositions." For those
who find expressing themselves with words more difficult, this kind of
consistent practice is the only thing that will make them more fluent and
You don't expect your crayon-wielding preschoolers to produce fine art, and
there is no need to expect extensive or comprehensive narration from new
narrators. Feel free to allow them a year or two to "grow into" the
narration process when you begin at age six.
If you introduce the practice of narration to an older child, it is
important to start with oral narration first, even if the child is otherwise
old enough to attempt written narration. The mental discipline of narration
takes time to establish, and while you might expect an older child to
improve more quickly than a six-year-old, he should still be allowed time to
develop the skill.
It is likely that even within one family the children will narrate at
different levels of fluency. A younger child may be more articulate than an
older brother or sister, or there may be just one who finds narration
especially daunting. Difficult as it is to refrain from doing so,
narrations should not be compared. Each child brings something of himself to
a narration--narration is personal--and the length or fluency of a narration
is not always an indication of the mental effort involved.
Suppose you asked all of your children to draw that picture of a tiger.
Perhaps the oldest has a flair for drawing, and shows a realistic-looking
tiger stalking through the jungle. The next child has a vivid imagination,
and draws an identifiable tiger in a circus ring, jumping through fiery
hoops. The youngest doesn't much care for drawing, but obliges you with a
rough sketch that is unmistakably a tiger.
You wouldn't compare those drawings, labeling one "better" than the others.
You asked for a tiger, and you were given tigers--each one, in part, a
reflection of the personality of the child. Provided they were orange, with
four legs, a tail, and stripes, you would be satisfied that each child knew
what a tiger was. When you ask for narration, your children will "draw" an
oral picture that reflects their own personalities, as well as narrative
abilities. A talkative, imaginative child might make a detailed narration
that is longer than the original material. A child who prefers concrete
facts might select the salient points only, and summarize the main events in
a few terse sentences. However, the mental discipline of recalling the
material, choosing the important points to narrate, and organizing their
thoughts into a rational order, and finally communicating them to you, is
what makes narration valuable. One narration is not "better" than another
simply because it is longer or even more creative in the manner of its
If a child is initially reluctant to narrate, or resists the necessity of
it, there are ways of making it more immediately palatable. Acting out a
scene with dolls--or lego men, or stuffed animals--appeals to some children.
A child who likes to draw might prefer to draw a picture, and if he can tell
you about the picture, the drawing becomes an intermediate step which leads
to the use of words. Any tool that can be used to encourage children to
express themselves is a legitimate narration tool. We simply want to be
certain that we keep in mind our ultimate goal of teaching children to use
words to express themselves, so that we do not let the secondary narrations
forever keep us from our primary purpose.
Narration is a skill, and like any other skill, practice alone will make its
use polished and easy. We know that our beginning learners will move on
from painstaking printed letters to flowing cursive over time. We
endure--and even enjoy!--their clumsy, uneven letters for a long time,
noticing and praising visible progress when it occurs. Some day, our
children will write fluent cursive, and we will scarcely think twice about
it, because their acquired skill will require little effort on their part.
But one cannot arrive at that point without the many, many opportunities to
practice writing which they have had.
If we want our beginning narrator to reach a similar level of fluency with
words, we must provide and insist upon plenty of regular "practice." We
must consider each narration in light of the bigger picture. If narration
is a struggle today, it need not always be so. Even the most perplexing
six-year-old on the couch, rather than dashing an educational theory to
pieces, can become a sparkling example of its efficacy. Charlotte Mason
reminds us often that one-third of education is a discipline, and this
practice of narration is a discipline which pays many dividends.
Copyright 2002 Karen Glass
A LIVING CONFERENCE, by Athena Reedy-Danoy
The CiRCE conference drew a small, eager-to-learn group consisting of
homeschoolers, private school teachers, head masters, and school board
members. The workshop and colloquy leaders and plenary speakers
were well chosen, and chosen not only for their experience and wisdom, but
also -- I couldn't help but notice and acknowledge favorably -- for
My expectations and reasons for attending the conference were, simply,
to be fed by those more knowledgeable than myself, those able to open
the door in helping our family understand the purpose, essence and
practice of a classical education. Much was said that confirmed my
intuition that what we were undertaking, or had been attempting, was
not an educational fad. There were however ideas that I had not yet
explored that we look forward to employing, and some other concepts
presented that I admit to not being able to grasp, such things that
will take time for me to understand.
The memory so very vivid in my mind that I carried back with me from
the conference is the acceptance speech given by David Hicks, author
of Norms and Nobility, and recipient of the CiRCE Institute award for
lifetime contribution to education. Mr Hicks' speech brought and
meshed together everything which the conference stood for,
"Celebrating the Word," and, being rich in meaning, was one that drew
everyone within hearing clinging to every word.
Mr. Hicks began with the statement, "It is easier to celebrate the
Word, than it is to comprehend it." There's truth in that, more so as
I search for words, WORDS, to relay back, at least intelligibly, what
Mr. Hicks, and other speakers from the conference, articulately
expressed while directing us through the Greek "logos." One could say
the same for the Hebrew word "dahbar." English translates both,
"logos" and "dahbar," as "word" though our understanding of "word"
gives little real meaning in itself. Just compare at face value what
we think of a "word" to that which is viewed by the Greek philosophers
as their highest form of thinking and to the Hebrew prophet as a dynamic
and passionate thought that moves one to act.
We further learn from Mr. Hicks that the goal of a classical education,
and what Quintilian would agree when describing the ideal orator, is a
good man speaking well. In ancient times the art of speaking well,
or the study of language, was pursued diligently if not religiously as
an essential part of life next to breathing, for language was and is
the means by which thought is expressed. How admirable to have
wonderful thoughts, more so to have words to describe them. Our four
year old son brought this fact to me while I was reading his favourite
book to him. On finishing he wanted to tell me something but with
arms waving and an angry sigh said, "I know, but I just can't find the
words!" Have we at any time ever felt this way?
We were made aware that teaching one how to think, speak and write
well were achieved two ways, dialectically and didactically. The
dialectical method has been accredited to Socrates and is hence
what we have come to know as the Socratic method, a method that seeks
to draw out knowledge by engaging students with critical questions.
"This method teaches the great truth," said Mr Hicks, "that one can
not build a house of knowledge until the ground of false opinion is
cleared." This statement got me thinking, not about Socrates,
however but thinking about my finished sewing projects. Yes, I know
I know, how can one be thinking about sewing in times like this!
While Mr Hicks was making analogies of this truth to home building
(and an excellent analogy it was), I confess my mind wandered into the
realms of dressmaking, the preparational tasks I had often wished I
could bypass but knowing well that if patterns were cut incorrectly I
was headed towards making a smaller sized dress than I had first
anticipated, or even a potato sack with armholes smaller than my
wrists! The preparations, though considered somewhat tedious, were
crucial to the progress and end result of a dress looking like a dress
fit to put on for whom it was made for. Having since thought
considerably over this, a trusted scripture bounced its way into my
mind: Through wisdom is a house of knowledge built and in
understanding this can it be established.
Then there's the didactical method which seeks to instill knowledge
by exposing students to ideal models for "mimesis", or imitation. This
method is accredited to Isocrates for refining and establishing
oratory as a literary form, for prior to this, oratory, or the study
of language, was learned in a time when oral teaching was the
preferred method, or the only method. Although oral teaching greatly
improves the memory, I'm so very grateful nonetheless for recorded
words of wisdom, writings from scripture to Jane Austen novels,
available to learn from and model, realising not only how imperative
to continue preserving them -- some of which may be collecting dust in
the corner of the library -- but that they be pulled off those shelves
and studied. As parents we are made fully aware the impact of what
our actions and language can have on our children, we notice this more
especially, in dismay, when the unfavourable ones are displayed in
public! Needless to say, our children will imitate what they see and
hear the most. "Mimesis" can be a powerful tool.
These were just some of my impressions taken from Mr. Hicks' speech --
his taped speech of which I most highly recommend obtaining and
listening to repeatedly, along with his book, Norms and Nobility.
There were also many opportunities for attendees to speak at leisure
with those intimate with the ideas, of which Mr. Hicks spoke about,
along with practical ideas that were learned from participating in
their classes. It is ALSO providential to realise that one no longer
has to travel vast distances in order to hear another speak, as they
did in times of old -- oh to recorded words of wisdom! Fortunately for
those who were unable to attend there are taped session available for
purchase and are without a doubt worth every penny. For more
information please see below.
From all this I came away rejuvenated ready to "put the shoulder to
the wheel" but also felt a sense of urgency to continue learning and
modeling that enthusiasm and perseverance for the sake of our own
children. All in all, I'm grateful for all the hard work of those
associated with the CiRCE Institute and wish them all the best for the
next conference in July 2003--it can only get bigger and better!
Copyright 2002 Athena Reedy-Danoy
Used With Permission
We are so blessed to live in the "Information Age," when missing a great
speech, concert, or conference does not mean we can never share the
experience. Many of the sessions from the CiRCE conference were taped, and
are now available to be ordered. Christmas is a great time to indulge
yourself, and ordering a few of these tapes would be a treat--something
inspiring to listen to when the "January blues" descend.
Although Magnanimity has no direct affiliation with CiRCE Institute, a copy
of the order form may be downloaded in different formats from the shared
files of the home page.
For more information about the CiRCE Institute:
by Alexander Pope
'Tis not enough, your counsel still be true;
Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.
Without Good Breeding, truth is disapproved;
That only makes superior sense beloved.
But where's the man, who counsel can bestow,
Still pleased to teach, and yet not proud to know?
Unbiased, or by favour, or by spite;
Not dully prepossessed, nor blindly right;
Though learned, well-bred; and though well-bred, sincere;
Modestly bold, and humanly severe:
Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
But some there were, among the sounder few
Who durst assert the juster ancient cause,
And here restored Wit's fundamental laws.
Such was the Muse, whose rules and practice tell,
"Nature's chief Masterpiece is writing well."
Such late was Walsh -- the Muse's judge and friend,
Who justly knew to blame or to commend;
Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame;
Still pleased to praise, yet not afraid to blame;
Averse alike to flatter, or offend;
Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.
Contributed by Dr. Robert Einarsson
Dr. Einarsson's website contains more poetry, along with sound files of
classic English poetry being read aloud.
The proper education of the young does not consist in stuffing their heads
with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various
authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a
living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and
fruit spring from the bud on a tree.
--John Amos Comenius
I hope you enjoyed this issue!
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