CLAA one year on

The days are long, but the years are short – that about sums it up. The Classical Liberal Arts Academy has been very helpful here. Reading the Family Forum has been a regular wealth of new ideas and food for thought.

The boys are all learning, but all very differently. They are all very capable of amusing themselves with drawing, making paper models, as well as just plain running around like, well, like boys. Getting coursework done takes effort, but you see the benefits, not only in the content they are learning, but the very process of learning. Each new lesson they start again – reading, memorising, doing exercises – and slowly what seemed impossible becomes manageable. Then when a younger brother is struggling with an earlier lesson they can see the process from the outside. Hopefully as this repeats they’ll get the message and be able to tackle these lessons more independently.

And it helps me too. Stability is important for getting anything done – whatever you do. Music is important to me and this perseverance is the thing I have really lacked – you’ve all heard the cop out “I can’t sing/play/dance” – you can, you just need a whole lot of practice. A good teacher helps too. Does anyone know of a good organ teacher in the Blue Mountains/Western Sydney?

With CLAA, I’m on the second last lesson of the Praeceptor course, the three older sons have 4 courses each and the youngest has 3. We’re still in the core courses, but with all these “enrichment courses” available hopefully we’ll be able to take up some of them too. All in good time.

Trans Pacific relations

This post is putting together some bits and pieces resolving old grievances. Lots of people hate the spread of ‘American culture’ through television, internet, &c. That’s fair enough, but we must remember to keep things in perspective and not confuse the bad consumer culture which is not unique to America with the real living culture that comes from people pursuing good.

Recently I signed up for a certain US-based homeschool distance education thing. It’s a great course, but a couple of things jumped out.

Different Than/To/From

When young I was told that saying Different Than was illogical and a horrible Americanism and a betrayal of Good English. Different From was the correct phrase. Different To could be tolerated.

You may think this a persnicketty tiddly little point, but good to get it cleared up before it gets infected.

For treatment scroll down to the end of this Excerpt from Bill Bryson’s Book “Mothertongue” where he credits the stricture to one Rev Robert Lowth. The whole idea of a standardised, unchanging vernacular language seems to be an 18th century invention.

So don’t worry too much about the niceties of English grammar – English is renowned for not making sense. Learn Latin instead.

The Order of Declensions

When my parents learnt their Latin nouns they recited: mensa, mensa, mensam; mensae, mensae, mensa … Nominative, Vocative, Accusative; Genitive, Dative and Ablative. When their parents learnt Latin they did the same. When their parents learnt Latin, it was the same again, and so on out of living memory.

When I came to choose a Latin course, lo and behold, there was another word order out there: Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative. Mensa, mensae, mensae, mensam, mensa – losing the nice ternary rhythm. What’s this, said I, these Americans have the cheek to change the venerable declension order of my noble English ancestors?!?

Again, you may think it a persnicketty tiddly little thing, but good to get it sorted out before it can cause any trouble.

For treatment look at Wikipedia’s article on Instruction in Latin and Order of Declension.

Turns out my venerable declension order dates back only to 1866 when Benjamin Hall Kennedy rearranged the order to make them rhyme – a little like rearranging a library by the size and colour of the books. America’s order goes back to the Byzantine era. Trumped by a couple of thousand years.

So, in conclusion, I was a bigoted nationalistic idiot. Let this blog post help any other idiots like me find the truth.

Classical Liberal Arts Academy

The Classical Liberal Arts Academy was started in 2008 by a classical academic turned teacher with a young family of his own. It claims to be the only school providing a real classical liberal arts education. It is definitely unique.

For those not familiar with the concept of liberal arts, here’s a brief run-down. There’s the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The Trivium is a bit like English and the Quadrivium is a bit like Maths. The Trivium goes Grammar then Dialectic then Rhetoric. The Quadrivium goes Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy. You might see these terms decorating various centres of learning (like the Great Hall at USyd).

So what are the differences?

Their pre-readers’ course teaches Latin before English.

The first lesson in Arithmetic contains no numerical puzzles but bids the student memorise a catechism beginning with “What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the study of Quantity.” The catechism unfolds a categorisation of quantity that is just begging to be drawn on a white board with big curly braces like Alice Nelson and all the Doc Woodbury afficionados did in the Thomistic Sydney Underground.

The Grammar course plunges into John’s Gospel. The website contains sample translations written by the hand of a five and a seven year old.

There is no grade by age. A student starts at the beginning and works through at his own pace (I’ll use the male pronoun since I have all boys and anyway, we’re discussing a plan of learning centuries old, we can afford to be a little antiquated here). A teenager might work quite fast, while a five year old do the same lesson at a more relaxed pace. Each lesson has an online examination. Written work can be faxed or emailed to CLAA or signed off by a parent. There are no prescribed terms or school year’s to work to.

There is a lively discussion forum for parents to get advice. Mr William Michael, the director, encourages debate. He has strong opinions backed up by strong arguments. Although one may flinch at first by his forthright words, his reasoning is very sound.

Readers might be aware of John Taylor Gatto’s books on the problems inherent in modern educational theories. Although not a Catholic, he shows how the protestant reformation introduced a whole slew of rather evil doctrines into the world. Calvin, Darwin, John Dewey, Francis Bacon are the names I can spout without remembering the details. Mr Gatto’s answer points towards Unschooling – just forget the whole idea of controlling children and do real things together. Mr Michael has an even more radical idea – look at what they were teaching before the reformation. How can we do that? The books are still around! Ratio Studiorum is a Jesuit book from 1599. That’s what CLAA is using.

There are more courses being planned. Enrichment courses include World Chronology, Classical Vocab and Art and Music History. The Music course is being developed with help from the Ward Method. See Musica Sacra for more info on why that is an amazing thing. Gregorian Chant takes centre stage by the sounds of it.

If this was open courseware I’d be into it in a flash. But CLAA asks for commitment – and money. How much is this worth to me? Could I spend the money better? There are lots of local apostolates who could use that sort of support. Will my boys be significantly worse off if they never read Cicero in Latin? Wouldn’t it be wiser to finish cladding the house first?

Of course, as a difficult person I am wondering if I can do this myself. The Ward Method books are all online. Aristotle, Euclid, Cicero and the Baltimore Catechism are all public domain by now. There’s Ratio Studiorum mentioned earlier. Finding Saint John’s Gospel in Latin, Greek and English is not hard. I have little Latin and less Greek, but I’m still ahead of my children. Whatever little I can manage may still give them a good standing in finding out more themselves. Or would I put them off completely.

It does sound like a lot of work though. Learning from experts is a whole lot less frustrating than trying to nut things out for yourself. Reading Garrigou-Lagrange is slow work. Hearing one of the great disciples of Doc Woodbury explain it is joyful clarity. Doc Woodbury in turn studied under Garrigou Lagrange. I wonder who Mr Michael of CLAA learned from.

It looks like there will be a whole lot of disciples of Mr William Michael in the future. According to the website over 800 students have enrolled since they opened. Only time will tell.