A Fellow’s Project: Legenda Classical Resources

A Fellow's Project: Legenda Classical Resources

by Michelle Ferguson, Boethius Fellow

When I applied to the Boethius Institute Fellows Formation program, I knew it would be a challenging but fruitful opportunity. I had been involved in the classical education movement for over twenty years but was aware of many gaps and deficiencies in my own education, so I was excited to deepen my understanding of not only what is meant by “a liberal arts education” in its historic sense, but also to become better educated in the very arts themselves. There seem to be many opportunities for educators to sharpen their teaching skills, but I wanted to work toward acquiring for myself that education that the classical education movement seeks to impart to students. The Boethius Institute program was offering the opportunity to move toward becoming that which I want my students to become.

As part of the Fellows Formation program, we each proposed a project to work on throughout the year, and I rapidly realized what mine should be. As a former homeschooling mom, I have long wanted to see a classical learning center in my community – a place where the liberal arts are explored, imaginations are cultivated, and the greatest books, thoughts, and ideas of the past are preserved and passed on to the next generation.  My city has a thriving homeschool community, with over two thousand families and several once-a-week classical communities, and I wanted to found a center where those families can turn for guidance, resources, and classes. I also wanted to begin working with several new classical schools in my area, offering workshops and support as they grow. I had already been teaching a series of classes, but I hoped to expand the classes I offer and begin to seek out like-minded teachers whose greatest love is learning to join in my endeavor. And so Legenda Classical Resources began to take shape.

As I have worked this year to learn about and understand more deeply the liberal arts of grammar, logic, rhetoric, and geometry, I have been changed as a teacher while my vision for a classical education center has become more focused. Delving into Latin and Greek grammar, as well as exploring and contemplating what language is and how it communicates thought, worked with our study of the rhetoric of famous speeches to give me a deeper love and reverence for the beauty of language itself. Logic and geometry, on the other hand, have challenged me with their precision, and this spills over into my teaching; I find my thought becoming more orderly, my questions to students more precise. It has also inspired me to eventually work with students through some of the speeches we discussed. This year I developed my curriculum for a Rise of the Modern World course, and I have incorporated several of Lincoln’s speeches which we analyzed together this year. 

As part of the Fellows program, we met periodically in small groups with one of the Senior Fellows to discuss and receive feedback on our projects. A large part of my work this year consisted in building a website as a springboard to present my learning center to the community, and my small group, under the leadership of Dr. Matthew Walz, was helpful in guiding my choices as it was under construction. Dr. Walz encouraged me to craft a concise mission statement that would convey exactly what I hope to accomplish in my community: “Legenda Classical Resources supports and promotes classical education by nurturing and instructing students, parents, and teachers, encouraging them to pursue the good, true, and beautiful, and joining them in a lifetime love of learning.” I shared with him that there seem to be many in my community who are either unsure or mistaken in their perceptions of what is meant by classical education, and he gave me an idea to address this: to replace my description of classical education with an FAQ page, addressing many misconceptions and concerns sometimes associated with liberal arts education. My answers to several of these were guided and changed as I worked through this year’s fellows training, particularly the question “What are the liberal arts? Why should we study them?” Our working through the first four liberal arts enabled me to hone my idea of what they entail and the effect of studying them on the mind. 

After publishing my website (www.legendaclassical.com) and an accompanying social media page (as this is the main means of communication among local homeschool families), I began developing new classes whose content has been shaped by my year with the Boethius Institute. As we have been reading and discussing Aristotle and Plato, receiving an overview of Latin and Greek, and following Euclid through his methodical propositions, I gained a greater respect for those whose minds, for generations, were formed by the same books and discussions. Three outstanding examples of this education are C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton (who, although he had less formal education than the other two, still was formed by the greatest literature). I started development, therefore, of a new set of classes, a “Great Authors Series”, in which students at my learning center can spend a year with each of these great minds. Since my desire, as I stated above, is to have a place where imaginations are cultivated, I could think of no better authors to fire the minds and imaginations of students. 

In addition to working with homeschooled students, Legenda Classical Resources also seeks to reach out to and work with classical schools, providing support, guidance, and materials to small, newly-formed schools. This year I laid the groundwork for this by working with one new school and another in the planning stages. For the former, I began coming into the school and offering classes once a week in history, literature, and writing, as well as providing some curricular guidance and materials. I was invited to attend a board meeting of the latter, set to open next year, and I developed a talk discussing “What is classical education?” which I will be giving at their initial meeting introducing the new school to the community. The Fellows program, along with my small group, were also helpful in outlining and developing my talk.

Additionally, Legenda Classical Resources also seeks to guide and nurture parents as they work to educate their children. To that end, I have begun offering workshops which not only teach students but guide parents as well. As a lifelong lover of Shakespeare, I read with delight Dr. Seeley’s account of a Shakespeare workshop he developed for younger children, and I am currently adapting his ideas and developing a similar workshop for my community this summer in which students and their parents can together discover the joys of his plays. I am currently teaching the second of two spring IEW writing workshops; I have been asked this summer to present an introduction to that writing program for parents.

As my vision for Legenda Classical Resources includes bringing multiple teachers together so that students can attend classes all meeting in the same location, I also began sharing my vision with like-minded homeschoolers who have a background in and knowledge of classical education. I discussed my plans with parents currently teaching in classical communities meeting once a week, and several expressed an interest in joining me and continuing to teach when their children have graduated. I also plan to launch a classical education reading group for parents and teachers this summer, where we can read, discuss, and grow together as educators and provide support and encouragement.

And this desire for a community of learning in my city has also been shaped and refined by my year in the Fellows Formation program. As we read through portions of Book I of Aristotle’s Topics, one particular comment he made struck me with special force. Discussing how to delimit the use of a word in any particular case by examining its contrary, Aristotle says that, while pleasure has pain as its contrary when discussing bodily pleasures, “there is no contrary and so no name to the pleasure of beholding that the diagonal of a square is incommensurable with the side.” The pleasure of knowing, of seeing that something is true, of having one’s mind opened – this is the distinctive pleasure we have enjoyed this year. We fellows-in-training have together worked through difficult material; we have learned from our Senior Fellows and from each other; we have grown as learners and teachers. And it is this idea of fellowship that I hope to develop locally – a place where people, children and adults, but all truly students, can come together and celebrate the joy found in exploring the wealth of the past. The groundwork has been laid, and I hope to continue to build Legenda Classical Resources into a home for the pleasure found in learning.




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