Any essay has three most-important sentences, I tell my students—and nearly always, as I help them revise their papers, I suggest those three sentences be rewritten. Though good prose throughout an essay bolsters its ability to communicate and persuade, I’d wager many an essay stands or falls on these three sentences alone, for they are the ones that shape the reader’s experience of the essay and lodge in his memory of it; they are the ones by which he will decide whether what he has read matters to him or not.
I vividly remember sitting in a dim school auditorium my junior year of high school, pencil positioned to take the PSAT when all test-takers were required to copy out a pledge promising that no cheating would take place. The requirement? The pledge had to be written in cursive. One by one, students’ hands went up as they asked, “How do you write in cursive?” “How do you make a capital ‘i’?” and “Are all the letters supposed to be connected?”
It has been said, mostly in old westerns, “don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.” However, that does not rule out going all the way across and deciding you’re riding the wrong horse, or that you crossed the wrong river, or that you’re going in the wrong direction, or that something screwy is going on. Anyway, I have such a story to tell.
Freedom is a great practical thing, not an ideological idea.
When people rule you on the basis of their own authority, you are not a free person. This is just as true in the classroom, the office, or the shop as it is in Washington, DC or London.
But how can that be prevented?
True freedom has everything to do with how behavior, work, and thought are measured. Where do the criteria arise? This is not as obscure a thought as it might seem. Whoever assesses you is your boss. So where do the standards of assessment come from?
I have a very specific process when I approach a writing project. Using the first three canons of Classical Rhetoric, I first write down every idea I have. This is the Invention stage and includes my research stage. Anything that generates an idea—something I read, a conversation I had, a thought that I contemplate, I dream I have—gets written down however it comes to me. I don’t worry about assessing the quality of the idea or figuring out how I will use it at that point. Often one idea leads to another, and I keep writing them down.
Historically, education has been the means to cultivate the human-ness of the student. People believed that there were distinctly human abilities and potentials that were good because they were human, and it was the duty of a community to see to it that those talents and abilities were developed.
Those abilities include music, the fine arts, logical reasoning, rhetoric, mathematical skills, language skills, the sciences, etc.
In Psalm 45 the poet pulls back the curtain on how godly poetry is composed and provides a model for us to imitate.
Consider the words of the first verse:
My heart overflows with a good theme
I will recite my verses to the king
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
Here, listed unpoetically, are some principles exemplified in this verse:
The holy grail of classical education is the integrated curriculum. What a chalice that would be!
Two things have kept us from finding it. The first is that we've been looking in the wrong place. The second is that there hasn't been an integrating tool.
First, we've been looking in the wrong place. Put simply, I mean that we have been looking at the content of our curriculum in terms of the material we cover. The information, the checklists, the data - if you like.
Careful observation has confirmed that there are five paths to writing excellence. Neglect of any one of them will undermine a writer’s potential.
- The Theoretical path
- The Practical path
- The Critical path
- The Literary Path
- The Linguistic Path
I suspect that some readers may have a visceral reaction to the inclusion of the theoretical path, so I’d better say a word or two about it.
I don't like to travel without an interesting compelling time-filling book, and I'm driving up to PA tomorrow in what is still called a car because that is what the people over at Hertz call it - a bright cool air-conditioned chamber with the windows all closed because as a man I realize that hot air prevents coolness from spreading and the open window will let more heat than cool in - so I was glancing over my office qua study bookcase covered with