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'Model' educator

| Monday, June 11, 2012, 10:24 a.m.

Leigh A. Bortins earned an aerospace engineering degree from the University of Michigan and worked in that field before her education's shortcomings led her and her husband to pursue classical education --- grammar, logic, rhetoric -- for their four sons' home schooling.

Author of the new book "The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education" (Palgrave Macmillan), she is founder and CEO of Classical Conversations Inc. ( ), which serves more than 40,000 home-school students and has a strong Christian component. Following are excerpts from the Trib's phone conversation with her.

On the classical model of education:

I was a pretty good reader compared to everybody else. It's how I could do that ... (aerospace) degree. The connection that got made for me is that currently people who read very well read very well with a limited vocabulary compared to a hundred, two hundred years ago. ... Sure, I was stretching ... on math, because of my specialization ... but that's really different than being prepared to tackle any subject and ... a liberal arts kind of education. ... That's what the downfall has become. We're so specialized that we don't even know we can use our brains to learn other things. ...

(A)s an educating parent of a high schooler, to really look at ... significant documents that they should be able to read and talk about, and to find how hard that was for us -- that's when my eyes were really opened up to the inadequacy of our vocabulary. ... And so that's when I started to figure out, "Well, how come we used to read and write this way• What is it we don't do?" ...

(T)he classical model just insists that you practice the fundamentals a lot . ... Things like sitting up straight while you're writing, spending time reading below your level a lot so you build up speed and accuracy, memorizing multiplication tables. ... Classically, we call that "the grammar." That's what's missing. We have elementary schools instead of grammar schools, and it's fundamentally a different philosophy.

On parents' role:

(A)round 5, 6 years old, parents stop being proactive in their kids' education, because now they expect the schools to do it, and the simple pleasure that you might have started with nighttime books goes away, and that's sad. ... They can be in school, and if you'd just read to them at night, you'd see a remarkable difference in their education. ... Within the classical movement, even the home-schooling movement, the adults all say, "The best part of all this is I'm finally getting educated."

On her on-the-job business education:

Every single day, something new has happened. ... Every day we have to learn something new. ... And so we have to spend a lot of time to understand where our customer's coming from and printing out media and literature that slowly brings them into what we're talking about. I didn't know I was ever going to have to do that. I thought I was going to be flying rockets, so it's always learning and that's a lifestyle for our family, too.


Advice from "The Core" author Leigh A. Bortins for parents who want to incorporate the classical model into their children's education, whether via home schooling or not:

• "First, look at confidence -- realize we can do it. The second thing is, it's going to be hard. ... Just realize there are no shortcuts to life and you won't do it well at first because you'll be new at it, too. So just have realistic expectations."

• "The process is what I call 'milking the cow.' If you're a farmer on a dairy farm, it doesn't matter if Grandma died or you've had a bad day, you've still got to go out there and milk those cows, and it's a little bit of time each day per cow -- and basically it's the same with our children. It's just recognizing that if you just do a little bit a day, all the time, every day, it accumulates. ... But if you try to cram it all in on Friday or right before a test, you're back to just learning the way we learn now in modern schools."

• "Do a lot of ... what I call 'car school.' When the kids are in the car, always be talking to them . Be building their vocabulary and talking to them on an adult level and pointing out what's happening as you go down the road ... really just be discussing with them how life works. And then if you can, make any allusion back to the literature you're reading ... to bring literature into the conversations."


Liberty and Civilization: The Western Heritage

edited by Roger Scruton

(Encounter Books)

Roger Scruton -- philosopher, fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, and adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute -- edits this volume of essays that first appeared during 2008 in The American Spectator, R. Emmett Tyrrell's long-running magazine of all things conservative, and were commissioned with support from a John Templeton Foundation grant. Authors including Scruton, Robert Bork and Anne Applebaum trace belief in individual liberty from its roots among ancient Greeks and Jews through its development during the Enlightenment and beyond, examining how the Judeo-Christian tradition underpins today's Western political institutions. Along the way, they touch on such current topics as religious liberty and the conflict between radical Islam and the West, academic freedom and censorship, the Constitution's definition of individual liberty, feminism, and liberty's limits. "The banner of 'liberty' is waved by liberals and conservatives alike, but no one seems to have the same definition of the term," says the publisher, adding that the book "examines this discrepancy and asks just how do we define liberty and how do we best defend it?" Those are questions with which Americans have wrestled throughout their history. Here, a number of great minds do so, and their answers should enhance readers' understanding of and appreciation for their own liberty.

Crimes Against Liberty: An Indictment of President Barack Obama

by David Limbaugh


Practicing lawyer, columnist, best-selling author and brother of talk-radio legend Rush Limbaugh, David Limbaugh puts his legal skills to work here, framing his case against President Barack Obama as a prosecutor would. Per the author, Obama sees liberty not as a God-given, Constitution-protected inalienable right but as a threat to government power. As evidence, Limbaugh cites the Obama administration's pursuit of race-based justice, bullying Chicago-style tactics that protect and advance cronies, focus on secrecy despite promises of transparency, discouragement of honest discussion of radical Islam's dangers, broken promises, and disregard for the will of the people. Seeking to convict Obama of lacking character and convictions fit for a U.S. president, he charges that Obama aims to implement a radical, anti-American agenda at any cost. All these flaws are reasons for Americans to vote out the president's cronies in November's midterm elections, according to Limbaugh, who likens the president to a dictator in the making, one who appoints "czars" to usurp congressional power and silences his opponents. Yet this book's existence and strong early sales -- and the success many pundits, authors and politicians have achieved by criticizing the current administration and its commander in chief -- shows David Limbaugh hasn't been silenced, and that the American public is paying attention to, and increasingly heeding, Obama's many detractors.


If you were in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13, 1960, you can be forgiven if you missed a major event that day.

Amid the massive, raucous celebration of Bill Mazeroski's bottom-of-the-ninth home run that made the Pirates World Series champions, it would have been easy to overlook the third-ever live, televised debate between presidential candidates.

Many Americans no doubt found that then-new wrinkle in campaigning for the White House as gripping as Pittsburghers found the Battlin' Bucs' quest for the Major League Baseball title. And while the Pirates' 1960 glory days now seem distant indeed, presidential debates remain very much a part of American politics, with an impact that neither Democrat nominee John F. Kennedy nor Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon likely could have foreseen.

Learn more about the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns and their debates' enduring significance from the following titles selected especially for A Page of Books readers by manager Karen Rossi and her staff at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Downtown & Business branch.

The Center Cannot Hold: The 1960 Presidential Election and the Rise of Modern Conservatism

by Laura Jane Gifford

(Northern Illinois University Press, 2009)

The First Modern Campaign: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Election of 1960

by Gary A. Donaldson

(Rowman & Littlefield, 2007)

The Great Debates: Background, Perspective, Effects

edited by Sidney Kraus

(Indiana University Press, 1962)

Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman

by Barbara Leaming

(Norton, 2006)

The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960

by Shaun A. Casey

(Oxford University Press USA, 2009)

1960 -- LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign that Forged Three Presidencies

by David Pietrusza

(Union Square Press, 2008)

The Real Making of the President: Kennedy, Nixon, and the 1960 Election

by W.J. Rorabaugh

(University Press of Kansas, 2009)

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

by Robert Dallek

(Little, Brown, 2003)

A Page of Books, written and compiled by Alan Wallace, appears on the last Sunday of each month.

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