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Josh Gibbs speaks to the new teacher or second-year teacher who has been given a long list of great books (which may or may not have been read before by the teacher) to teach without much time to prepare. In the lecture he makes a distinction between "representational art" and "presentational art." The former, he says, plays to the intellect or soul while the latter plays to the senses or the body. In discussing presentational art, the interlocutors can only present a second time the aspects they took in with their senses during the initial sight of it. Folks talking about the latest Transformers flick will only be able to speak of the sheer size or sublimity of the film and not much else. In discussing representational art, on the other hand, interlocutors present anew elements of the art that have inspired or elicited intellectual curiosity. Instead of drawing attention to itself, representational art draws attention to the ideas, questions, or elements that open up to conversation that transcends the art itself.

Great books are representational art and thus require the time to read, rest, and reflect upon the book and the thoughts and questions the book inspires--to be filled with time rather than destroyed by time. Because they do not play to the senses, they will not necessarily delight the reader immediately the way that a work of presentational art might. If students aren't aware of the nature of this difference, they'll be tempted to see the love of great books as a game, an exercise in faking it. Josh recommends that the teacher be explicit with the students about the limitations of popular art and tastes for such art to withstand the destructive force of time--what you enjoy today will be boring and forgettable in ten years. The great books, the representational art forms, on the contrary, not only survive time but absorb the force that time possesses and can become even better. Thus, the apology for reading great books.

Josh's lecture raises some questions that he doesn't answer (at least not explicitly), and I'm curious to discuss at least a couple with others here.

1. How does the teacher who is reading a great book for the first time provide to the students the right context for reading, resting, and reflecting on the book when the teacher may not have figured out that for himself? In other words, how does the teacher give what she doesn't yet possess and avoid being disingenuous? What can the teacher bring to a first read of a great book that will help the students get something good from it?

2. What traps does the teacher need to look out for in trying to distinguish representational art from presentational art? While the curriculum of great books is more or less given to the teacher without much input, it is the teacher who is more or less responsible for the examples, analogies, anecdotes, allusions, and experiences she will use to move students into discussion of the book. In his lecture, even Josh makes judgments about contemporary films that fall into either category. How does a new teacher discern the difference?

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On 1/29/2019 at 9:47 PM, JTB_5 said:

Josh's lecture raises some questions that he doesn't answer (at least not explicitly), and I'm curious to discuss at least a couple with others here.

1. How does the teacher who is reading a great book for the first time provide to the students the right context for reading, resting, and reflecting on the book when the teacher may not have figured out that for himself? In other words, how does the teacher give what she doesn't yet possess and avoid being disingenuous? What can the teacher bring to a first read of a great book that will help the students get something good from it?

2. What traps does the teacher need to look out for in trying to distinguish representational art from presentational art? While the curriculum of great books is more or less given to the teacher without much input, it is the teacher who is more or less responsible for the examples, analogies, anecdotes, allusions, and experiences she will use to move students into discussion of the book. In his lecture, even Josh makes judgments about contemporary films that fall into either category. How does a new teacher discern the difference?

I loved these lectures by Josh and I tend to read everything he writes for Circe's blog. I think he said either in these lectures, (I watched last year) or one of his articles, that what he did and suggests new teachers do is be a student with the students, show them your struggle. If a book is new to you too, you show them how it is to approach something new. But he also suggested two books as places to start for background: The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity by John McManners, and History of Political Philosophy, Edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey. He said he used these two resources to inform him for his classes. I imagine books like these are examples for kinds to look for in whatever area of study a teacher is covering. Angelina Stanford said she never teaches a book without a "guide" - she checks to see if Tolkien, Lewis, or Burton Raffel - who was one of her professors - has any commentary or translation on the material. I am going through Pinocchio with middle schoolers, so I looked up Vigen Guroian's, Tending the Heart of Virtue in which he also talks about the moral imagination.  

I think one of the traps of "knowing" the book you are going to use with students is just that: thinking you "know" it, rather than coming at it with fresh perspective each time. Surely if it's great book there is always something else to behold. I know for me, each time I read Jane Eyre I had predecided, based on my first reading and film adaptation, that I hated the book because of Mr. Rochester. But, upon the 5th reading, Thank God, I accidentally was smacked in the face with Helen. SHE is the Penelope of the whole book. She is the catalyst for Jane's change of heart and her desire to "serve somewhere else." Mr. Rochester is not her "bad boyfriend" she just can't get over, he is her service of love. That was what I discovered anyway, the last time I read it. But it opened my eyes for the need not to be so concrete and dogmatic about the "only" thing a book has to offer. So, teachers ought to be careful when leading students not to ruin their own first or fifth reads. 

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On 2/8/2019 at 5:48 PM, Cheryl Floyd said:

I loved these lectures by Josh and I tend to read everything he writes for Circe's blog. I think he said either in these lectures, (I watched last year) or one of his articles, that what he did and suggests new teachers do is be a student with the students, show them your struggle. If a book is new to you too, you show them how it is to approach something new. But he also suggested two books as places to start for background: The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity by John McManners, and History of Political Philosophy, Edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey. He said he used these two resources to inform him for his classes. I imagine books like these are examples for kinds to look for in whatever area of study a teacher is covering. Angelina Stanford said she never teaches a book without a "guide" - she checks to see if Tolkien, Lewis, or Burton Raffel - who was one of her professors - has any commentary or translation on the material. I am going through Pinocchio with middle schoolers, so I looked up Vigen Guroian's, Tending the Heart of Virtue in which he also talks about the moral imagination.  

I think one of the traps of "knowing" the book you are going to use with students is just that: thinking you "know" it, rather than coming at it with fresh perspective each time. Surely if it's great book there is always something else to behold. I know for me, each time I read Jane Eyre I had predecided, based on my first reading and film adaptation, that I hated the book because of Mr. Rochester. But, upon the 5th reading, Thank God, I accidentally was smacked in the face with Helen. SHE is the Penelope of the whole book. She is the catalyst for Jane's change of heart and her desire to "serve somewhere else." Mr. Rochester is not her "bad boyfriend" she just can't get over, he is her service of love. That was what I discovered anyway, the last time I read it. But it opened my eyes for the need not to be so concrete and dogmatic about the "only" thing a book has to offer. So, teachers ought to be careful when leading students not to ruin their own first or fifth reads. 

These comments are very helpful, thank you.

I've noticed over the years of teaching that when I read books aloud to my students I discover things that I had not discovered reading them silently to myself. Something about putting voice to the words slows down the mind and allows it to take notice of small details.

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17 hours ago, JTB_5 said:

I've noticed over the years of teaching that when I read books aloud to my students I discover things that I had not discovered reading them silently to myself. Something about putting voice to the words slows down the mind and allows it to take notice of small details.

Oh, I agree with this. Even for myself, lately, as I am trying to get through difficult reads, I plug my ears and sort of read out loud under my breath. It really helps me concentrate, though I'm sure I look crazy, but I need to hear nothing else but the words on the page in my head - plugging my ears has that effect. 

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That's a good point--reading aloud. Many works of literature were intended to be shared orally anyway, and speaking the words adds another dimension to the way we experience them. Rhyme and rhythm, and thinks like assonance or  sibilance (why does my software say that is misspelled???) can only be appreciated that way.

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On 2/11/2019 at 2:17 PM, Cheryl Floyd said:

Oh, I agree with this. Even for myself, lately, as I am trying to get through difficult reads, I plug my ears and sort of read out loud under my breath. It really helps me concentrate, though I'm sure I look crazy, but I need to hear nothing else but the words on the page in my head - plugging my ears has that effect. 

 

3 hours ago, KarenG said:

That's a good point--reading aloud. Many works of literature were intended to be shared orally anyway, and speaking the words adds another dimension to the way we experience them. Rhyme and rhythm, and thinks like assonance or  sibilance (why does my software say that is misspelled???) can only be appreciated that way.

Wouldn't it be awesome if a movement toward read-aloud book clubs started?

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I'm considering reading Dante's Divine Comedy for the first time. My library has several translations, including an older one by Longfellow and a recent paraphrase by Clive James. Does anyone have a recommendation on a translation that I should consider?

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A friend of mine recommends the Anthony Esolen translations. The Everyman's Library all-in-one version by Mandelbaum is supposed to be good as well, but I've not read either of them myself.

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I have read the translation of Inferno by Dorothy Sayers. The notes are wonderful, but for me it introduced me to numerous vocabulary words I'd never heard of before (which made for some difficulty in the flow of reading).

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I've really only interacted with the Esolen version. But I am using a kindle version, "Cary's translation" to read out loud to my children, and a large "Chartwell Books, Inc." edition with beautiful art for looking at as I read to them. I can't find my Esolen! However, I highly recommend the Great Courses series on The Divine Comedy. The two professors obviously love their work and give amazing insights into Dante's ideas, form, and structure. I used my Audible credit to listen to it rather than purchased it through Great Courses. I have a video set of Esolen also explaining it, but I haven't sat down to go through it yet. Maybe I'll do that a little at a time with the kids too. 

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On 1/29/2019 at 10:47 PM, JTB_5 said:

1. How does the teacher who is reading a great book for the first time provide to the students the right context for reading, resting, and reflecting on the book when the teacher may not have figured out that for himself? In other words, how does the teacher give what she doesn't yet possess and avoid being disingenuous? What can the teacher bring to a first read of a great book that will help the students get something good from it?

One thing I enjoy about teaching a book for the first time is that it is much easier to experience it through the students' eyes. I'm more likely to trip over the same things they do, be surprised by what surprises them, and feel with them the wonder and awe that comes from an initial reading. This is not to say one's teaching wouldn't not improve upon each subsequent reading. It most certainly should, and a more mature understanding of a work provides a teacher with more to offer. And yet, teaching a book for the first time is an exciting (if daunting) opportunity that provides the teacher with a perspective (and enthusiasm) which can be easily lost.

You can also show students how to approach a book with curiosity and humility, being open about your questions and trying to work through those together. You certainly wouldn't want to come across as unprepared or incompetent, but I think it's great for students to occasionally hear: "What an exciting question--I've been wondering about that, too! Let's explore that together and see what we can find out..."

The first time reading and teaching a book is definitely a good time to take extensive notes, record reactions, and pose questions that may be forgotten upon the second, eighth, or twentieth time around.

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2 hours ago, Patrick Halbrook said:

One thing I enjoy about teaching a book for the first time is that it is much easier to experience it through the students' eyes. I'm more likely to trip over the same things they do, be surprised by what surprises them, and feel with them the wonder and awe that comes from an initial reading. This is not to say one's teaching wouldn't not improve upon each subsequent reading. It most certainly should, and a more mature understanding of a work provides a teacher with more to offer. And yet, teaching a book for the first time is an exciting (if daunting) opportunity that provides the teacher with a perspective (and enthusiasm) which can be easily lost.

You can also show students how to approach a book with curiosity and humility, being open about your questions and trying to work through those together. You certainly wouldn't want to come across as unprepared or incompetent, but I think it's great for students to occasionally hear: "What an exciting question--I've been wondering about that, too! Let's explore that together and see what we can find out..."

The first time reading and teaching a book is definitely a good time to take extensive notes, record reactions, and pose questions that may be forgotten upon the second, eighth, or twentieth time around.

This is a good word, Patrick. I especially think showing curiosity and humility are weighty. The couple of times I've been asked to teach a great books type course the students typically want to draw a conclusion or judgment about the good/bad or useful/worthless nature of something the book discusses (or the book itself). If a teacher doesn't handle those reactions carefully, we encourage students to stand in condemnation of what they study, rather than try to understand and learn from it (even if it is deeply flawed).

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Just out of curiosity...do any of you use Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book? I use AmblesideOnline (well, I also helped write it), and we start this book with year 7 (12-14 year olds), and read through it slowly across several years, and then have our year 12 students read through it again during their last year of school. He talks about reading well--I don't think he uses the current trendy term "close reading," but that's what he describes at one level of reading. I think he helps students begin to get a grasp of the relationship between the reader and the author, and the proper attitude of the reader who wants to get the most from a book.

I often say " a book will teach you how to read it," and I have this idea that the concept came from this book, although I can't pinpoint a quote. But what is implied there is that the book is the teacher, teaching not only its content, but the manner in which you have to approach it. What does this book say? What is it saying to me?

I've learned to be okay with kids only skimming the surface of a book at the beginning, and not understanding everything. It's one of the most important things I've learned in the past few years, I think--that it's okay if a student doesn't understand everything. Maintaining their sense of wonder and interest and desire to learn is so much more important.

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11 hours ago, KarenG said:

Just out of curiosity...do any of you use Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book? I use AmblesideOnline (well, I also helped write it), and we start this book with year 7 (12-14 year olds), and read through it slowly across several years, and then have our year 12 students read through it again during their last year of school. He talks about reading well--I don't think he uses the current trendy term "close reading," but that's what he describes at one level of reading. I think he helps students begin to get a grasp of the relationship between the reader and the author, and the proper attitude of the reader who wants to get the most from a book.

I often say " a book will teach you how to read it," and I have this idea that the concept came from this book, although I can't pinpoint a quote. But what is implied there is that the book is the teacher, teaching not only its content, but the manner in which you have to approach it. What does this book say? What is it saying to me?

I've learned to be okay with kids only skimming the surface of a book at the beginning, and not understanding everything. It's one of the most important things I've learned in the past few years, I think--that it's okay if a student doesn't understand everything. Maintaining their sense of wonder and interest and desire to learn is so much more important.

One of my first classes at Faulkner included his book. We read it over the semester and then works like Oedipus and Antigone, or excerpts. I really enjoyed it and Robert Hutchins, The Great Conversation. One of the themes I noticed with Adler is that he lamented the reader's not thinking. They were "reading" but not comprehending, asking questions, having a "conversation" with the author or the ideas. He certainly wasn't seeking "analysis" where the book was lobotomized by amateur surgeons, but I think he was challenging teachers and readers in general to not be satisfied with shallow materials or shallow reading of difficult material. I appreciated that he asserted the reading of hard materials will tire you out and you will not come away understanding it all. I needed to know I wasn't an imbecile! I think students need to know this too by reading hard things, and like a long, algebraic equation that doesn't solve for the variables, but includes them in the answer, they won't complete the reading with a full understanding of everything presented to them, and they will be mentally tired! Some benefits won't be known until many years later. I don't know how to keep them "on the line" for deferred gratification these days. 

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On ‎2‎/‎20‎/‎2019 at 1:35 AM, KarenG said:

Just out of curiosity...do any of you use Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book?

First, thanks to those of you who responded to my question about the various versions of Divine Comedy.

Regarding How to Read Book: I read this for the first time shortly after I retired from medicine about 2 years ago. When I saw the first copyright date (1940) my initial reaction was "Where has this book been all my life!" At the time I was teaching a course called The Art of Conversation to senior students at a homeschool co-op. I was so enamored with the book that I gave them each a copy for graduation. The next year I incorporated what I called "Adler's Strategy" into my course. Adler posits 4 questions to ask when reading a book:

1.      What is the book about as a whole?

2.      What is being said in detail? (In order to answer this question, you must first "come to terms" with the author.)

3.      Is the book true in whole or in part?

4.      What of it? (So what?) (What does this mean for me?)

I modified these questions and used them as a starting point for students to write a reflection after a classroom dialogue on a specific topic:

1.      What was this conversation about?

2.      What was said during this conversation?

3.      Was "what was said" true in whole or in part?

4.      What of it?

I found this to be a useful way to encourage students to actively listen during a conversation, in the same way that Adler encouraged active, engaged reading.

Let me also mention that Sertillanges anticipates much of Adler's wisdom with regard to reading in chapter 7 (Preparation for Work) of The Intellectual Life. He expands on the importance of coming to terms with an author as follows:

Quote

An essential condition for profiting by our reading...is to tend always to reconcile our authors instead of setting one against another.

 

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I've been blazing my way through Alan Jacobs' book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds and have found it both pleasant and insightful. I think Jacobs chooses his examples very wisely in making his points, and he relies upon a variety of evidence. If I have the time, I'll post an independent thread for reviewing and discussing the book, but I wanted to mention it here and see if anyone else has read it.

Anyone read (or planning to read) Jacobs' book?

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On 2/24/2019 at 9:40 AM, Donald Hess said:

First, thanks to those of you who responded to my question about the various versions of Divine Comedy.

Regarding How to Read Book: I read this for the first time shortly after I retired from medicine about 2 years ago. When I saw the first copyright date (1940) my initial reaction was "Where has this book been all my life!"

I modified these questions and used them as a starting point for students to write a reflection after a classroom dialogue on a specific topic:

1.      What was this conversation about?

 

2.      What was said during this conversation?

 

3.      Was "what was said" true in whole or in part?

 

4.      What of it?

I found this to be a useful way to encourage students to actively listen during a conversation, in the same way that Adler encouraged active, engaged reading.

Let me also mention that Sertillanges anticipates much of Adler's wisdom with regard to reading in chapter 7 (Preparation for Work) of The Intellectual Life. He expands on the importance of coming to terms with an author as follows:

 

 

When I tried to include your Sertillanges quote the system cut it off? But do you think this is in reference to relating books to one another to find where they agree? Do you think he is saying to avoid finding where they diverge or that they ultimately don't diverge? Maybe I am misunderstanding. :)

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19 hours ago, Cheryl Floyd said:

When I tried to include your Sertillanges quote the system cut it off?

A little glitch, I'm sure. I'm still learning how to navigate and use the features within this forum. With regard to your question, you are spot on with your paraphrase. Allow me to quote Sertillanges again: The man who wants to acquire from his authors, not fighting qualities, but truth and penetration, must bring to them this spirit of conciliation and diligent harvesting, the spirit of the bee. Honey is made from different kinds of flowers.

This reminds me of the lecture Jenny Rallins gave on virtue in the liturgical classroom that included the metaphor of education as a 3 stage process similar to that of a bee gathering pollen in order to make honey. My problem is that I am continually searching for flower pollen, while neglecting the work of making honey. Keeping in mind that bees make honey in community, I also remember KarenG sharing Charlotte Mason's premise that education = relationship. So in an odd sort of way, perhaps this forum could be regarded as a beehive:  We're exploring the countryside and bringing back the pollen, but who's making the honey?

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11 hours ago, Donald Hess said:

 

This reminds me of the lecture Jenny Rallins gave on virtue in the liturgical classroom that included the metaphor of education as a 3 stage process similar to that of a bee gathering pollen in order to make honey. My problem is that I am continually searching for flower pollen, while neglecting the work of making honey. Keeping in mind that bees make honey in community, I also remember KarenG sharing Charlotte Mason's premise that education = relationship. So in an odd sort of way, perhaps this forum could be regarded as a beehive:  We're exploring the countryside and bringing back the pollen, but who's making the honey?

Absolutely! I agree. I hope so anyway! I am enjoying the interactions and learning so much! 

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I don't know enough about bees and honey-making to extend that analogy, but I do know that learning in community has been important for me. I do a lot of solitary reading (gathering pollen?), but when I talk about what I'm reading and get input from other thinkers and readers, things begin to gel. I think that "education = relationship" is another way of expressing ordo amoris--education is the ordering of the affections. And suddenly I remembered that the Bible often uses honey as an analogy of the sweetness of wisdom and scripture. Hmmm. Now I want to go look up all the honey references.

As I read, it has often seemed to me that the books are talking to one another, but I like the idea of being a reader who attempts to reconcile author ideas with one another, rather than pitting them against one another. They do disagree sometimes, but one of the things that wearies me to death in modern discourse is the tendency to cast everything into a dichotomy: this or that. Only two choices, and never a compromise or even a third alternative. The sweetness of honey is the synthesis of all the gathered things (nectar, pollen, and ???), and if I'm not mistaken, it's been digested by something as well (but, as I said, I'm kind of fuzzy on the exact process...).

Edited by KarenG

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On ‎2‎/‎28‎/‎2019 at 6:23 AM, KarenG said:

As I read, it has often seemed to me that the books are talking to one another, but I like the idea of being a reader who attempts to reconcile author ideas with one another, rather than pitting them against one another. They do disagree sometimes, but one of the things that wearies me to death in modern discourse is the tendency to cast everything into a dichotomy: this or that. Only two choices, and never a compromise or even a third alternative.

Well said,  Karen. Here is an example of confronting "this or that dichotomies": I am now reading Darwin's Origin of Species with the hope that I can reconcile his ideas regarding Evolution with those of Michael Behe and others regarding Intelligent Design. I may have found a third alternative in Samuel Coleridge's Hints towards the formation of a more comprehensive theory of life. One of Coleridge's interests was natural philosophy and his fascinating essay predates Darwin. The challenging part for me right now is to get a better sense of the historical context of these ideas and how they developed over time. I think that is part of the process of reconciling authors, along with not superimposing my 20th century scientific education into these older texts.

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19 hours ago, Donald Hess said:

 

The challenging part for me right now is to get a better sense of the historical context of these ideas and how they developed over time. I think that is part of the process of reconciling authors, along with not superimposing my 20th century scientific education into these older texts.

This is such a needed area of study and expression. As I am coming out of a very analytical expression of Christianity, and entering into a more mystical and poetic form, I wonder if what happened with enlightenment, rational, and modern scientific expression concerning the mysterious and the material, is it abandoned the mysterious in favor of only the material. If you had put Jesus' cheek cells under a microscope would you have seen God? Would that have proved he wasn't yet God or ever was God? If not, what does that say about the limits of science in relation to the knowledge of creation and creation's God? 

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