Teaching Logic Dialectically

This session focuses on the particular challenges of teaching logic and how these can be addressed by the teacher’s proper understanding of the unique features of students in the dialectical stage of education. 

In particular, we must understand that inquiry governed by logic is both rule-bound and open-ended, and that both the rules and the freedom of logic must be properly communicated to the student. The crucial mistake to avoid is to emphasize the rules of logic at the expense of the open-ended nature of inquiry that it is designed to aid. 

Drawing on the works of Plato and Aristotle, this session reviews the nature and purpose of logic, both in terms of the subject matter itself, as well as the attitude with which teachers must approach students in the logic stage. 

Gary Hartenburg

Gary earned his doctoral degree from the University of California, where he studied philosophy and wrote his dissertation on ancient Greek philosophy. Since 2013, he has been the Director of the HBU Honors College, a campus-wide honors program that educates its students in the liberal arts through intensive, Socratic discussion of great books, dynamic lectures and personalized writing instruction. Gary also teaches philosophy at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He has spoken at a number of professional philosophy and classical education conferences, and has published articles on ancient philosophy and philosophy of religion. He is currently working on a book about Aristotle's philosophy of education.

More Than Just Facts: Liturgy, Logic and Literature in Middle School Science Curriculum

Our national culture is conflicted when it comes to science. Many see science as the final arbiter of truth, a discipline elevated almost to the level of deity. Others see science as the great deceiver and enemy of the Christian faith. Still others see science as too difficult to understand. How can we offer students a broader vision of the sciences as one – but not the only – valid and useful way of pursuing knowledge about general revelation? What are the logical implications of Newton’s Laws of Motion? How does plate tectonics tell students about the righteousness of God? What can The Rime of the Ancient Mariner show students about ocean currents? Or what can The Hobbit teach about forest biomes or volcanoes? How can we build a curriculum that engages not only the students’ minds, but also their imaginations and wills? Join us for a conversation on interdisciplinary integration in the middle school science curriculum.

James Dolas

Jim is in his fourth year of teaching Middle School at Heritage Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to falling into teaching science and logic, he spent a decade working at a variety of soft ware engineering jobs before taking a few years “off ” as a full-time dad. He holds computer and electrical engineering degrees from Purdue University and Georgia Tech, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying a rich reading diet of Tolkien, Lewis and the frequent epic poem. Jim started his teaching career with a class in earth science, but, because nature abhors a vacuum, he has branched out to cover life science, physical science and logic, as well.

Logic for the Real World: How to Apply Logic in Today’s Chaotic and Often Irrational World

Now more than ever it seems our culture is in need of thoughtful, reasoned discourse and argument. Far from being merely an academic subject, logic brings clarity to our own thinking and also enables us to engage with ideas across disciplines, media and culture. Teaching students how to think can seem like a daunting, abstract, nebulous exercise. During this seminar, we will introduce and discuss the best pedagogical practices for teaching logic to middle and high school students; we will also suggest ways that new teachers of logic can best prepare for teaching this important art. We will consider four aspects of reasoned, logical thinking: 1) how to develop a personal, internal dialogue; 2) learning what the “right” questions are and how to ask them; 3) learning to discern the real issues at the heart of complex discussions; and 4) how to avoid falling prey to the irrelevant, presumptive and unclear fallacies that cloud so many conversations, discussions and debates. The seminar will feature several examples of logical fallacies and provide other pertinent resources for teaching logic well, including ways of incorporating “capstone” projects to culminate a year of teaching logic.

Joelle Hodge

Joelle holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. She began her career as a staffer to Senator Arlen Specter before finding her professional home in the world of classical education in 1999. She has nearly 20 years of logic-teaching experience, most of which were spent at a classical school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There, she also developed much of their Logic and Rhetoric curricula. She has co-authored two logic books: The Art of Argument: An Introduction to the Informal Fallacies and The Discovery of Deduction: An Introduction to Formal Logic, both published by Classical Academic Press. Joelle was recently appointed as Scholé Academy’s Principal and works to support a staff of nearly 20 educators. She enjoys helping them develop productive and inspiring classrooms. She also travels to classical schools and co-ops across the country, tailoring workshops and training teachers in the fundamentals of dialectic and Rhetoric-stage pedagogy.

Essential Logic: What Every Teacher Should Know in Order to Effectively Utilize and Integrate Logic Into His or Her Subject Area

As classical Christian educators, we see logic as so essential to what and how we teach that we refer to the second stage of learning as dialectic and to the corresponding school as the School of Logic. While many Upper School teachers would like to integrate logic into their classes, many have not received formal training, and so lack the ability to do so effectively. This seminar will seek to provide Upper School teachers with a foundational understanding of the essentials of logic with the goal of enabling them to effectively integrate logic into their subject areas. Participants will learn about logical fallacies, the basic laws of logic (thought), propositions and their relationships, syllogisms and their forms and testing arguments for validity and soundness.

Jeremy Sturdivant

Jeremy Sturdivant has served for numerous years as a public school educator, an ordained minister and a classical Christian school educator. As a classical Christian educator, he spent two years teaching 6th Grade before teaching humanities, Bible survey, logic and Greek in the Upper School. Currently, he teaches Bible survey and logic and serves as the Theology/Philosophy Department Chair at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, Texas. Jeremy holds a bachelor’s degree from Angelo State University and a master’s degree in divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Why Latin? Learn it for the Hypallage!

For several years now, Latin has been making a steady and decided comeback. Not just classical schools, but private schools of various stripe as well as some suburban public schools, inner-city schools, and everything in between have Latin again as an option – sometimes even a popular one – in the curriculum. This semester at my college I am teaching “Latin 101: Beginning Latin” to an eager group of twenty-four students, none of whom are using the course to meet a language requirement; they simply want to learn Latin. The last time introductory Latin was offered here was nearly thirty years ago, when it died due to simple lack of interest. A few years ago several students circulated a petition asking for signatures from students “who would take beginning Latin even if it did not fulfill a language requirement”; they quickly amassed more than sixty signatures. Latin success stories from struggling inner- city schools to prestigious private academies are common enough, and, of course, the classical school movement essentially has made the study of Latin for its students a sine qua non.

Well-worn responses to the old “Why study a dead language?” have returned with vigor. We all know the pragmatic answers which once tried, in vain, to prop up dying Latin in school curricula of the 1960’s and 1970’s – Latin teaches logical thinking; Latin builds English vocabulary; Latin will raise your standardized test scores (thereby helping you get into top colleges, professional programs, graduate schools). In some classical circles, these answers likely mask another necessity-driven, usually unspoken, one – Smart young hires at small private schools can usually teach themselves enough Latin in order to teach elementary students, something they could not do for modern spoken languages like French or German. Many of us could probably give plenty of examples of the latter, even if the reality of it does not thrill us. I have, many times, taught upper-level “Reading Latin” to college students who could boast four or more years of middle or high school Latin (partly from teachers who more or less taught themselves Latin) yet who have not even encountered the Subjunctive Mood.

It is not easy to deny the validity of any of the above answers, even if the idealist in many of us probably balks
at the crass pragmatism at play. School administrators, teachers, and board members, no doubt, know they have to give the above answers (minus, of course, the final one) to inquiring parents. Such a message, in some circles, unfortunately tends to get absolutized. Once again, some administrators are heard arguing that Latin (and/ or sometimes Koiné Greek) is essential to learning logical thinking skills. There is rich irony at play whenever parents (who have never studied Latin) parrot this claim which they have heard from teachers and administrators (many of whom have never studied Latin either). To be quite frank, there are many very effective and efficient ways to learn logical thinking skills, to build vocabulary, and to soar on standardized tests without a single day of studying Latin. To suggest otherwise borders on the naïve, on the one hand, and the dishonest, on the other.

So, without muddying the waters by arguing that Latin should be required for all students, let me suggest some reasons why I love Latin (and Greek), and why the study of dead ancient inflected languages is an excellent pedagogical option. In doing so, I will try to avoid the Scylla of elitism and the Charybdis of populism. The former, which I see in some students coming from classical school backgrounds, is rarely backed up by substance (see note on the Subjunctive Mood above, for one of many examples). The latter, the essence of Americanism, ignores the fact that truly learning Latin takes sustained thought, hard work, and dedication, and most are not going there, even given the most energetic of teachers and supportive of parents.

First, the study of Latin exposes one to a truly foreign culture, a beautiful world outside of our own. In this respect, Latin does something that teaching modern languages generally does not. Learning any language is never just about grammar and vocabulary, but rather about getting access to a different world. While I refuse to pit learning Latin against learning French, and remain a firm believer in students learning modern languages, I would argue that there is a fundamental difference between the two in terms of foreign exposure. Modern languages, in spite of the occasional and very welcome exceptions (bless them!), are taught primarily in a touristic and consumeristic way. High school modern language classes are ultimately geared toward preparing you to check into a hotel, to rent a car, to order a meal, to buy a trinket. The point is to bring their world to me in a way I can negotiate it, touch it, enjoy it, take it home. The point is not to truly enter a foreign culture. There are exceptions, but the pattern remains, and implicitly or explicitly serves as a justification for requiring modern foreign languages in schools.

In our modern globalized world, moreover, even those who truly immerse themselves in a contemporary foreign culture begin to see how foreign it is not. Discussions about western pop stars, western “restaurants” (is McDonald’s a restaurant?), western politics, western television shows, western movie stars, western sports figures, etc. tend to dominate. By contrast, note what happens when even a beginning Latin student encounters a line from Vergil, Livy, Cicero, Ovid, or Seneca. No longer is the student thinking about how to order a sandwich or how to find the train station (as important as these are), or talk about One Direction or American Idol (as important as these aren’t), but rather he is pondering a question about natural law, the nature of friendship, or the role of the divine. To the extent that some of this is not explicitly foreign, it at least remains timeless. Emphasis on Rome as part of something we call Western Civilization can blind us to how truly different those people were from us in worldview. Even a brief study of Roman religion or cosmology would show the gulf between us and them. Through the study of Latin we can encounter a glimpse of the beauty and sheer variety of human creativity across time and space – and the Roman world is a truly foreign place.

Second, the study of Latin can teach us about grammar in a way that spoken language does not necessarily do. This argument has a long history, but we should not forget it. With spoken languages, most of us learn by imitation, by hearing. Is it, “If I were you, I would be glad to study Latin” or “If I was you, I would be glad to study Latin”? Our first impulse is to hear which one sounds correct (admittedly, a poor method if our community / family / peer group does not take grammar seriously). With Latin, understanding Tense (e.g. Present, Imperfect, Future, Perfect, Pluperfect, Future Perfect), Mood (e.g. Indicative, Subjunctive, Imperative), Case Usage (Direct Object, Indirect Object, Subject, Means, Manner, etc.) comes from learning how the grammar works. No one who has ever taught Latin (or Greek) at any level has not frequently heard “this really helps me understand English grammar a whole lot better.”

To be sure, all languages, ancient and modern, have a rigorous grammatical logic. Learning Latin, though, is rarely if ever about learning by hearing and imitating, but necessarily about understanding the grammar intrinsically and extrinsically.
that they use the logic of Latin every day to think about relationships between words, about syntax, about grammar. All of this comes in addition to learning vocabulary terms (which might or might not help one on the SAT). Additionally, grammarians and philologists have long noted that languages tend to devolve over time in terms of grammatical complexity. The earlier phases of a language (and what are French, Italian, and Spanish but living Latin?) tend to be the most complex, again giving us insight into the rich beauty of human creativity in ways not necessarily observable in current forms of any language.

Finally, Latin expresses itself in ways which are impossible in non-inflected languages such as English. Of course, English does things that Latin (and Greek) cannot (like make an art form of rhyming poetry, for example), but inflected languages show us, again, a beauty and creativity which we cannot ever experience in English or any language readily accessible in American educational systems. To illustrate, I will take an example from an Attic Greek text and then move to a Latin counterpart. Early in my studies of Attic Greek, I was assigned a section from Book Two of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. The scene was a dark, rainy, night battle in a city. Like many parts of Thucydides, the passage was very difficult, but this one seemed more intractable than any passage I had yet encountered. Word order, of course, in highly inflected languages, is far more flexible than English, which depends closely on the order of words in a sentence (another point to support the argument in the previous paragraph, incidentally). Even with flexibility, though, there are patterns into which Latin and Greek sentences generally fall. One learns where to look for the verb, the subject, the object(s), modifiers, etc. When they are not where one expects, it is for a purpose such as emphasis, and one learns to recognize this. The Thucydides passage, though, was convoluted well beyond my neophyte powers of recognition. Verbs were positioned where I expected nouns; modifiers were far away from words they were modifying; participles flew at me from odd directions. I began to get frustrated, angry, exhausted as I tried to translate the description of this night battle.

Then it hit me – I was being brought into the thick of the battle! Nothing was where I expected it, just as the fighters in the dark, rainy streets did not know who was on what side as they came upon a person in the dark chaos, slipping and falling through the wet streets. Was that a foe or a friend rushing at them? Nothing was where they expected. Such was the beauty of the passage – I could translate the words (eventually), but more than that, I could feel the action. Latin does the same, because it can. Working in a similar way would be Cicero’s famous descriptions of conspirators where he employs word order which illustrates immediate danger, yet allows the reader to picture the conspirators in the hills around Rome, in the city itself, and, ultimately, in the Senate house itself.

Rhetoric, of course, was the basis of higher education in Rome, and Latin (and Greek) formed the essential structure from which to launch their verbal fireworks. While modern education is oriented toward “facts,” education in the ancient world was oriented toward the rhetorical presentation of facts. Originality, for them, was primarily not a matter of thinking up new material,
but rather handling old and well-known material in a rhetorically new and interesting way. All classical literature was thus rhetorical, and relied on picturesque means of conveying a message. The tropes and figures for doing so were more or less canonized by the Romans.

To truly appreciate these tropes and figures, it is necessary to encounter them in the original languages, for much depends on word order and grammatical inflection. I would maintain that this goes well beyond simply “Vergil reads better in Latin just as Camus reads better in French.” Just to give one example, how about Hypallage?4 Vergil’s Aeneid (6.268), Ibant obscure sola sub nocte per umbram (“they set off through the shadows, the dark ones, beneath the lonely night” is but a poor shadow of a translation) represents a brilliant double Hypallage. Or, turning to the Silver Age, Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis (3.4), iam medium curru Phoebus diuiserat orbem / et proprior Nocti fessas quatiebat habenas (“Phoebus in his chariot had already passed mid orbit, and, nearer to Night, was shaking his weary reigns”). No doubt J.R.R. Tolkien’s own classical language training inspired his own Hypallage (The Hobbit, chapter 11): “The others went down the valley and up the newly found path, and so to the narrow ledge. Along this they could carry no bundles or packs, so narrow and breathless was it, with a fall of a hundred and fifty feet beside them on to the sharp rocks below.”

So, why should we study Latin? Certainly it can help teach logical thinking and build vocabulary, and perhaps boost standardized tests scores. But why stop there? In a word, why not extend to our students the offer of encountering a beautiful and creative world otherwise currently beyond their ken. Latin is not for the select few any more than is algebra. Yet neither is it for everyone, just as astrophysics is probably not for everyone. But it remains a window into a lovely foreign world, and we would do well to emphasize this aspect more often. There is nothing elitist about all this. Hard work brings with it rewards, and beautiful ones.

Panel: Logical Categories and Rhetorical Topics of Invention

Help your students develop a different way of thinking! The way students think about learning has major implications on what and how they actually learn. We will discuss Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindsets versus fixed mindsets to help improve our ability to more positively impact student learning and help students (and ourselves) think differently about challenges, mistakes, and even failures. Particular attention will be given to practical ways to give more effective and targeted student feedback

Phillip Donnelly

Phillip J. Donnelly serves as Director of the Great Texts Program in the Honors College at Baylor University. His research focuses on the historical interaction between philosophy, theology, and imaginative literature, with particular a ention to Renaissance literature and the reception of Classical educational traditions. He is the author of Milton’s Scriptural Reasoning (Cambridge University Press, 2009). His recent essays include: “Latin Pedagogy and Ethical Ends in the Royal Grammar (1542),” in Transformations in Biblical Literary Traditions, edited by D.H. Williams and Phillip J. Donnelly (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), and “Historical Appearance in Areopagitica,” in Milton and Questions of History, edited by Feisal Mohamed and Mary Nyquist (University of Toronto Press, 2012).

Andrew Selby

Martin Cothran

The Progressive College Classroom

When I served in law enforcement, I often testified in court that my identification of contraband was based on “my training and experience.” What I say below derives from my training and experience as a graduate student in English at a state university in the Southeast. You are well aware that classical school graduates who enroll in public universities find themselves in an unfamiliar environment. I suspect it is not news that some of their instructors, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, see it as their pedagogical responsibility to challenge, if not dislodge, the presumed default and faulty worldview of these “naive” undergraduate students.

The elements commonly considered in need of reform include the following: any residual beliefs in the supernatural; any sense of pride in our American heritage; the ethical and epistemological systems inherited from the Western tradition; the putative tactics for preserving privilege, especially as practiced by white males; the belief that free-market capitalism is preferable to any other economic system; and adherence to conservative social/ political views. By no means is every public university instructor dedicated to defeating these threats to all things good and left of center. However, enough instructors have accepted this calling to give the stereotype legitimacy. Moreover, freshman composition courses seem to have an undue proportion of these brave warriors.

Strange as it may sound, one of my professors proposed that as an English instructor, my goal should not be to teach English literature or composition per se. Rather, it should be to use writing and literature as a means to shake students out of comfort zones and prepare them for life in a democratic society. To clarify, “democratic” in this context means a pure democracy. My pedagogy should seek to replace the undergraduate’s defective worldview with a combination of the following: social and economic justice, environmentalist values, a sense of global citizenship, and a political perspective that lies somewhere on the progressive-socialist-marxist-communist spectrum. Well aware of the liabilities of oversimplification, I will use “progressive” to refer to the worldview cluster that embraces one or more of these priorities.

As long ago as 1992, Maxine Hairston, former chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, gave this warning: “I see a new model emerging for freshman writing programs, a model that disturbs me greatly. It’s a model that puts dogma before diversity, politics before craft, ideology before critical thinking, and the social goals of the teacher before the educational needs of the student” (698). In 2006, Nan Miller, a retired university English professor, confirmed Hairston’s fears: “freshman composition is more about altering student thinking than it is about improving student writing” (19). That freshman comp provides a captive and often vulnerable audience at a key point in an undergraduate’s academic career is not lost on politically driven instructors.

I suspect that many Classical school graduates place out of freshman composition and happily avoid the provocations described above. Nevertheless, this pedagogical agenda is not limited to freshman comp, nor to English departments. I hope to encourage
Classical school educators, and particularly those in the upper grades, to prepare students for the personal and ideological challenges of a public university. To that end, I want to make transparent two common rhetorical moves of progressives.

This essay does not map out two ways of thinking so much as two ways of arguing. First, progressive argument moves from values to truth and ethics. Second, progressives operate with a different kind of consistency than we are used to in Classical reasoning. I will follow this discussion with suggestions for preparing students to face these challenges.

Progressive Logic

On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters cast their ballot for or against a state constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman as the only legal union recognized by the state. The merits and demerits of the amendment are not the issue here. I want to use the event to illustrate the type of argument often heard in progressive college classrooms.

An instructor friend of mine anticipated that the vote would go in favor of the amendment. In frustration, she said the following: “I can’t believe that in a few days North Carolina voters will legislate hate against the gay citizens of our state. I feel like I can no longer enjoy my marriage. I’m ashamed we have privileges that other citizens in the state don’t.” Her remarks illustrate a common progressive rhetorical move.

Most of us in the classical tradition argue, implicitly if not explicitly, from truth to ethics and values. A classical argument might go like this: “Revelation (and/ or Natural Law) tells us that humans have been created as male and female, and that marriage between male and female is the revealed/natural order of things. Therefore, other marital combinations are inappropriate and bad.”

A typical progressive move, however, is to start with values, and then work toward truth and ethics. Affirmation of diversity and equality of privileges are highly valued in the progressive worldview. So, the progressive argument might go like this: “I accept and affirm all people as they are. I affirm every person’s right to any privileges enjoyed by anyone else. Gender preferences and orientations of competent adults constitute the standard by which marriage should be defined. Therefore, gay marriage is just as right and good as heterosexual marriage.”

Given this logic, it is not surprising that my progressive friend accused her political opposition of hatred. Since she argues from compassion and tolerance to a pro- gay marriage stance, she naturally assumed that those who disagree with her must reason from hatred and intolerance.

What this anecdote illustrates is the kind of “logic” your students will encounter in a progressive college classroom. Instructors rarely confront students head-on with challenges to first principles. The attack more often comes at the point of values and ethics. If an undergraduate attempts to defend her values by an appeal to first principles, a common counter-argument is to show how those first principles have led to undesirable values and practices, such as discrimination against women
and minorities, or unequal power in the hands of white males. Therefore, the argument goes, the first principles themselves are defective and should be abandoned in favor of acceptable values.

To argue from values to truth and ethics is rhetorically powerful. This is especially the case on a university campus where the umfeldgeist (“spirit of the place”) normalizes what our students have grown up considering unacceptable or immoral. It is not enough to prepare students for the classroom (via knowledge) or dorm room (via virtue). We must prepare them for the powerful intersection between the two, where progressive ideology finds its validation in personal relationships and new experiences.

A university campus is an engineered cultural space in which, for the brief span of an undergraduate experience, progressive ethics and practices seem to work and thereby gain plausibility. What for 18 years parents and classical educators have taught “isn’t and shouldn’t” suddenly is and should. This can give an undergraduate moral and philosophical vertigo. What is not apparent (even, I would say, to most university faculty) is that this artificially created environment is underwritten by reliance on the very things the progressive classroom seeks to undermine: the a priori necessity of truth for knowledge, and the values and ethics which flow from truth.

Progressive Consistency

A hallmark of the Classical approach is the connection between first principles and ethics. If you demonstrate that my belief in human dignity requires a change in my ethics or behavior, I will make the necessary adjustments. First principles trump my value and ethical preferences.

The progressive, however, starts with a commitment to a political position. This may be a stance that is anti-death penalty, pro-choice, pro-social justice, pro- universal health care, anti-war, anti-capitalism, or pro-diversity. What matters to the progressive is that he is politically consistent. This trumps any inconsistencies his political positions may have with avowed first principles. Since truth is contingent and a by-product of personal preferences, philosophical inconsistencies are to be expected. They do not undermine the integrity of the ethical or the value system held by the progressive. The consistency valued by the Classical thinker is logical and philosophical. The consistency valued by the progressive is practical and political.

No wonder so many arguments between Classical thinkers and progressives end in a stalemate. The Classical approach tries to push the discussion back to presuppositions and demands logical consistency between ethics, values and first principles. The progressive, on the other hand, only worries about consistent application of her values. The fact that such consistency may
require inconsistency with stated first principles is not a problem. For the progressive, truth is a side-effect of personal values, not the foundation. That a side-effect is compromised is of no consequence.

When we teach students how to analyze arguments, it is not enough to show how progressives are inconsistent with their stated principles. We should also make students privy to the kind of “logic” by which progressives often operate. Principles occupy a different role in progressive argumentation than they do in Classical reasoning. Values and ethics occupy the rhetorical space that first principles enjoy in Classical thought. An undergraduate in the umfeldgeist of the university who fails to understand this can be easily hoodwinked by progressive “consistency” without regard to the inherent logical fallacies it contains.

Preparation for the Progressive University

How do we prepare students for such an environment and experience? Here are a few suggestions, many of which you probably already do.

1. It is a mistake to train students to argue with college professors. Rather, I would teach students how to work through the kinds of implicit and explicit attacks on their tradition, beliefs, values and selves they are likely to encounter. Role plays and “what- if” scenarios in your classroom discussions can prepare students for the real thing.

2. Teach a unit from a progressive perspective.
The unit can be taught in the sciences or the humanities. Every discipline is politicized and influenced by progressive values. I suggest you do this sooner than later, even in the junior year. Students will then be able to digest what they have learned, evaluate their own tradition while still in it, and benefit from the insights of their mentors.

3. Teach students how to use their rhetorical and relational skills to win over peers. By “win over,” I do not just mean win arguments, but win trust. Let us teach our students to argue with love. Teach them to build the kinds of relationships that over time make room for life- changing conversations.

4. Let us own up to the profound errors the great thinkers and influential people in our tradition have made. Do not let your students be caught off guard by college professors who “enlighten” them with the gross faults and errors of their

heroes. The progressive narrative of Western civilization focuses on inconsistencies and failures. The best prophylactic is not a one-sided portrayal, but a true portrayal.

5. Discuss canons. The choice of a canon necessarily omits some texts. Yes, most of the best and influential words written prior to the twentieth century were composed by males. Better for our students to hear from us why that is, why it should not have been, and why it need not be so in the future.

6. Encourage students and parents to find a good church or personal contact in the university’s environs. I would love to see Classical schools network with like-minded people in university towns to set up non-university affiliated fellowships or mentors. Undergraduates need to see that what they were taught “works” somewhere other than in the umfeldgeist of their alma mater.

The Myth of Moral Neutrality

Western liberal democracy has been the most successful political system the world has produced, but what began with Magna Carta and progressed to elections by all the adult electorate has also developed new features. In particular, the tolerance for the rights of others that was necessary to limit the power of the king has been replaced by a demanded tolerance legitimizing any libertine desire of the ruling elite. This elite panders to every marginal group and demands that Christianity must never show its face in the public square. This is hardly tolerance and a long way from Milton’s understanding when he wrote: “Where there is a great desire to know, there of necessity must be much argument because argument in good men is but knowledge in the making.” Now tolerance has become a means of social control.

As Mark Steyn put it, The United States has not just a ruling class, but a ruling monoculture. Its “truth” and “facts” and “science” permeate not just government but the culture, the media, the institutions in which we educate our children, the language of public discourse, the very societal air we breathe. (p57, After America) That air we breathe no longer welcomes vigorous discussion.

This is why we must begin the process of reversal at ground level within our families, within our own early education environment. We must also recognize where our principles differ from political culture’s and teach our children to understand what is at stake and be able to deconstruct the position of the current elite, replacing it with the richer culture that is under attack. It is no
use to waste all our energies on the outcomes – abortion, euthanasia, the legitimization of every form of sexuality. We must go for the root of the tree. Classical education, at its best, does that, especially in its Christian development, but far too often we have allowed the enemy to establish an outpost in our heads. We think in his terms and necessarily he wins.

Classical education recognizes that the foundationa requirement for a child is that he “inhabit” the story that underpins Western society and that is, of course, the Bible. This initial step is primarily built upon the extra-ordinary powers of memory which God gives to children. They memorize with ease and they love doing it. In Deuteronomy 6 Moses commands the Israelites to build their society around the family activities, especially “the dining room table,” and to make it the place where all the Bible stories are told. I do not believe explanation of the stories is necessary at this stage because what is happening is that the child’s mind is being furnished with morally consequential narratives that will be stored and called upon later when the moral challenges and choices confront us in our schools and adult lives. At that point the necessary principles will be drawn from the stories. What I have briefly described is the grammar stage of the Trivium.

The next stage is teaching Classical logic so that a child can recognize the errors in sentences such as:

You must be morally neutral.
You must not be judgmental.
All truth is relative.
Either you agree with me or you are a bigot.

My primary list of issues that every student must be clear about before they enter the State-funded, social engineering project called school or college is: reductionism, relativism, tolerance, moral neutrality, multiculturalism, the sanctity of life and sexual ethics.

Learning to recognize these things is best achieved not so much by formal teaching but by sitting at the feet of great writers, from whom they learn both the logic and rhetoric necessary to defend their souls and also how to carry an audience with them on a journey of intellectual engagement.

Let us first of all examine the tacit belief that moral neutrality is possible. You must not impose your views on others. Of course not, we all agree. So you must live from a non-judgmental, morally neutral stance. Now here is a wild extrapolation. Judgment is at the heart of life and it is increasingly a moral judgment that is required to decide that certain habits are not good for our health. Only a world devoid of logic would think itself capable of forming a functional society without any foundations, without any agreement about basic moral issues. The phrase “morally neutral” could be out of Alice in Wonderland; it might have been coined by Humpty Dumpty or the Red Queen. In reality it is like a square circle – not dead on delivery, but inconceivable.

When I lecture on the myth of moral neutrality, most audiences have to be persuaded of the intrinsic idiocy of the concept of moral neutrality; it does after all sound very nice, very tolerant, very Canadian. One group of students was unanimous that everyone’s ethical opinions are equally valid! Hence this paper might be called remedial thinking for those temporarily overwhelmed by the nonsense in the media. Thus I use the word “myth” in the sense of something accepted, almost reflexively, as true when it is false, not in the sense of fairy tales which are false but overflowing with truth.

One has only to ask the question, “Why should I practice neutral values?” to expose the fallacy. The question can only be answered by proposing some far from neutral proposition such as, “To do otherwise would be insensitive or intolerant”. This is merely a debased form of morality in which truth and justice are trumped by sensitivity and tolerance. At the very least such a radical re-ordering of moral priorities needs some justification.

The idea of the good.

All societies share some fundamental ideas about what constitutes good and evil, at least until they are in the terminal stages of social decay. A healthy society prefers truth to lies, love to hatred, honour to dishonour and justice to injustice. It is true that we all have considerable difficulties in the translation of these ideas into the ethics of daily life, but we are in need of them. Different societies may view the same behaviours quite oppositely, as with suicide in the East and the West. Nevertheless, the underlying principle of honour is present in both; the difference is in how honour ought to be expressed. Here is where Milton’s vigourous argument comes in.

Such vigorous intellectual activity is essential to a healthy society, but those who espouse the concept of neutral values, which demands that no-one’s beliefs can be challenged, necessarily suppress free speech. They frequently talk of zero tolerance for particular ideas, apparently unconcerned with the inconsistency of their pronouncements. To assume that human discourse can be conducted from a value-neutral stance certainly presupposes that metaphysical truth is either unimportant or non-existent and would logically disallow the idea of political correctness. The inconsistencies must be challenged before they are accepted.

One of the most common arguments for ethical relativity and hence for the denial of objective moral truth is to point to the dramatically different ethical codes found around the world. These are undeniable phenomena extremely well documented by anthropologists, but the essential question is to establish how we should distinguish between these different ethical practices to determine which best represent the underlying ethical principles. Over some issues we respond intuitively, reflecting our own cultural history. For example, in parts of the Sahel girls are subjected, by older women, to extensive and painful circumcision to signal their passage into womanhood and to preserve theirs and their family’s honour. In Canada we call this practice child abuse and it is forbidden. In other words, over this issue, we are prepared to say that our understanding of how the concept of honour should be translated into the ethics of everyday life is better than that of the Sahelians. Who is right and on what basis do we judge?

Different ways of judging metaphysical truth.

At issue is the question of metaphysical knowledge and here we are in great danger, because on this point we certainly have no consensus in North America. Nevertheless, some form of consensus is necessary and the form we achieve will determine the society we live in. I wish to touch upon three major approaches to this question.

The first is found in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses speaking to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 4:5-8 told them that the law which they had been given was better than that of the nations around them and that those nations would recognize that reality. The essence of the Jewish position is in the concept of the “givenness” of the law. They did not create their own values but received the law from God and they believed, that precisely for that reason, it was better than natural human responses. The Jewish law’s treatment of the underprivileged, widows and strangers was in fact uniquely different from their neighbours in ways that we now consider enlightened. Moses simply said that the other nations would recognize the wisdom in the Jewish way. He didn’t say that their laws were more just, but that is how many nations came to see them in due course. Why did other nations change their views?

Just as we have criteria for deciding between alternative scientific theories, we have criteria for deciding between ethical theories. The kinds of questions that help us are similar: which theories have the greatest explanatory power for observed human behaviour, which view is nearer to the truth which we can observe, more just to all, more loving, more likely to build a stable community, more ethically beautiful and satisfying? Ethical relativity is a result of human fallibility in relating actions to the eternal principles of truth, justice, honour, and love. Because we cannot definitively describe these principles does not mean they do not exist; rather, it is their transcendence which makes them the stuff of poetry and story.

The second approach is the Greek alternative. For the Greeks truth, justice, and honour were to be approached not as gifts but as logically demonstrable consequences of rationality. In the Greek view, virtue was a product of right thinking whereas for the Jews it was a product of obedience. The two can, of course, be combined as they are in St. Paul’s injunction “to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Phil 2:12.

The dominant modern approach stems from our self-absorption. We say we create our own values. This is a seriously flawed theory because truth is made subservient to desire. We cannot, for example, control our desires, particularly our sexual ones; we must therefore rationalize them. This leaves us as prisoners of our own nature. C.S. Lewis expressed it like this in The Abolition of Man:

For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality [God] and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline and virtue. For the modern mind the cardinal problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men and the solution is a technique. The pursuit of happiness in the modern sense is therefore self indulgent. Man’s conquest
of nature must always become man’s conquest of other men using nature as the means. But these powerful people no longer think of God and God’s laws as objective reality so they are controlled not by God’s supernatural ideals but by the natural forces of their own heredity and environment. Thus man’s conquest of nature turns out to be nature’s conquest of man.

Hans Jonas expressed the thought like this: “If the good is a mere creature of the will, it lacks the power to bind the will.”

Creating our own values presumes that we can put ourselves in a kind of moral vacuum, but once there, we have no reason to create moral injunctions except those that satisfy our desires.


So far we have seen that moral neutrality presupposes the absence of metaphysical truth, that it espouses a moral subjectivity which is easily shown to be unacceptable and unworkable, that it necessarily accepts the equal validity of everyone’s moral choices but, nevertheless, passes legislation outlawing some cultural choices. The primary virtue of the morally neutral is tolerance. The question is, “Can a society be built on the basis of tolerance?”

Tolerance and freedom are not supreme virtues.

No one likes to be called intolerant but it can be demonstrated that intolerance in certain things is essential. Consider the following scenario. There is a society in North America with the declared aim of legalizing sexual activity between adult males and pre-pubertal boys. “Eight is too late” is their slogan. Now imagine yourselves as parents of an eight- year-old boy who find themselves compelled to have one of these men as a house-guest for two weeks. He is charming, witty, intelligent and full of fun, but he does have this quirk. Will you allow him unopposed opportunity to use his charm and sophistication to persuade your eight-year-old that he is being deprived of the rightful experiences of every eight-year-old? I have asked this question of many audiences. No one has said yes. There are activities which all of us will not tolerate and we feel no shame in displaying our intolerance.

What sorts of behaviours do we legitimately attempt to suppress? I would suggest a starting list of four – unloving, unjust, untruthful, dishonourable behaviour. Love, truth, justice and honour cannot even share a sentence with the verb “to tolerate.” You do not tolerate love; you embrace it, you seek it. You do not tolerate truth or justice; you demand them, and honour is admired not tolerated. Tolerance and compromise are not the stuff from which great societies, great stories or even great professions are made. But tolerance is important. It is the oil which lubricates so many human interactions; but often its strength is to overlook error or wrong-doing, to have compassion on the human frailties which beset us all. Unlike truth, love, justice which brook no rivals, the proper use of tolerance involves wise judgement. To lack the necessary skills of prudent judgement will lead the defective into either bigoted narrow-mindedness or libertarian excess.

The necessity for appropriate tolerance.

Neutral values do not exist, but we do need the tolerance they would seek to protect to adjudicate the conflicts which arise in our attempts to translate the unchanging but only imperfectly known truth into the working ethics of daily living. Human judgements on how this should be done are very culturally dependent, as even a brief list of practices considered ethical in different parts of the world in the last century clearly illustrates. Such a list would include: widow burning, ritual prostitution, infanticide, slavery, abortion and euthanasia. Changes in what is considered ethical occur very slowly, but they are dependent on dogma for their foundation. Christians, for example, affirmed that all were one in Christ Jesus, that there was neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free from the time of Paul. But this doctrine did not translate into the practical condemnation of slavery for 18 centuries!

What is desired, and rightly so, is tolerance as a normal virtue in our human interactions, but it is clear that the espousal of neutral values is not the way to create the appropriately tolerant society. Neither is the refusal to accept every opinion as equally valid truly intolerant; rather those who would demand such things are intolerant of logic. It is becoming apparent that the atheistic secularist has no adequate basis for tolerance because if this life is all we get and there are no individual moral consequences,
it is logical to use power to achieve your own ends. The Christian, on the other hand, believes in both his own fallenness and the ultimate unknowableness of God in His entirety and therefore has good reason to be humble in the face of contrary opinions.

The hidden premise.

Those who want a neutral value policy usually say something like, ”You keep your opinions on morals private and I will do the same, and in that way we will both be happy.” This slick piece of sophistry is neither true nor honest. The hidden implication is that there is no objective truth at stake, but, as we have already seen, in order to have justice, objective truth is necessary. We have to have means to judge. But I believe the real motivation behind the “I have my values, you have yours” argument is the objective of a libertarian society and this follows by default without the risk of rigorous debate, if we accept their argument. It is the old hatred of God in modern dress. Pascal in his Pensees expressed it most eloquently:

It is the nature of self-esteem and of the human self to love only oneself and to consider oneself alone. But what can a man do? He wants to be great and finds that he is small; he wants to be happy and finds that he is unhappy; he wants to be perfect and finds that he is riddled with imperfections; he wants to be the object of men’s affection and esteem and sees that his faults deserve only their dislike and contempt. The embarrassing position in which he finds himself produces in him the most unjust and criminal passion that can possibly be imagined; he conceives a mortal hatred of the truth which brings him down to earth and convinces him of his faults. He would like to be able to annihilate it, and, not being able to destroy it in himself, he destroys it in the minds of other people. That is to say, he concentrates all his efforts on concealing his faults both from others and from himself, and cannot stand being made to see them or their being seen by other people.

Throughout history there have always been those who wish, as they put it, to be free. But unless we are good, our freedom always deteriorates to license and usually to the tyranny of the few over the many. The bane of human history is the desire to be God, to be beholden to no one. The old Christian understanding of freedom is contained in: “The Truth shall set you free,” and “Whose service is perfect freedom.” Christian freedom is freedom to be willingly a servant of Christ, whereas secular freedom is freedom from God. Conscience for the one is a gentle nudge towards truth and, for the other, the guilt trip laid on them by society.


The first thing to recognize is that the word itself shows its origins in the idea that conscience is not a feeling but a form of knowing. We all have the experience of being inwardly obligated to do “good” or to eschew “evil”. This is true even when it is to our own immediate hurt, as with passing up an opportunity to cheat. This is not a feeling; indeed it fights against our feelings. This is moral knowledge. In most cases it offers no evolutionary benefit to our genes so that the reductionist is left with an explanatory problem. Whence cometh the moral law within? When one reads a law, it is normal to ask, “Who is the lawgiver?” The objection, of course, is that if we accept this view we accept our creaturely status. A lawgiver, the legitimacy of whose laws we cannot deny, rightly demands our obedience.


So what needs to be done to remove the illusion of moral neutrality from our teaching guidelines and replace it with a more sophisticated understanding of moral truth, including appropriate tolerance of different ethical judgments? First, those who understand the process that has led to the logical nonsense of so-called neutral values must start saying so publicly and doing what they can to redress the damage done. We might also demand that logic be taught to all university students. We must all examine our intolerances and decide whether they are bigoted in the Chestertonian sense of not seriously considering the alternative proposition, or selfishly libertarian and therefore to be decried and removed, or legitimate and therefore to be defended. Judgment is hard, but it must be attempted if we are not to be left with a crude and debased culture. For tolerance to be properly exercised it must be held in tension with all the other virtues. This is what character formation is all about. It requires the development of wisdom which is quite different from the acquisition of knowledge and utterly different from the mere cataloguing of information which currently passes for education. It requires a recognition that metaphysical truth exists even though our knowledge of it is limited. Sincerity is not enough. As Iris Murdoch put it, “Our failure as a society is that we have substituted for the hard idea of truth, the facile idea of sincerity.” Life requires us to answer the age-old key questions or else to spend immense psychological energy in denying their cogency and paying the price for such denial.

Where did I come from?
Why am I here?
Where am I going?
How can I make sense of suffering? How do I come to terms with mortality? How can I believe in justice?

What can I know? What may I believe? What should I do?

The Jews were told that the critical educational environment was the home: the conversations at meals, on journeys,
the practice of giving thanks to God morning and evening and of celebrating the feasts with joy before God. Moses taught the Jews that the reality of their faith in God must be lived out in the everyday environment. For us we have the additional promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” For work-ridden professionals framing life in these eternal realities is difficult and needs constant attention, but if our children have only an education that does not have these foundations, then they have only an education that is not worthy of the name.

Teaching the Full Force of the Art of Argumentation: A Startling Claim by Apthonius

Aphthonius makes a remarkable and initially puzzling claim that stages five and six, Refutation and Confirmation, of his Prgymnasmata impart the full force of the art of invention (the first canon of classical rhetoric theory). This workshop offers a possible explanation by demonstrating how his curriculum trains the minds of our students to generate ideas or arguments on demand. We suggest that the first six stages of Aphthonius equip students with the Quality of Invention, the full force of the art, which later formal instruction in Rhetoric will enhance with Quality.

James Selby

Jim Selby has a BA from Oral Roberts University in English Literature and New Testament Literature and a M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has taught and administered at Whitefield Academy, a classical Christian school in Kansas City, for the last eleven years. Jim currently teaches Great Books/Humanities, Rhetoric and English Literature as well as Logic in previous years. Founder of Classical Composition he authored a writing curriculum used both in the classroom and in the homeschooling community.

Logic of English, Part I

Many learners are frustrated by the inconsistency of English. Most people believe that English is not logical and does not follow patterns. This is simply not true. The code is complex and the patterns are beautiful. In this workshop, participants will discover the phonograms and spelling rules which explain 98% of English words and elan about the NICHD research which supports systematic phonics education.

Denise Eide

Denise Eide is an author, educator, speaker and curriculum designer. She has worked in the field of literacy instruction since 1995. She was trained in Curriculum and Instruction, Second Languages and Cultures at the University of Minnesota. Denise's initial experiences in literacy began in teaching English as a Second Language. She taught at a Russian University and later founded a literacy center for Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, Though her students had continual questions about English reading and spelling at that time, her best answer was, "English is illogical!" In 2003, Denise began to homeschool her children and teach a variety of classes for homeschool students. In 2006, Denise sought training in multi-sensory Orton based approach to teaching reading and spelling to help struggling readers and spellers she was teaching. Upon completion in 2008, she began offering seminars to parents and teachers, training private schools, tutoring, and speaking at conventions. Her most popular lectures were overviews of the material she called "The Logic of English" and "Teaching and Preventing Struggling Readers and Spellers." Countless classroom teachers and reading specialists commented they learned more in an hour than in all their graduate school training. Scientists, engineers and other professionals confided that they had always struggled with English and asked, "Why Didn't someone teach me this way from the beginning?" She has expanded this material into her first book "Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Solution to America's Literacy Crisis." Denise is passionate about unveiling the logic of English and revealing the methods that have been scientifically proven as the solution to illiteracy. She is the President of Pedia Learning Inc. an emerging educational publisher and is authoring curriculum and a follow up book "Teaching the Logic of English to all Learners."