Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, co-laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. My name is Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.
Together, we want to model conversation and use tools that you can also use at home or in the classroom. As always, we love to hear from you. Please send in any questions you might have, or any comments, to firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, we love to hear your voice. So if you are up for it, send us a voice memo with your question, and we will use that as a part of our show.
Yes. And before we get into our topic today, I want to give one more encouragement: If you’re not following God’s WORLD News on Facebook or Instagram—that’s @GodsWORLDNews—we would love for you to join us there. If you’ve already been following us on there, that’s great, and you may have noticed that there hasn’t been a ton going on there recently. That’s because we’ve been retooling the God’s WORLD News social media pages to be more News Coach-focused, and as of now we’re using those pages as a way of sharing our resources—all the things we’re writing, our recording, as well as all the things we recommend here on the podcast. And it’s also a great place for you to interact directly, not just with us, but with each other—fellow parents, educators, mentors, all of us who are on this discipleship journey together in today’s complex world. So again, you can follow @GodsWORLDNews on Facebook and Instagram. It’s a great way for you to join the conversation.
And speaking of conversation, today we have a listener question. It’s a little bit of a different listener question, that is going to give us some space to do something we’ve been wanting to do, which is explore one of the tools that we employ more in-depth, to give an entire episode to one of our conversational learning tools.
So Tim Lowry wrote to us recently, in response to our episode on Confederate monuments. He said:
Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned approach to the issue of Confederate monuments and the revising of the historic narrative.
Thank you so much, Tim. He goes on to raise a question. He says:
You mentioned an Aristotelian approach to this topic. Do you parse out Aristotle’s method in another episode of your podcast?
The short answer is, as of now, yes! That’s what we are doing today. We’ve talked about this on the News Coach blog, and today we want to dedicate a whole episode of our podcast to what we call the “Big Five,” which some people might know as Aristotle’s Five Common Topics. This is a tool we use to aid in conversation, to kind of maximize conversational learning. And Kelsey, I know, this is something you bring to the table, your deep educational knowledge. I’m excited to hear you unpack this for us today.
I think that part of the reason why I got so excited about education in general is because of the beautiful things that I grew up experiencing. And I didn’t realize—because they were so embedded into my family culture—I didn’t realize where they came from. I didn’t know any names for them. We just read a lot and talked a lot. So these methods, I didn’t really know even their names until I started doing some educational learning, really in upper levels of college and into my degree at seminary. So I looked back, as I even began to teach, and realized how much of this practice, this dialogue practice, actually comes out of a classical method of education. And so we refer to the Big Five, the common topics, as locations for those conversations. There are five different places that we can locate, or I like to think of it as expanding our conversation, so that we are broadening the amount of category, or just what we bring to any conversation.
You can let me know if this is accurate or not, but the mental picture that comes to mind for me, when I think of these as locations of conversations, is almost like each of these five topics is a room that you can go into and fill up with conversation.
I really like that. I think that some of the other things that I learned about in education were like drawing mental maps, or doing the types of things that allow you to have a visual representation of the thing that you’re processing or learning. So I like that, as a mental map, thinking of these rooms, or maybe even these treasure boxes. Whatever appeals to you in terms of recognizing the space that it creates. You’re expanding your thinking and drawing connections between them.
Now, I’ve talked a little bit about types of learners. I’m a learner who’s known as a connective learner. I’m also a collaborative learner. And I’m a dynamic learner. And what those things mean is that I like to connect the dots between different areas of knowledge, like to see how they relate to one another. It’s very interdisciplinary. So the Big Five sets up well for that. And I’m also collaborative, and so as a conversational method of learning, it provides for that collaboration where I can hear somebody else’s thoughts, because it sets up and gives us a structure for sharing what we know on any topic area. And then the reason I mentioned being a dynamic learner is because of this unique rub here that we have, that we’re using this classical tool for looking at something that is by no means classical—unless, of course, you’re looking through the lens of Ecclesiastes, that there’s “nothing new under the sun.” But news doesn’t come across to me as a classical idea. So, a classical methodology for all things current. Dynamic learners, they like to ask the question, “What can I do with this next?” And so I look at this tool and I go, “Ah, this is something that we can use to help give structure to our conversation on what is going on, on a day-to-day basis in our world.”
We’re using something very old to talk about things that are very new. I’m reminded of a quote from Dr. Leland Ryken, a Christian literary scholar who said, “Old swords are better than new ones.” He was talking about the story of Beowulf, and how the new sword—the newly forged, super-cool sword—was not able to defeat the monster. But it was this ancient sword, with all this history, that was equipped to face the new threat. That comes to mind when I think of using this old tried-and-true tool to attack this new thing, any new thing we might be facing in the news, something that seems new to us. But maybe this tool will even help us discover ways it’s not entirely “new under the sun,” as you brought in from Ecclesiastes.
So before we dive into the actual five topics, again, this is a tool we use for discussing these news and media topics. Much like the SOAR method that we’ve talked about, and even some of the ways we’ve used the Redemptive Narrative, now we’re talking about what we call the Big Five. But Kelsey, you have adapted this from, I believe, what’s called “Aristotle’s Five Common Topics of the Dialectic.” And as we’ve been talking about, it goes back to Aristotle. This is an ancient method.
I’m imagining that there are probably two different sorts of people. One group probably hears the name “Aristotle” and is like, “Yes, that’s my element. I’m excited. We’re going back to Aristotle.” And another group is probably like, “Okay, we are getting a little too academic here. I just need to be able to use this. I just need tools to help me.” So maybe, to help bridge that gap, can you help us understand a little bit of where this comes from, and why we are using it today?
First of all, I resonate with that. In spite of what I’ve described as what was a process in my family, it was so relational and so attuned to just the different learning phases of our lives, I’ve never felt this heavy academic or intellectualism in my home. So a little bit of background—honestly, this is practicing the Five Common Topics, when we give a little bit of history. It’s definitely coming out of some of the great practices that occurred, starting with Socrates, where he discerned that one of the best ways for learning to be transformative to the individual was to ask questions, not merely present content to be downloaded. And so these five areas of learning give us a chance to ask very specific questions in these areas, and to identify places where we need to learn more, or where our learning was even faulty. It’s not meant to be a rehearsal of all of this information that then you memorize, you download, you try to transfer to the learner in front of you. These are meant to be areas where, at whatever developmental stage you are at, you can fine tune these questions to begin to draw out what someone has learned, what they’ve been exposed to that might need a little bit of tweaking that an older learner, someone who may be a couple of stages ahead, can assist in the learning of the one who’s a little younger, a couple stages behind. So it’s not meant to be a highfalutin tool that gives you things that you just have to sit down and memorize verbatim and be able to spit it back out. Again, that is not the point of these.
Awesome. And I know that, even the way we’ve used this tool in the podcast, sometimes we’ve juggled it a little bit, put one topic before another. And there’s some freedom there, I think, to explore and to go into these rooms and fill them up, so to speak. So to move into the actual tool, to get into the actual Five Common Topics, the Big Five—the first one we talk about is definition.
Yes. And I love this—you know, I mentioned that these need to be places where we ask questions. So I want to lead out with the question, and maybe give some examples as we go. The example in the blog—we used “abortion rights” as a term that we were exploring. Why did that even get to the place of being a phrase? But to move backwards, and just have the driving question for definition, it is: What are the key terms? What do they mean? It’s basic laying out of the grammar of whatever conversation we’re having. And so you get a good dictionary in your home. Ideally, you have one that you can actually touch, open up, learn alphabetical order as you learn how the words function in our English language, and get a sense of where they came from. So it gives you this wonderful other network of ideas to explore, when you just pursue definition and do it well. So what is this word? Where did it come from? What does it mean? How do I use it well?
And I love the emphasis on pursuing definition as part of conversation. Because, especially when we’re talking about things like the news, it seems to me that this is the quickest place where conversation breaks down, especially if you have a conversation between two people who aren’t necessarily on the same page. So many news topics, so many current events or cultural topics, where—honestly, the breakdown just happens at a disagreement about definitions, or not having clear definitions before we speak. And so this one definitely rings true to me. And I know that, on our podcast, even if we don’t use all five topics in an episode, we almost always start with some sort of definition, just so that, between Kelsey and [me], or even between us and our listeners, we are all talking about and thinking about the same thing.
And there’s a lot of—I should say, there’s a massive increase in new vocabulary, just technical vocabulary, even ideological vocabulary. I used to—I speak French. I think you know this. And I used to wonder at the French tendency towards high protection of their language. I couldn’t understand where that comes from. But I’m beginning to have an inkling that a lot of it has to do with this carefulness of actually meaning—not only about protection of their language and the beauty of it, but when you begin to generate word after word after word, there’s this tendency to lose meaning, because we just have an abundance of new technical language in particular. So this gives us a chance to rein that in, make sure we’re on the same page when we have any conversation about what’s going on in our world.
So before we move on to the next topic, is there anything else about this location of definition that we should cover?
I think you’ve mentioned already that these rooms open onto one another, and that they’re interconnected. It very quickly moves into needing to understand definition according to context. And so I think maybe we ask that question: What does context have to do with understanding this word or this terminology?
So I think we’re starting to open that next room up, context. I tend to use that word “context,” but in the Five Common Topics, and even in my blog, it’s actually the term circumstance. So circumstance and context—those are interchangeable in our understanding. We’re talking about the situation in which we are placed, or this idea is placed. What are the things, culturally, that are going on? What is going on in our community? Because even micro-communities can affect our understanding of what’s going on in culture, in the news, in the way that language is used. It’s interesting, how the influence of your surrounding on the take on this certain story or this certain idea—and so we need to recognize those maybe circles of context. Here I am locally, but what is this idea regionally? How does this story affect a larger region, even to a nation or globally? So I think of concentric circles when I think of circumstance and context.
And now I didn’t lead out with a question. So I want to go back to that. Because the question is, again, of utmost importance. So we’re asking, what is the cultural or even the historical context of this story? What field of study supplies further context for the story that we’re learning about? So a chance for interdisciplinary understanding here—how does science speak to this, our current understanding of science and technology, for example, with ChatGPT, for just a small sample of an idea? When did this happen? What else was going on at the time, and what was happening in other parts of the world? So those concentric circles of context.
You know, when we approach the news, a big part of our whole thing here at Concurrently is that we want to help model for our kids and students a non-anxious learning environment and an approach to the news that is driven by clear thinking. And often, the way headlines work nowadays, the way television news works nowadays, clickbait—it’s all designed to really stoke our emotions. You know, we interact with things more if they are firing up our emotions of fear and anger. They have found this on social media, that the algorithms feed us things that make us react angry or sad or outraged, because that generates more interaction, that puts more eyes on ads. And so this kind of fight for clear thinking, we’re always kind of fighting an uphill battle against the—for lack of a better term—the market forces of news media. And to get this non-anxious posture, to achieve that clear thinking, I think circumstance or context is one of the most important locations. Because so often, you’ll look at a headline and you see somebody doing something that angers you or scares you, or even a group of people doing something that—you just don’t understand how people could act that way, or why somebody would say that. And you start to feel that internal temperature going up. Often, you know—even if that thing that person is doing or saying, even if it is wrong—if you take the time to bring in that cultural or historical context to say, “Okay, what situation led to this? Why might they be acting that way, based on the parts of the story I don’t see in the headline, the history, the situation, the culture?”—even if the thing you’re looking at really is something that we should be wary of, you can at least get that level of understanding that disarms those warheads of fear and anger that are being lobbed left and right, and allows you to have a more clear, non-anxious approach to the story.
I really am connecting right now, in a visual way, to how you’re talking about this. And it’s helping me to bring some more tools into this conversation, that I’m kind of discovering in this room. So I want to return to our mental map for a minute, to help you connect these tools to your thinking and to your conversational process. So let’s pretend that definition was walking through the front door of a house. The room definition, it entered us in, gave us that kind of foyer, a—maybe where this is where the conversation starts. And off of the foyer, we have the room that is definitely connected, that we’ve been in, which is circumstance. Circumstance is supposed to be a little bit more about kind of the “here and now.” But we dip a little bit into this history, in terms of just understanding what our current period is in, but it’s really meant to be: What am I bringing to this right now? Or what has been brought to this right now? So you’re mentioning one of those tools that we even pick up in this room of circumstance: What is the emotional water like around me, in myself, asking those questions of, “What am I thinking, and what am I feeling?” How am I bringing that to the story? That is definitely a part of our circumstances. And so the EQ tool is one of the tools that we pick up in the room of circumstance.
Circumstance adjoins to the room of comparison. And when we walk in between circumstance and comparison, we are starting to actually move into a room where we pick up another one of our tools, which is cultural intelligence. You were knocking on that door even as you were thinking about it. What do we know about our current cultural climate, regarding how technology likes to feed us things that stir our emotions, so that more of our eyes will get on that thing? These crazy algorithms and how they work? We have to employ not only emotional intelligence there, but also a sense of how that’s affecting a greater community, and compare and contrast between even different communities or different cultures, be they micro-cultures within our nation, or even external cultures to our nation, and compare what’s going on. How do they feel about this thing in the news? I’m going to get specific, because that was a little abstract. Besides just visualizing where we’re going in our topic locations, we recently spoke about drugs. And we were thinking about what it meant for us to be horrified by some of the things that we were reading. I would house that in our circumstance. We were aware that we were bringing that into our topic area. We walk through that door. And in the topic area of Christian nationalism, we’re really camping out more in that cultural intelligence. What is going on within our nation, that we would be having these tendencies towards wanting to mandate morality, or mandate certain practices, to seek to align a culture and to tamp down the divisiveness? That’s one of, you know, the potential outcomes of having a strong authoritative government. I’m using those words, in particular, because we think of other strong, authoritative governments in history, or around the world in our current day, when we are doing comparison work. In another one of our blogs, we explored the differences on the spectrum of political ideas. And we realized that on the left, those ideas over there often are actually more proximate to the far right side of that spectrum than we at first realize, until we look and do our comparison and contrast work. The question that we use in that area is, how does this story or subject matter compare, contrast, or even connect with other stories on the same or on similar issues? And I obviously broaden it to, how does this type of governmental idea compare to other governments we’ve seen happen before in history, or around the globe? And what can we learn from doing that comparison and contrast work? So we’re in our third room now, but it adjoins to another one.
Yes. So we’ve talked about three of our Big Five so far. We’ve talked about definition—what are the key terms and what do they mean? We’ve talked about circumstance, which we sometimes call context. Questions there are, what is the cultural and historical context? What field of study supplies further context for the story we’re learning about? When did it happen? What else was going on at the time? What was happening in other parts of the world at that time? And then we went into the subject of comparison, which includes contrast, where we ask questions like, how does the story or subject compare, contrast, or connect with other stories on the same or similar issues? And now we are making our way into the fourth of our five topics, which we call relationship.
So relationship is where we get even deeper into how the history—causal moments in history to this point that we are in right now. And also asking that question of how our current story or current subject matter might have an effect on the future. So we’re talking about the relationship within history—not just the context, but what came before, and what might come after? So the question that’s the main driving question here for relationship is, what events of history preceded, caused, or influenced this story or event? And what will this story or event effect into the future? What kind of effect will it have on what comes next, on next generations? The example that we used in the blog, it was “abortion rights.” We can sit down and talk with our older students—our practices right now, what does this mean for future generations? What are the potential outcomes if we continue to follow along this same trajectory? So the cause, the now, and also the effect, the relationship within the course of history.
We’ve had a lot of conversations recently about learning from failure. I feel like maybe this area of relationship is where we would place that sort of thinking, that we can look at history and see what worked, what failed, and extrapolate that out into the future.
So if we’ve walked through our rooms, and we’ve been picking up tools as we go—we’ve picked up an emotional intelligence tool and the questions that come with it, we’ve picked up the tool of cultural intelligence and those questions—and now in relationship, we’re picking up that tool, as it were, of acknowledging failure, of being students of the past, to seek to not repeat those failures in the future, knowing all along—if we also pick up that Redemptive Narrative tool to put in our tool belt—that man is broken, and needs a Savior, needs a Redeemer, needs the presence of the Spirit to continue to build towards restorative practices, and not merely deep, for example, moral failure—but knowing and acknowledging that failure will be a part of our lives, until He returns, and being able to exercise that grace that is necessary, to continue to engage for the sake of redemption, in humility.
This area of relationship also makes me think about the importance of the interrelatedness of these topics. Because, at least for me, relationship, and looking at the causes from history, and where they might go in the future, that’s an area that requires a lot of care, to not just be a student of history, but to be a good student of history. Because we can learn so much from the past and what caused things in the present. But it’s also really easy to learn the wrong lessons from the past. I was listening to an audiobook recently of Ed Catmull, the head of the studio Pixar, just talking about lessons they’ve learned over the years as a film studio. And one of the things he talks about is, our view of the past is sometimes as unclear as our view of the future. Because it’s so hard to sometimes tell exactly what caused certain things. And it’s really easy to take the wrong lessons and make wrong assumptions about, okay, this happened in the past, it’ll happen again in the future. And we can sabotage ourselves. I guess my question is, how do we fight against that? And I’m not sure exactly. But I feel like part of it is the fact that relationship here, looking at the past, is just one of our topics. And we have these other areas to help bolster it and find wisdom.
I absolutely agree. And I love that you use the word “wisdom,” because you immediately, in your question-asking, send me right back to Psalm 90 again, I live in that Psalm. It’s kind of the air that I breathe. And so that “teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom,” and that deep recognition that we are limited in the years that we have on this Earth—we can try and connect the dots the best we can. We can do with the days that He has given us the best that we can for His glory, recognizing His equipment of us. But still, it isn’t ultimate. It isn’t going to be enough.
And I think this is part of why I always leave authority as a topic for last. Because I’m reminded, I named it as “authority,” but in the Five Common Topics it’s actually called testimony. But I renamed it authority because there are often different factions who are seeking to be authoritative on an idea, and I need to be reminded that there is an ultimate Authority, and to line up any kind of story that I’m reading, or any kind of experience I have, according to that Redemptive Narrative that tells me who I am, and even what is broken in me, knowing that that is true for all of humanity, and remembering also what is true of the Lord and His work in the world. As I line that up with “What is the story saying is true?”—it’s interesting, also, as I reflect on these topics, I have all of the episodes that have come before this one. And I think again about the one that we did with Collin and Juliana. Everything that we have done somehow hangs in these important areas where we’re discussing, how can I know that this is a reliable source for speaking about what is true in the world with—yes, a high commitment towards truth, that seeking after truth, trying to present something that is reflective of capital T truth.
So we’ve talked about definition, circumstance, comparison, relationship. The last of our five topics, authority—you’ve already started to get into this, the questions we ask in this location of conversation. But what other questions do we ask when we are in this realm of authority?
I think one of the key ones that we practice a lot, that’s worth reiterating in several different ways, but the way that we have it on the blog is: How does our understanding of God’s authority challenge our thinking, feeling, and action in this area? So it’s a holistic question, that if I’m in submission to what the Lord says about His work and world, and His self, and what He says about us—how does that change the way that I think? How does it change my attitudes, my emotions, and even my action in this world?
Another thing that we ask a lot, that I think lines up with this is—with what I know of what He says to be true, how should I potentially challenge what is before me? But also, what can I affirm that’s before me? Because in every story that’s about the Father’s world, it cannot help but have an echo of Him, an echo of what is true. And so we can find this kernel in it that we can affirm.
This is a place where another tool we might pick up that we might have alluded to, but I want to be very clear on, is this hermeneutic. We look at scripture, it tells us something of the person or the work of Christ, or man’s need of it. When we look out into His general revelation, not merely his special revelation in the word, but how He reveals Himself in His creation and through His image-bearers, we can apply a very similar hermeneutic, or principle of interpretation. How does this reveal something of the Lord, of His character, of His nature, of His work, or of man’s desperate need for it? We can affirm those aspects of any story that we read. And so when we ask these questions, it helps us to seek that out as a treasure, just like these other treasure boxes that we’ve been identifying today.
So those are our Big Five: definition, comparison, circumstance, relationship, and finally, authority. And so before we leave our listeners with that, I would love to just equip them with a really practical look at what it means to use the Big Five in conversation with your kids or students, in practical terms. We’ve kind of—we’ve gone through all these and explained how they work, what we’re talking about in these locations. But what does it look like to actually sit down with your child and use these in conversations? Do you have any just practical tips for bringing these out in a conversational way?
I don’t think it’s one of those things you can start cold. Usually, these conversational tools, they are fitted to engage with whatever material that you have had some exposure to with them. Because we’re in news media, I immediately jumped to thinking about something like one of our articles in WORLDteen or WORLDkids, or one of our clips with WORLD Watch, or something out of the podcast from The World and Everything In It. You’re listening to something in the news and a question comes up, either naturally or you decided as a parent or educator that you are going to drive the conversation to one of these topic areas by practicing some of these questions. So what I am suggesting is that you’re generally exposing yourself, your student, your child, to something of the news, before you begin to ask these questions to draw out the learning in conversation in a way that helps to dive deeply into what’s going on in your child’s or your student’s heart and mind, to discern, what do they already think? And how can I continue to coach their thinking? But we need material to begin with. We don’t, as I said, just start cold with those questions. “So tell me about this?”
Yeah. And, you know, we design our magazines at God’s WORLD News with that purpose in mind. We have our magazines for different levels, starting at God’s Big WORLD for younger kids, WORLDkids for kind of a middle group, then WORLDteen for the kids who are approaching those teenage years. And in those magazines, at age appropriate levels, we try to start raising those questions, bring out some of those themes. But really, that’s just the beginning of a conversation. It’s you, listener, as a parent or teacher or mentor or grandparent, who picks up where they left off.
And that’s why we’ve started producing something called the Play-by-Play. If you’re subscribed to Concurrently, you may have already seen this. So this is a resource that we’re putting out every other week. It comes out right here on this podcast feed as well as on the News Coach website. And it’s a short piece, just five minute listen or a quick read. On the Play-by-Play, we take three recent stories from across our God’s WORLD News publications, and then break them down with questions. And these questions go all the way from the head level, where we’re talking about the details of the story, to the heart level, where we’re considering themes, and then to the hands level, where we even think about how these stories inspire our actions in the world. And that could be looking something up in the Bible, or we even suggest fun activities you could do together as a family. And the point of all of this is to help you as a parent, mentor, teacher, spark conversation, to make good conversations a regular part of your family life. So we released the second episode of the Play-by-Play just last Friday, and another will be coming out next week. We would love for you to join us.
And hopefully, some of the things we’ve talked about today can help you continue those conversations that we would love to begin on the pages of God’s WORLD News.
And we have another wonderful thing to source those conversations with, in our newly launched, beautiful website. We just want to point you towards that as another tremendous option for a place to source great conversations, and to direct them further through these questions that make you work honestly. But it is great work.
And again, you can explore that new website at gwnews.com.
This is the work of discipleship that we get to participate with—with you. Thank you for being a listener. Thank you for your questions. Thank you that we get to learn alongside of you. Parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens—He has equipped you for this work.
Something old for something new. How does a classical conversation tool help us sort through current events? Kelsey and Jonathan answer a listener question about Aristotle’s Five Common Topics.
Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.
We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at email@example.com. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.
See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.
- Learn more about the Big 5 on the News Coach blog.
- Hear the Big 5 in action; Listen to our episode on Christian nationalism.
Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Covenant College.
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