By Michelle Graves, 5th Grade Humanities
By Dr. Christi Williams (6th Grade Humanities)
Have you ever noticed how it is difficult to remember and recount the books you read five years ago? What about those you read last year? Anytime we read a book without teaching, discussing, studying, or writing about it, we tend to forget much of what we read. It is sad to realize how many books we’ve read and already largely forgotten. When we read quickly and passively, the stories and wisdom we enjoy easily pass in and out of our hearts and minds. I combat this tendency partially by highlighting and writing in my books, a practice which slows me down, engages me more responsively with the text, and makes it easy to locate and return to favorite passages ten years from now. But this only does so much. Commonplace books are another way to combat the tendency to read and forget. As St. Jerome said. “to read without also writing is to sleep.”
Commonplacing changes reading practices so that we slow down, digest, meditate, remember, and apply what we read.
What is a commonplace book?
A commonplace book is a personal journal that compiles quotes from books you read. It may also include illustrations, personal thoughts, lists, and anecdotes. We gain great understanding and encounter poetic beauty that shape our souls as we read, and by writing those passages down as we go, we build a storehouse of virtue and wisdom, a treasure trove of literary gems, that can then take the form of action in our lives. For, as Seneca says, “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.”
Commonplace books have been used by scholars and readers throughout history. Marcus Aurelius kept one, and it later became his famous Meditations. Montaigne’s early essays were largely a compilation of the quotes, axioms, and historical notes recorded in commonplace books. Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon kept one. Even Bill Gates has a commonplace book.
But are commonplace books just for scholars? Absolutely not. I have introduced commonplace books to my sixth graders this year, and they have really enjoyed making their own. Each student selects different passages (they share their favorite quotes with the class, and explain why they chose them), and it becomes a unique, personal response to the books we read. It’s so exciting to see them taking joy in the power of words, expressing their creativity through illustrations, and learning to be active readers.
If you are interested in making your own commonplace book, or commonplacing with your children or students, I have some practical suggestions that have worked for me (many came from Jenny Rallens) about how to do it. This level of specificity and detail is helpful for children up through 8th grade, who thrive by having a model to adhere to. As they become older, more confident, and more creative, these books can become as unique as the people themselves.
How to set one up:
Choosing a commonplace book: I ask my students to select a durable, attractive, lined journal that is easy to write in. Picking out a journal is one of the most fun steps for the kids. Many students pick an elegant leather bound book with thick pages or an artsy hardback from Barnes & Noble. They can get pricey, but it is worth the investment and these journals usually take several years to complete.
I explain to my students what a commonplace book is, why it is important, and pass around some of my prettiest commonplace books for them to see, touch, and smell. I point out the delightful smell of old leather, the texture of creamy white pages, and the classy attractiveness of careful penmanship. I encourage them to see these as works of art.
I require students to write in pen, and encourage them to pick a writing utensil that enables them to write beautifully (erasable pens and pilot pens are favorites). Pencil smudges too easily, disappears over time, and can encourage sloppy handwriting. Some students choose to write in black or blue pen only, and others have any elaborate color coding system. Allowing them space to be unique makes the process more exciting and rewarding.
Setting up the book (nuts and bolts):
- Children write their names in cursive (when the they learn cursive) inside the front cover or on the first page of the book.
- Children number pages 1-100 (front and back) in the bottom corner margin of each page.
- On page 1, children write “Commonplace Book” and later may add a design or illustration.
- Skip pages 2-4 — later the child may use these introductory pages for favorite quotes written in beautiful calligraphy or additional illustrations.
- On page 5, child writes “TABLE OF CONTENTS” on the top line (see picture below). Children will fill this page out over the course of the year, so now they need only list the title of their first book (it can begin it with page 7).
- On page 7, children create a title page for their first book. The students are asked to write the full title and author’s full name in careful, elegant script two or three times larger than normal. Later, students may add designs and illustrations to this page.
- I choose the first quote from their first book and write the entire entry on the board for them to copy in their books. Quotes are enclosed by quotation marks and written in cursive. Later I teach students how to select important quotes and use ellipses (…) and brackets  to skip less important parts of a passage.
- Each quote is followed by a citation and tag. Skip a line after the quote. On the following line, flush to the right and write the citation in print, which includes author, title, and page or line numbers. I encourage students to use “Ibid” where appropriate. After the citation, students write down a tag in brackets and all caps. The tag gives the topic or theme of the quote for quick reference later. [DOUBT VS. FAITH, PATIENCE]
- Students skip two lines between each quote. Quotes for books are recorded in the order that the books are read. A page is skipped between each new book and all books are given a title page (and optional illustration), I like to include a couple of additional sections at the beginning of the commonplace books for “Favorite Words” and “Song Lyrics.” After years of using commonplace books, your child will have developed into an active, careful reader, be able to look back on the wealth of wisdom gained through his education, be more likely to remember what he has learned, and carry these literary treasures with him throughout life.
By Todd Rapp, TCS Parent
Is it worth the wait? If you are over 40 years old, you probably remember a Heinz ketchup commercial on TV that was all about anticipation. The company used the song “Anticipation” by Carly Simon to sell us on the idea that the slow flow of the ketchup out of the bottle was worth the wait because it is so rich, thick, and delicious. Smilingly they said, “Wait ‘til you taste it! It’s worth the wait!” Maybe so, but I didn’t ever have the patience to wait on gravity to get it to come out. I would stick a knife inside the bottle to get the ketchup moving!
The season of Advent is all about anticipation – waiting (eager expectation) for the Savior to arrive. The first way we can observe Advent is to celebrate the Messiah’s first coming as the Suffering Servant and Sacrificial Lamb who purchased our salvation. We can imagine the excitement Old Testament believers must have experienced through the words of an elderly Jew named Simeon at the temple when Jesus first visited with His parents. He said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
For years, Simeon trusted that God would follow through on what He told the prophets would happen regarding Jesus, who fulfilled all the 300+ prophecies! Take a look at just 8 of them!
Prophecies regarding the Messiah Fulfilled
1. Born of a virgin, Isaiah 7:14 Matt. 1: 18,24,25
2. Born in Bethlehem, Micah 5:2 Matt. 2:1
3. Enter Jerusalem on a donkey, Zech. 9:9 Luke 19:35-37
4. Resurrected from the dead, Psalms 16:10 Acts 2:31
5. Sold for 30 pieces of silver, Zech. 11:12 Matt. 26:15
6. Hands & feet pierced, Isaiah 53 & Ps.22:16 Luke 23:33
7. Bones not broken, Psalms 34:20 John 19:33
8. Buried in rich man’s tomb, Isaiah 53:9 Matt. 27:57-60
Isaiah and Micah were both written about 700 years before Christ. Can you imagine how much ridicule Isaiah must have received when He proclaimed that there would be a birth from a virgin? They must have thought he was crazy! But if God says it, then it is true…even if the odds are preposterous. Famous mathematician and astronomer Peter Stoner calculated that the odds of one man fulfilling just 8 of the more than 300 prophecies are 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. To demonstrate what that looks like, take for example 10 raffle tickets. If you place all the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Now, suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They’ll cover the entirety of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars (with a red “x”) and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar that has the red mark. This is the same chance that the prophets would’ve had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man. (Peter Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) pgs.106-109).
If you’ve ever doubted whether the Bible is accurate, understanding these O.T. prophecies and their fulfillment testify clearly that God’s Word is true! Jesus is the Messiah! Hallelujah for His arrival! Praise God for Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, purchasing the forgiveness of our sins! That’s why we can say, “Merry Christmas!”
What God says will happen, will happen…. No matter how long it takes. Anticipate. Expect. Trust. Rest assured, the Bible can be trusted as God’s words to us! Unfulfilled prophecies regarding the 2nd coming of Christ can be anticipated with full assurance. That’s the second way we can observe Advent. We eagerly anticipate His 2nd arrival as the Judge, Conqueror and Rewarder. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” For me, that is sobering and exciting at the same time.
Keep in mind… “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…. (2 Peter 3:9),
AND… “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” (Revelation 21:4),
SO… “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” (2 Peter 3:11-12).
‘Tis the season to rejoice at His coming, and anticipate His forth-coming with the prayerful eagerness of Simeon! I’ll wait on Jesus, trusting He will come at the right time, and it will be worth the wait! But I’ll keep on praying, “Lord, come quickly!”
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite classroom liturgies was enacted for the first time this year. My students marched out of class, turned into a dead-end of the hallway, in front of the fire escape, and sat down in a small circle. Oddly, they make bad circles; despite their knowledge of geometry, they tend to make battered-looking, squashed circles, more like polygons than shapes with radii. In fact, when we were first forming this ritual, three years ago, they tended naturally to devolve into a line, despite my clear direction to “sit in a circle.” Maybe geometrical heresy is part of the liturgy. At any rate, they recreated the now-customary, malformed circle, and I took my place in the middle of one side. After the usual chit-chat, the group fell silent and awaited my standard question: “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate this book?”
I stumble on good things in the same way everyone else does. The first time I sent them out into the hall in 8th grade I had little vision for the trajectory of this practice; it seemed a nice change of pace, a good way to celebrate the completion of a book. We were reading some hefty books that year—highlighted by Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the mysterious Kim, and the philosophically challenging Time Machine—and my students were working hard. A celebratory change of pace, signified by an informal discussion, was in order. Also, my classroom was a windowless cave, while the hallway was lined with windows. Its brighter, though less comfortable, environs made the hallway a strangely relaxing spot. Somewhere along the way, we established the 1-10 rating system as the centerpiece of our discussion, and I realized that I had something good.
What makes this a good liturgy? In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith reminds us that liturgies, by training us to worship, train our loves. In the hallway, my students cultivate a love of reading. In our most recent discussion, the focus was Augustine’s Confessions. Before we rated it, two very important things happened. First, one student asked, since we had a new student among us, if we could go around the group and name our favorite books, the ones that earn a 10. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen were bandied about. Second, a question was raised about the basis, or rule, for rating a book. Was it just the simple pleasure and love of reading it? Or was there something more? We determined that our rating is based on how likely we are to choose the book voluntarily, as pleasure reading. I think we were all in agreement that there had to be something more as well, something that smacked of greatness. An easy page-turner would not rate a 10 merely because it whiled away a few hours at the airport; it would have to do something more. But we left that “something more” undefined, hanging in the air above us. It is precisely these terms, the frame for our rating system, that make the liturgy good.
One of the things I aim for is that my students connect what they read in school to the things that they read outside of school, to link The Iliad to Harry Potter, to see that the great texts speak to their lives and not just to their transcripts. If there had been a Barnes and Noble in ancient Athens, The Iliad would have been flying off the shelves. Homer was not composing torture devices for schoolchildren but bestsellers. Unfortunately, in our era, it is all too easy to leave Homer and his cohorts at school. My students’ hallway liturgy breaks this barrier, by setting the books we read at school in our mental libraries right next to the books we read, by choice, on a rainy day, a vacation, or a long summer night.
Admittedly, the schoolbooks can fare poorly in our rating. Kim, above all, had a rough day, when we carried it out there, averaging a 4 or 5, and we beat on Eusebius rather roughly when he stepped into the ring.
Yet it is surprising how many of the books do well. I was shocked the day The Iliad graded out as more than a 9. In fact, one or two students even considered giving it a 10 and suggested that it might be their favorite or second favorite book of all time. The other day, one student mentioned Dickens as a possible 10, partly because she encountered him in 8th grade—an exciting reminiscence of my own education, since I also came to love Dickens at school, when in 10th grade I read David Copperfield, still one of my favorites. Corrie Ten Boom, C.S. Lewis, and H.G. Wells have also been hailed by the judges. This is exciting confirmation that our students are growing to love the kind of great writing and thinking that we want them to love.
So how did Augustine’s Confessions do? Not quite as well as I had hoped: 7 out of 10. To be sure, I only rated the book a 7 or 7.5 myself, so as much as I hoped for more, it was unrealistic to expect that they would get that from me. However, the ensuing discussion reminded me not to read too much into the number. They did really enjoy the book. Several of them were compelled and profoundly engaged by Augustine’s discussions of sin and time; it may just be a little early for them to rate a work of philosophy as high as a favorite work of fiction. Still, I marvel at Augustine’s success with them: sixteen hundred years old, yet he broke out of the Roman world, met them in the digital world and walked a few steps with them in their Christian faith.
By Tim Woods, Logic School Director
Having grown up a fan of the Missouri Tigers, I’ve watched plenty of football, good and bad. With Mizzou’s recent conference realignment to the Southeastern Conference (SEC), I’ve gained a newfound interest in things below the Mason-Dixon Line. One of those things is the football giant that is Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Having won 5 National Championships and countless other football games, it would be safe to assume that this guy knows a thing or two about pushing through adversity. He iterated his thoughts regarding a recent University of Alabama quarterback who sought to transfer schools when he was denied a spot on the starting lineup:
“There’s certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through. I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house. I don’t think I’d have a place to stay….”My dad used to always say ‘The grass is always greener on top of the septic tank,’ so it always looks better someplace else. So you think, instead of facing your fears and really overcoming adversity and making yourself better through the competition, you go someplace else thinking it will be better there. But until you face your fears, you’re always going to have some of those issues or problems.”
Now, we will forgive Coach Saban on this one. He’s getting up there in years and may have forgotten that he left the Miami Dolphins for his current job at Alabama with three years left on his contract. There may always be hypocrisy in the world of college football, and Saban’s another cog in that machine, but maybe we can still take some insight into the Christian life from his thoughts.
The first thought that immediately comes to mind is the human heart. Saban is picking up on something that, if we’re honest, probably festers in our hearts on a consistent basis. The festering disease is that of comfort. If you were to ask me if I would repeat high school for any amount of money, I would respond with a firm “no.” I would say this not because I wouldn’t learn a lot by revisiting that period in my life, or because I wouldn’t enjoy seeing some dear friends that have since parted ways, but simply because high school was difficult. I will confess that my sophomore and junior years in high school were the most challenging academically, socially, and spiritually that I ever had in my life (short of maybe the Spring semester of my freshman year of college, but more on that later). There were many times when I felt discouraged or downright outraged because of how much and how challenging our work was. Now, in retrospect, the work was not comparatively harder than many other schools, but to a 16-17 year old it really seemed that way!
However, God was faithful. He brought me through and I found myself at the University of Missouri’s Classics program. My second semester in college I thought it would be smart to take Honors Greek, Honors Humanities, and a graduate-level History class as an elective (amongst other courses). Suffice it to say, after some solid lessons learned, and often being carried by God, I slogged through that too, (even the painful lesson of dropping a scholarship by 0.06 of a GPA point).
I’m writing now on the dangers of comfort because I’ve made it past all that now and I feel the pull to slow down, kick my feet up and ease off the gas. I wrote about the need for rest over the summer because we as Christians can easily ignore the good gift of rest that God has in place for us in the fullness of time He has for us. But, on the other hand, we are called to great efforts on behalf of our Father in Heaven. Society tells us that if we just work hard in school, go to college, get a job and work it till retirement, there is a peaceful pasture coming ahead, where work is but an afterthought. But let us remember that work is not sinful. God made us to work, (read Genesis 1:28 and following if you don’t believe me). What is an aspect of sin are the physical, emotional and spiritual burdens that cause us to villainize the effort we pour into our godly vocations.
So as I write this, on the eve of another TCS Cross Country race, the metaphor of the Christian life as a race spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 seems especially appropriate in this instance. We’re all running a race in our call to godly living.
It is important to note that Paul makes a distinction for why we run as well, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:25) Our society runs the rat race to end in some sort of comfort that is associated with non-work, (negotium in Latin, leisure as a simple denial of work). When we reach the end of a leg of a race, it is good to rest for a time, but let us not deny the search for adversity to be overcome, since even diamonds are born from intense heat and pressure. Just as one of TCS’s house mottos reminds us, “Fire tests gold.”
Newness isn’t new. In fact, it’s the oldest concept in the universe. And in the end, it’s the longest lasting. In the opening lines of Genesis, we read that “God created the heavens and the earth,” a new creation. In the same way, at the end of Revelation Jesus proclaims, “behold, I am making all things new.” Newness is woven into every aspect of nature and every part of our lives. That’s what makes starting a new school year such a special—yet ordinary—endeavor.
In morning assembly this quarter, we are learning how God speaks to us through nature. Through our hymns and scripture, we are taught that “there is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” This, right after seeing that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” Nature is speaking to us about God, and it is speaking to us about the nature of newness all around us.
A fascinating thing about newness is that, when we think about it, newness almost always follows on the heels of a death of some sort. A new sunrise follows the previous day’s sunset. A new tree follows the death and resurrection of the previous tree’s seed. A new age in history follows the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. And a new heart—our new hearts—follow the symbolic death, burial, and resurrection of our baptism, into newness of life.
As Christ slowly makes all things new, we act out the liturgy of newness in small ways each day. We lay ourselves down to sleep in darkness, and arise to new mercies (and new sunrises!) in the morning light. We daily put to death our own sin and selfishness, and rise with new passion and vigor to love our God and our neighbors. The death-burial-resurrection-newness paradigm is all around us, if we just look for it. We can even think this way in the context of our children’s education.
Remember, newness isn’t new. When we are baptized as a new creation, we are baptized into a centuries old faith. When we begin the journey of a new classical Christian school, we are joining an old educational tradition. Although there is a newness in both our lives in Christ and our educational pursuits (especially for first-time co-teachers!), we do not enter into newness in isolation. Rather, we have friends, institutions, and—most importantly—God’s word to guide us along the way. I must admit there is great peace in knowing that generations of faithful people have gone before us, for the euphoria of newness (whether new life in Christ, new marriage, or new school year) eventually fades, and we are left to face many pitfalls and setbacks. Our passion for the things of God wanes, our friends try our patience, education becomes labor and toil. The cares of this world threaten to choke and stifle the new growth we see in all these areas. Embarking on something new is hard!
But this is exactly why the daily liturgies of newness are so important—and meaningful. Each morning when we wake up to a new sunrise, God’s mercies are new as well. His grace to sustain us in all things is fresh, and it is is given for that day alone. When we place our trust and our hope in Christ, these promises are ours. The daily rituals of newness remind us of these promises, and they invite us to incline our hearts to the one who makes (and will make) all things new.
As we reach our stride into the new school year, remember that the newness of the year will fade; pitfalls and obstacles will come. And they will threaten to undo us. But as Martin Luther once wrote, “we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.” When we wake up each new morning to teach new lessons about God’s world to our children, we partake in that triumph of truth, by God’s grace. So while our school, our lessons, and our teachers may be new, we are telling an old, old story about how the Son of God came to make all things new along the way.
I’m fascinated with light. Isn’t everyone? The embers of the summer campfire burn down and I can’t look away… neither can my kids. Our family hiked another section of the Appalachian Trail this summer. Amongst the dozens of ways the sun and moon throw light on the mountains, I wouldn’t be able to choose a favorite. Maybe the morning sun as it invades the pines at a slant, cuts through the fog making bright smoke beams. If you forced me, I’d choose that just barely over how the mountaintop sunset causes the distant mountains to change colors several times within the span of an hour.
I’m no less fascinated by manufactured light. I was at a friend’s ranch this summer and he had some really powerful flashlights. They sliced through the darkness for hundreds of yards. They felt like weapons. We went to a HIllsong United concert a few weeks back. They pulled off some new light maneuvers I hadn’t seen. At one point, the room was pitch black, and the entire stage was surrounded by large can lights, all white, facing straight up. It was like the band was in a jail cell of light, impenetrable. Also, the thing they do at stadium events these days when everyone turns on their cell phone light all at once. As much I have a love/ hate relationship with the cell phone–I’m a sucker for that move. It’s a powerful visual metaphor for a deeper reality.
In my intro at Opening Night last week (you can watch the whole event here), I confessed I’m still a little afraid of the dark. And, for the record, men, that was a bit of a rhetorical move, I don’t want you to be concerned. The darkness is real. But as much as the darkness continues to concern me (think of the look on Gandalf’s face in the scenes when he ponders the dangerous road ahead), the light mesmerizes me.
It was our creator’s very first move. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters in the dark and at a distinct point in time, he said his first, “let there be.” It was light first. On a later day, he created light sources. He commissioned one of them to “run its course with joy” as a testament to us. There is a light source in the sky that supplies what we need to make it through the day–light and heat. It never takes a day off. We never, ever doubt it’s going to do its job. We can’t look directly at it or it would blind us. We know it’s there, we see it indirectly, and we reap its benefits in all sorts of ways that we take for granted.
It doesn’t take much light to undo the darkness. Plug in the little night light, and your boy can sleep in peace. Darkness is pervasive, but light is potent. John tells us the Light is the very life of men.
We have over 500 potential light-bearers at TCS this year. If they surrender to Jesus, the promise of the indwelt Spirit will produce the light and life that John speaks of in their very souls. We will pray and sow towards students who will bear the Light. Then, we will work to cut them loose on a dark world that the glory of God will shine, shine, shine among men.