Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why Writing Isn't a Subject

Andrew Kern's writing session was called Why Writing is Not a Subject and Why Every Subject Needs Writing to Be Properly Taught.  As with anything that combines Convention with Andrew Kern, you never know what you're going to get!  You might learn about writing, or you might not; however, whatever he decides to speak about, it'll make you think!  Likewise, it's hard to take notes and then decipher them into practical-speak, afterwards.  His words both feed and challenge the soul, but who can then make sense of it later?

Have you ever had an idea or a dream, and you think, "I'll remember that and tell others later"? But then, sometimes moments, sometimes hours go by, and it fades away.  That is how I feel trying to type these notes.

So, I'll stick with some practicalities that can apply anywhere, while leaving out all the thought provoking bits that evade me.

Kern challenged us - "Why so many subjects?"  Subjects are a tyrannical impulse in America.  Writing gets put into the category of "subjects".  It is separated out.  I think the core idea here is that we do not need to be studying "subjects" and that writing is not a "subject" to be taught separately, but rather, it is something that can be woven in and through any course of study.

Kern explored the difference between Arts and Sciences.  The opposite of an Art is a Science.  Whereas Science seeks to know, and encompasses an area or domain of knowledge, Art is a way of making something and creating something beautiful.  We are all artists, always.  We are created in the image of a God who creates.

Kern began his session with the Bible verse, "I am the vine, and you are the branches."  Later, he developed that thought into an analogy of learning, using a tree.  The trunk of the tree is the 7 Liberal Arts.  The branches are Science (which break into smaller branches, and smaller branches...).  The pith of the tree, the core of the trunk, is writing (rhetoric).  Earlier, he discussed broken branches, which are dead, and no longer a part of the tree.  Likewise, "subjects" (branches) die when separated from the trunk.


The quality of your learning is determined by the quality of your questions.  It is important to teach our children the right writings.  Writing can give the right questions, and the questions are simple and obvious.  The 5 Common Topics of Invention are specific questions that can apply to any subject, and help with writing:

  1. Comparison - how is (blank) like (blank)?  how is (blank) different than (blank)?  What are it's qualities? quantities?

  2. Definition - here we can identify and name.  what is (blank)? who is (blank)? what kind of thing is (blank)? what are its parts? describe (blank).

  3. Circumstance/Context - what was going on at the time of (blank)? start small, get bigger.  when Caesar was assassinated, what was going on at his home? within the senate? what was going on in Rome? What was going on on planet earth? What was happening on Mars?  There is nothing that cannot be explored or compared.

  4. Relationship - what was the cause and effect?  why did (blank) do that? why is (blank) what it is? what was the effect of this?

  5. Authority (Testimony) - what do the experts say?  what do eye witnesses say?

These questions apply to everything.  Want a good lawyer? Develop a good writer.  (Sidenote: since I have learned the 5 Common Topics, I've been excited to use these questions in Bible study.  It's amazing what kind of insight one can glean when reading a small paragraph of the Bible and exploring these 5 key questions. I truly believe if you are looking for a Bible study to do with your children - *this is IT!* Open your Bible, pick a book, and start asking questions.)

My amazing blogging friend and Convention cohort also wrote up notes on this session.  Go read it here at Cornerstone Home Learning.

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