Posts Tagged ‘classical writing’

Brave Writing, Classical Writing, and 21st Century Kids

Raising classically fluent 21st century kids

Learning in the 21st Century: our natural environment

Sometimes when I read discussions related to a classical education or Charlotte Mason or any other form of educating that relies heavily on reading and writing, I find myself inwardly qualifying the advice. We live in the 21st century. We have the Internet. We have DVDs and DVRs, radio and cable, telephones and podcasts, digital cameras and video games, computers and ipods.

When we read the classics, we inform our minds of other modes of speech and writing that went before our time. We round out our contemporary linguistic habits with a wider vocabulary, we develop a palette of images and metaphors, myths and legends from which to draw when we write. We honor and discover people of the past and learn the ways in which we are who we are because of their contributions to literature, philosophy, history, religion and science.

These are all good and I encourage all of us to visit the library, or alternately, to buy books and strew them throughout the house, to go to Shakespeare’s plays and visit art museums, to test out Archimedes’s lever and to see the stars through a telescope for yourself. Study history chronologically if that works best for you.

The ability to write well will always be a relevant skill.

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In addition to all of these wonderful ways of learning, though, please don’t forget that today’s world has all kinds of resources open to you that will enhance the learning experience.

Technology can enhance the learning experience:

We purchased iLife for our Mac computers. The program includes a variety of ways to manage digital photos, to create blogs and DVDs, to set up slide shows and to create pod casts.

My 14 year old was enthralled with all the technological possibilities. Immediately, he made several slide shows to music from our trip to Italy last summer. Then he set up a blog to organize our photos and to post them for family. After that, he started playing with the pod cast software. He and Caitrin became enraptured with the idea of being radio personalities—broadcasting to family on the west coast. They developed a little show that they call “Intelligent Conversations with Caitrin and Jake.” They added music and voila! A way to communicate that was less formal than a speech, but more formal than a phone call.

The possibilities suddenly poured in. Jacob saw that he could make a weekly podcast that would tell something about a book or movie he had read that week. We made a list of ideas: history, science, literature, movies, music, and business. These are all subjects he enjoys. His older sister got home later that day and they set up a long interview with her. I listened as they attempted to imitate radio show hosts they’d “heard over the years” intuitively, with style and panache.

We aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the 21st century tools at our disposal. Today’s colleges expect that kids will arrive equipped to use PowerPoint (I’ve used it in half of my graduate courses), to do Internet research, and to know how to publish in Word or PDF formats, to participate in online forum discussions, to use online library reserves, and more.

Technologically advanced Brave Writer students are also using:

Online Journals or blogs 
These can be used for writing about topics of interest, such as favorite movies, WWII tanks, baseball records, book reviews, history narrations, biographies and more. Invite family members to read what is posted. Instant audience.

One Brave Writer family uses PowerPoint to create interesting lectures related to historical topics. The child chooses an area to research and then creates a powerpoint lecture that includes visual aids (pictures, illustrations, graphs, screen captures, movie clips). PowerPoint encourages organization, fact selection and communication skills.

Podcasts provide the ideal setting for oral narration. There is something about a microphone that induces even the most reluctant narrator to speak. Short of podcasting, the old fashioned tape recorder and microphone work just as well.

Make use of the Internet to supplement what you read. Look up the bio on the author, locate the country on Google Earth, and really see it in real time from a satellite over the globe. Look up the artists you enjoy and see more of their works in museums too far away to visit. Read reviews and critiques of the writers you read to get a wider perspective of the impact of their work.

Additionally, they become comfortable with a modern writing sensibility. Though classic writers endure the test of time and we continue to appreciate them because of their competence, we write for a modern audience. Though we may admire Descartes and Plato, it is unlikely that their writing style in our hands is the one that will connect with today’s audience. As we groom our kids to be effective writers, we want them just as versed in modern writing as we do in classic writing. Today’s effective (read: paid) writers have mastered the kind of writing that appeals to this generation.

The ability to write well will always be a relevant skill.

Don’t make the mistake of disdainful snobbery about the past versus today’s writers either. The ability to write well is important in every era. Each age demands a different kind of writing style to best communicate with its audience. Today, there is a wider range of writing styles to explore than ever. So don’t feel that one is better and another inferior. Rather, learn to write to suit your audience.

Today’s popular writing has become more punchy, more visceral than yester-year’s. Popular writers have to compete with the world of the visual. Images are everywhere demanding our attention, invading our mental space. Dickens’s purple patches of prose are no longer necessary in the world of cable television and big screen movies.

To hold the attention of their easily distracted audiences, today’s writers reach readers through meter (the pacing of the piece – sentence variety), through surprise (the ability to wake up the reader with novelty and humor), through power (the argument must be sophisticated and cogent, not just polemical), through analogy (drawing on the huge resevoir of cultural concepts and news events, legends and histories, myths and religious icons, sports and celebrity, to relate the new to the familiar or vice versa).

Those raised with classical literature, with art and music, with mythology and history have a much wider base to draw from when they write and think. But all of that wonderful exposure must be updated to relate to a world that has gone utterly technological and multinational. So make use of these powerful tools. If you don’t know how to use them yourself, not to worry. Buy the software and turn your kids loose. They’ll be happy to teach you. After all, they are native sons of this age while we are the immigrants who still speak the old language and the new one with an accent.

ETA: Facebook and Twitter are today’s online publishing tools that teens love to use to discover whether what they write triggers response from an audience.

Brave Writer Online Writing Class Shakespeare Family Workshop


Shakespeare Online! There’s no better example of how we can use today’s technology to saturate ourselves in classical, enduring content. Click on the Bard’s image to check it out!


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Brave Writer and Academic Writing

Recipe for a Brave Writer

What is the goal of Brave Writer?

My favorite kind of writing is academic writing. I love the strict nature of the structure, the importance of the positions being argued and the power of doing it well enough to persuade or change a reader. So if you are under the misimpression that academic writing is not the goal of Brave Writer, I want to correct that now. It is my goal for all my students. But it is not the primary goal.

Let’s look at the foundation of what writing really ought to be.

Writing is about writers, first. It is about identifying what you want to say and then finding the right vehicle for saying it. So the question is: how do we get there? And that’s where programs offer you a variety of philosophies to consider. Let’s look at Brave Writer and see how it helps your writers do just that.

Brave Writer is not primarily about teaching kids to be creative (as in writing silly stories or personal anecdotes or fiction). It is not a program that is designed for those who want to avoid doing the hard work of writing instruction. Rather, Brave Writer promotes a lifestyle (habit) and a practice (discipline) that leads to effective, original, thoughtful writing that sounds like the writer and reflects the original and unique contribution that writer wants to make to the topic.

Classical writing programs often begin with the imitation of great writers and a practice that focuses on getting it right – right format, right style, right grammar, right mechanics, right argument structure, right ideas, right discipline. The goal (to have an intelligent, competent writer by college) is the same one I have for my kids and my students. It’s just that we get there differently.

Brave Writer and Academic Writing

Brave Writer begins with the writer.

Brave Writer doesn’t start with imitation or with the topic of writing at all. It starts with a person – the writer. Let me show you how it’s done by comparing it to another process you know well: speaking.

Speak up!

When your kids were less than a year old, you talked with them all the time, even though they couldn’t talk back. Some time around a year to 18 mos, your little darling uttered her first word. In my family, our son Noah pointed and said “Nana” indicating that he wanted a banana. I immediately shrieked “Jon, get here quick. Noah is brilliant!” I then coaxed Noah to say “nana” again so that Jon would see how good his genes were. After handing Noah the banana he wanted, I ran to the baby book and wrote down the date and the word “nana.”

Here is what I did not do. I did not panic and think: “Oh no. He said nana not banana. I wonder if he’ll ever learn the right word.” I didn’t stop him and say, “Now you know, Noah, the word is banana and it is a noun. You must use it in a sentence like this. If you use it correctly, I will give you a banana.”

Rather, for the next five years, our lives were filled with speaking opportunities. We talked with him every day, we giggled over his mispronunciations and put them in the baby book, we helped him when he got stuck and couldn’t think of a word, we listened to his rambling stories and experiences waiting for him to find vocabulary or sort out the details.

At age five, when his fluency kicked in, we did not suddenly impose structures on his speech. He didn’t have to give public addresses, act in plays, enter debates or make presentations. He was free to enjoy talking, all while we slowly introduced him to varieties of ways talking could be used. Over the next twelve years, Noah learned the following speech formats: how to chat on the phone, how to meet and greet people, how to host a party, how to act (he has done both Shakespeare and contemporary plays), how to give an oral report, he learned to recite and perform poetry and speeches, he discovered and excelled at improvisational acting, he taught others how to use computers, and he made presentations.

He could not learn these “formats” while he was still learning to become fluent in speaking. These uses of speech came after he had been sufficiently saturated in spoken language in a loving and supportive environment for years. We introduced spoken formats over time, with increasing difficulty as they became relevant to his life and capabilities.

Write it out!

So let’s compare this now to writing. Did you, the first time your child misspelled a word, run to the baby book and jot down how cute it was to read “becuaz” instead of “because”? Did you delight in the fact that your daughter wrote an entire page of invented phonics to tell a story that you couldn’t read but that she could?

Probably not. There is something in us that says when it is written, it must be perfect. But let’s think about this for a moment. When does writing ever get to be about the joy of self-expression aimed at a reader? What if we focused on that written self-expression for about, say, four or five years? We could start at age 7 or 8, and let them narrate while we jot things down for them. We could watch them transition to writing some of it themselves (in all its glorious inaccuracy and fumbled attempts at punctuation) while they are 9-10… maybe even 11.

At the same time, we immerse them in language. We read, we copy, we dictate passages to transcribe. We watch Shakespeare and read Chaucer. We recite poetry and we tell jokes. We watch sitcoms and movies. We write down what they think of all these things. Or they write it. Or we do it together, modeling how to access that language that is growing inside. We show how to put in periods and commas, how to figure out spellings when not sure, how to use Spell and Grammar Check, how to revise our work so that it is better than it was on the first pass, how to upgrade word choices and images to convey meaning. We do all of these things, together, at the table as we make time for it.

Brave Writer nurtures the joy of self-expression aimed at a reader.

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By about age 13, then, your writer will likely be fluent at written self-expression. He or she will feel comfortable on the page – it will be a true reflection of that person’s voice and insights, ideas and thoughts, images, and metaphors. These will be growing naturally in your writer over all those years together writing, reading, and talking.

When you hit those high school years, then, it is time for formats and that’s when we move out of the more freewheeling style of writing and learn how to discipline it to satisfy the demands of an academic community. Let me tell you – kids who have been active online (writing) and who grow up in the Brave Writer style of language arts development make this transition seamlessly. They are my best writers, bar none. They may not always be the best mechanically (at first). But they have so much to say, so many words to draw on, so many ideas and insights… and they brim with confidence.

Kids who come to me who have been “well-taught” (grammar, mechanics, formats) often can put together good copy (as in following the structural directions), but there is little imagination. I don’t mean imagination as in fiction. I mean the ability to think and reason creatively, persuasively, with insight.

The other bug-a-boo is that a regimented program often dulls the child’s natural writing voice and interest in writing. As long as writing is external to the child’s inner life (is about fulfilling requirements for someone else), the writer suffers.

If you’re looking at classical education for you homeschool,
click to keep reading about Brave Writer and Classical Writing.

Top image by Liz West, Flickr (cc Modified to add text.)