Mandala Review — Leigh Bortins

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Dear Mandala Fellowship,


Welcome to the New Year! If you want to know the most about the Mandala Fellowship, be sure to

keep an eye on our facebook page.


We have had an incredible 8 months together. All of us have grown in the grace and knowledge of our

Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as well as in favor of man. We are all growing not just in our love for one

another but in our enjoyment of each other. I believe the Fellowship is succeeding.


Throughout the summer the students worked 20 hours a week in addition to their normal course of

study. They learned to schedule their time as well as sacrifice free time in order to pay bills. The level of

adult responsibility was a shock to some and difficult for most. But they did it!


Fellows worked in small teams. Some worked in shipping, some in accounting, some in marketing,

and some in facility maintenance. I was pleasantly surprised by how many students wanted to work

outside painting and gardening as well as cleaning inside the warehouses. The work study is over but

the additional time could hardly be called free time. The students will now be putting their efforts into

building their own businesses if they choose.


We spent the fall working on the National Number Knockout – a calculating speed and accuracy

competition for children 14 and under that we will hold in Orlando, Florida on March 28, 2014. Some

fellows will continue to work on this project for their second semester business while others want to

move on their own ideas. We worked on this project as a class so I would have a way to direct their

attention to specific business tasks. For example, they all made a video describing the competition, they

worked together to write an extensive business plan, and they built the entire brand include costumes,

logos, and music as well as promotional materials like a website and Kickstarter campaign. We met a

few times to discuss tax and business structures and watched videos of successful, young entrepreneurs

in order to gather inspiration.


We also spent the fall working on FAFSA forms, resumes, college applications, recommendation letters,

and college essays. I paid for the application fees of the students who successfully completed the

assigned task of applying to a highly selective university. Many who aren’t interested in attending college

completed the task because they wanted to know how to apply to a college should they decide to go

in the future. We spent 15 hours of class time as well as many evenings working on the applications.

Many of the students have worked beyond the required academic time to write college essays, study

for the SAT, ACT, and SAT II topic tests. We had a team of writers share their craft with the students on

a Friday and then had SAT writing practice on Saturday as well as a couple of extra evening sessions to

prep for the SAT. Writing studies was never intended to be part of Mandala but many of the students

asked for this extra instruction and we were happy to provide it. Opportunities to write for the Mandala

website, the business plan, music projects, and marketing materials abound for students who want to

take the opportunity to work on their writing.


Italy! Italy was very fun and serendipitously educational. Traveling is education. We learned how to

navigate a foreign city’s bus system as well as some basic language skills and currency conversion. Our

art museum guide, Elena, kept us focused on just a few paintings with just a few questions so that

we could actually learn how to analyze art. Our Florence guide, Pietro, led us past all the important

landmarks and free exhibits as well as leading us through the countryside and taking us on vineyard and

garden tours. Our hosts at Villa Morghen were extraordinarily attentive to our needs. I appreciated

the large bedrooms (by European standards) and open vistas from the many porches. They provided as

many bag lunches as we needed for our travels as well as all the food we could eat at sit down meals.

For me, the highlight was the talent show we shared with the staff on our last night. It was good to stay

in one place for two weeks so we could get to know one another.


Our Quadrivium Connections were met with mixed reaction. All the speakers loved the students and

the students really appreciated the guests’ efforts to share their knowledge. Some of the information

was well beyond our understanding and it was cloudy the whole weekend that our guest brought the

special telescopes! Over all, we would invite the same teachers back. They included: Dr. Young, a math

and astronomy professor; Mr. Burr, astronomer and the inventor of telescopes and technologies used

by international satellite companies; Mr. Nickles, astronomer and author of Mathematics: Is God Silent;

and Mr. Yopp who builds guitars from blocks of wood. Astronaut James Dutton and music professor

John Hodges are planning to spend a few days each this winter teaching us more.


In many ways, astronomy feels like our lightest subject, but if you notice our Quadrivium Connection

guest list, we had mostly astronomers attend. Caleb and I recognize that this is our weakest area and

were glad for the help. We were especially grateful to all the students who came back to the house

after church, giving up their free time when the sun was finally visible and observed it with Mr. Burr’s

solar telescope. Many of the fellows stayed around to talk with him some more. Only about 90 minutes

of class time has been devoted specifically to astronomy each week. In it we watch Tony Flander’s

of Sky Week explain the phenomena in that week’s sky as well as how the galaxy operates. The goal

was to then go outside and chart what he taught. Unfortunately, it rained every Wednesday night! I

am proud of the fellows who took astronomy seriously and went out other evenings to study the sky.

Since we had so much bad weather, we spent the evening drawing the sky- memorizing key dimensions,

sketching constellations, and orienting ourselves to the longitudes and latitudes of our planet. Again, I

appreciate those who spent time on their own really learning how to sketch the heavens. Those with a

classical background can appreciate the art of sketching as a means of creating memoria.


We also watched a number of astronomy videos and have begun the study of the mathematics of the

heavens – physics. As we master the mathematics of Kepler and Newton, I believe the students will

see that we have actually been studying the dance of the planets all along. Besides the memory work,

astronomy has been so easy academically that I think they think the topic is being overlooked. As we

dive into an astronomy text this winter, I hope they will see how much they have learned.


I must confess that I wasted too much time at the beginning of the year as I instructed in math. I was

hoping to jump right into an algebra review as we prepped for the SAT and Physics and to tailor the

teaching to the individual’s needs. I was unable to do this because of the wide range of abilities. So,

I went back and forth to extremes which didn’t help anyone. I should have just taught what I knew

everyone needed to know in a consistent manner and pulled everyone towards an attainable goal. I

think I have figured out how to do this now and thank the fellows for their patience. I had hoped to just

show lots of fun problems on the board (which I still do now and then, because math is fun). Instead,

math has become an intense time of self-study so that all can work at the place they need to be. I’ve

worked with the fellows on table assignments which I know seemed childish at first to some of them

but I hope all are now happy. Part of self-assessment in academics comes from studying with the right

people. All should have someone to help, someone who helps, and someone who challenges them. I

play a part in all these roles for each of them, but as a fellowship, I thought it was important for each

one to figure out their role also.


In math and music theory, we could have established an entrance qualification. It would have made

planning lessons much easier, but taught us much less about living in fellowship. I think it is important

to know when to move ahead on your own, when to humbly repeat a difficult lesson, when to help

another, and when to be quiet and think hard. Also, Caleb and I would have been robbed of the

opportunity to see students with no background in a subject quickly catch up to their superiors as well

as the more accomplished students honing the details by instructing others. The quieter students have

had to learn to ask questions and some who ask lots of questions have learned to not ask until they have

tried more on their own.


Our fellowship SAT scores were 1737, the national average is 1498, and the home school average is

1636. We had 3 students break 2000 and 2 came close. So 5 out of 19 students had very high scores.

All who had taken a standardized test before told me their scores went up in math, though many scores

were similar in reading and writing. That inspired more of them to ask for writing help before they took

the SAT for a second time.


The SAT, college applications, college essays and the other things we do that are college prep are not

how I measure a successful student. But here’s what I did notice – the same students who worked

hard and put in extra time for those optional assignments are the same ones who do the best at the

mandatory assignments. It’s made me value the college prep process for what it reveals about the

character of the student whether they go to college or not. Assessment as a letter grade from an expert

has limited value. Observing those around you, your authorities, and God’s standards provide the

clearest self-assessment. I speak to the fellowship often about this process. Satan is so strong, and we

are so self-centered, that delusion can drive us more than illumination. The body of Christ, God’s word,

and His creatures are the tools He gives us to sanctify our lives. We need to use all the tools He provides

to grow in grace before God and man.


Free time and fellowship has been diverse and we have been delighted by the choice of activities.

Besides the obvious like hiking, biking, swimming, and playing ping-pong, the students have participated

in a number of cultural events. Some attended the Hearts and Hands concert, some swing dance in

Greensboro and our house, a few attended a Hobbit literary weekend in Virginia as well as a trip into

DC, many learned to wakeboard, and almost all went to the beach. A few work out at the gym and play

rugby. Most play Ultimate Frisbee. Cooking healthy foods and shopping at the farmer’s market occupy

the attention of others.


As for the fellowship, I think all are trying their very best to love and encourage one another. We’ve

had ample opportunities to work on conflict resolution as well as the gift of sacrificing for one another.

Living this closely and studying all the same subjects has been a challenge, but all have recognized it

as the heart of Christian living. I’ve come to realize that the greatest part of the Mandala Fellowship

has been learning how to die to one’s own desires and sometimes even convictions so as not to cause

another to stumble. These students are strong in their faith and have been grounded in the love of

Christ. They are a great testimony to their parents love and sacrifice.


The rest of this year is very full. The students have set goals in physics, performance, and music theory

as well as beginning the new astronomy text. Astronaut James Dutton and musician James Hodges

are coming to teach at the Quadrivium Connection and Wes Callahan is coming to teach us at the next

Toward the Quadrivium event. Some will prepare for their AP Physics and Music Theory exams. All will

go to Orlando after working to market the National Number Knockout. And of course, we will end with

another music performance on Friday, May 2, 2014. When I asked the students what we could do to

make the next Celebration even better because the first one was so perfect, one student suggested we

rent those tall cloth men that bounce and flap their arms to attract attention to car dealerships! They

always make me laugh!


I want to end with some clarity about 2014-15 Mandala Fellowship. We are not taking new students.

Instead I will be working with a handful of this year’s students for a second year. The fellowship is a

success. So, I will spend this next year trying to figure out how to endow the program, how to staff it,

and where to locate it as well as whether it is a one year program or extended to multiple years. I will

be speaking to some of the students about opportunities for next year. It will be by invitation only. As I

determine which students to work with, I will be informing their families of the details. As in all things, I

covet your prayers as my husband, Rob, and I determine if and how the Fellowship can continue.


Love, Leigh Bortins

Ten Thousand Steps to Perfection

Articles | Barnabas | Mandala Fellowship | Music | Project 0 No Comments

A month and a half ago, nineteen fellows walked into the classroom to a few videos about an amazing display of sand, sound and steel. The first video showed a metal plate, mounted on a few sturdy legs and sprinkled with sand. A man came onscreen and coaxed a ringing noise from the plate with the help of a violin bow. As the noise built in intensity, we all gasped; the sand slowly drifted into complex patterns, seemingly of its own volition. While we were still trying to understand that, the man dampened the corner of the plate with one finger and again drew the bow across its edge. It rang out clearly, this time with a lower sound, and the sand slid smoothly into a new pattern. With his bow and fingers, the engineer in the video pulled pattern after pattern from the sand. We all loved it. Just when we thought we had it figured out, Leigh put on another video. In the center of the frame stood a round old table, weighed down with four piles of multicolored sand. Another hand came on-screen and began dragging a rubber mallet across the top of the table. It let out a similar ringing noise and the sand began immediately to spread into a star pattern. As we saw differences and similarities between this video and the last, we realized that we didn’t understand the phenomenon as much as we thought. A final video showed the same phenomenon as the first two, but instead of an acoustic sound, the designer had hooked the plate up to a set of speakers and was using a tone generator to make it ring.

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Perceptive History Books

Articles | Barnabas | Mandala Fellowship 4 4 Comments

“Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” Job 12:12


I’ve been thinking a lot about old age. Specifically, I’ve been considering the old men and women— maybe relatives, family friends, or church members— who we all have in our lives. In my cosy valley in Vermont, I had the blessing of growing up next door to my grandfather for the first eighteen years of my life. He was close enough to be over almost every day, but absent enough for our hearts to stay fond. Now that I’m living away from home, I realize how much of a blessing this situation was. Too often, the elderly people in our lives are ignored, pushed off to the side and marked as irrelevant. Youth my age are especially guilty of this, and the idea could not be more wrong. We should value the elderly for three reasons: our seniors give us context for where we have been, our elders have a unique insight into life as it is, and our grandfathers have stories to tell.


The first reason we should value the elderly is that they give us context for where we have been. George Santayana is probably best known for penning that pithy truth, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We can study history to gain that understanding, but nothing can take the place of living through the actual events themselves. Gifted with immediate first-hand understanding and long lives spent building connections, these men and women can’t help but see the continuous threads which pervade history. When we spend time with these people, we learn about a world which was and which still is. In a world where technology is outdated minutes after being unboxed and pop stars blink in and out of the consciousness of the public like fireflies, we need the voices of the elderly to remind us, as Solomon told his sons, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”


The second reason we should value the elderly is that they have a unique insight into life as it is. Because of the context of where they have been, or rather, when they have been, these men and women have seen things we have not seen and experienced things we may never experience. The men who lived through the “Great War” saw what was happening thirty years later when Germany rose again to power. After the unfaithful scouts came back to Moses in the desert, God sent the Israelites to wander for another forty years to ensure that a new generation would be the first to enter the promised land. The older ones among us can see how the world changes or stays the same through all sorts of trials, informing their wisdom and knowledge.


The third reason we should value the elderly is that they have stories to tell. If there is any one thing that grandparents seem to have in common, it’s the way they all have an abundance of stories. Considering the long lives lived by each old man and woman, it’s no wonder that they seem to be walking storybooks. We go through life making choices, good, bad, and so many in between, and we reap the consequences from them. Our grandparents, our old friends, and the men and women from history all serve as individual studies for lives full of choices. We don’t have to explore every option in life to find the consequences; we can simply look to the past. From introduction to climax to conclusion, every conflict under the sun has been mapped out in the lives of the people who have come before us, and most immediately by men and women we all know in our lives. We should take advantage of that.


The elderly people among us are important. Without these people, we would be forced to stumble through life without any guidance. We should value them for their context, for their insight, and for their stories which prove relevant time after time. I miss my grandpa. I miss his laugh, his cheerful whistle, and his fun stories about his life growing up. He’s lived almost four times as long as I have, and the lessons he has learned are invaluable. While I love my fellowship of teenagers, I miss the wisdom that comes with the elderly. I need to find some surrogate grandparents to compliment my newfound family.


Barnabas A. Holleran
Word from the Wayfarers

Better to Understand

Articles | Barnabas | Mandala Fellowship | Music 0 No Comments

Over the past few weeks at the Mandala Fellowship, I have grown to realize something important: in general, we don’t make a distinction between the terms of musician and performer. If I asked you right now to tell me the difference between a musician and a musical performer, what would you say? I expect you would give me a blank stare and ask if it was a trick question. Well, to be honest, it is. While the two terms are practically synonymous today, this was not always the case.


Hundreds of years ago, people made a great distinction between the two words. As the name suggests, a performer was someone who made a living by playing music, music which he learned through imitating other performers. He didn’t need to understand the music as long as what he copied was appealing. Not so the musician. He was someone who studied music theory in addition to their instrument, learning the mathematics and the harmonics behind what they were doing. A composer and a theorist first, he played his instrument second. Thus, the performer and the musician were different and distinct professions, though they were very similar. So why should we care? We should care about the distinction between the words for two reasons: because language is important and because the distinction highlights a very important attitude which pervades all aspects of life.


The first reason we should care is because language is important. While it naturally evolves, we should never use that fact to excuse linguistic laziness. Language exists as a tool for communication, and we should always strive for precision in our words. When we speak precisely, we can communicate complicated ideas more gracefully and with more ease. Imagine a mathematician who is trying to write out a tricky algebra equation but who can only use the four most basic functions of arithmetic. While it is possible, the end result is a bulky and inelegant mess, both laborious to work through and ugly to look at. Failing to make distinctions between words limits our ability to express ourselves. These words have meaning.


The second reason we should care is because this this attitude of “musician” vs “performer” applies to anything. Consider driving. Anyone can drive a car. Cars are designed to be easily piloted. Do you need to know how the engine works in order to drive into town and back? No, the car takes care of that, and all you have to do is step on the gas pedal. But should you understand? Will it help you be a better driver? Absolutely! Someone who understands the “music” of the engine is not limited to driving an automatic but can figure out a car with a manual transmission even if there is no one to show him how to use the gears. Not so the “performer”, who can only mimic instructions. The first person has a deeper understanding of his vehicle and can make it perform in ways that the other cannot. As another example, think of the approaches to studying for school. While one student spends all of his evenings studying, seeking understanding, his fellow student ignores his studies, only cramming at the last minute to prepare for the test. They may get the same grade, but which student has the more valuable education? The first student understands the subject, knows it well, and will be able to use it again. Unfortunately, the second’s knowledge will be gone by the time he leaves the classroom. To excel at something, one must go beyond the basics and beyond mimicry. Understanding is true learning. Parroting answers or behavior is not.


We should care about the distinction between musician and performer because language is important, and because the attitude that the distinction highlights is important. The old wisdom states that if something is “worth doing, it’s worth doing right”. Performers took the polished surface of music and recreated it in their own instruments. While that is certainly not wrong, isn’t it better to understand?


Barnabas A. Holleran

Word from the Wayfarers