Tag Archives: Education

Summer Reading

One of the things that I’ve been able to do since the accident is read.  I have a stack of books that I’m making progress through.  Another stack is gathering dust.  Still, another stack is no longer a stack.  These books have made their way back to the shelves, but have not yet been properly shelved, giving faint hope that I will get to them.

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Currently Reading:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  This is the biography that inspired the Broadway musical.  It’s been on the list ever since I heard about the musical and showed clips to my US History class this past year.  Great Read!

Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.  A look at the development of revivals and evangelical Christianity in the United States and Great Britain before the American Civil War.

Homeric Moments by Eva Brann.  Reflections of teaching Homer for over fifty years at St. John’s College.  This is a good read but a challenging book, and worthwhile to build a stronger foundation in my thinking about and teaching of Homer.

Serving With Calvin by Terry L. Johnson.  A guide to the fundamental principles of public ministry and the calling of the pastor.  While much of this is material is content I’ve picked up and absorbed over the years, I sure do wish this book was around when I was a young minister!  It’s a judicious condensation of the work of the pastor that has spurred me on in prayer and preparing for the ministry of the Word.

Listening to on Audible:

Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters At The End by Atul Gawande.  Thought provoking book on aging and how the West cares for an aging population.  Gawande convincingly shows us how the medical model of caring for elderly people often ignores their desires and robs them of the agency that those of us who are able to live independently take for granted, and profiles residences where elderly people are able to exercise greater liberty and agency in their making, and how this adds years to their lives and life to their years.

On the shelf/nightstand:

The Didascalion of Hugo of St. Victor.  A medieval treatise reading, education, and the seven liberal arts.  It’s a little challenging to get through with the discomfort I’m feeling so I’ve put it aside for now.

Eisenhower by Stephen Ambrose.  I’ve always thought that Eisenhower is one of the most underrated and interesting Presidents.  I want to get into this one, but it will probably wait until after Hamilton.

How To Read A Sentence and How To Write One by Stanley Fish.  I try to keep a writing book going all the time.  Right now, the plot of this one fails to grip, but I really haven’t given it much of a chance.

The Power Broker:  Robert Caro and The Fall of New York by Robert Moses.  I’m about 8o percent through.  An interesting and must-read for anyone who is at all interested in the history of “the city that never sleeps.”  At 1200 pages, it’s too dang heavy to pick up now!

 

 

 

 

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Recent Reading

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor.  Yes, it’s taken me about a year and a half to get through this massive tome.  I still have a little bit to go but I should finish it this week.  Philosophically, I feel like it’s the story of my generation.  There’s so much in this book that I could write about, and at least as much that is over my head, and that’s not even mentioning the untranslated French paragraphs!  Taylor’s case is fairly complicated.  While the title implies growth in secularity over time in the West (which Taylor affirms), the two most useful concepts for me were the concepts of “disenchantment” and the reasonableness of the secular paradigm even for the religious.

The idea of disenchantment is that for persons living in the West in the Modern Age, it’s difficult to believe in the supernatural and ascribe explanations of phenomena to the supernatural, even for religious people.  For example, Medievals would likely ascribe pathological evil to supernatural activity such as demon possession, while Moderns would look to explanations rooted in nurture and environment.  The “secular age” is one that is denuded of the supernatural.

This is one of the reasons why I found it so hard to teach Medieval literature such as Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.  For Malory, everything is supernatural.  The idea of not believing in the supernatural or ascribing cause and effect to the ineffable is as unthinkable is not breathing.  Characters that readers consider both good and evil possess this worldview.  In contrast, the modern reader, even if religious, sees the secular paradigm as a conceivable option, and may often see the rationalistic option as more viable than that which is rooted in the Divine.

In this respect, A Secular Age helped me to understand my own story and my own perception of the world.  It’s a valuable work in this respect, and one I’m glad that I plowed through.

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Being A Hermit Today And Enjoying It!

07392666639a183982794280ac73312dI see that I haven’t posted in a week.  Been putting in some long days at work.  Teaching is like that sometimes.  I’ve gotten myself in a big hole with lesson planning and need to dig myself out.
However, I did get in a little R & R today.  Ran an 8K race in 48:05 gun time.  I’m guessing the chip time will be about 46:30-47:00.  Now, I realize that this isn’t exactly the second coming of Steve Prefontaine.  But it’s the fastest I’ve run in many years.  To be able to hold under ten minute mile pace for five miles is bookin’ it for me, at my age and weight.  I think the difference now is that I’ve gotten my core strong enough to be able to preserve my form when I get tired.  Today, my mind was on preserving my form and rhythm, and not letting that get away from me.  Also, I’m proud of the way that I stayed mentally tough throughout the whole race.
I’m staying out of the house today because my wife is giving a baby shower for our niece.  So, I went to Riverside Arts Market after the race, and got a savory crepe with feta, spinach, and tomato from The Little Family Crepes.  Great food truck!  Then, I went to Chamblin’s Book Mine, Jacksonville’s treasure house of used books, and picked up more than my share, including an interlinear translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.  Now, I have about ten hours of study ahead.  Teaching Revelation 11 in church school tomorrow plus class prep for this week.  So, that’s what’s happenin’ today!
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Reading and Surrender

I’ve fallen woefully short of my publication goal for this week.  I enjoy writing for the blog. However, much of my time has been spent in teaching, getting ready to teach, or lately, running.  So, I haven’t exactly made writing in the strictest sense a priority, although most of the above has been a function of some kind of writing.  But it’s not finished writing — just enough to get the job done to either give my students a thorough lecture or devise good open-ended questions for a discussion-based class period.
In terms of audiobooks, I’ve been listening some to Middlemarch while I drive.  However, it’s kind of difficult on the run, as you really want to participate with all your faculties.  George Eliot demands a kind of surrender that many contemporary authors don’t require, and is difficult to render if a person is trying to listen while doing other tasks, or perhaps even trying to read other books.  The surrender pays rich dividends when the option is available.  This is something that I’ve noticed with other authors such as Tolstoy, Doestoevsky, and Melville.  Perhaps the reason that these works aren’t preferred by students is the necessity to utterly surrender oneself to enjoy a satisfying experience with these texts.  There’s a degree of resistance in the soul to such a surrender that must be overcome.  But this is essential to reading a work charitably, putting oneself under the tutelage of the text, and withholding judgment until understanding of the text is achieved.  I’ve also started listening to Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  However, I’m wondering if he is going to require the same kind of surrender that George Eliot does.
I finished Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.  It was a worthwhile read.  The data he presents quite clearly supports his view that America is becoming more segmented and stratified as a society.  What may be controversial is how one interprets the data, and what conclusions are to be drawn from it.  And morally, is this a good development for American society, or is this something to be lamented?  On balance, it seems that this new stratification is something to be lamented.  However, the aggregation of brain power in what Murray calls ‘the new upper class” has some beneficial effects for all of America.  The downside is that the new upper class has little contact with the rest of America.  It appears that the new lower class does not either.  The only caveat on this book  I have on this one is that some of the later chapters could have been abridged or eliminated. However, I suppose he really wanted to convince the naysayers to his thesis.  I’m pretty sold on his thesis about the distance and America being segmented into demographic “neighborhoods,” but uncertain about what that means for the future or if anything can or should be done about this.
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Of Books and Such

Currently, I’m licoming-apartstening to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart:  The State of White America 1960-2010. I decided I needed to get myself a little more grounded again after The Handmaids Tale. It’s a controversial and fascinating account of social developments that have taken place in America over the last fifty years of so, particularly the development of a new “upper class” and a new “lower class.”  There is a point in which the numbers of statistics from studies become rather mind-numbing to listen to, but I’m far enough into it that I’m going to tough it out.   My observations seem to be in line with the narrative of Dr. Murray, at least as far as the rise of the new upper class.  I just started the part on the new lower class.  I’m expecting it to be as on point as part one was.
 I’ve also gotten into Werner Jaeger’s Paideia.  It’s quite an interesting read on the educational aspects of ancient literature.  He makes the point that the poets were seen as educators, and brings out what each of the poets shows us and teaches us.  I’m really starting to think that these mid twentieth century literary criticism classics, like Paideia and Mimesis are classics for a reason.  Part of me is thinking that I should have read Paideia earlier, and part of me thinks that it wouldn’t have made that much since apart from a few readings of the Iliad and Odyssey.  It’s good to start taking the whole aspect of continuing education and preparation seriously.  Paideia has been on the shelf for a long time and it’s good to finally get into it. Jaeger has a great eye for making connections across all of the classical works.  He is able to teach out of depth in a way that very few contemporaries are able to do.
I don’t feel like I’m producing anything that close to something I’d want to share with cyberspace..  It’s kind of disturbing.  A few weeks ago, I was just churning it out. It’s possible that the cause of this is not making space in my life to think.  I’ve become a little too task oriented over the past few weeks, which may lead to shallow living.  It’s probably time to dial it back a notch and to live as if the people in my life really do matter, rather than having my nose to the grindstone 24/7.
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Yard Sale

1506_405323316216228_14675588_nI’ve finally turned the corner on this deathly virus.  All I’ve been able to do is the bare minimum to be prepared for class and to survive.  I was sick enough to go home early from work Thursday, which for me, means near death.  It seemed a bit narcissistic to call in sick for the blog, but I had to suspend posting until I experienced a turn for the better.
I did finish Paradise Lost.  I’m not sure I feel any more prepared to teach it but I did outline the introduction to our class discussion and was surprised how much I was able to put it all together.  This is one of those works where you really need to trust the author to take you where he wants you to go.  Being familiar with the Scripture is a big help in getting through this tome.  Even though I get the big picture, I feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s really an inexhaustible treasure.
I started listening to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale a couple of days ago.  Absolutely gripping.  The setting is a futuristic dystopian society that is controlled by a cult that has some Christian elements in it.  I haven’t gotten very far into it, but it appears that the ability to sire and bear children is rare due to the collateral damage done by the wars that have plagued that society.  The protagonist is a “handmaid,” one who is set apart to bear children for the wife of one of the commanders.  Anyway, I got to thinking about this book along with a book that came out a couple of years or so ago by Jonathan Last called What To Expect When No One’s Expecting.  For years, the worry among the progressive elites of Western culture has been overpopulation.  But now, the West is experiencing something unprecedented — a demographic death spiral that is taking place throughout the West, as many families have instituted their own voluntary one child policy.  Last forecasts an alarming decline in economic growth, productivity, standard of living, and quality of life.  It’s an eye-opening read.  The juxtaposition of the two books is almost enough to make one paranoid that we are teetering on the edge of a collapse of civilization, and we don’t recognize it.  Quite interesting.  I don’t think Atwood realized that there may be a time when her effort at speculative fiction may be closer to the mark than she thought.
I’m mostly working on sermon preparation for when I preach in two weeks and Latin III translation.  We’ve moved further into Latin than I’ve ever been in this year’s Latin III class, so I’m having to do the translations with pencil and paper before class now rather than just sight read them.  I’m enjoying the challenge and I’m seeing myself become more competent in the language.  My Latin is completely self-taught, so this milestone and challenge is rather gratifying.
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It Takes A Long Time To Learn To Do Something Well

I’m planning on finishing up Paradise Lost tonight.  It’s quite a challenging read.  Even having been to seminary and having taught Homer, Virgil, Plato, and Augustine for the past eight years and even having taught Dante before, I still feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s going to need more than one reread before I think I can do a good job of teaching it.41Ux+jGSkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

However, I keep telling myself I have to start somewhere.  The good part of this is that I can sympathize with my students as they struggle with the text.  Also, most of my students have a degree of familiarity with the Scripture, so we can all follow the basic plot.  But thinking about this made me consider how long it takes and how much effort it takes to become really proficient in a craft.  It’s taking me eight years of teaching Plato’s Republic to get me to a place where I can read it both sympathetically and critically, and engage the students in a reading that’s both sympathetic and critical, and to really be able to enjoy this process.  It’s taken me six years as a Latin teacher (starting out literally one lesson ahead of my students) to be able to enjoy the rhetoric and the rhythms, the timing and the pacing of Cicero, and to take pleasure in reading an author who makes a language sing.

It’s rather ironic that I’m closer to having this experience with Cicero in Latin than I am with Milton in English.  But Paradise Lost is so rich that the time invested in it will be repaid a hundredfold.  Maybe after I teach it eight years, I’ll have a greater degree of confidence in engaging students with the text, rather than us all sharing ignorance.  Diligence.  Industriousness.  Making the most of my time.  Applying myself.  These were virtues that were largely absent from my misspent youth and young adulthood.  So I’m making up for lost time, and enjoying the journey.  I’m getting to read all the books that I’ve wanted to all of these year, and getting paid to understand them and to share them with others.  It’s a great life. But I have not been able to get around just how long it takes to get good at something.

Any shortcuts out there for becoming competent and proficient to a high degree in something that you are passionate about?

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Latin iii, Depth of Teaching, and Shared Inquiry

One of my maxims is that “good teaching comes out of depth.”  If a teacher knows his subject deeply and the particulars that he wants to teach for the day, he can make it interesting, provocative, connect it with other areas of the lives of his students.  In other words, if I’ve read Plato’s Republic eight or nine times, I’m able to teach it out of the depth that comes along with that experience, as well as what I’ve gained from reading other things about Plato and the republic.  It’s helpful, even indispensable to be able to see how the parts relate to the whole and the whole to the parts, and how the Republic relates to later works of philosophy.  To the contrary, if a teacher is still trying to master his subject, his teaching is going to be the source of a great amount of confusion.  Last night, I was thinking about this in relation to the shared inquiry approach to teaching.
This tends to be the traditional approach to teaching.  How does shared inquiry fit into this, when a teacher is a learner along with the students.  The teacher is a facilitator, guiding the students through the discipline of study, asking questions and engaging the material. For example, I’m learning Latin III right along with my students.  I’m far from being sure that this is the idea method, but it does have its strengths.  I’m able to identify with their roadblocks and weaknesses.  I get the joy of discovery along with my students.  The students end up doing most of the work in the class instead of the teacher.
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In terms of colleges, St; John’s College is exclusively devoted to shared inquiry as well as a handful of of others.  A poetry specialist might be teaching Newton’s Pricnicipia Matehatica, or science person may teach Aristotle’s Politics.So, while I’m not on shaky ground since others do this, I’n trying to figure out what the advantages are, if any.  However, to provide an education better than the one I received,  I have to branch out and challenge myself to be able to teach it in a worthwhile manner.
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Blogging and Editing

editingQuestion:  How much do you edit and revise your blog posts?

I’m really conflicted over this.  I’d like to post “finished writing,” but find that in order to produce consistent content at the pace I’d like to and to keep up with my other commitments (work, family, fitness, church) that the process more often is to draft a post in my journal on Evernote and do an extremely quick edit.  Ideally, I’d work on skills like literary present tense, strong verbs, consistent point of view, and continuing to make my writing simple, clear, and direct.

What I’m noticing is that the benefits that I’m striving for in my writing process are happening already.  I’m able to church out 400-500 words at any given time on just about any topic I have some level of command of.  I’m also remembering the stylistic emphases that I’m working to incorporate as I write.  So, benefits are accruing faster than I expected, and carrying over the writing that I do in my employments, which is a real plus.

So, I’d love to hear from you how you handle editing, revision, and style!

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Broad and Narrow Reading

   Both of my vocations require a fair amount of reading merely to stay current with my
responsibilities.  I’ve often considered how, why, and even if it’s beneficial to read more broadly outside of these demands.  I’ve come to the conclusion that if I don’t read more broadly, I stunt my intellectual growth and lose the ability to speak to the issues that I write, teach, and speak about.
Today, one of the choices that I need to make is whether or not to take the time to stay current on my Bible reading plan, or go straight to the sermon and claim this as my “Bible reading” for the day.  I don’t necessarily think that there’s a right or wrong answer, but I do believe that if I don’t maintain the daily habit of reading other parts of Scripture than I’m studying to preach and teach from, then I’ll regress in my understanding of and command of Scripture, not to mention personal godliness and enjoyment of God’s Word.
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Likewise, whether it’s mass-market fiction or other genres, reading broadly helps me to think through the connects between the material for my current projects and other items that create interest in them and relate to them.  So, I need to continue to make the effort and schedule the time to read broadly outside my disciplines.
What are your reading habits?  What has been most helpful to your spiritual, personal, and professional growth?
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