Rumble, Rumble, Run, Rumble

Paris runs his mouth a bit. Then runs a bit. Then runs back out again.

westsideMGMfight

Whether it is a brief bout of nobility or a fecundity of foolish fanfaronade Paris’s challenge, and eventual engagement, in single combat is fitting. In fact, it borders on requisite. As the instigator of hostilities, it can be argued that this offer comes about nine years late. He has brought this tribulation on the Trojans; anything short of the self-sacrificing act would serve to heap shame on upon the affliction of his kinsmen.

With Menelaos rising to the challenge, Paris’s honor was further bound to the task and yet this is when he wavers. He comes back to the delight of all. Even though Aphrodite intervenes to rescue him there is never any argument against single combat. Hektor chastises his retreat to the point of wishing he had never been born and is relieved to see Paris rise to his rebuke. Meneloas will be satisfied one way or another.  Both armies rejoice in putting aside fighting in the hopes of peace and friendship.

In the end, he must meet Menelaos, duty demands it.

Only one man, off scene, might stand opposed to this possible end of hostilities. For Achilleus, were he keeping tabs from beside his ships, this is a dire development indeed. It seeks to rob him of all the glory he sold short his life for. Paris’s just decision spells doom for all his heroic hopes. With Aphrodite’s intervention, the stage is set for even greater animosity with the Trojans and thus greater glory in their defeat. This only serves to ratchet up the tension, though. The glory is not yet won by someone else,  but his position on the sidelines now has an even greater cost.

Questions? Comments? Haiku?

Resources:

Lattimore, Richmond. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.

The Space Between (Iliad Guide): http://tinyurl.com/IliadSpaceBetween

Advertisements

One More Thing Before I List Off These Ships

trojan-war-1Though he was misled, and though he bungled the initial execution, Agamemnon’s Achaian call to battle was a right pursuit. His threats to deserters were justified. And his supplication to Zeus appropriate.

It would be easy write-off Book II as of little consequence when contemplating the actions taken. Nearly half the book is dedicated to a running list of ships and their rolls of warfaring Achaians. Like the genealogies of scripture, they are so easily glossed over. Yet, I suspect like those genealogies they are far more important than they seem.

Furthermore, the action that does takes place before this appears to be driven by a decision made without the will to make it. Zeus and Hera act of their own volition. But the decisions of Athene, Odysseus, and Agamemnon look as though they are made under compulsion.

Closer inspection reveals that to be false. Athene, we are told, did not disobey Hera, insinuating that she could have. Odysseus similarly made a decision knowing full well it was the grey-eyed goddess who spoke to him. And while Agamemnon’s decision, which thrust the action forward, seems to be manipulated by Zeus, “believing things in his heart that were not to be accomplished,” it is not. Belief is not decision and Agamemnon councils multiple times before his choice to cast the die.

In Book I Agamemnon was in error in no small part because he ignored the council and rebuke of those around him. Interestingly, the lone voice speaking against him in Book II, Thersites, levels many of the same accusations as Achilleus in Book I. He portrays the Achaian leader as selfish and ungrateful. He even goes so far as to poke the fresh wound of Achilleus’s dishonorable discharge. And yet where Achilleus words resound, these accusations ring hollow.

Men of greater standing: Odysseus and Nestor, counter Thersites with counsel that binds them to the task at hand. Both remind the assembly, and by extension Agamemnon, of the oaths and commitments that led them all here and fetters them to stay and fight until Ilion is sacked and Helen returned. Odysseus expands this argument of honor by insisting that they have already tarried too long in this land to respectfully return short of victory.

Both respected men then remind the gathered that Zeus has twice previously assured their victory. Nestor claims his favor from their first setting out from Argos. Odysseus points out that not only has it been prophesied that they would be victorious but that triumph would come in this ninth year.

Agamemnon’s belief is bolstered by the precedent of divine favor which validates his recent vision. He encouraged by trusted council appealing to what’s required of him. Agamemnon, not devoid of will yet bound by norms, is compelled to rouse the Achaian attack. Honor demands it. Respect seals it. And the gods have spoken.

Questions? Comments? Limericks ?

Resources:

Lattimore, Richmond. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.

The Space Between (Iliad Guide): http://tinyurl.com/IliadSpaceBetween

I Am A Rock

The Iliad Book I

penghu_island_trip-367

Having watched Wes Callihan’s introduction, I dove right into Book I with help from The Space Between Literature guide.

I’m familiar enough with the Iliad to know that the epic will twist and turn on the decisions of the great warrior, Achilleus. Homer wastes no time telling us that we are here to bear witness to the devastation wrought by his righteous(?) rage. Yet I can’t shake the idea that his decision is not the first cause. That honor belongs to Agamemnon.

He is a rock.

Agamemnon should never have rejected Chryses’s respectful request for the return of a beloved daughter. Acting in pride, he set in motion the events of all fateful future decisions. We’re told the request “displeased his heart”. One might be inclined to admire him for following the old pulser’s impulse. That is until this position is clarified as preferring Chryseis to his own wife. This seems…less honorable. In the aftermath of Apollo’s wrath, we hear the fullness of Agamemnon’s reasoning. The greatest king among the Achaians demands honor and thus will not suffer short spoils.

Progressing through Book I characters acknowledge the need for such tribute, yet Agamemnon’s honor needn’t have caused such strife. Chryses supplicates mercy from Agamemnon in admirable fashion. He pleads the case of a loving father. What’s more, he is willing to esteem Agamemnon with a ransom of “gifts beyond count”. Chryses does not seek to exploit the favor of Apollo with threats; he offers a blessing upon the Achaians, acknowledging their just grievance. Chryses goes above and beyond a simple ransom in an act of respect and humility to Atreus’s son.

In favor of acquiescing to Chryses’s request, you find, well, everyone. “Then all the rest of the Achaians cried out in favor that the priest be respected and the shining ransom be taken.”(Emphasis mine) No doubt many of them, after nine long years, welcomed a blessing from Apollo’s adored acolyte. Others may have seen his humble approach not only honoring Agamemnon but honoring them all. Whatever their reason all Achaians, save one, were of a single accord. There are times when one must stand alone in opposition to friend and foe alike; however, finding one’s self in such a position prudence suggests careful contemplation. It was no so for Agamemnon, who took counsel with only himself.

He is an island.

Agamemnon doubled down on his foolishness by persisting in insistence for honor rather than bearing the burden of his strategic folly. Beginning with his rejection of Chryses’s equitable offer, the Achaians’ greatest king ends by insulting and injuring their greatest warrior. Agamemnon should have granted Chryses’s request. Failure to do so is the impetus for all the rage and recompense that follows. Achilleus is sent sulking, shielded in his armor. Now hiding in his room, a safe womb, robbed of one to touch and be touched, he is a rock. He is an island.

Thoughts? Comments? Lyrics?

Resources:

Lattimore, Richmond. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.

The Space Between (Iliad Guide): http://tinyurl.com/IliadSpaceBetween

Old Western Culture: https://romanroadsmedia.com/old-western-culture/

 

Gone Classical

deangiantchair

He’s gone country,

Look at ‘dem boots

He’s gone country,

Back to his roots

He’s gone country,

A new kinda’ suit

He’s gone country,

Here he comes.

Okay Buckaroos, there was a much bigger lull after my first post than I intended. C’est la vie. Some of you may recognize the above refrain from Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country”, and some of you are about to leave because I just referenced a 90’s Alan Jackson tune. Stick with me. The song’s three verses refer to 3 different musicians. None of them come from a country background. In reality, none of them are going back to their roots when they decide to get into country music. And yet, country music is rooted in America and its agrarian past, and so in a cultural sense they are returning to their roots.

A cheesy example to be sure, but that’s a bit how I feel about our family tiptoeing, and then diving into Classical Christian Education. Neither Kobi nor I received a Classical Education, and neither did our parents nor grandparents. Yet we are living in a culture that is the result, however distorted, of classical inquiry and education wed with Christian Theology. Last time I wrote about how we ended up home schooling, and while that is the context for our family, that isn’t the focus of this space. It was, however, the impetus for our journey into Classical Education.

When we left off in my story you saw how incredibly supportive I was of Kobi’s desire to home school our children. She was amazing and I mostly stayed out of her way. She researched curricula and methodology up and down, laying out a plan for all three children. And we did what many people do, we mimicked the education we received and observed in schools with tweaks here and there for the needs of our children. Any attempt by me at this point to describe my wife’s transition would inevitably be a misrepresentation of the facts. At the very least the timeline would be off. So I’ll stick to my own journey, beginning with more engagement in my children’s education and ultimately embracing Classical Christian Education.

One of the many wise choices Kobi made the second year of home schooling was selecting the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) curriculum developed by Andrew Pudewa. She also joined a Classical Conversations (CC) campus. Kobi began moving toward Classical Christian Education that year. By the time she sat me down to show me the shift in curriculum I was a little more interested in what was going on. Even though we were many years away from it, the reading lists for high school immediately grabbed my attention. These were great works of literature. I had read a few of them, but mostly I was looking at the list and thinking, “I wish I had read these in high school…or even in college.” I was slowly beginning to see the value of taking control of our children’s education. We still knew very little about it, but Classical Education had piqued my interest.

Toward the end of the spring, IEW sent out a message that Andrew Pudewa would be the first guest on a brand new podcast with Sarah McKenzie called the “Read Aloud Revival”, discussing the importance of reading to your children. Kobi listened a few times, and then asked me to listen to it and give her my thoughts. According to her I lay, very somberly, on the bed and listened. By the end my thoughts were, “I want to read to the kids.”

In July we drove from Texas to Colorado and Kobi asked me if we could listen to more audio on the drive. Now, I don’t remember everything we listened to from IEW but I do remember laughing. A lot. My wife knew what she was doing. While I was embarrassingly complacent about my own children’s education I had no problem railing against problems with the system at large. I had complained ad nauseam about the structure of the modern classroom penalizing boys. So Kobi played Andrew’s “Teaching Boys & Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day”. That was probably the beginning of real change for me. There was more, and I wanted it for my kids.

I paid attention and actually listened to what Kobi was learning. In late fall we were repainting a few rooms in our house and Kobi played podcasts and talks from the CiRCE Institute. She said, “You’ll like Andrew Kern. He’s non-linear like you.” She was right. I spent the next several days in stitches being challenged on so many assumptions I lost count. Discussions ranging from how to teach literature, new films, and beauty to assessment and the role of sports in a classical education were thought provoking and entertaining.  Talks by Christopher Perrin on the history of assessment and Angelina Stanford on feminism and The Church pulled me further in.

One that stuck with me was the multi-part series on Hamlet. Some of the people in the discussion had not only read it, but taught it multiple times. But when a participant who was reading it for the first time made an observation that no one else had thought of it wasn’t quickly dismissed or just politely acknowledged. It was contemplated thoughtfully, and added to the wealth of observation these teachers had already accumulated. It was such a refreshing attitude toward teaching and learning that I think of it every time someone mentions Hamlet to this day.

Around this time I began to meet with a group of men, some of whom had children on the same CC campus as my children. When I joined them they were reading John Eldredge’s “Fathered By God”. As I was listening to a chorus of people trying to redeem and restore Christian education along came a ministry focused on redeeming and restoring Christian masculinity. Similar themes and vocabulary began showing up in both conversations: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Wisdom, and Virtue. The same Church fathers, philosophers, and artists were being referenced: Augustine, St. Anthony, Athanasius, Shakespeare, MacDonald, Tolkien, Lewis and more. There was a shared belief in the power of story and why it resonates with the soul.

Slowly clarity crept in. These weren’t just good ideas or a nice philosophy for life. There was truth here. It rang true whether the conversation was education or masculinity, curriculum or fatherhood. Truth is truth, goodness is goodness, and beauty is beauty. They are not defined by the conversation you’re having. They define the conversation. I experienced overwhelming conviction about my passive role in education up to this point. My wife and my children are entrusted to me. Ultimately I have to entrust them to God, but I am also accountable for the years I have with them. I was struck by how few years I have left with my oldest, my only son. What better way to “train up the child in the way he should go” than to be actively involved in his education? This came into sharper focus as I began to see education not as college and career preparation but human formation, though I couldn’t yet express it that way.

Shortly after Christmas Kobi and I were shopping and ran into an old friend from church. In the course of catching up she mentioned she had gone to the CiRCE conference the previous summer in Houston. When she walked off Kobi lamented missing the conference when it was close by, because the next one was in Charleston. I didn’t think too much of it, but a few days later she asked me if I had planned anything for our anniversary in July.  I told her I planned to go on a trip but hadn’t decided where. Then she told me she wanted to go to the CiRCE conference for our anniversary. I did not immediately warm to the idea. An education conference…for our anniversary…really? We didn’t have the time or money for another getaway, but she persisted and assured me that was what she really wanted, so I agreed. I am so glad that I did.

By the time it rolled around I had become immersed in the speakers through podcasts and old talks. When we arrived, people of whom I was in awe, made us feel welcome, at home, and part of the tribe. Between the talks, the conversations, and the shared meals my interest and excitement only grew. I shamelessly introduced myself to everyone and hung around conversations until I was invited to wherever everyone was going. After hearing Wes Callihan and learning about his Old Western Culture curriculum from Roman Roads Media we bought it on the spot, even though none of our kids were old enough for it. Kobi and I both wanted it for ourselves.

That purchase brings us to the purpose of this space:  a journey into Classical Education for myself, because I can’t give what I don’t have. Luckily I don’t have to go without a sage to guide me. I will be following the path laid out by Wes Callihan. You can find the links to the Old Western Culture series below along with other resources referenced in this post. We’ll start with the Iliad and make our way through.  I’ll also be getting some added help at the beginning from CiRCE’s Iliad guide “The Space Between”, for which I am very grateful. My confession complete, I hope some of you out there will read along. I’m starting from a place of ignorance and will no doubt stumble my way through, so I’ll be grateful for friendly hands to grab as I get back up and ramble on.

I’ve gone classical. Back to my roots. I’ve gone classical. Here I go.

Resources:

IEW: http://iew.com/

Teaching Boys & Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day: http://tinyurl.com/TeachingBoysForts

Read Aloud Revival: https://amongstlovelythings.com/

CiRCE Institute: https://www.circeinstitute.org/

What Is Woman?: A Reexamination of Feminism and the Church – Angelina Stanford: http://preview.tinyurl.com/FeminismChurch

A Brief History of Assessment Methods from Medieval Times to the Present – Christopher Perrin: http://tinyurl.com/HistoryOfAssessment

The Space Between (Iliad Guide): http://tinyurl.com/IliadSpaceBetween

Old Western Culture: https://romanroadsmedia.com/old-western-culture/

How We Came Home

I am not classically educated. Not even in part. But I want to be.  In these first few posts I’d like to give you an idea of how I got to the point where I find myself, where I hope to go, and the path that I intend to take. I say intend, because I’ve read just enough good literature to know that this path is likely to fork several times along the way. This blog is mostly for myself; a tool of discipline. If you ask anyone who knows me they will tell you I am an extreme extrovert, so if there is even a chance that there is one reader out there following along who might, at some point, write a comment and engage with me in conversation it will motivate me to keep reading, writing, and talking. In short, this is an attempt to turn my sometimes unchecked nature toward a good end.

My wife and I were both educated in what I would call average American public schools from kindergarten on through undergraduate and post graduate studies. To be perfectly honest I was pretty antagonistic toward other options. For various reasons I was not interested in private school or home school for our kids and viewed most alternative methods to “modern education” to be some combination of elitist, hippy-dippy, antisocial, etc. In retrospect, this bias was odd considering I began taking serious issue with public school policy as early as high school. But alas, public school was the best (really only) option in my mind as our own kids began to reach school age. We even made a move to a neighborhood with “better” schools that were all within walking distance. Public schools with the best path to college were the goal, and we were willing to stretch and pull in other areas to get the kids there.

The boy, our oldest, is what many would think of as naturally academic. He picked up things like letters and numbers easily at home and did well in public school. He had good teachers. He loved them. We loved them. But he was ahead in math and by second grade that began to be a problem. He was doing work a grade level up and that was the most they could give him. So he was beginning to get bored and restless which becomes an order and discipline issue in a class of 20 seven year olds. The teacher offered to assign him harder work if we wanted to bring it in, but otherwise there was nothing more she could do. By this time our middle child was in school and we began to question whether our kids were getting the best we could give them.

I say “we” but that’s not really accurate. Here we come to the beginning of my confession and repentance in this saga, a theme that will no doubt continue to appear in this space. I was on the periphery of my children’s education. I knew some of the issues and had strong opinions, but was content to maintain the status quo with our children assuming it would sort itself out, while at the same time happily railing passionately against the failures of the system as a whole. When I look back at how willing I was to engage in the public discourse, where people are cheering or jeering (equally euphoric to the perpetual extrovert), about the failures of the system all the while being fairly indifferent to what was in front of me, to what was mine to care about, I am ashamed. So when the first conversation happened it went something like this:

“Honey, I’m not sure I actually want to, but could we talk about possibly trying home school?”

“We don’t need to talk about it; I know I don’t want to.”

“Will you at least consider talking with me about it?”

“No. I know I don’t want to do it so there is nothing to talk about.”

“Well, will you pray about being willing to talk with me about it?”

“Nope.”

“YOU WON’T EVEN PRAY ABOUT POSSIBLY BEING WILLING TO TALK WITH ME ABOUT IT?!”

“No.”

Husband of the year. I know there is danger for this confession to come across as wallowing or, conversely, to be an attempt to show off how penitent I am, but neither is my purpose. I share this here because I don’t think I’m alone. The structure of our modern society makes it very easy for parents and particularly dads to be hands off in the education of their children. This is a problem that can even be exacerbated in homes that follow a traditional structure with Dad at work and mom at home. There are practical, on the ground, realities of our lives that make fathers’ engagement difficult, but circumstances are not an excuse for abdication of responsibility. I can no longer ignore that ultimately my wife and my children are entrusted to me. I am accountable for the time I have with them and that includes my children’s education. That is a truth that comes into sharper focus as my understanding of education broadens. Stepping into that reality will take different shapes for different families. For me it starts here. One of my great hopes as I pursue a classical education in this space, and in a wider community, is that we can together weave the philosophical and practical aspects of fathers leading their families in a lifelong education toward virtue and wisdom, beginning by setting a good example.

As I step out of the confessional let me come back to the story. About a week or so after that compassionate and fruitful conversation, I was feeling sufficiently guilty about how I had hurt my wife and reluctantly said we could talk about it. Unbeknownst to me she had been researching and praying in the interim and, as she tells me now, as soon as I said we could talk about it she knew she wanted to do it. So she poured out her heart and asked if we could give home school a try for a year and see how it went. I’m not sure if she just caught me on the right day, or I was just indifferent enough that I didn’t really want to argue about it. I’d like to think that I realized, in the moment, that it was more than a whim, that I had a rare moment of clarity and realized this was coming from a deep place in her and I should trust that. But that may just be how I want to see myself that day. Whatever it was, I ultimately acquiesced, all the while thinking, “She can handle elementary school no problem, and I’m sure we’ll put them back in school by junior high so they don’t miss out on all the things we can’t offer them at home.” Like a good hearted, but naïve, Hobbit I had no idea what story we were stepping into.

I’ll pick this up in my next post, but I just want to mention before I sign off that if home schooling isn’t what you’ve chosen, I hope you won’t check out from this blog just yet. While some of what I say will be in the context of home schooling our kids, that won’t be the crux of the discussion in this space. But the decision to home school plays a big part in my journey toward classical education, so I couldn’t really tell my story without including it. My purpose here is to recover as much classical education for myself as I can, hopefully in a community of like-minded people. I hope you’ll join in.