Monday, July 21, 2014

Introducing, Quite Possibly, Your Next Favorite Book

As the 2014 Classical Conversations Parent Practicum season nears its end, everybody and their brother have probably received their very own copy of the 2014 Classical Conversations catalog. CC hands them out like candy at the practicums. (If you don’t have one, visit to order one, or to save time, view the online catalog.) 

As we get our mitts on each year’s catalog, we might be tempted to flip through the pages and jump right to our areas of interest. I know I tend to do that with Challenge 1 and 2, because those are the Challenge programs that I tutor. Then later, I check out everybody else’s stuff and read the articles. Well, there’s another page near the beginning that doesn’t belong in anyone in particular, because it belongs to everyone reading the catalog (in fact, most of the catalog is not program specific), but the page I’m referring to specifically is page 10: the “Parent Resources” page.

This is the “big picture page.” These are the books that are going to help you demolish the worldviews that you received when you were in government school, lay a new foundation upon right and proper thinking, and construct an entirely new vision for the nurture and admonition of your children (new to you, that is—the vision is actually very, very old, which the whole point of it being “classical”).

Perhaps you have seen this page. Perhaps you have glanced at it and decided you don’t have time for optional reading right now. Perhaps you have passed it by on the way to the things you know you have to purchase for your children. But perhaps you’ve read this page, but then didn’t know where to start. “I can’t afford them all, so which one should I read first?” might be a question you’ve asked yourself. The purpose of this article is to introduce you to a few of the books, possibly helping you to narrow down which one you want to read first.

While I will only focus on a few of these books, I am not saying that the others are not worth reading. I have not read them all, so I cannot speak intelligibly about them all, but I know that if CC is devoting space in the catalog, then all the books are worth reading. CC doesn’t have any fluff. CC doesn’t peddle fluff. 

Before I focus in on my individual recommendations out of these 15 very important books, I want to make a group recommendation. You may notice at the top left-hand corner of the page a list of four books with no pictures and all by the same author. These four books by Douglas Wilson are “must reads.” They also happen to be in the order that you should read them. Start at the top and work your way down. Douglas Wilson can whip you into “classical, Christian” shape in no time. He is a great thinker and a great writer. We’re blessed to have his writings.

Now, without further ado, my list, (in alphabetical order):

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman: This book is in my personal Top 5 favorite books ever. This is a book about “public discourse in the age of show business.” That subtitle might not help you much, so here’s the skinny: Have you ever heard that how you say something is just as important as what you say? This book is about how television communicates and how that affects what is being communicated via TV. Another question I like to ask folks concerning this book is, “Does TV irritate you? I mean, “make your skin crawl” kind of irritate?” If it does, and you’re looking for justification for your disdain, this book is the place to find it. However, regardless of whether TV irritates you or not, everyone should read this book. Mr. Postman helps us realize that the way we communicate a message can have as large an impact as the words of our message. If you take education seriously enough to be reading the CC catalog, then you take it seriously enough to gain much insight from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Beauty for Truth’s Sake, by Stratford Caldecott: Mr. Caldecott had a passion for beauty, for truth, for education and for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Humanity is blessed that he wrote that passion down, so that we can have a glimpse into some of the beauties of creation. I have been blessed by reading this book several times, gaining new insight each time. You will be blessed when you read this book. You will be blessed again when you read it a second time. It begins with an overview of classical, Christian education that is well-worth the cover price. If you desire an introduction to the history of the 7 Liberal Arts, you need only read the first few chapters. If you are intrigued with numbers, or want to gain insight into the beauties of mathematics, then continue to the end. The vast wealth contained in this small volume is staggering.

How to Write a Sentence, by Stanley Fish: On one level, this book is a technical work. The reader learns about the importance of sentences, the forms that make for a good sentence, and some examples of how those forms have been well-executed in literature. But, the results of studying these forms for me personally have been astounding. I never expected to be affected by this book the way that I have been. This book instilled in me a LOVE for finely crafted sentences. I still can’t write them consistently, but Mr. Fish taught me how to bask in the glory of a good sentence. Now, reading a book is so much more than just packing away the content and moving on to the next chapter. Now, reading a good sentence is a highlight of my day. Reading it again is even better. (Warning: You may have trouble finishing a Tolkien book after reading Mr. Fish. 99.9% of Mr. Tolkien’s sentences are exemplary. You may find yourself wanting to bask in their glow for a little too long.)

Norms & Nobility, by David V. Hicks: This is a book about education and, more specifically, education reform. In order to reform education in a profitable way, Mr. Hicks takes us back to the questions: What is the end of education? What is its purpose? What should it mean to educate and why does it matter? Perhaps these questions are best answered by the author himself from the preface:

"The end of education is not thinking; it is acting. It is not just knowing what to do; it is doing it. The sublime premise of a classical education asserts that right thinking will lead to right, if not righteous, acting."
"Education must address the whole student, his emotional and spiritual sides as well as his rational. The aims of education, the teacher’s methods, the books and lessons, the traditions, and regulations of the school—all must express not just ideas, but norms, tending to make young people not only rational, but noble."

There you have it: Norms and Nobility—the purpose of education. This book is not a quick read, but most important projects take time. You will not read it in one sitting. You may not even read it in one week, or two, but it is well-worth your time and effort. And, as always, the second reading is even better than the first one.

For Jennifer Courtney's more thorough review of Norms & Nobility, follow this link.

These are only brief introductions to just four of the fifteen books on the “Parent Resources” page in your 2014 Classical Conversations catalog. Resources in creation, like coal, gold, and silver, have to be mined. You have to search to find them and then dig to retrieve them. Thankfully, CC has done the searching and laid these gold mines on our doorstep in the catalog. Now, it is our job to dig. You don’t even need a pick axe or a helmet. You just need good lighting, a comfortable chair, a fresh cup of coffee, and a willingness to learn. Gold and silver and precious things are buried deep in these pages, awaiting your discovery.

Happy reading!

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