Because life is a series of edits

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Dance of Education

In Thought on September 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Dance-diagram Perhaps you have indeed pondered this age-old question:

"What if the hokey-pokey really is what it's all about?"

If life is the referent, maybe; but if we're talking education, I (Craig) would suggest a different descriptive dance step: the "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back." Let me explain.

A week ago, Megan, the girls and I were sitting at home having dinner when, out of the blue (or more accurately, out of her Bible class earlier that day), our 12-year-old oldest daughter asked a question: "Dad, how do we know – really know – Jesus and the Bible are true when other prophets and their books make similar claims?"

I'd waited 12 years for this question. While we'd touched on the topic in past conversations, I'd been the one who brought it up. Now, my daughter – my oldest – was intrigued on her own by the hugest of epistemological questions, and she and I (along with her three younger sisters listening at the dinner table) had the entire evening to dance the night away discussing.

And we danced. We talked about the cultural shift from what once was an ancient mindset that accepted deontological reality to the modernist mentality that anything true must be able to be proven. Not being satisfied with this premise and its false dichotomy between science and belief, we continued onward to postmodernism's sounds-too-good-to-be-true promise that, in the absence of really being able to know anything, whatever works for you is, by pragmatic default, right and real.

We then talked about the difference between facts and truth. I pulled out my Case for Christ DVD and together we watched several chapters on the geographical, archaeological, and transmissional evidence for the Bible. The girls asked questions about how we know what we know, and we talked about what evidence can and cannot mean (i.e. facts do not prove that God is true, but if the facts are accurate, what claims do they make that may be true?).

We were two hours in and having a blast – the girls were making great observations and asking really good questions, and I was thrilled to play Socrates in helping them sort out the pieces and slowly put part of the puzzle together. As an educator, this is "the jazz"; as a father, this is the call.

Unfortunately, bedtime was upon us, so we wound things down with enthusiasm, thanks, hugs, and promises to talk more. Then four girls tried to use two bathrooms with little consideration for each other. Twenty minutes later, there were tears (them), yelling (me), frustration (us), and that was that; the awe and inspiration surrounding everything we had just discussed was gone. Warm and fuzzy feelings from learning with and from one another? Replaced with hurt, anger, and hands thrown up in the air.

The good news? Once again the Bible had shown itself true by accurately explaining the facts of our hearts – that they were deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; indeed, who could understand them? (Jeremiah 17:9) None of us did, that's for sure.

Then I remembered: two steps forward, one step back. So goes the dance of education.

Deuteronomy 6:7 speaks to our parental responsibility to teach our children, but often we miss the how when we focus too much on the what, where, and when: "You shall teach them (God's words) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." The definition of "diligently"? According to Merriam-Webster: "In a manner involving great or constant activity; with great effort or determination." According to my experience: "With a whole heapin' lot of commitment, effort, and work."

Lest I leave you with a lack of resolution, let me finish the story. Thankfully, over the course of the next few days, we resolved things and got back on the education dance floor by way of the Passages Exhibition at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art this past Saturday. While our visit at times felt like another "two steps forward, one step back" experience because of the crowd (one could argue that every 65-and-over adult Sunday School class in Oklahoma was there), we persevered and enjoyed two hours learning about God's preservation of the Bible over time. It was a good currciulum tie-in to our talk the week before…and a needed shared experience for our family as well.

Two steps forward, one step back – welcome to the dance of education. Let's boogie.


Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference

In Books, Educators on September 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Teacher-one-who-made-difference-mark-edmundson-paperback-cover-artI (Craig) just finished Mark Edmundson's book, Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference, a rambling yet rousing tribute to his high school teacher, Franklin Lears. While Edmundson's memoir takes place in his Massachussetts public school, he writes as someone more than familiar with classical philosophy, literature, and even some pedagogy. Some quotes:

"There is something archetypal about the world of high school, something allegoric. The kids have formalized roles. The teachers have nicknames that fix their place in the meager cosmos. Even the building is full of highly charged locales – the place where this or that clique hangs out, the corridor where the fight took place, the detention room where Big Fran, the submaster, had to call the police. There is something eternally burning about this world; it lives in the mind ten, twenty, thirty years after the fact, as though it had been concocted and instilled by a small-time Dante, who had himself once been injured by it and wanted it preserved eternally as a reminder." (35)

"In every early encounter between a teacher and a student there are multiple beings present, multiple ghosts, many of them not beneficient. Great teachers react differently to this fact of pedagogical life. Some of them never show their hand. They always turn the question back on the student. They never declare themselves. This is the way of Socrates, as it is of the expert therapist (Socrates is, among many other things, the first deep analyst of the psyche, the spirit), who functions as a mirror, always showing the patient her own reflection back.

But there is another way of proceeding too, and it can be no less transforming. That is to expose oneself fully as a teacher, to be receptive to everything, every resentment, fantasy, affection, and hatred the student brings forward. And once those passions are alive, once they are in play, then let the student use them as energy for intellectual inquiry and thence for change. Such teachers are human incadescences – they have ideas, then the ideas have them; they promulgate theories, they burn brilliantly with them, and they are always, always right. They create disciples, smaller versions of themselve. They found schools. Freud was such a teacher. So was Plato. So, in his way, was Jesus." (78-79)

"In general, teachers do not want to be 'responsible' for students' screwing up their lives because they give themselves over uninhibitedly to Whitman and try to live as the old queer anarch would, or to Dickinson, who created her own God and her own cosmology and lived with them. Many teachers, I suspect, don't trust kids to sift these matters for themselves. Nor do they even really trust other adults to do it. The idea of a society full of people running amok, using the poets and artists to remake their own minds, individually and with only their own judgments and disasters and disappointments as inhibiting walls, can make teachers crazy." (239)

"It was words instead of body blows that [Lears] traded in. The powers that he had by virtue of knowing how to talk and write, commanding irony when he needed it, being able, when pushed, to impale an adversary on the point of a phrase – this power became manifest to me. And I thought back through some of the worst moments of my life, and I began to see how differently a few of them might have turned out if I could only have spoken half well rather than pitched a fit or thrown punches. Even in the face of violence, a sure mind, I began to believe, might bring you through." (250-251)

"Good teachers have many motivations, but I suspect that loneliness if often one of them. You need a small group, a circle, to talk to; unable to find it in a larger world, you try to create it in the smaller sphere of a classroom." (266)

An interesting read that got better as it went along (give it at least 50 pages to appreciate Edmundson's writing style), Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference makes for a nice wind-down at the end of the day.

Some Blessings…No Turning Back

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Marriage, Places, Veritas, Young Ones on September 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

A couple weeks ago, I lamented that I had Some Regrets…No Doubts about our move to Oklahoma. As promised at the end of that entry, it's time to write the follow-up post.

Today marks 100 days on the job as Head of School of Veritas Classical Academy. In making it this far, I've been so grateful for the kindness, care, and friendship shown to my family, and the many prayers and expressions of support for my leadership at Veritas. During the past 100 days, I’ve listened – to parents and students, to faculty and staff, to our Board of Directors and the Lord – to learn what of the past seven years has made the school who we are now, all while planning and positioning us for the next seven (and beyond). It's been incredibly challenging, but as personally fulfilling as anything I've done.

I love getting to see my kids during their school days, but strangely, this has been more awkward for me than for them. During the first week, I felt really embarrassed for them when they saw me and ran up and hugged me during the day. I wonder how long their enthusiasm for Dad will last, but since they don't seem to mind or feel pressure to behave differently, I'm happy to let it continue as long as it will (I just need to get used to it).


In addition to my own kids, I'm enjoying the other 243 students enrolled at our two campuses. While I'm still learning names and trying desperately to keep up with everything required to run a school, the kids have been kind and open with me, as have many of their parents. One particularly enjoyable bunch of students is my Headmaster's Conclave, a lunch group of juniors and seniors. We meet every other week to talk about their studies, their lives, and their perspectives on how we can improve Veritas. It's been enlightening to hear from them (and they've been more than willing to provide "the new guy" with their honest thoughts).

Craig with VCA Students (72 dpi)

I could go on – about our teaching staff (all of whom I love); about our administrative team (all of whom are so committed to the school); about our board of directors (all of whom I feel safe with); and about classical Christian education (all of which I am learning so much, but still have so much to learn). It's been great – really exhausting, but great.

On the non-school front, I'm encouraged with the relationships we're beginning to cultivate in our neighborhood, which has thankfully turned out to be much more socially and ethnically diverse than I imagined. Over Labor Day weekend, we organized a cul-de-sac party and over 30 people turned out, many of whom had lived here for years and were re-introducing themselves to each other as they had just not kept up over time. The girls have made friends in the neighborhood and the weather has finally cooled off to make being outside an option (though actually being home remains my biggest challenge).


As you may know, one of the other reasons we moved to OKC was to help my college roommate/co-author, Doug Serven, plant City Presbyterian, the first PCA church in the Oklahoma City limits. Here's a picture from one of our first leadership meetings in June:

Church Plant Couples

And here's a picture from our first "preview" worship service this past Sunday evening:

As you can see, our chairs runneth over. Granted, not all of these people are going to stick around as part of City Pres (several were simply well-wishers from other churches while others were there to see one of the nine baptisms that took place), but it was fun to pull everything together and provide an opportunity for folks to hear the Scriptures proclaimed, to partake in the sacraments of communion and baptism, and to visualize the future of Oklahoma City with a Reformed church in its downtown.

As we don't anticipate formally launching a weekly service until perhaps the spring, we'll be meeting in City Groups (ours meets on Tuesday evenings) and in Sunday night vision rallies until then. However, it was especially fun for me to see Megan enjoy offering of her behind-the-scenes gifts of service and hospitality (not to mention picture-taking), as well as see our girls jump in and help set up, pull off, and pick up after the service. Having been dragged along to so many of the leadership meetings over the summer, they felt real ownership for the service and the church, which was hugely exciting.

In thinking through all of this – school, neighborhood, church, family – I keep coming back to Psalm 16, which has, for the past six years or so, become one of my fortunate favorites:

    Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
    I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
        I have no good apart from you.”
    As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
        in whom is all my delight.
    The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
        their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
        or take their names on my lips.
    The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
        you hold my lot.
    The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
        indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
    I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
        in the night also my heart instructs me.
    I have set the LORD always before me;
        because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
    Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
        my flesh also dwells secure.
    For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
        or let your holy one see corruption.
    You make known to me the path of life;
        in your presence there is fullness of joy;
        at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16 ESV)

Some blessings…no turning back. Grateful to God for who he is and all he is doing.

True Education Includes Moral Formation

In Thought on September 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Those who would argue that education is the solution to life’s problems do not adequately understand life’s problems. As Blaise Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. Let us then strive to think well.”

Unfortunately, we in America don’t think well (if at all) when it comes to morals and virtues; we tend to talk more of choices and values. We become more known for our pragmatic and utilitarian practices than anything else, particularly when one considers how easily parents are willing to force their 18-year-old children to declare majors, rack up credentials, and hop through the hoops of so-called higher education.

Dewey Granted, one can argue that a good education is always useful, but it is also true that a useful education is not always good. Henry T. Edmondson III, writing in his book John Dewey and the Decline of American Education, clarifies:

“Aristotle criticizes the education of the Spartans precisely because their education was directed only toward ‘necessary and useful things,’ with little regard for what is ‘noble.’ In this light, it is notable that although historians grant the Spartans the respect they are due for their martial discipline, the same historians also note that the Spartans left no philosophical, literary, or political legacy, unlike their Athenian rivals.

Here we have a paradox: In making utility the chief goal of education, we sacrifice much of its usefulness. A merely utilitarian education is largely ineffectual precisely because it does not seek to make a student good, or at least to teach him what is good, or even to provide him with those principles that guide good behavior – all of which qualities are essential aspects of true utility.” (p. 80)

What's a solution? This time, Edmondson references Plato:

“Plato explains that the central thrust of education must be to cultivate intellectual and moral virtue because ‘virtue…would be a certain health, beauty, and good condition of the soul’; without an education directed to the soul, the student will be left with ‘vice’ which is a ‘sickness, ugliness and weakness’ of the soul.” (p. 82)

When was the last time "the central thrust of education to cultivate intellectual and moral virtue" was the discussion at your school's board meeting? Or at the state or national levels of our country's education departments? It's safe to say it hasn't been because, without willingness to talk about, define, or embrace the idea of (and the responsibility to) an existent morality, there is no need to aspire to it. "Living according to our values" is about the closest we come, but this is just a politically-correct smokescreen for relativism and "I do what I want" kind of thinking.

American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin may seem as personally pragmatic as they come, but he at least acknowledged the existence, need for, and benefits of morality in a student's education. Again, from Edmondson's book:

“In spite of Franklin’s attraction to the useful and the innovative…he, like Jefferson, believed the moral goal of education to be the promotion of personal virtue. He once advised a friend in regard to character development: ‘Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich. Be sober and temperate, and you will be healthy. Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy…We see, then, that Franklin’s approach to practical education is characterized by a focus on preparing the individual for private virtue, public civility, and personal success.” (p. 85, 88)

Could we say then that, if there is any room for pragmatism in education, it should be concerning what a student may or may not do with his or her education and not whether the education itself focuses on virtue and truth? Edmondson thinks so:

“When we speak of Franklin’s educational pragmatism, we mean that his principle interest was in preparing the pupil for the place for which he was best suited by attending to the development of his character and intellect. This is reminiscent of Plato’s animating educational principle in the Republic, in which individuals are prepared for that which nature has equipped them.” (p. 88-89)

As we think about the role (and goal) of moral formation in education, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that education without moral formation is enough. Indeed, our students may learn many things, but unless those many learned things form and transform them, they are no more human than a computer. Consider:

“The writer Flannery O’Connor was better acquainted than she would have cared to be with the trends of progressive education. She completed a major in ‘social sciences,’ but the best thing she could say about her major, she told friends, was that she could remember very little of what she had learned. ‘I have what passes for an education in this day and time,’ she writes, ‘ but I am not deceived by it.’” (p. 106)

Edmondson writes the prescription for what true education is and must include:

“What should a good educational philosophy look like? It should be based upon the wisdom of the ages combined with common sense and empowered by the best innovative practices available. Changing the course of American education will not be easy. It will take a fight and those so engaged must be morally and intellectually equipped for the task.” (p. 113)

Wisdom of the ages? Common sense? Best innovative practices available?

Classical Christian education anyone? (I happen to know of a good school…)

Trip the Light Fantastic (But Label It First?)

In Pop Culture on September 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Light Switch I saw this in a church this past weekend and was so amused (among other things) that I had to snap a picture.

What's the rationale here? Had someone at some point in the past mistaken this light switch for something else? Was someone a bit paranoid and afraid someone would in the future?

Now don't get me wrong: I like label-making as much as the next guy (or perhaps more accurately, girl), but I can't for the life of me come up with a justifiable reason for this one.

Let's just say that if one feels the need to literally label a light switch, metaphorically mustering the creativity to flip it is probably the least of one's concerns.

I suppose it's better than labeling people, but come on. We can do better, people.

Lost in Transition

In Books on September 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Lost in Transition David Brooks writes in The New York Times this week about an all-too-depressing reality: the lack of critical thinking employed by American young people. Quoting from Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, the new book from notable Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith, Brooks argues:

"In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart."

He's right in his analysis. Some more excerpts:

"It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds. What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues."

“'Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,'” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. 'I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,' is how one interviewee put it."

"Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America."

"For decades, writers from different perspectives have been warning about the erosion of shared moral frameworks and the rise of an easygoing moral individualism. Allan Bloom and Gertrude Himmelfarb warned that sturdy virtues are being diluted into shallow values. Alasdair MacIntyre has written about emotivism, the idea that it’s impossible to secure moral agreement in our culture because all judgments are based on how we feel at the moment. Charles Taylor has argued that morals have become separated from moral sources. People are less likely to feel embedded on a moral landscape that transcends self. James Davison Hunter wrote a book called The Death of Character. Smith’s interviewees are living, breathing examples of the trends these writers have described."

The point is that students are not being taught what moral categories are, let alone trained how to use them to organize moral (or immoral, or amoral) ideas, behaviors, and philosophies. It's like trying to sort the mail without slotted boxes…or finding something on the Internet without a search engine…or charting a travel route with only an address but no map on which to plot it. The result is personal confusion, misdirection, and (ultimately) hurt – not to mention a society crumbling due to its inability to discern right from wrong because we are unable to name or describe either.

Many argue that education is the solution, but the claim needs more specificity to be even partially true. In reality, education that helps students recognize and contextualize ideas, behaviors, and philosophies is only part of the solution (and even then it is the foundation – not the pinnacle – of moral formation).

More on this on Friday.

On the 10th Anniversary of September 11th

In Musicians, Places, Thought, TV on September 11, 2011 at 5:16 am

Never mind the fact that it’s my favorite U2 song and the single greatest performance in the history of SuperBowl half-time shows, but I remember how healing and powerful U2’s 9/11 tribute was in February of 2002. Even watching it now, I’m blown away by the visual of bright hope emerging from the dark background of tragedy.

Maybe this (among other reasons) is why, ten years later, my sense of grief is not as personally paralyzing as it seems for others. Some may roll their eyes, but in reflecting back, I think Bono and the boys helped me deal with it then…not completely unaffectedly I’m sure, but in a way that allowed me to move on.

“Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We’re still building, then burning down love
Burning down love, and when I go there
I go there with you, it’s all I can do”

For those struggling with today’s 10th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, I hope this can be of some comfort to you. (Thanks to my friend, Al Li, for reminding me of this tribute.)

And Now a Word from Ms. Sayers

In Educators on September 9, 2011 at 5:39 am

Here at Docendo Discimus, it's time for Craig to begin a new topic on classical Christian education. However, as he's currently on an airplane headed to Virgina to partner with Michael Card on another Biblical Imagination conference, it seems fitting to leave you with this point to ponder from Dorothy Sayers. We'll see you on Tuesday.

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects… We have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

~Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning"

The Well-Blown Mind (Part 3)

In Thought on September 6, 2011 at 6:52 am

Picture 12
Making the decision to do Classical Conversations with my friends was much easier than making the decision to direct an official group. For the first month or so, two of my friends and I just decided to do it together and on our own. We didn't think we'd bother being official; we didn't need to be. We'd just get together at one of our homes and one of us would be the tutor to all of our kids. No problem!

Before I knew it, though, a couple of other families heard of our plan and asked to join. I didn't feel comfortable expanding the group without being an official CC group, so I began jumping through all the proper hoops, and by the end of the spring we were bona fide. By this time, another CC group formed on the other side of St. Louis, so there were two of us that year.

It was a great starter year for us. We only had 11 enrolled children and a handful of younger siblings. We had three classes and no nursery. We were very "fly by the seat of our collective pants" if you will. It was awesome. But slowly, word continued to get around about Classical Conversations in St. Louis. The following year two more groups started in other areas around town. My group had grown to 54 enrolled children and seven classes and 18 in the nursery. Growing from 11 to 54 in one year proved to be a huge learning curve in my leadership, but it was good.

During the third year, we maxed out our capacity and then some. We had 68 enrolled students and another nursery. I wouldn't say that we were a well-oiled machine by any stretch, but it was working. The power of community proved to be an irresistable force that overcame the intimidation that classical education can be for some families. Our kids were absorbing things as fast as we were throwing it out, and if you know CC at all, you know that information is thrown out hard and heavy (there are few things funnier to me than hearing a 5-year-old spout off Newton's Three Laws of Motion).

Here's the compilation video I made to end our group's third year. Even watching it now brings back a few tears.

I had no regrets in getting Classical Conversations up and going in St. Louis, but I was honestly starting to get burned out. As Craig was teaching at Westminster and we were planning to send our girls there when they were old enough, we felt like our oldest two would benefit from a traditional classroom experience on a smaller scale before tossing them into the sea that is Westminster. In the third year that I directed Classical Conversations, I only had two of my own kids enrolled, as our older two were attending a great little Christian school about ten minutes from our house.

While we felt pretty good about this decision, I had two internal conflicts: 1) I had all but abandoned the idea of classical education in the long-term for my family; and 2) choosing another educational route for some of my kids meant that I knew my days as a CC director were numbered. Honestly, I didn't mind that thought all that much, as balancing the two worlds of traditional school and homeschool was making me dizzy. I was getting close to needing to land on one side or the other.

It was in the middle of this third year that I started feeling some major change was on the horizon for our family. As it turned out, that feeling was the beginning of our transition to Oklahoma and our involvement with Veritas Classical Academy.

When that feeling became reality, it all just made sense. I've always had the heart of a homeschooler and have finally embraced the reality that I just can't do it the way I want all by myself. Being part of a blended model classical Christian school means now I don't have to: our kids get the best of both world, and I'm finally at peace with what we're doing with our kids.

When you are in the middle of trying to get everything figured out, it is easy to second-guess every decision you've ever made. After coming through several years of just this, it is sweet to me to see how all of these so-called-random decisions have been woven together to make up the story of how we landed where we are today. Having experienced so many other facets of the educational continuum, I am thrilled to be where we are today, and I look to the future with much more hope than trembling.

I certainly don't think we've arrived in our understanding of exactly what classical Christian education is and means, but I am certain of this: we're heading in the right direction and I'm excited about that.

The Well-Blown Mind (Part 2)

In Thought on September 2, 2011 at 5:48 am

After thoroughly immersing myself in everything Well-Trained Mind-ish, I suddenly thought that what I had done so far with the girls on our two-year journey with Sonlight curriculum was not sufficient. But I really liked Sonlight and thought it had enough of a classical bent, so I would use it AND do everything The Well-Trained Mind suggested.

Yes, I was that clueless.

After we moved into our on-campus seminary apartment I began to gather up as many of the recommended resources as possible that the Well-Trained Mind ladies suggested for first grade. I planned to do all of this along with Sonlight Core 1. I made the respective notebooks, bought the Story of the World Volume 1 Activity Pages book, and made necessary copies for two kids at the seminary library.

We began with a bang. Here are the girls (aren't they cute?) participating in the archaeology dig project from the activity book. I remember doing this one and it was a totally awesome project. 

Picture 23

I think we were doing hieroglyphics in the photo below. Or maybe we were using "bear skin" as paper? I can't remember exactly what we were doing, but I know it came from that activity book.

Picture 22
I kept up this pace for about two months, somehow successfully managing both Sonlight Core 1 and just about everything from The Well-Trained Mind. I then crashed pretty hard, abandoning the notebook plan from The Well-Trained Mind and just sticking with Sonlight and sporadic activity from the Story of the World Activity Pages.

It's easy to look back and rationalize that my then-first grader, kindergartener, and three-year-old were getting a pretty swell education, but compared to the ideal of The Well-Trained Mind, I was failing. I gave up on the idea of being able to educate my kids "classically" – it was just too hard to do on my own (and I wasn't really sure I understood what it meant anyway).

In the meantime, Craig took a part-time job teaching at a local classical Christian school with 70 kids in grades 7th-12th. It was a blended model school, and while Craig only taught one class (he was also a full-time seminary student at the time), in the back of my mind I kept hoping the school would be able to offer him a full-time position by the time our kids reached seventh grade so they could attend there.

Inconveniently, our family kept needing to eat, and despite the best efforts by the Headmaster to figure out more employment for Craig the next year, the school just wasn't in a position to offer more classes to teach. So, that spring, he applied at another Christian school (900 students, college prep) for a full-time position in the Bible department and got the job. The school wasn't classical, but it was Christian and a great place for him to learn alongside gifted teachers and under a solid administration.

We made it through two more years like this before I stumbled upon a program called Classical Conversations. One of my Internet buddies had posted about her family's experience with this program and I was really interested. I asked her some questions and excitedly trolled the CC website, but discovered there was no program in the entire state of Missouri. That was that, I thought: no Classical Conversations for our family.

A few months later, I attended a homeschool conference in St. Louis with two friends. In the hallway right outside of the main meeting hall, Classical Conversations had a booth and a bunch of books. It didn't appear many people were stopping at the booth, but since I had already checked out their website, I had an idea of what they were about. I grabbed my two friends and we headed toward the booth.

The gal running the booth was happy to share the vision of CC with us. We listened as best we could and walked away. We then went back again and asked her to explain it to us again. We walked away again. A third time, we went back and said, "Okay, help us understand how this works ONE MORE TIME." She patiently walked us through the process again. We signed the information sheet and said that we weren't wanting to start a group, but if one happened to open up we were interested in joining. I distinctly remember turning to both of my friends and saying, "Y'all, I'm happy to tutor at one of these, but I DO NOT WANT TO DIRECT ONE. Please make sure I don't direct one." They agreed with the sentiment; none of us wanted that responsibility.

The conference ended and a week later we found ourselves at a CC information meeting held in our area. There still wasn't a group being formed, but an Illinois chapter was willing to help launch one in St. Louis. Another week later, we all found ourselves at a "mock day" with our kids in which we spent three hours walking through a typical CC day with an experienced tutor. By the end of the day we were more convinced than ever that we wanted to do this with our kids. But still, nobody was willing to start one.

Reluctantly, I sighed, signed, and started the first Classical Conversations in St. Louis.