Analytical Angst: Writing for Independent Thought

I teach writing according to the Jane Schaffer writing method, used by high achieving schools in their honors and AP programs. The Schaffer pedagogy meets the definition of “classical” because it leads students into developing critical thinking skills at an early age. Schaffer is qualitatively different from other popular “classical” writing methods, because Schaffer teaches them how to analyze, peninterpret, and assess ideas. Put another way: students’ minds are engaged in such a manner that they are inspired to develop independent thought. This is because students are led to ponder what a character’s (or historical figure’s) motivations are, or what the consequences of his or her actions or words are, within the context of the theme and diction of the story.

Schaffer is simply a codification of how analytical writing was taught traditionally. As I often tell students, they are like Sherlock Holmes walking onto a crime scene. They must look at the situation presented, as a whole, and from that assess what the important “evidences” are. The Schaffer method calls these “concrete details” (CDs). From there, students use the context of these facts to determine the theme(s) of the text. Why did the author use those facts at that point? Students also bring their own knowledge of life and universal truths to bear on the situation: What wingsis the point of the passage? What does it reveal about the character, or what message is the author communicating to the reader?

When students begin to think analytically, they begin to think independently. Of course, this is the goal of a classical education, not the memorization of a bucketful of facts or texts. The necessity of having such skills before entering the halls of higher education cannot be overemphasized. The Jane Schaffer approach takes time to learn in the beginning–students are building up their “deductive” muscles. But with guidance and practice, they become independent thinkers.

The “method” is a proven way to bringing students’ minds to bear, in order to train them to focus so that they successfully learn the process of analytical reasoning.  As students begin to incorporate the techniques so that they think and write inferentially, they no longer need the Schaffer steps, as they have begun the process of independent thinking–the ultimate goal of our educational efforts.arthur

 

Fresh-firecoal: Making Up Words~ Part I

Fresh-firecoal, for any who don’t know, is a word created by the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and found in his poem “Pied Beauty”:

bonneville-cutthroat-trout2

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
 Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
 With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

I love people who invent words–especially Hopkins, whose poetry embodies his dictum that “the poetical language of an age should be the current language heightened.”  If Christ is the Word Made Flesh, and we are imago dei, then writing has the possibility of imago_dei_detailbecoming a sacramental act as we wrestle with language. Like Jacob after the angelic visitation, we may walk away with a limp, but we will better know ourselves and God for our struggle. A seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with the flaming coal and his guilt was purged, his speech sanctified; perhaps in appropriating words as best we can, we too will engage the angelic realm and in so doing, touch the heart of God.

As with Adam’s naming of the animals, we have the privilege of inventing words, and in the case of writing, or creating art, or building, or a myriad of other activities, the experience of creating the “thing” that the word represents is a sacramental act inasmuch as we “partner” with God in bringing forth a new creation out of the materials we have ADAMbeen given. And when we beget a new “thing” that is carelessly fashioned or negates the reality of the spiritual world, we align with the spiritual powers that have broken this world because we contribute to its fallen state. We have this “treasure in earthen vessels”–embodying the soul-stopping truth that the biblical pronouncement that we are “co-inheritors with God” is literal, and pertains not only the heavenly realm, but to the world we now inhabit.  We aren’t presented with just two choices: align with God’s fatalistic “plan” or give in to the dark side; rather, the rich feast of choice spread before us stretches far and wide, reaching into the future,  expanding in a fulgent tapestry, woven in the imagination. I think that Coleridge caught it when he defined the imagination:

The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

Surely the imago dei lies within the depths of the human ability to create and to label with words that which we have conceived of and brought forth.

Cindy C. Lange, MA
http://www.integritasacademy.com