Distinguished Rectors and Professors,
Dear Students and Friends,
K-12 Catholic Homeschool Program & Great Books Program
September 30, 2009
September 29, 2009
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – By TOM BREEN, Associated Press Writer
Charleston resident Kelli Davis was in for a surprise when her daughter brought home some routine paperwork at the start of school this fall. Davis signed the form and then handed it to her daughter for the eighth-grader’s signature.
“I just assumed she knew how to do it, but I have a piece of paper with her signature on it and it looks like a little kid’s signature,” Davis said.
Her daughter was apologetic, but explained that she hadn’t been required to make the graceful loops and joined letters of cursive writing in years. That prompted a call to the school and another surprise.
West Virginia’s largest school system teaches cursive, but only in the 3rd grade.
“It doesn’t get quite the emphasis it did years ago, primarily because of all the technology skills we now teach,” said Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary education in Kanawha County schools.
Davis’ experience gets repeated every time parents, who recall their own hours of laborious cursive practice, learn that what used to be called “penmanship” is being shunted aside at schools across the country in favor of 21st century skills.
The decline of cursive is happening as students are doing more and more work on computers, including writing. In 2011, the writing test of the National Assessment of Educational Progress will require 8th and 11th graders to compose on computers, with 4th graders following in 2019.
“We need to make sure they’ll be ready for what’s going to happen in 2020 or 2030,” said Katie Van Sluys, a professor at DePaul University and the president of the Whole Language Umbrella, a conference of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Handwriting is increasingly something people do only when they need to make a note to themselves rather than communicate with others, she said. Students accustomed to using computers to write at home have a hard time seeing the relevance of hours of practicing cursive handwriting.
“They’re writing, they’re composing with these tools at home, and to have school look so different from that set of experiences is not the best idea,” she said. Text messaging, e-mail, and word processing have replaced handwriting outside the classroom, said Cheryl Jeffers, a professor at Marshall University’s College of Education and Human Services, and she worries they’ll replace it entirely before long.
“I am not sure students have a sense of any reason why they should vest their time and effort in writing a message out manually when it can be sent electronically in seconds.”
For Jeffers, cursive writing is a lifelong skill, one she fears could become lost to the culture, making many historic records hard to decipher and robbing people of “a gift.” That fear is not new, said Kathleen Wright, national product manager for handwriting at Zaner-Bloser, a Columbus, Ohio-based company that produces a variety of instructional material for schools.
“If you go back, you can see the same conversations came up with the advent of the typewriter,” she said. Every year, Zaner-Bloser sponsors a national handwriting competition for schools, and this year saw more than 200,000 entries, a record.
“Everybody talks about how sometime in the future every kid’s going to have a keyboard, but that isn’t really true.” Few schools make keyboards available for day-to-day writing. The majority of school work, from taking notes to essay tests, is still done by hand.
At Mountaineer Montessori in Charleston, teacher Sharon Spencer stresses cursive to her first- through third-graders. By the time her students are in the third grade, they are writing book reports and their spelling words in cursive.
To Spencer, cursive writing is an art that helps teach them muscle control and hand-eye coordination. “In the age of computers, I just tell the children, what if we are on an island and don’t have electricity? One of the ways we communicate is through writing,” she said.
But cursive is favored by fewer college-bound students. In 2005, the SAT began including a written essay portion, and a 2007 report by the College Board found that about 15 percent of test-takers chose to write in cursive, while the others wrote in print. That was probably smart, according to Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who cites multiple studies showing that sloppy writing routinely leads to lower grades, even in papers with the same wording as those written in a neater hand.
Graham argues that fears over the decline of handwriting in general and cursive in particular are distractions from the goal of improving students’ overall writing skills. The important thing is to have students proficient enough to focus on their ideas and the composition of their writing rather than how they form the letters.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that 26 percent of 12th graders lack basic proficiency in writing, while two percent were sufficiently skilled writers to be classified as “advanced.”
“Handwriting is really the tail wagging the dog,” Graham said. Besides, it isn’t as if all those adults who learned cursive years ago are doing their writing with the fluent grace of John Hancock. Most people peak in terms of legibility in 4th grade, Graham said, and Wright said it’s common for adults to write in a cursive-print hybrid.
“People still have to write, even if it’s just scribbling,” said Paula Sassi, a certified master graphologist and a member of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation. “Just like when we went from quill pen to fountain pen to ball point, now we’re going from the art of handwriting to handwriting purely as communication,” she said.
September 19, 2009
The fact that we call the war between the Delian League (Athenian Empire) and Sparta the Peloponnesian War shows that Thucydides saw the war through a veil of preconception do to his loyalty to Athens. Thucydides, an Athenian statesman and general was convinced from the outset that the war would be the most important ever recorded in Greece and therefore made great efforts to establish the exact truth. Since he was exiled early in the war for failing to relieve a besieged Athenian territory, he had plenty of freedom to travel and to talk to both Spartans and Athenians.
Warfare in Hellenic Greece centered mainly around heavy infantrymen called hoplites. They were armed as spearmen, which are relatively easy to equip and maintain. And mainly they represented the middle class, who could afford the cost of the armaments. Almost all the famous men of ancient Greece, even the philosophers and playwrights, fought as a hoplite in some battle or another. Hoplites generally armed themselves immediately before battle, since the equipment was so heavy. Each man provided his own gear so it was fairly non-uniform, and often friendly troops would fail to recognize one another. A hoplite typically had a breastplate, a bronze helmet with cheek plates, as well greaves and other armor, plus a bowl-shaped wooden shield around 1 meter across. The primary weapon was a spear, around 2.7 meters in length; as this frequently broke upon charging, hoplites also carried a smaller 60 cm thrusting sword.
According to Thucydides, the cause of the war was the “fear of the growth of the power of Athens” throughout the middle of the 5th century BC. After an alliance of Greek states stopped an attempted invasion of the Greek peninsula by the Persian empire, several of those states formed the Delian league in 478 BC in order to create and fund a standing navy which could be used against the Persians in areas under their control. Athens, the largest member of the league and the major Greek naval power, took the leadership of the league and controlled its treasury. Over the following decades, Athens was able to convert the Delian league into an Athenian empire. This increase in Athenian military power allowed it to challenge the Lacedaemonians (commonly known as the Spartans), who, as leaders of the Peloponnesian League, had long been the sole major military power in Greece.
The immediate cause of the war comprised several specific actions of Athens that affected Sparta’s allies, notably Corinth. The Athenian navy intervened in a dispute between Corinth and Corcyra, preventing Corinth from invading Corcyra at the Battle of Sybota, and placed Potidaea, a Corinthian colony, under siege. The Athenian Empire also levied economic sanctions against Megara, an ally of Sparta. These sanctions, known as the Megarian decree, were largely ignored by Thucydides, but modern economic historians have noted that forbidding Megara to trade with the prosperous Athenian empire would have been disastrous for the Megarans. The decree was likely a greater catalyst for the war than Thucydides and other ancient authors realized, more so than simple fear of Athenian power.
As the war began, Sparta and Athens each took advantage of their military strengths. Sparta, with its much larger army, ravaged Attica the territory around Athens while the Athenian navy raided cities on the Peloponnesus. This strategy lasted for two years. Meanwhile Pericles death in 429 left the democracy prey to hostile factions and reckless leaders who pursued their own advantage. Most of the leaders were warmongers who insisted on vigorous prosecution of the conflict. Chief among these select few was Alcibiades, who was as irresponsible as he was brilliant. By 425 Sparta’s hopes for victory were bleak, and its leaders were ready to ask for peace. Slowly, however, the fortunes of war changed. Sparta, under its general Brasidas, scored significant victories at Chalcidice and Amphipolis. Both were serious losses for Athens. The Athenian leader Nicias persuaded the city to accept Sparta’s offer to cease hostilities in 421. And despite Thucydides’ prejudices he had the best insight into the period and the war itself.
September 19, 2009
In the writings of Galen, an ancient physician, we find many explanations and material that assists the Church’s efforts to reconcile faith and reason. The foundation of Galen’s writings and opinions was always solid and logical, based on fact. This style of learning and teaching set the cornerstone for the sciences of today. It is important to thoroughly understand the definitions of faith and reason when you read these writings. Galen’s manuscripts are full of arguments, styles, methods, and reasons that are a great help to the Church in her efforts. The writings of Galen, carefully laid out, and perfected by skill and self-taught knowledge, assist the Church in her efforts to reconcile faith and reason.
Galen’s approach to science is based on fact. He refuses to even consider an argument based on a hypothesis. Instead, he researches and studies his profession well, so that he can find the truth about how the human body works, and the purposes of each organ. He did not accept someone’s teachings that he knew were false, rather, he sought out the truth from men who had come before him and studied well, and really were knowledgeable about anatomy and medicine. He relied heavily on his predecessors, such as Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, and the like, who also believed in basing study on fact. The writings of these great masters, as well as their attitude, shows through Galen, as he strives to do the same that they did: learn as much as he can about the true functions of the human body so that he can help those who are ill and wounded, as well as the other doctors and physicians in ancient Greece and Rome. Galen was an intelligent man who chose his teachers and mentors well, and refused to believe something simply because it was easier that having to search for the truth.
When you are trying to use Galen’s writings to help you to reconcile faith and reason, it is extremely important to understand what exactly faith and reason are, and the difference between the two, as well as what exactly is meant by the word “reconcile”. By reconcile, we mean to make consistent or congruous. Not necessarily make them the same things on the same level, but at least make it so that they can co-exist, and work together. Reason, according to the dictionary is “a sufficient ground of explanation or motive; a rational ground or motive”. Simply put, that means something is reasonable if you can prove it completely and totally, like math. 2 + 2 will always equal 4, no matter what you do, it is a proven fact, and needs no faith to be true. That brings us to our next definition: faith- firm belief in something for which there is no proof. This is the opposite of reason. With faith, you personally have to choose if you are going to believe something. There is no proof out there to convince you of something. You have to just accept it and believe it. Is it possible to use various arguing techniques to reconcile faith and reason? Does Galen give us an example of these methods in his Faculties? Well, read on.
When Galen approaches a problem, he first looks at what he has. He examines the things that he is trying to prove, as well as any facts that may pertain to the problem. One such fact that he used a great deal was referred to as “Genesis, Growth, and Nutrition.” This was the coming into existence, the maturation of the existing being, and the activity, sustenance, and society that it needed to survive. Finally, using reasoning, proofs, and knowledge, he reaches the answer. This same approach may be used in the Church’s efforts. We have our problem: reconcile faith and reason. We have our given facts: There had to be a beginning, there has to be an end, there has to be a way that the universe began, and there has to be a way for it to end. The “way” was what created the universe, what made it come to completion, and what maintains it. (Genesis, Growth, and Nutrition, as Galen would say) This “way” must be eternal, (has existed for forever, and will exist forever, as well as possess several other qualities that I won’t go into now.) We have our answer: That “way” is what we call God. You can’t see him, you can’t physically feel, taste, or touch him, but He must exist. Once you have this fact, you can go on to prove all the others. The above is simply an example of how you can use proven facts to prove other things, and how Galen’s writings assist in that process. I won’t go into all of the countless others right now, as it would take years to write, and even longer to thoroughly understand! Just let me say this to sum up all that I’ve said: Galen’s mental processes, together with the Church’s techniques, allow you to reconcile faith and reason.
The writings of Galen, carefully laid out and perfected by skill and self taught knowledge, assist the Church in her efforts to reconcile faith and reason. Galen’s logical arguments and methods allowed him to prove things about the human body. The definitions of faith and reason show us exactly what we must do to reconcile the two. The Church can use the same methods that Galen used to do this. And so, I would like to leave you with this final thought: Galen was able to prove many things by thinking logically and rationally. How can you use the same methods to work through questions that arise in your life, whether about society, education, or religion?
September 19, 2009
The heroes of the Epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey are very different men who embody character traits that distinguish them from each other. They are both great men. The judgment of who is the better man depends on what character traits we value or whom we identify with. This judgment also depends on who we consider to have had a successful life.
Achilles is the outraged Achaean warrior who withdraws his arms and men from the siege of Troy. Agamemnon the King is jealous of the strength and courage of Achilles and threatened by his independent spirit. When challenged by Achilles to give up his beloved prize, the girl Chryseis, he feels stung as the leader, to be stripped of his prize while his underlings keep theirs. Achilles wants only the best for the common good. He is determined to win the war, and seeks to please the god Apollo who has been offended by Agamemnon, and for this reason has visited the whole camp with plague. Achilles therefore challenges Agamemnon to return the girl to her father who is Apollo’s priest.
Agamemnon spits insults at Achilles and demands that he hand over his prize, the beautiful Briseis, to compensate him his loss. This is understood as a slight of Achilles who is the best warrior and the most valiant in the army and worthy of respect and honor.
When Achilles is treated so unjustly, he is eager to kill him, but submits to the will of the god Athena who persuades him to give up this fight in the ranks. The gods who favor the Greeks will have no more discord. Achilles is outraged and hurt in his pride as only a valiant soldier who has given his all for the cause can be, and in his heart for he genuinely cares for the girl and she is attached to him, but for the good of the army he submits to the will of the gods and in lieu of a blood fight with Agamemnon, withdraws from the war.
Achilles is strong and sure of himself. He is pious and willing to submit to the will of the gods. He is audacious, able to stand up to anyone for the good of the whole army and the objective of victory. He is principled and very conscious of fair play and justice. And he is patient and trusting in ultimate vindication by the gods, and this he proves by waiting by his ships while the war continued, even though it was not his nature, as a man of action, to sit idly by.
Odysseus is the great Ithacan strategist and bane of Troy. After proving his wisdom, strength and courage on the battlefield in front of the walls of Troy, and bringing ultimate victory by plotting the brilliant foil of sending the horse full of hidden soldiers inside the walls to vanquish the unsuspecting Trojans, he sets out homeward with his men and his plunder. He eventually makes it home but not one of his men survive. He wanders for ten years as misfortune and adventure test his wits, but throughout his trials, Odysseus remains pious and devoted to Athena who loves him dearly for his courage, strength but most of all for his intelligence, which he uses to outsmart his enemy with deception, so to catch them off guard.
When he finally gets to Ithaca, he finds his home besieged by over one hundred men who plunder his flocks and storeroom by an endless presence and feasting, as they woo his faithful wife, shamefully putting her under pressure by the threat they pose to the material well being of the house and the life of her son. They make Odysseus’ home inhospitable to his family and even to poor beggars, including himself, who returns disguised as one, so as to bide his time, assess the situation and plot how best to rid his house of these ill mannered suitors.
Odysseus is restrained in his actions most of the time. He has extraordinary patience and foresight, and his trust in his own judgment and plans makes him optimistic. His faith in Athena makes him have courage and he relies on her as an advocate and ally. He is a pious man who loves his home, not war, who treasures his family and toils to restore order. His personality is quite different from Achilles who loves to make war, who is proud of his strength and eager to use it in battle. Odysseus goes to war when he has to, and uses every means possible to make the fight quick and effective so he can get on with what he truly loves which is living in peace. He is much more veiled in his warring tactics than Achilles who is fast and strong and furious, open with his indignation when it arises, and loud with his stand on dignity. Odysseus disguises his motives and holds his temper and his tongue with amazing discipline even when to strike out in response to insults and hurts would be the most natural thing to do
In the end, Odysseus is victorious over all his adversities and his enemies and he is reunited with his family and lives to a ripe old age with his family, blessed by the gods. Achilles dies in Troy. He is honored as a great warrior but never came to know the happiness of peace and the holiness of home and family. Perhaps these were not important to him and dying a hero was all he wanted, so that his life was a success for him.
However, Odysseus’ life is the more successful in my opinion. In the end, he proves himself the better man because throughout his life he has aimed to please the gods. Achilles is a great man too, a forceful character, but much of his life was about having the gods please him. In this comparison therefore, I think Odysseus wins.
September 18, 2009
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, states in the opening chapter that happiness is the highest goal of all human deliberate actions. He takes this as a starting point, going on to describe what is essential to happiness. He saw happiness as the “virtuous activity of the soul in accordance with reason”. Since the quality of a person’s habits determine in large part their character, good habits, or virtues, are necessary to happiness, as is intelligence so that one may guide one’s action within the boundaries of reason. Aristotle concluded that children are incapable of happiness inasmuch as they have not developed the ability to use their intelligence to guide their actions. Thus, children cannot be happy.
Many people confuse happiness with pleasure or joy. Joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. Joy is not lasting and is dependent on one’s fortune. Pleasure can be found in amusement, diversion, or worldly enjoyment. It is a temporary cause for delight. Pleasure can be taken from something as small as a piece of candy. Pleasure is in small, temporary joy. Everyone has feelings of pleasure. This is what a child experiences – not happiness. Happiness is something different. Happiness is lasting joy which comes from the practice of virtue in accordance with reason, which is the highest good of the soul.
People are not born with virtue already acquired; in fact one might say that they are born not with virtue but with faults. Children do not have control over their wills. They follow their desires because their intelligences have not yet formed adequately, and they do not see why it is, for example, that their parents forbid them to have too much ice cream. They cannot see the reasoning behind it. And consequently they are unhappy when they are refused the ice cream. A child must have pleasure or he or she is unhappy. One might object to this saying that even children who are deprived of natural pleasures, such as good food and nice clothes, are not miserable, and therefore children must be able to be happy. However, children are able to find entertainment and delight in almost anything because of their simplicity and large imaginations; and thus one could not say they were happy, but merely finding pleasure in smaller things.
Also, children are not happy because they do not know how to love. A child may experience gratitude or attachment towards a certain person, but only because that person gives them good things such as toys or candy. But children do not appreciate the love their parents have for them. They only appreciate the things that their parents give them that cause delight, and they hardly ever appreciate it when their parents punish them even though it is actually doing them good.
Another reason that we cannot say that a child is happy is because their life is not yet completed. Just as when one is reading a book, one cannot say at the beginning that it is a good book because one has not yet read the middle or end. All one can say is that the book begins well. Aristotle states that, “For there is required, as we said, not only complete virtue but also a complete life, since many changes occur in life, and all manner of chances, and the most prosperous may fall into great misfortunes in old age, as is told of Priam in the Trojan Cycle; and one who has experienced such chances and has ended wretchedly no one calls happy.” Napoleon Bonaparte is another example. From a mere artillery officer he rose to become the emperor of France, but was finally conquered and spent the last six years of his life under British supervision on the island of Saint Helena. Thus, children are called happy not because they are happy at the time, because we have high hopes that they will be happy. As Aristotle says, “A boy is not happy owing to his age; boys who are called happy are being congratulated by reason of the hopes we have for them.”
Thus, to be happy, a person must have a complete life and complete virtue. This is what Aristotle means by “the second act”. The first act is potentiality for the second act. The second act is actuality. That is why children cannot be happy. But then, must no one be called happy while they are alive? For until a person is dead no one can know if that person had a good, virtuous life or no. However, as Aristotle points out, “”Certainly the future is obscure to us, while happiness, we claim, is an end and something in every way final…If so, we shall call happy those among living men in whom these conditions are, and are to be fulfilled.”
Thus, children cannot experience happiness, but only pleasure because they do not have sufficient control over their intellects and wills. However, not being able to be happy does not make children miserable. God has given children the gifts of simplicity and great imagination which allows them to find many pleasures. Good educators must strive to teach children virtuous habits by good example, so that they may grow in that direction. Good educators must also attempt to improve children’s minds so that their virtuous actions may be guided by good reasoning so that their pupils may progress far along the path towards happiness: the goal of all human actions. Of course, the reason why all of this is so important is because it determines where we go after death. All virtuous men go to heaven in the afterlife, while the men who scorned virtue do not. Perfect happiness can only be achieved in heaven.
September 17, 2009
Congratulations to our Great Books student, Hunter Gill, on his award winning video!
“Liberal Arts Education: A Strategy to Save the Nation”
Highlands Ranch, CO
Aired: Thursday, April 2