Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Back to the top of the stack...

The new arrivals. I need the Philosopher's Toolkit to prepare me for the Intro to Kant's Aesthetics, so I can then wade in and attempt to read Kant, though I understand that's not an easy task.

As before, here is my Kindle list:

.. And I can't resist posting this:

I think this is the most-loved, most heavily used, and most cherished book I own or have ever seen. I don't mean by me - I mean apparently by a lot of people who have owned it before me, or possibly just one who did a lot of marking up on it! But no - it must be several - there is writing in many different kinds of ink and in pencil, done in very different hands. This is obviously the kind of book that inspires deeply.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My approach to The Trivium - Into the nitty gritty

Morning Study Mode
3 days ago my first shipment of homeschooling materials arrived from Memoria Press - Traditional Logic 1 and the first 3 lessons of the Progymnasmata (Pro-gym-NOZZ-muh-tuh), which is the classical Composition course (writing). It was a twofold test - first to see how worthy I deem Memoria's materials for my purposes of self-education, and second to see if my obsession for this stuff holds fast when it comes to actual study rather than just reading about it. Passed with flying colors on both counts!

Let me back up a little and explain the purpose of this post - what I hope to do is clarify the nitty gritty  details on exactly how I'm approaching this and why.

This all began when I discovered the book The Trivium by Sister Miriam Joseph. Instantly my imagination and my undying interest were captivated - I knew in a flash this is something I need to pursue and it immediately takes first precedence in my life, at least until it's become a settled routine. I believe in a previous post I mentioned that - excellent as the book is, it doesn't work for me as educational material, which I was hoping it would. It reads more like a fast moving and very stern lecture on what the Trivium is, but isn't laid out well for study. While she actually does explain in great detail essentially every aspect of the curriculum, and even gets into loads of specifics, it all moves too fast, while at the same time being way too densely packed with information.

I could possibly have used it as study material, but it would have meant breaking it down into proper form for daily studies -- summaries, review questions, quizzes, tests. That's the stuff that makes you remember it all. So I would have had to turn it into a workbook and a lesson plan. And I actually considered doing that, but it just felt like an insanely difficult task, especially the finding more complete explanations for everything part. I'd much rather spend the time learning than creating an educational program.

About that time I started running across homeschooling courses like Memoria Press, and realized this is exactly what I need - already broken down neatly into digestible form. I decided to lay out some cash - an investment in my own education.

Which brought up the inevitable next question - how much cash?

This is where I started making some quick intuitive decisions. If I were still in my 20s, maybe even my 30s, I might go whole hog and immerse myself into many years of training. But it's well past that point now - that would be unnecessary and even ridiculous, considering I already have the basics of grammar and rhetoric. What exactly should my criteria be then?

Well, I know I want the whole Logic course. That's the part that's been entirely expunged from modern public schooling, and is the vital core of it all really. And since I'd be learning it from scratch, having no background in it (aside from the reading I've since done - more on that in a bit), then I felt I should buy what Memoria calls the Basic Set, which includes the student guide, the textbook, and the teacher's guide. One of my earliest decisions was not to get any DVDs - I believe they're mainly just spoken introductions, like "Hi kids, what we're going to be covering today.. " as well as probably some duplication of material in the books. And not surprisingly, the DVDs are the most expensive part.

I do want the teacher's guides for Logic, because I feel it's essential that I learn this correctly. It's different when it comes to grammar and rhetoric and composition - that stuff has more leeway and nobody expects them to be precise anymore. They're more about artistic expression, and Logic is more about precision in thinking, so I consider the teacher's guides for Logic necessary.

I've placed my second order now, much larger than the first, rounding out the entire Logic course (Traditional Logic I & II and Material Logic), the single-book Aristotle's Rhetoric course (which is a guided stroll through Aristotle's own book on the subject, with those better explanations I'm looking for, along with the all-important summaries, review questions, quizzes and tests), and the 4 volume set of Grammar lessons. No teacher's guides for any of these. The teacher's guides are more expensive than the student workbooks, so this represents a substantial savings.

Besides these, I've also opted for a few literature and poetry lessons. For these there is generally a text (a Shakespeare play, or Treasure Island for example), as well as a student workbook and teacher's guide/answer key. In many cases I've been able to locate the texts on Project Gutenberg for free and downloaded them, saving a few more Drachma. In the case of Shakespeare I am getting teacher's guides, because I don't trust that just by studying the material I can always find the correct answers. And rather than download Shakespeare from Gutenberg, I'm getting it from No Fear Shakespeare on Sparknotes, which thankfully supplies a modern translation beside the original tongue-and-brain-twisting text.

I've always wanted to be able to understand Shakespeare - to the extent that I bought 2 Complete Works (the first was printed in such fine text on such tissue-thin paper it was completely impossible to read) and an Asimov's Guide, which is probably excellent, but unfortunately does not guide how I need guided - through just what the heck it all MEANS! So now, between Sparknotes and Memoria Press, my dream of understanding The Bard is approaching realization at long last.

And finally - the Pre-Soak.

While exploring the Memoria Press site and gradually developing the plan for what I need to order, and then while waiting for it to arrive, I sought out and devoured many PDFs, web articles, and books about traditional logic and rhetoric. Including many of the original sources -- translations of Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian among others. I didn't try to understand it all on these initial read-throughs, rather I considered it all a mental pre-soak, just immersing my mind deeply into the subjects and letting it simmer in the stew for a while. Now I find as I burn through the lessons (often 2 or 3 days' worth in a single sitting) comprehension dawns more easily because of it. All in all I'd say a very excellent approach to this arcane and yet essential curriculum.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Streamlining the Classical Curriculum

I cannot even begin to explain how much effort I've put into researching and learning about the Trivium - all the endless websearches and the many books I've been reading - often about the history of ancient education and the politics behind how it came forward into the modern world, how it was modified in the process, and how and why it's been dropped from public schooling - as well as how it's been modified for today's private school and homeschooling versions. I'm far from having anything like a complete picture; a subject like this is way too vast to ever hope to achieve complete understanding, but I don't require complete understanding - what I'm after is a good-enough understanding to formulate a solid grasp of the important and necessary elements for a middle aged man in today's world who doesn't want to be elderly before completing the program!

I look at this, not as a complete re-education, but as a turbo-charged upgrade to the modern public school educatin' I've already got. English was always a favorite subject of mine and I did very well in it, frequently getting little notes scrawled across the top of my papers in red ballpoint concerning my excellent writing abilities. In math not so much - in fact quite the opposite. Oh, there were often notes in red ink - but they were not nearly as pleasant!

But what I want to get out of this is an enhanced facility with words in particular - with words and with the conceptual skills required for excellent writing/speaking.

Sorry if some readers are a little lost here - I'm not sure if I've stated yet that since discovering the Trivium (the classical 3-tiered education system combining Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric to forge students into powerfully creative and persuasive communicators of the first rank) I've decided that I must acquire this type of education for myself! In fact I'm driven by a compulsion for it - an overriding obsession that so far has found no limits.

I believe I mentioned previously - though it may have been deleted in last post's extensive reworking - that I've been looking at homeschooling material and that it all seems to be published entirely by Christian organizations, with a strong Biblical influence added onto the Classical (ancient Greek and Roman) curriculum. In fact I've recently learned that the term Trivium, while it was originally coined by the Greeks back somewhere near Aristotle's time, received a far stronger emphasis at the hands of the Medieval church educators who borrowed it (therefore preserving it through the centuries and earning my eternal gratitude!) because they liken it to the Holy Trinity. So generally when you find a book or a school or a course calling it the Trivium, it's a specifically Christian version. I'm not bothered by the idea that Christian values have been grafted on, as long as it doesn't clutter up or dilute the actual learning experience, and especially as long as it doesn't extend the time it takes to get through the curriculum. Because see --- the time factor is one of the most important for me.

In fact there are elements of the classical version that I'm planning to excise for that reason --- to streamline the learning curve, even if it means missing out on some of the finer aspects of such an education --- I simply don't have the time remaining to pursue the complete course, as much as I'd love to.

The first thing to go, and this I decided right off the bat - I won't be learning how to speak or read Greek or Latin. That has always been a non-negotiatable element --- largely to allow reading of classical literature in its original language, such as Homer, Aristotle, Ovid, etc. Sorry, starting so late, this is just not an option!

Racing ahead as I am with this post, I might also have never mentioned that I've already bought and am beginning to study homeschooling material from Memoria Press. I found many suppliers of similar material online, all Christian as far as I can determine. Many of them seem to use the same books and materials. But any of the homeschooling sites may be as good or better, my research hasn't gone that deep. I simply found that Memoria's material was good enough for my purposes and didn't see any other site that stood out as being better, so I went with them.

I'm laying out for myself a fairly comprehensive course of study, beginning with the core Trivium of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Of course, I've already been schooled in the basics of grammar and rhetoric, but looking through sample book pages on Memoria Press, it's clear they go way deeper than today's American public school education (or even yesteryear's, considering my primary education was late 60s/early 70s).

This extended thoroughness of the classical education does come with a price though, in the necessity to memorize a lot - and I do mean a LOT - of Greek terms. For example, take a gander at this partial list of figures of description:

Specific Kinds of Description 
  • topographia
    Description of a place. 
  • astrothesia 
    A vivid description of stars 
  • prosopographia
    The vivid description of someone's face or character; or, the description of feigned or imaginary characters. 
  • ethopoeia
    The description and portrayal of a character (natural propensities, manners and affections, etc.) 
  • pragmatographia
    Description of an action; a reported narrative. 
  • chronographia
    Vivid representation of a certain historical or recurring time (such as
    a season) 
  • characterismus
    Description of a person's character. 
  • effictio 
    A verbal depiction of someone's body, often from head to toe. 
  • icon
    A figure which paints the likeness of a person by imagery. 
  • peristasis
    A description of attendant circumstances. 
  • chorographia
    The description of a particular nation. 
  • geographia
    Vivid representation of the earth.
  • anemographia
    Description of the wind. 
  • dendrographia
    Description of a tree. 
  • topothesia
    Description of an imaginary place 
  • hydrographia
    Description of water.
... Very specific names for descriptions of trees, water, terrain, the physical appearance of people, their character/personality traits, and on and on! "Attendant circumstances" fer cryin' out loud!! The WIND!! Stars??!! Why do there need to be individual terms for each of them, all of which need to be memorized??! 

Well, this cowboy ain't got time for all that!! At the very least, why can't the names be in English? I'm sure it's because students are expected to be learning Greek and Latin alongside, so in that case I understand the expediency of it. But, as a friend of mine once said:

"I think not - therefore I AIN'T!!"

But I do recognize the brilliance of simply understanding that there are so many different kinds of descriptions to liven up a bit of writing. In fact that in itself is a part of why the classical education is so superior to the modern, which as I recall simply recommends "describe things." I certainly don't remember being made aware that there can be so many unique ways to describe things! But then my memory of grade school days is pretty dim and spotty, and it could be that some teachers go into more detail than others. 

So I'm going to eliminate the necessity for memorizing all these fancy-sounding Greek names - as cool as they all sound - which will greatly reduce the learning load on my poor brain, and leave more room and time for the actual descriptions themselves, which is the important part. So I'm reconfiguring the curriculum to my own specific needs.

In the immortal words of Bruce Lee: "Take what is useful and discard the rest."

All that said, some of the greek words are just so cool that I can't resist, and will be memorizing the ones that really get me going - like Anaphora, Epiphora and Simploce. They are respectively - repeating the beginning of a sentence or phrase, repeating the end of a sentence or phrase, and repeating both. That last sentence uses them all by the way...

I had to come up with a very colorful mnemonic device in order to memorize those terms, involving Ana Fora and her sister Epi, standing in a forest among groupings of tombstones for Sims characters. I remember Ana and Epi's names because Ana has very hairy legs, but Epi is holding her Epilady, which explains why she does not. The forest helps me remember the Phora, and as for the tombstones - well, they represent Sim Plots! It's been a long time since I had to come up with memory devices like this, and it's fun. And it works. It's also been a long time since I was in school and I had forgotten how brain-wracking the studying can be - though to a large extent the stress is necessary and helpful for learning.

Incidentally, if you've ever seen in an old movie where kids complain because they're struggling to "learn their figures" - it's the figures of speech they're referring to - they're reaping the benefit of the classical system. So don't feel too sorry for them - they doubtless got a far superior education to yours, unless you went to a private school or a really good college.

Or self-educated.

There's more I want to say about my self-administered homeschooling efforts, but this post is long enough already! I'll be touching on the subject more soon. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Two Worlds Collide (extensively edited from my unfortunate previous post)

Over a few posts recently I shared my amazement at the precision, power and eloquence of so many writers of the 19th century and previous - qualities that have largely disappeared from writing today. I've since discovered that one of the major reasons for that precision, power and eloquence is due to the type of education that was available in those times - built around what's sometimes called the Trivium, or the Classical three-tiered system of  Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.  Grammar - the building blocks of words and sentences; Aristotelian Logic, which allows you to ascertain the validity and truthfulness of statements; And Rhetoric - the art of persuasive speaking or writing. An important part of education of this type is that it strongly emphasizes how these various elements interact with each other and connect up as a whole to strengthen each other and to render the student clear, precise, and persuasive. Most modern education has instead treated individual subjects as if they're completely separate and have no connection with any of the other subjects being taught. The Classical educational approach has a tendency to create holistically connected students who are fully capable of continuing their own self-education after leaving the school system, whereas modern education tends to leave students bored and underachieving, and to turn them out into the world woefully ill-prepared in terms of critical thinking ability, literacy, and creativity.

So, the Trivium-style curriculum is one thing I've been avidly pursuing recently, through a lot of web searching and a lot of reading. Meanwhile, I'm also digging ever deeper into that massive stack of painting related books shown in my previous post (which has grown somewhat since then). All of these books cover material from the 19th century and previous.

And I began to notice a repetition of certain words and certain ideas across both stacks of books - the painting-related stack and the classical educational stack.  In both I keep running into a strong emphasis on passion, imagination, skill, and intuition - both on the part of artists in the creation of paintings and on the part of students and writers when they create papers or books or essays. In fact the similarities go beyond just that - they also include the idea that a work should be cohesive conceptually - that a single overriding idea should be at the heart of it and should inform each aspect of it - that idea itself often being imaginative or passionate.

I was quite surprised to discover this link between my 2 concurrent lines of inquiry. Originally when I started looking into the Trivium program, I had no inkling that it was connected in any way with the old-school painting approaches I've been investigating. Though as I recall, I did discover the Trivium originally through an Amazon email, so it was probably targeted at me due to my recent searches and purchases there. To be clear though, Amazon didn't send me an email including the Trivium book as a recommended item, but I found it while pursuing a different book they did recommend - though offhand now I don't remember what it was. Oh, yes I do - it was a book about reading the Classics - which books and authors one should read from the literature of the past. So apparently I went on some kind of list at Amazon for people interested in old-school schooling and painting.

As it stands now, my impression is that this type of education, and the societies that approved of and encouraged it - turned out people of a broad and deep education who were very conversant in matters of imagination and passion as well as logic, grammar, and persuasive capability; and in fact those qualities were embraced and nurtured throughout schooling, and likely at home as well, assuming the parents had the same kind of education.

The result of this happy collision - it turns out my 2 lines of interest are actually not as unrelated as I thought, and in fact I'm finding that in reading about the Trivium education system I glean important insights into the way Romantic painters must have thought. As I mentioned in a recent post, the artists were constantly attending lectures and speeches, reading books, and discussing the new ideas in art and in human thought.

And I apologize for my rather old-fashioned turns of phrase in this post - I've been reading all this very old-world stuff, much of it Victorian, and it's hard not to write like that myself just now. Hopefully I get over that, while still increasing my precision, logic and persuasive powers.

Monday, August 8, 2016

More of What I'm Reading

My most recent book acquisitions,

.. And my Kindle list from Amazon. The Kindle is the plain black book on top of the stack.

I already mentioned some of these in a recent post, just wanted to get them all up in picture form. Of all of these, the only one so far I haven't cared much for is Key Writers on Art From Antiquity to the 19th Century, and that mainly because it's just a series of too-short blurb style quotations and paraphrasings, many of which would doubtless be much better presented in full or in longer excerpts. It came across like Readers' Digest; MTV-Style Sound-Byte Edition - Presented by Short Attention Span Theater.

I have yet to start in on The Brandywine Tradition, which covers Howard Pyle's illustration school and its many famous students like N C Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Harvey Dunn, Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green and on and on. That same material is covered in the big orange Howard Pyle book, and from the quick scan I did through the Tradition book, in much the same wording. I suspect one is pretty much lifted from the other.

I'm taking a special interest in Pyle and his teachings since he was the father of American Illustration and launched pretty much the whole shebang. As a committed Romantic he advocated imagination in illustration work, as opposed to strict representationalism - in fact he told his students they should 'live in the picture'.

The Visual Language of Drawing is a series of interviews with some of the excellent instructors at the Art Students League of New York. It emphasizes much the same approach as the Robert Fawcett book I talked about a few posts back, about learning to see by drawing from life and from memory a lot. I love all these books I'm finding lately that de-emphasize the mechanical concept of form - the human body presented as a mannequin, and instead emphasize it as a vital and expressive living thing. Also emphasis on the intuitive development of form sense that happens with a lot of drawing from life, and can't be developed any other way.

Looking at the list of Kindle books, you can see I've been leaning toward what in the past was referred to as an education in the liberal arts. The term still exists today, but it means something quite different - much fuzzier and vaguer, with the most vital aspect removed. Just as a teaser, here's part of a comment for The Trivium:

"To know what you know, and to know what you do not know. That is true knowledge."
Logic was invented in ancient Greece circa 300 B.C. as a systematic method by which free Greeks could identify deliberate deception and/or errors in reasoning. Neither the Greeks nor, later, the Romans considered it wise to teach logic to common slaves, for obvious reasons. The teaching of classical logic was removed from the US public school system over 150 years ago, and has been systematically suppressed by the media, for exactly the same reasons.
The Trivium is the Latin term for the 3 R's of the ancient Liberal Education - Reading, (w)riting and Reckoning (or Reasoning). Note - not 'Rithmetic. The Trivium consists of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Taken together as a whole, they allow a person to read and write clearly, analyze ideas, reason correctly, and present arguments logically without committing the common logical fallacies that distort the thoughts of most people (and that are committed deliberately by sophists and con artists). A few of these fallacies are:
  • Ad Hoc attacks - insulting the other party rather than engaging with their arguments
  • Appeal to Authority - citing "experts" without checking the validity of their ideas
  • Straw Man argument - creating an oversimplified and incorrect idea of the opponent's actual point and then attacking that, rather like burning an idea in effigy
All of this taken in toto, as a functioning whole, renders a person capable of evaluating ideas on their own terms and discerning truth from falsehood (AKA critical thinking skills). In other words, it's a unified system of education designed to create intelligent self-sufficient individuals who are then capable of continuing their own self-education thanks to the system of reasoning they've developed.

My favorite of the whole bunch is The Search for Form in Art and Architecture.