New Year Wishes and News
by Dr. Thomas M. Kemnitz, Publisher
At the end of 2011 we want to send to everyone in the Royal Fireworks family our best wishes for a happy and successful 2012. We hope that we have been a part of your having a great 2011; we are looking forward to an exciting new year.
I am just back from a trip to Athens and Delphi, where I took another 6,000 photos for the upcoming revision of Caesar’s English I and other volumes in the MCT language arts curriculum.
I was in Greece for four full days plus the afternoon of the day I landed. The entire trip was terrific. It had been many years since I had been on the Acropolis and had looked at some of the most exquisite buildings ever built—even as ruins they are awesome. The Erechtheion with its Porch of the Caryatids is as glorious as the Parthenon, if not as massive.
I revere ancient Greek culture. I used to read The Iliad every year; each reading enthralled me. Our political debt to the Athenians and the birth of democracy is beyond measure. Two of the most important early figures of the political world are Themistocles and Pericles. The former was the man who formulated the strategy to develop Athens into a great naval power, and it was the demands of the navy for men to pull the oars that entrenched democracy in Athens. It is impossible to imagine men rowing for many hours each day and then being content with no say in their government. A navy based on oarsmen is very different from an army divided between aristocratic cavalry and plebian foot soldiers. A brilliant strategic thinker, Themistocles seems to have been the first man to figure out how to exploit democratic procedures for his political ends, as well as to have been primarily responsible for the strategy and tactics in the Greek defeat of the invading Persians, and particularly the annihilation of the Persian fleet. Pericles is the pre-eminent exemplar of a wise leader. One of the thrills was to come upon an exhibit of the ballots (ostraka; see picture at right). These the Greek citizens cast in 482 B.C. to have Themistocles ostracized—banished for a decade; in Themistocles’s case, it meant for the rest of his life. The democracy of Athens was often rough, and there were ostraka for Pericles in 444 and 443 B.C.
The museum containing ostraka was on the north side of the Acropolis in a stoa now rebuilt along the ancient agora; on the south side of the Acropolis one stumbles upon the theater of Dionysus, where works of the ancient Greek playwrights Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles premiered. Imagine standing where Sophocles stood! Of course, any of the greats of ancient Greece and Rome might have walked where I stood—Socrates, Plato, Pericles, and later Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Cicero, Hadrian, and so many more who came in the spirit of reverence that brought me there. One cannot help but be awed by the burst of creativity that democracy wrought—such a flowering during the course of fewer than two centuries in sculpture, architecture, vase painting, theater, poetry, philosophy—indeed, in virtually every human endeavor. Centuries later the Romans could do no better than copy what the Greeks had done 500 or 600 years earlier. Much of that Greek culture remains the finest that humankind has ever produced.
Of course I had to go to Delphi, where almost every ancient who had the means went at one time or another in his life. The only building even close to intact is the Athenian treasury, but there is the amphitheater, and for those who climb all the way up, the stadium. As awe-inspiring as it all was, there was also a single plate in the Delphi museum depicting a girl with a lyre feeding a bird. It is so exquisite that it will soon make its way onto the cover of a Royal Fireworks book. That plate alone was worth the entire journey.
Here and there in every museum were exhibits that particularly thrilled me. There was a display of the spear points and arrowheads from Thermopylae Pass, where the 300 died holding their ground to save Greek civilization from the Persian invaders. There was a bust here of Plato, there of Sophocles, another of Augustus, the face of Thucydides, the head of Hadrian, a bowl depicting wrestlers, a statue of Athena, a major bronze of Zeus, the death mask of Agamemnon, a dish showing an athlete holding jumping weights, several displays of different sets of those weights, and beautifully conceived coins and pots and vases and bronze helmets.
Coming back from Athens (an incredibly long flight), I had ample time to reflect not only on the glories of ancient Greece but also on what an exciting time this is for Royal Fireworks Press. First, we have the new MCT literature series and the revision of Caesar’s English I, but we are looking at other major projects—Michael and I have mapped out work that will take at least the next three years to complete.
Second, we have the new art curriculum. This is dear to my heart. Art is essential to children’s creativity and conducive to a fertile flow of ideas. Art is part of the communication that makes humans distinctive. Personally, it means so much to me because my father was an artist, and art has been an essential element in my existence from my earliest memories. For me, a home or an office without art is unthinkable. The focus of the new curriculum is on both making and appreciating art. We will empower children with techniques that accomplished artists use to polish their finished works. We will help children to see more and to see better when they look at a painting or a piece of pottery or a sculpture. We announced the first parts of the art curriculum last week, but there is much more to come, and new parts will be available soon after the new year.
Equally exciting are the problem-based learning curricula that Shelagh Gallagher is creating. Three units are available now, and foundation volumes for classroom teachers and homeschoolers will soon be ready for release. And then many more units will follow. I am particularly pleased by the PBL approach because it is a far better answer to teaching history than the story-of-man approach. PBL is one of the most researched teaching methods, and it is a successful way to develop lifelong learners.
Besides Shelagh’s PBL manuscript, on the trip back I was able to begin work on Dr. Dave’s latest contribution, an exciting manual on the science of the ancient Egyptians. It is a superb work, which will require a great deal of preparation to get just right with the images and the text. It is simply too good to be rushed; I hope that we have it available by April 2012. Dave Purvis has a flair for appealing to children’s imaginations in his Science Teaching Manuals every bit as gloriously as Michael Clay Thompson does. For this project, I long to go to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan to take photographs of its collection. When I was a boy I would spend entire summer days in the cool halls of the Kelsey minutely examining everything that University of Michigan archaeologists had dug up and brought back for display. Particularly fascinating to me was a 3,000-year-old wooden door with its frame from Egypt. The door with three panels was precisely the same in every detail, and to the fraction of an inch in proportion, as the doors in many houses in Ann Arbor, including my bedroom door. It was from this similarity that I became interested in architectural details and styles copied from one era to another.
Also coming are works on Spanish culture (perhaps a trip to Madrid will be necessary) and a total revision of our philosophy curriculum—projects every bit as dazzling as the ones I have talked about at greater length. And we have a number of good novels on their way!
When I started publishing for gifted children, I was so excited by what I was doing that I regularly stayed up working all night every third or fourth night. There was so much to do that sleep was inconceivable. Now, thirty-five years later, I find myself that energized once again. After a wonderful year, we have laid the basis for a great 2012. There is a difference between good and great, and we are determined to bring to you what is truly great, and we will use the best that mankind has created to fire the imaginations of children for years to come.