National Poetry Month

One year for National Poetry Month I joined a bunch of friends who posted a poem every day through April. It was fun sharing some favorites and reading new ones. But now that I am off Facebook, that time-suck, I haven’t seen this river of poetry flowing by.

This year my Challenge III students are working through Roar on the Other Side, a poetry appreciation and exercise book that exuberantly introduces poetry essentials. During April I am adding a little more to our poetry experience.

This week leads up to the celebration of the Resurrection. (Is anyone else troubled that this astounding event in world history is named after a pagan goddess of dawn?) So this week my students will hear It’s Friday. But Sunday’s Coming. It is a powerful sermon-poem. It is also an example of symploce, the figure of speech where both the beginning and the end are repeated.


“No one should dare to even think about being the Commander in Chief of this country if he doesn’t believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home. But don’t waste your breath telling that to the leaders of my Party today…They claimed Carter’s pacifism would lead to peace — they were wrong. They claimed Reagan’s defense buildup would lead to war — they were wrong.”  Zell Miller, 2004 Republican National Convention address

“We remember today that all our gentle heroes of Vietnam have given us a lesson in something more: a lesson in living love — their love for their families lives; their love for their buddies on the battlefields and friends back home lives; their love of their countrylives.”

— Ronald Reagan, Address at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

By Challenge III students have become skilled at the arts of Grammar and Dialectic. Both are practiced and honed in seminar. They take their communication, both written and spoken, deeper into the art of Rhetoric. Their poetry, written essays, class discussion, and practiced speech all show growth in this skill. Former students have shared with us how impressed their college professors are with their capable communication. Classical education makes powerful communicators!

This week I will share Dylan Thomas’ villanelle, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Dark Night” and hope to inspire them to write one.

I had fun playing with this form for my Christmas letter, a collection of stories told through various poem forms. Here is the villanelle which I posted on my blog:

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National School Choice Week 2016

Just as we begin to think about next year’s options, National School Choice Week gives schools an opportunity to showcase who they are and what they offer. Upper Valley Classical Community will have an Open House celebrating classical education and home school on Thursday night, January 28, 7-8pm.

School Choice Week Kickoff

You are invited to an open house about home school classical education on Thursday January 28, 7-8 pm, Valley Bible Church, White River Junction.

We are a group of families who for various reasons chose to home school our children. Most of us do not have something against the public system but instead want to offer our students an education they cannot receive in a public school. One of those is a classical curriculum, a true liberal arts education that teaches students how to learn for the rest of their lives. My children and I have been working with the Classical Conversations program for six years and I have had stunning results. It has even given me a second (and better) education.

About twenty families meet once a week in the classrooms of Valley Bible Church. Three levels meet there, one for each of the Trivium: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, which are the first three of the Seven Liberal Arts. So this is what it looks like: kids K-6 study the “grammar” of the major disciples, gathering facts. They learn, for example, math facts, major rivers and mountains, the parts of speech, 100 common prepositions, science terms, and a timeline of nearly 200 events. They learn them by song and chant, and enjoy it. They also make presentations, do science labs, explore art, and sing. That is from 9 am to noon once a week. This is the GRAMMAR stage. At home they review these and do reading, math, history.

Grades 4-6 add to that a deep study of English grammar and classical writing from 1-3 pm on the day we meet. These students are entering the DIALECTIC stage, where they learn how the facts are connected. If the facts are pegs nailed into a wall, the dialectic stage is the time when connections are linked from peg to peg in understanding. Grades 7 and 8, therefore, study logic, history of science, the classical essay, beginner’s debate, geography, science fair and much more. This is the time when our children naturally ask, “Why should I do this?” “How does this work?” and notice when our argument is weak. We teach them logic so they can make better arguments and recognize why an argument is poor.

Junior high and senior high students meet in six one-hour seminar to discuss their papers and the books they were assigned to read this week, make presentations, learn new Latin or Math concepts, do science labs, etc. Junior High students in the DIALECTIC stage begin to dialogue. High schools students are ready for the art of RHETORIC, in which they are trained how to find something to say and to communicate wisely and winsomely.

All of this is to say, we have something pretty special to offer families looking for ways to educate their children. We would love for you to see what we are doing. The event will only take an hour, during which the students will participate in short mock classes. I’ll also invite parents to give a short “elevator speech” to explain why they home school.

The public is invited!

Contact me at

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School Choice Week 2016

National School Choice Week is January 24-30 in 2016. The upper Valley Classical Community will host an event during the week for elected officials, curious parents, and the press.

We can’t wait to showcase the education we are giving our children in our home-centered education. With Classical Conversations we have both traditional homeschooling learning and classroom time, allowing our children to work both one on one and to engage in group activities, such as science labs, part-singing, Socratic conversation, presentations, and much more.

Stay tuned for more.

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A Practical Education; A Response to “Don’t Stay in School”

I admit the first time I watched the video “Don’t Stay in School” I felt incredibly irritated. David Brown recites in an edgy rap the kinds of things he had to learn in school instead of useful things he thought would have prepared him for life beyond school. He hoped to begin a conversation about education reform and it appears he has succeeded! Chances are your children have seen it and have an opinion about it. Watch it here: Don’t Stay in School Video (3 minutes). There is some objectionable language.

To recap: he says his education covered dissection of frogs, the quadratic equation, isotopes, mitochondria, abstract and mental math, cursive, hues of light, Old American West, and the wives of Henry VIII ad nauseum.

He says it did not prepare him for getting a job; nor was he taught about personal finances, economics, the English political system, English law, his human rights, first aid, mental health, current events, or how to raise a child.

Did you notice how his medium amplifies his message? He uses a provocative title. He uses pieces of subjects to represent the whole (for example, isotopes to represent Chemistry, and the solar system for Astronomy), an effective use of the rhetorical device synecdoche. He appears to use false dichotomy (either the quadratic equation or first aid) but I suggest this too is used for effect. David Brown actually did very well in school, went on to college, and launched a successful career. He is not simply whining about missing out. His anger is fueled by the ways in which his education was inadequate. Once I understood this, I could calm down and listen to his argument. After all, we share a similar frustration; I have not entrusted my children’s education to the public school.

His message is that no student should be forced to spend time on lessons that few will ever need, and that in their place life skills should be offered. Since I teach my children many lessons that have no immediate use for adult life, this pinched my soul and made me wince. But after thinking about this for days, I know what I would tell Mr. Brown if I had the chance. I suggest the two real problems are that schools cause students to lose their natural curiosity and that schools no longer equip students to think as free people.

First, every child begins with curiosity, but by eleven years old or so most have lost it. I watched it happen to my music students in elementary school. Fifth graders were still asking questions, but by sixth grade many had grown indifferent. Somehow learning turns into a chore. The best classrooms are the ones where teachers are able to stir up the students to wonder, “Why?”, “How?”, and “What if?” Those teachers are able to inspire every student, not just those who will eventually work in that field. Why is curiosity smothered in so many schools? It is natural to want to understand the physical and metaphysical world. Rather than remove the topics that feel like a waste of time to students who no longer care to learn them, nourish the love of learning that is inherent in every child.

For every child needs a foundation upon which to build his future. Every young woman needs an education that is broad enough to allow her to find her way through the complexities of adulthood. The young man who can derive the quadratic equation on his own will have the confidence to learn how to work with mortgage rates later. The young woman who studies Shakespeare has an early encounter with the complexity of the human psyche, which opens her mind and heart to the diversity of people she will meet. It is not necessary to teach every single thing a child needs to know for life; no school could be in session long enough to meet every practical need! We want graduates who are life-long learners, willing and able to continue to find answers to the challenges of life for another 60 years.

And this brings me to the second part of my response: What is education for, anyway? I believe it is to develop the whole soul— mind, heart, and will— so no area of study will be off limits to the graduate. Ultimately, we educate the next generation with the accumulated wisdom of the ages in order to prepare it for the challenges of their world. Society’s need has always been the same: for good governance, for a strong moral fabric, for protection for the weak, for comfort for the suffering. Only the details differ. Ideally we launch our young men and women, not weighed down with backpacks stuffed full of unconnected facts, but walking confidently, equipped with a strong mind that does not fear to tackle new situations. Let school teach them to persevere through hard tasks, go beyond their mental comfort zone, and ponder the consequences of ideas. The goal of education is to train lifelong self-teachers of good character who will provide for their families and serve where there is need.

See, this is one of the things that bothers me about the video. It comes across as saying, “The syllabus needs a different stack of facts,” which is not enough of a change, in my opinion. Education is still falling woefully short of its purpose if it does not rediscover the liberal arts, the arts that make men free. It is the funniest thing: David Brown exhibits a self-teaching mind, able and willing to research and press for solutions, but does not see that, to some degree, his education gave him this. Does he know how to get this result? As he studies education systems he will likely become aware of the vast conversation that has already been taking place for thousands of years about educating the young. He does not need to start from scratch. (If he does, anything he and his peers create will likely be dated and inadequate twenty years from now.) As Dorothy Sayers says in “The Lost Tools of Learning” in 1947, we need to rediscover the education that made mature thinkers who were still in their teens. It does not look anything like what this video proposes.

Despite my first impression, I do not believe he really wants a utilitarian education, one that merely trains a child to become a worker. Since he is an artist, I know he expects an education to develop the human soul, and that includes encouraging curiosity about the natural world. Pure science explores knowledge for knowledge’s sake but it is also the foundation for applied science. We dissect frogs and study mitochondria so we can understand and take care of our own bodies. First aid principles are rooted in human anatomy. Though I graduated from high school almost 40 years ago, I still draw on what I learned in Biology for taking care of my family.

Public schools offering a classical liberal arts education is as likely as reducing the national debt to zero. However, private classical schools are increasing, and homeschooling families have found ways to build a classical education. Classical Conversations offers a blend of homestudy and a classroom experience with a trained tutor. It has given me a better education as I have gone through it with my children. Classical Conversations prepares the student to think deeply and compassionately about the human condition, while fostering a curiosity about the natural world and equipping the child to learn for the rest of life.

I hope Mr. Brown’s frustration and curiosity lead him to discover the classical liberal arts, and that he may someday be able to give his own children this most practical education.

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Summer Semester

One month into my summer semester and I have discovered again why I cherish it.

I have time for contemplation; my thoughts spin in long threads. My day is not quite as fragmented, because my teens are working, exploring, or otherwise employed; I am not constantly blipping them on my radar. In the morning before they rise, on long bike rides for exercise, or while pulling weeds in my perennials garden, I am thinking, carrying on a conversation about my reading.

I make time to read. During lunch hour I read from one of a stack of non-fiction, such as Beauty for Truth’s SakeThe QuestionA Sheep Falls Out of a TreeHow Successful People Think. I read on a bench in the garden. I read during a break for tea. I’ll plan a day vacation and bring a book or two to a lake to read while the teens take out kayaks and canoes.

I have time for meaningful work. Thanks to books I have been reading on managing work (Getting Things Done, Eat That Frog) I have a happy order to my day and I am moving through my long To Do and Wish lists. Some of it won’t get done, but I count all my progress. Andrew Kern takes the pattern in Genesis 1 (Classical Academic Press catalog page 45) and shows how this applies to any creative act: state your intention, do the work, name it, assess it, bless it. So, I plan my work the night before. Since I have learned to “eat the frog” first thing, I get right to work on the hardest thing. Naming my progress or naming my failure (or sin) has made me more conscious of what I am doing. Assessing shows me what I did well or poorly (and what changes to make), and blessing it takes me to God, who is my strength and wisdom. I feel good about my work.

Green fields

I take time for beauty. On my hour bike ride in the morning I am struck again and again how my lines have fallen in pleasant places. Every lovely view connects to memories of vacations in the country when I was growing up. Now I live in vacation land. Its loveliness feeds my soul; I find myself deeply relaxing into the beauty of this landscape. Every flower garden I pass delights me, because I find another kindred spirit–a gardener fighting back against the penury of winter with the lavish color of the living.

Summer is a different season in the life of the homeschooling mother. I want to make the most of it. I heartily concur with the author of Three Ways to Completely Screw Up Your Summer. Here’s another one, about taking time to behold Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

May your summer refresh you, bless you, and restore your soul.

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Nourishing the Soul with Fairy Tales

Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis quotes Augustine in the Chapter “Men without Chests”. He writes, “St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.” [Lewis 26]

We do this by training more than the rational part of our personhood but also the soul, where emotions, imagination, and worship lie. We do this through stories: history, myths, fairy tales. I think fairy tales are underrated! Fairy tales have a way of sticking around.

We had company on Friday night and after a jam session with a beautiful violin, electric bass, and an out of tune piano, we two mothers and our two twenty-year-olds got to talking about books and movies. My son surprised me by retelling a fairy tale he read as a youth, in order to make a point. This story, which I do not remember reading to him, planted a strong lesson of virtue he still remembers. Fairy tales have a unique way of explaining the way of the world and moving us to virtue. Think of the ubiquitous helpless old lady who is scorned by the privileged in the stories, but helped by the one of humble means.  By the story’s end, the order is turned upside down and the humble one is raised in glory while the proud is brought low. The youngest one receives the throne. The “foolish” one solves the problem and wins the princess. Cinderella marries the prince.

One of my favorite fairy tales is by Howard Pyle in The Wonder Clock. The princess is too proud to condescend to any of her suitors and she treats them harshly. One day a shabby man begs for a job and becomes the gooseherd. He attracts the notice of the princess who covets his three shiny baubles. She insists on having them and one by one trades for them her kerchief, her necklace, and finally, five-and-twenty kisses. Her father sees this last exchange and in anger marries them on the spot and kicks her out. The beggar grumbles about being saddled with a useless wife but takes her home.

One day he tells her to take the eggs to market to sell. She does go, but her eggs are trampled when a tipsy countryman knocks them to the ground. A basket of apples is next but a passing swineherd bumps into her and the pigs eat every one. Lastly, he sends her to work in the kitchen at the castle because the king will celebrate his marriage today and she can bring some scraps home for dinner.

But as she leaves the castle she is stopped by two soldiers, who say she must come with them. She hastily throws her apron over the basket of scraps as they march her before the king. She stands there before the gold-crowned king, trembling with fright. He asks what is under her apron. When she doesn’t answer, someone pulls the apron aside to reveal the kitchen scraps. She hangs her head in deepest shame.

But the king comes down beside her and reveals himself as the gooseherd, the tipsy countryman, and the swineherd. Her pride is broken and he raises her up to sit beside him, for today he celebrates his marriage to her.

And we learn so much, not the least of which is that things are not what they appear. There may be more to our story than we realize: that the pain we suffer has meaning, and that our growth in virtue is the point of it all.

So I say, let’s nourish the souls of our children with fairy tales!


Lewis, C. S.. Abolition of Man. Macmillan Publishing. New York.1947.


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Looking Ahead to the New School Year

What is it about spring that makes us look for a fresh start?  Homeschool families are already thinking ahead to the new year. As our children grow we find their needs change. Teens in particular have a need to bounce their ideas in community, to argue their half-formed judgments with others in order to make better sense of the world. I have seen this happen every day in the Challenge classes. Some of them begin the year speaking in slogans and sound bytes and quickly learn the necessity of knowing their subject matter better. By the end of the first semester they have become thoughtful, kind, and knowledgeable as they understand the two sides of a controversial issue.

Consider the benefits of community dialogue for your teens this coming year.

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Aaaand We’re Up!

The website is up and running!  Check it out and let me know if you find any links that do not work.

I am looking into a Classical Conversations logo to place on the website so people know we are a fully licensed community.

I hope to find many more families who, like me, want to give a classical education at home but want to do it in a community.

This is the last of the test posts.  Soon, articles. Anticipate it!

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Working on a Website

With the help of my son I have created a website. We found a fabulous template here: It has several pages that have explanations and videos of our program. Not only that, but I have linked to some rich resources, such as Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”, Circe Institutes’ Lost Tools of Writing, and the website for Classical Conversations. I hope to have all my favorites there. This blog will be linked to it, and we’ll have several dynamic features in the future. I intend to make a column for “Poem of the Week”, for example.

I hope other families will discover how Classical Conversations can enrich their home education, just as we did.

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Welcome to the Upper Valley Classical Community blog!

On this chilly April afternoon I am launching the official blog for the Upper Valley Classical Community writers. Here we will post about home school, classical education, Classical Conversations, and life in general. As we grow through our practice of the timeless classical liberal arts, and through conversation with the universal questions of life, we find we have more to talk about!

Classical Conversations started here in the Upper Valley in 2008 (I think).  We have been growing into a community of home school families that learn together. Our one-a-week gathering offers accountability, conversation for teens, and community for the families.

You are welcome to listen in as we share what we are thinking.

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