At Classical School of Wichita, we have an ambitious curriculum that emphasizes reading and assessing the great books that have shaped Western Civilization and thought.
From kindergarten on, our students are encouraged to read—and read a lot. From “Blueberries for Sal” all the way to the works of Socrates and Plato—we believe there is merit to the discipline, knowledge and joy gained from spending real time with books. Unfortunately, in a culture focused on sound bites and what’s next, reading is fast becoming a lost art.
In an opinion piece by Philip Yancey, published by The Washington Post this past summer, Yancey bemoaned his own struggle against the tide of social media and instant, shallow news designed to attract our fleeting attention. It’s a worthy read and stark reminder to us to continue to challenge ourselves and equip our students to break the surface and dig deeper.
Our desire is to create a love for reading, learning and growing in our students with a rigorous, interesting curriculum that connects the dots between subjects in a meaningful way. As a result, CSW students are engaged and thoughtful. If only we all could respond to books—and reading—in kind!
As you reflect on the last year and make your resolutions for 2018, maybe this is the year to consider adding another book (or two or three) to your list!
What a wonderful first semester! It seems like only yesterday we watched students file into classrooms, meet their teachers, unpack their supplies, start new friendships, and rekindle old friendships that had been hampered by summer schedules. Now with several choir programs, Grandparents Day, a Christmas concert, and mid-term exams in the books, we can look back and take stock of it all.
Just as the opening of school doors in August signals a new beginning and fresh opportunities, the holidays should find us excited to reflect on how far we have come and hopefully make us eager to dream about what lies in store. Spring brings flowers and renewed energy to push toward the goal of commencement in May. Although most of us view commencement and its corresponding “pomp and circumstance” as a time reserved for our graduates, it symbolizes what we desire for all of our students: an education founded on Christ that prepares students to utilize the tools of learning they have gleaned through their years with us in the new arenas that will be set before them. The students who remain behind would dare deny the work that the graduates have contributed to the year, but also know they have contributed much as well.
While the Christmas holidays make for a wonderful time to evaluate all we have accomplished and what still lies a head, it would be a fruitless exercise if we failed to recognize Christ for whose birth the day commemorates. In order to have students grow in wisdom and eloquence, we must rightly acknowledge and testify that all truth, goodness, and beauty originate in and through Christ. CSW’s goal for every student is that they would know Christ and pursue his will in their lives. Christmas provides us the opportunity to reflect on the incarnation of our Salvation. While we rest from our schoolwork we should be ever diligent in our pursuit of his will and use this opportunity to focus on Christ’s unfathomable love for us.
My favorite poem is Gloria in Profundis by G.K. Chesterton. The first line has always given me pause . . . There has fallen on earth for a token, A god too great for the sky. I believe it is the greatest Christmas poem. It relates the grace of God in his redemption of man. I encourage you to look it up and share it with your family. May it help illuminate the mercy of God toward all men.
The Christmas holidays allow us, if we will take it, the chance to slow our daily routines, spend time with friends and family, and take stock of how far we have come. May we also pause and take stock in how far he came.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
~ Wade Ortego for the CSW Staff and Faculty
Since my early years, beautiful handwriting has always fascinated me. When I was in fourth grade, my father and I discussed cursive. He and I both admired excellent penmanship. As a schoolboy in the 1930s, he had been taught a style of writing I would later come to know as the Palmer Method, which had been introduced by Austin Norman Palmer in 1884.
Students who learned this method of penmanship were first taught a series of joined circles and joined slanted lines on a slate at their desks. They then progressed to motifs, the individual strokes which made up each letter. Finally, the students advanced to forming letters and words. My father suggested I try some of these penmanship exercises. He said he and his classmates devoted quite a bit of classroom time to mastering the art of beautiful writing, and I could see this in the way he signed his name.
When I began teaching second grade at Classical School of Wichita in 2006, I devoted about ten minutes per day to handwriting instruction. Students practiced in a workbook, and when they completed the workbook about mid-year, they began to copy verses of scripture in cursive. By the third semester, most of my students’ daily work and spelling tests were completed in cursive. I considered handwriting a minor, yet vital, part of the classical curriculum.
In 2011, I took a class from the National Institute for Learning Development to learn how to teach students who experience learning difficulties, especially learning to read. In the class, I learned mastery of handwriting contributes to success in many other areas of learning, including reading, spelling, composing, and critical thought processes. One of the main techniques used with students who have learning difficulties is “Rhythmic Writing”—this technique is essentially the same as the former penmanship lessons my father learned in the 1930s. It consists of a series of figure eights and motifs done with oral rhythmic counts on a wall-mounted chalkboard. Students then complete a series of letters and words at their desks on laminated poster board mats, using metal writing frames that hold markers. (The writing frames train students’ fingers to hold a pencil with the proper tripod grip.) This transition from gross-motor movement with oral counts, to fine-motor movement with internalized (silent) counts, helps students comprehend the ‘grammar’ of handwriting.
Once I began to implement these methods with my students, I noticed marked improvement in their ability to master cursive. This was particularly exciting as I learned more about the modern neuroscience research that supported the value of writing by hand, especially cursive writing. Researchers, using fMRIs (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), have shown that handwriting activates the part of the brain responsible for reading, writing, oral language, and higher level thought processes. This work is cited in the article, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades,” which describes the work of Karin Harman James, Ph.D., of Indiana University.
Patricia Ann Wade, Ph.D., also of Indiana University, stated in a 2013 blog on the university’s medical website, “When it comes to learning and remembering course material, the pen is mightier than the keyboard. Writing entails using the hand and fingers to form letters. It requires more mental energy and engages more areas of the brain than pressing keys on a computer keyboard. The sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of the brain associated with processing and remembering information. Students’ compositions are better when they are handwritten than when they are typed. For example, 2nd, 4th, and 6th grade school children with limited proficiency in both handwriting and typing completed classroom assignments both ways. The handwritten assignments were longer, included more complete sentences and a greater number of ideas, and were completed in less time than the typed assignments.”
Handwriting fluency impacts performance across all academic subjects, influences reading, writing, oral language, and critical thinking, and provides a foundation for the logic and rhetoric stages. As a classical educator, I am delighted to embrace teaching the ‘grammar’ of cursive handwriting, knowing that handwriting mastery plays a critical role in the cognitive development of students and provides an opportunity to invest truth, beauty and goodness in their lives.
~ Lisa Glosson, CSW 2nd grade teacher
“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called, which some, professing, have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.” ~ 1 Timothy 6:20-21
What has been committed to us? What are we trusted to keep, and in what way will this guard us against vain speech and pseudo knowledge? Have you ever noticed the many repetitions of the history of the Children of Israel in various points of the Bible? It seems a requirement of any speech, any rhetoric in the scripture to include a summary of history.
At the Classical School of Wichita we are working hard on history and the transmission of culture. This is in opposition to the trend at large. In fact, most course catalogs in higher education today do not have extensive offerings in historical studies. My father, who passed a love of history on to me, confides that every year enrollment in the History of Western Civilization classes he teaches at university is dropping off; it is no longer a required course at his school. Argumentatively, humanities and social studies departments may be more diverse now, offering hyphenated versions of history courses that claim to present a special perspective on a well understood, or maybe incorrectly understood, era or place. However, in this reality of gendered or narrative-conditioned historical studies, fewer people than ever can tell you much about American or European history. Classical studies are becoming a unicorn at the college level. Why should this matter?
Education is an endowment. Someone born into an imagined nomadic tribe would not need an extensive education in what had come before in order to continue the life of the tribe. A society that has no assets to pass on does not need much time to do it. Conversely, the more a culture has accomplished, the longer the ‘gestation’ of the student; the ‘cultivating’ of the student requires more attention as more details accumulate over time. Passing on the knowledge of the past to future generations seems rigorous when described this way. And, indeed, it is.
Think of the near universal ignorance concerning the origins and workings of our own country among the “educated” people who live here. I suppose a thin minority of people could tell you much at all about the circumstances of the Vietnam War prior to watching the Ken Burns documentary that was just released. While spending much time accumulating the technical achievement that they have been pointed toward, students today have not been able or willing to spend the time and effort it would take to receive the transmission of their own history, and therefore have no grounding in culture.
Could it be, that despite the protestations of history being tainted by the prejudice of the tellers, the real work of understanding history has no short cuts? You must read the books themselves and spend precious time in contemplation apart from the pursuit of one’s economic goals. Is this the real reason most students are not equal to it? Perhaps the course catalogs exist now to flatter and not offend, both in effort and in focus. History does not flatter us. Too much has happened—and we suspect it is irrelevant. Are the course offerings in modern universities a reflection of what students will stand for, and not a canon of excellence or comprehensiveness?
History is the evidence of man’s choice in the world. It is the sum of his fruits. We read the good, and yes, the very bad; one as a miracle and gift, the other as the weary repetition of the ‘dog returning to his vomit’. History is the measurement of man against nature, both his own and that of the cosmos, under the force of providence. How can we understand our limits and possibilities with a disregard of the accumulated memory of the cultures?
Being ‘Innocent of History’, a phrase used by Arnold Toynbee, a great historical theorist, will lead to perplexities and disappointments. You have heard it said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result every time is a definition of insanity. Could it be that induced amnesia through an indifference to study is a refusal to be sane?
A school that values history is conservative by definition. Conserving the lessons of the past indicates a desire to live well in the present. Passing these lessons forward is the heart of education, and the heart of what we’re doing at CSW—celebrating a God who enters history, in a time and at a place, performing the work of salvation and securing those who seek him for all time.
~ Dan Snyder, CSW logic, omnibus and rhetoric teacher
We get this question quite frequently in the office. While there are several varying opinions on which of the foundational languages are most important in the classical Christian environment, the overwhelming choice has been Latin. The most common concerns with Latin we hear are that it is a “dead” language, something students will never “really” use, and that Latin is too hard. In hopes of providing some clarity as to why CSW is committed to the instruction of Latin, I’ll try to address these three most frequent points of contention.
The idea that Latin is a “dead” language comes mostly from the very real fact that we no longer speak Latin to communicate with one another in our day-to-day interactions. So, why teach it? The easy rebuttal to that statement is the fact that we do indeed still use it. More than 60 percent of our common English language comes from Latin. Another 20 percent of our common borrowed words come from romance languages that developed directly from Latin. In total, of 80 percent of common everyday language is derived from Latin or Latin derivatives. A whopping 90 percent of higher professional vocabulary — medical, legal, and theologic — comes from Latin as well. I find G.K. Chesterton’s oft quoted quip, “Latin is not dead, it is IMMORTAL” summarizes much of the aforementioned.
The statement that Latin is “something students will never use” moves us into a new realm of thinking about Latin. The statement itself is based on the presupposition that students should only be taught “useful” information. That idea begs the question of what is “useful” and who decides?
The classical education model that CSW follows admits freely that great thinkers, such as our church fathers and America’s founding fathers, have been tested and tried and are more than qualified to lay the foundation of educational standards. The individuals who established our culture and our country were trained in the classical model and we strive to follow in their footsteps. We not only teach Latin to increase a student’s working vocabulary, enhance thinking skills and perfect English grammar; we teach Latin to ingrain the values and ideas paramount to our western civilization and involve our students in the “Great Conversation” — something we feel is much more valuable than simple usefulness.
The statement that Latin is hard and difficult is true. It is the vigor and laboriousness of Latin that make it one of the primary methods for training the mind. Our current culture has settled into a place of lethargy when it comes to rigor and training. We seek the “easy way out” as a pattern in our daily lives. Athletes use steroids to stimulate muscle growth. We read Cliff Notes instead of the actual literary work. We have conditioned or unconditioned our mind through abbreviated texting, Twitter and multimedia renditions of actual current events. We have lost our appetite to work hard. Latin trains our mind to think critically, systematically and creatively. What our world needs now more than ever are citizens who can think; citizens who are able to resist the urges of lethargy, identify fallacy, decipher propaganda, respond reasonably, and to defend the faith logically and hold to the ideals of a coming Kingdom.
I must admit that I did not receive Latin instruction during my early education. My family provided me with the best education they knew to be available and I am extremely grateful. I, in turn, desire to provide my children with the best education available as well. History proves that, contrary to the fad methodology of the last hundred years, classical instruction with Latin as a foundational component is the best western civilization has to offer. We must allow students to use their minds. We must make this training a challenge, constantly encouraging, and routinely correcting so our children may become, at least as Rudyard Kipling put it, “better men than we.”
~ Wade Ortego, head of school
References/ Further Reading:
Climbing Parnassus, Tracy Lee Simmons
The Devil Knows Latin, E. Christian Kopff
The CSW faculty is comprised of men and women who share a deep passion for continued education through intellectual and leisure reading. We would like to continue sharing with you some of the titles our faculty are reading or have recently finished. This is the sixth installment of this series.
Mr. Wade Ortego
Paradise Lost, John Milton with the 11th Graders
Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition, Louis Markos
Postmodern Times, Veith
How Should We then Live?, Schaeffer
Mr. Josh Dyson
Benedict Option, Rod Dreher
Mr. Kevin Thames
Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson
Mr. Jacob Allee
The Trivuim, Sister Miriam Joseph
God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism
Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking
Universals, J.P. Moreland
Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects
The CSW faculty is comprised of men and women who share a deep passion for continued education through intellectual and leisure reading. We would like to continue sharing with you some of the titles our faculty are reading or have recently finished. This is the fifth installment of this series.
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony M. Esolen
Pastor Al Hoger
I am about to begin reading lesser-known poems by John Milton with Omnibus V students, to be followed by Paradise Lost.
My wife and I are two-thirds through Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister.
I continue reading Augustine Thompson’s Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.
Greek III students and I are translating The Martyrdom of Polycarp.
A History of Europe, J.M. Roberts
The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher
The Last Season, Eric Blehm
Missing in the Minarets, William Alsup
The CSW faculty is comprised of men and women who share a deep passion for continued education through intellectual and leisure reading. We would like to continue sharing with you some of the titles our faculty are reading or have recently finished. This is the fourth installment of this series.
D. P. Fahrenthold
Ossa Latinitatis Sola by Reginaldus Foster
The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
The Nature of Things by Lucretius
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
I am currently reading The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. I am approximately half-way through this World War II saga. It is the story of a young Hungarian Jew who begins attending an architectural college in Paris shortly before the beginning of World War II. It follows him and his close friends through the Jewish experience in World War II. It is fascinating and horrifying—I am having a hard time putting it down to do all the things life requires of me.
Reading with the kids currently: The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis and North or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
I’ve just finished The House of the Seven Gables. Whew! Gothic.
Peter Green’s Alexander of Macedon — a terrifically detailed, researched, and authoritatively opinionated book that combines the available sources into an impressive portrait of the catalyst of Hellenism.
I’m reading Umberto Eco’s Baudolino — historical fiction concerning Frederick Barbarossa and his failed crusade. The Name of the Rose is on the reading list for eleventh graders (by the same author), and is a fun mashup of historical characters and medieval scholastic debates with linguistic puzzles.
I finished The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. Anyone wanting to be ‘well read’ should have this on their reading list. You will recognize it as the source of any twentieth century documentary you have ever seen concerning Germany and ‘der Fuhrer.’ Having read the Ian Kershaw two volume Hubris and Nemesis, I am feeling like an annotated cross reading of these two works to get a feel for a conversation between these authors. You should start with the Schirer before joining in the more recent readings.
Coming in the mail today: Polybius. A prominent member of the Achaean league, he was carried away by the Romans during the third Macedonian War with Perseus. From there, he narrates the coming to power of Rome — thereby detailing its militaristic conquest of the Mediterranean. This period (218 – 146 BC) benefits from Polybius’ contemporary witnesses of the wars he reports, from the second and third Punic wars, the annexation of Greece and Macedonia, and the beginnings of the fall of the Seleucids. This makes a great companion to Josephus Antiquities, and the books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha.
Livy: Readings mostly in books 31 – 45. This goes along with Polybius. Livy writes at a much later date, his career spanning the collapse of the republic, he is a client of Caesar Augustus, and records the Roman side of things. We will be reading books 21 – 30 in 10th grade omnibus after the break, concerning Hannibal and the second Punic War. Seventh grade will be reading books 1 through 5 dealing with the foundation of Rome and its republic. (This ends up being something of a civics class.)
Also, we [some of the faculty] are reading Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger. I’m reading it in German.
The CSW faculty is comprised of men and women who share a deep passion for continued education through intellectual and leisure reading. We would like to continue sharing with you some of the titles our faculty are reading or have recently finished. This is the third installment of this series.
I am reading “The Land of Stories” series and working my way through “Tela Charlottae” which is the Latin translation of Charlotte’s Web. I’m also planning to start “The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow.”
Also, I’m really enjoying my newest book. It’s called “Why Isn’t a Pretty Girl Like You Married and other useful comments” by Nancy Wilson.
Coming Apart by Charles Murray
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (for class)
This has been a fun book to read with the 10th grade Rhetoric/Composition class. It is challenging all of us to think about the way we collect, perceive and understand messages through things such as television, Facebook, Instagram and other media.
The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
When I read Voskamp’s first book, One Thousand Gifts, I said that she writes the language of the deepest crevices of my heart. This still holds true with her second book. She is refreshingly honest and vulnerable with her struggles, both past and present. She is a gifted poet, and challenges my heart in ways I still don’t fully understand. I highly recommend you read her work.
Cicero, Pro Archia (in Latin)
Multinational Business Finance
An Introduction to Derivatives and Risk Management
Dorothy Sayers, Nine Tailors
The CSW faculty is comprised of men and women who share a deep passion for continued education through intellectual and leisure reading. We would like to continue sharing with you some of the titles our faculty are reading or have recently finished. This is the second installment of this series.
Pride and Prejudice
The original Mary Poppins
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
Cicero, Pro Archia (in Latin)
Caesar, On the Gallic Wars (in Latin)
Multinational Business Finance
An Introduction to Derivatives and Risk Management
Robert Harris, Pompeii
Steven Cerutti, Pro Archia Poeta Oratio: A Structural Analysis of the Speech and Companion to the Commentary
Cicero, First Oration Against Cataline (in Latin)