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The Dioskouroi, also known as the Gemini Twins, as they ride off to war.  The Romans believed that the Dioskouroi would arrive at a battle's pivotal moment to turn the tide in favor of their supplicants.

The Dioskouroi, also known as the Gemini Twins, as they ride off to war.  The Romans believed that the Dioskouroi would arrive at a battle's pivotal moment to turn the tide in favor of their supplicants.

Welcome

You've reached the homepage of Dr. Nicholas F. Russell, an academic mentor who specializes in training young adults to read, reason, and write at the collegiate level.

I learned advanced reading and reasoning techniques at Hillsdale College, one of the finest liberal arts schools in the world.  Later, at graduate school, I mastered the art of writing owing to the guidance of one of the globe's best-acclaimed authors.  Under his direction, I earned a PhD from Tufts University, a Little Ivy.

My services are unique.  No other instructor with comparable expertise will be available to your student outside of a tier-one institution.

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Spring Special

Two 30-minute lessons free, for all new clients! No obligation!

 Contact me to sign up: (231) 620–9152 

Dr. Nicholas F. Russell and his dog, Nana, circa 2014.

Classical Education with Global Reach

Since 2007, I've provided academic mentoring services to young adults, first in Boston and later in Traverse City.  I began at my graduate school, Tufts, where I studied history – which is, as I like to say, the "Science of Everything."  History is a special discipline whose practitioners use evidence and logic to make truthful, plainly expressed, written claims about the world we live in.  As historians, we teach our students to ground themselves in reality, to think independently, and to form meaningful opinions of their own.

Global historians like me – those among us who examine the history of the world, as a whole – are uniquely positioned to prepare your student for his or her future.  This is because of the range and scope of inquiry that is available to us.  We can study anything, at any time, in any place, for any reason.  No other discipline has this flexibility, and it is because of this specific background that I can offer to your student a kind of general preparation for college – and life – that he or she will not find elsewhere.

 

Indeed, this is the essence of the liberal arts:  to provide a broad enough education as to produce a free man or woman, capable of intellectual achievements of his or her own, who is not enslaved to falsehoods and half truths.

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Where 3 Roads Meet

Ancient Greek philosophers divided the liberal arts into two sequential stages of learning.  In the first and foundational stage, students mastered the Trivium:  the arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  This is the stage in which I specialize.

The art of grammar, referred to colloquially as "knowledge," is the underlying background data about a specific subject.  Students gain knowledge by means of their five senses and by reading documents and books.  The art of logic, or "understanding," is the science of correct inference.  It enables students to gain meaningful insights from the facts they imbibe.  The art of rhetoric, or "wisdom," is the capstone and requires students to combine grammar and logic with techniques of persuasion.  Only after students have experimented at length with this volatile and heady admixture will they become effective writers and compelling public speakers.

To train my students in these arts, I prefer to cultivate the practical skills of professional-level reading (which serves grammar and logic) and writing (which requires proficiency in the entire Trivium).

The Trivium "shield": Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, all leading to Truth
Reading Together
What I offer

I educate my pupils to read and write at the proficiency levels expected at elite academies like Tufts, Hillsdale, and the Ivies.  The quality of my instruction is superior to what most students will encounter, even after reaching college  and regardless of what name the college has.  This is because I combine several unique, powerful modes of bespoke teaching that in spite of their efficacy are not usually employed in our educational system. 

We place students in grades, where they are classed with other students who have invested an equal number of years in school.  To do this, we assume that all students learn at the same pace and in the same way.  Candidly, we treat them as though they were clones. 

By contrast, I grant my students the dignity of being approached as individuals:  distinctive persons with unique talents, aspirations, and aptitudes.  I use time-proven techniques such as the tutorial, the Socratic Method, enhanced active reading, and the professional-level research paper as ways of cutting to the chase and rapidly bringing my pupils to expert proficiency in the Trivium.

If you permit me, I will use my special methods to better educate your student  one-on-one – and to prepare him to meet the trials he will face when he goes away to a four-year institution.

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My Teaching Style

Writing

I teach writing as a discipline centered on the pupil's personality and aptitudes.  I start where he or she is – at whatever skill level he possesses – then take his arm (for a novice author is like a blind man) and gently support him as he charts his own hobbling course.  Over time, we will together experience the joy of the opening of his eyes and the awakening of his inner voice.  This process differs markedly from student to student, follows unpredictable timelines, and can only be completed face to face.  I have seen fantastic results and have never had a charge who failed to progress far past what had been possible in the classroom.

Reading

I impart advanced reading techniques via the Socratic Method and use sophisticated chains of questioning to sharpen each pupil’s acumen to a razor’s edge.  The pupil will gain deductive and inferential capacities a good deal beyond what he otherwise might have acquired.  He will begin to learn with greater alacrity and broader understanding, and he will ascertain the right questions to ask which is the most valuable aptitude of all.

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My Methodology
The Tutorial

My technique derives from the United Kingdom's tutorial system.  Instructors who follow this way of teaching regularly meet with their students either individually or in small groups of two or three for intensive discussions of readings and written assignments.  In my own practice, these encounters will always be one-on-one and ideally will take place on a weekly basis.  At the start of each lesson, my student and I will choose from among two activities:  first, we might engage in an in-depth, Socratic discussion of previously assigned at-home readings; second, I might provide the student with an on-the-spot, oral critique of written work that the student is in process of preparing.  The lesson might also be bifurcated, with a separate allotment of time for both tasks.  In our earliest encounters, however, the student will always focus on reading assignments because the ability to analyze and deploy the sources effectively is a necessary prerequisite to embarking upon written adventures.

Stage 1:
The Sources

Serious persons who wish to have accurate knowledge about anything whatsoever must rely upon primary sources:  documents, images, auditory recordings, and other paraphernalia that were produced by firsthand witnesses.  My students evaluate these sources at home, taking careful notes, before meeting me for guided discussions.  Using primary sources in this way – sources taken from deep in the past – affords the opportunity to visit alien worlds and will augment the pupil's perspicacity in profound ways.  I use the sources to challenge my students to understand why events turned out as they did and how past peoples envisaged reality.  The work that we conduct during these meetings lays the foundations for the subsequent construction of students' research papers.

Stage 2:
The Research Paper

Humanities scholars prize the written word.  It was at Tufts, in my mentor Felipe's classroom, that I first had the opportunity to guide students through the task of writing research papers – an enterprise that unfolded much like a science project conducted in a laboratory.  It all begins with asking a question, of the pupil's own choice, that he or she would like to explore.  He then commences the search for evidence, a journey that tests and refines his acuity at actively observing the world, as it truly is.  Finally, he must use his discoveries in a systematic, well-conceived, and rhetorically pleasing way, committing his thoughts to writing and making a persuasive argument trending one way or another.  I will meet with each student as many times as necessary for the paper to reach its most exquisite state of perfection.

The Great Journey

The research paper is the supreme test of a student's mastery of the liberal arts and has the potential to incorporate all forms of non-fiction, including narrative, expository, persuasive, and descriptive writing.  No other mode of expression – including those available to practitioners of the hard sciences – will more rigorously assess your student's overall intellectual competence.

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Quantitative vs. Qualitative
Reasoning

Rather suddenly, across the past five hundred years, humans accumulated a plethora of novel technologies including mechanized mass production, reliable globe-spanning transit networks, powerful digital home computers, and the internet.  To attain these milestones, we relied upon and privileged what I refer to as "quantitative reasoning," i.e., numerically-based logical processes.  Numbers are abstractions that streamline reality and render scientific advances easier to procure.  Their use, however, demands that complex, interrelated phenomena be broken down into discrete, independent parts – meaning a quantitative perspective can never be holistic.  That is why we traditionally turn to the humanities, which provide sweeping, intuitive data on the basis of what we see, taste, hear, smell, and touch, to empower us to generate comprehensive viewpoints on reality.  Only a qualitative approach  with numerical reasoning subsidiary to and dependent upon it  will enable our young people to arrive at a correct, general understanding of the universe they live in.  This was, indeed, the classical attitude, since the Greeks chose the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) – not the Quadrivium (consisting of astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, and music, i.e., the four numerically-based liberal arts) – to be the foundation of all learning.

The purpose of the educational system, as it exists today, is to teach our young people to situate themselves properly within the world, as it truly is.  Yet we fail to provide them with the tools they need to accomplish this aim.  We impart a great deal of humanities content – i.e., facts (grammar) – but we do not teach students how to use them (logic) and how to communicate about them (rhetoric).  Meanwhile, we introduce the natural and formal sciences such as physics and statistics as though they were superlatively credible.  Numerical measurements, equations, and permutations become the sole bases for reliable and trustworthy conclusions.  Even the term "science" is so complexly intertwined with quantitative reasoning techniques that we assume it cannot exist without numbers, at all.  Never having been exposed to any proof otherwise, students come to believe that numbers are the only window onto truth.  They are given only a snow shovel, yet life (here in the Upper Midwest) presents them with the need to chisel ice just as much as to scoop up snow.

This imposes upon our youth a disadvantage owing to the fact that the human experience is innately qualitative.  We perceive the universe through our five senses, and we translate the insights we gain into unique words that are part of our common language.  This is the first act of translation: the identification of sensual experiences with words.  It is what babies intuit from their parents as they are learning how to speak.  This type of language is the "ice chisel" to which I previously alluded.  And you don't want a dull chisel!  You want one that has been sharpened and cared for.  Sharpening, honing, and oiling that chisel is what I help my students to achieve.

Professionals working in the hard sciences also have a need to translate from the senses to some form of common human language, but instead of using words, they translate to numbers.  Here, indeed, we have the "snow-shovel" approach.  But it creates a variety of problems in the logical process because so many of our experiences cannot meaningfully be expressed numerically.  What might be, for example, the numerical equivalents of "joy" and "sadness"?  Are important ideas like these somehow less real simply because they cannot be expressed in numerical terms?  The snow shovel may permit you to scrape the surface of these topics, as though skimming across an ice-covered porch, but it affords you no greater power than that.

Even where further translation to numbers seems possible (even where it looks like you could break up the ice with your shovel), it might not be a good idea to do so.  As students of languages will tell you, translation results in the loss of some of the meaning that was present in the native tongue, as well as the addition of new meanings based upon the lexicon of the new tongue.  Meaning is lost, and meaning is gained.  The final idea will always be different, in key respects, from the original.  So when translating anything at all, there will always be something that's not communicated properly. What's more is that numbers, as a language, have a key weakness:  compared to common language, they are inherently simplistic.  There are so few of them, and they convey such limited meaning!  To give an example, is it more helpful and meaningful to say that someone is "exceedingly joyous and exuberant" – or that they have a "Joy Rating of 7"?  Your flimsy plastic shovel is unlikely to crack that ice; probably, in fact, it'll be the other way around!  Stick with the ice chisel when dealing with ice, instead.

Might it be possible to work purely in numbers and to avoid intuitions altogether?  To put it bluntly, no.  All numerically-based methodologies rely on our senses in key respects.  We have to observe things, first, before we can reduce them to numbers.  This leads to the further conclusion that intuitions are not inherently misleading.  If our senses are reliable when they serve numbers, must they not also be reliable when they serve qualitative conceptualizations of our world, as well?  After all, translating to numbers is only one of several valid pathways available to us.  We might also translate to common language – and pick up the ice chisel.

In many cases, in fact, this is our best option.  One of the special problems posed by numbers is that they are more idealized – and more metaphorical – than any other mode of expression.  The simplest human language, perhaps, is Toki Pona, which has 123 words.  Even this exceeds the "words" of mathematics, however, which are 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.  Many other languages have hundreds of thousands and sometimes over a million words pertaining to every facet of human existence.  In fact, the exceptional simplicity of the mathematical tongue is what makes it so attractive as a means of reducing reality to understandable components.  Similarly, that plastic snow shovel is likely to have been made in China, in a technically-unsophisticated factory, based on a simplistic design.  But your ice chisel is comprised of finely-wrought steel.  It is, in fact, the more precise tool of the two.

Indeed, the abstraction and excessive simplicity that is so appealing about quantitative reasoning is also its Achilles' heel.  Every study in the formal and natural sciences has as its basis the reduction of disparate objects and phenomena – things that are, in fact, quite different from one another – to being, in key respects, identical.  Only after one thing has been identified as identical to something else can the objects be counted as two.  Counting is the foundation of numerical reasoning.

The problem is that in reality, nothing is exactly the same as anything else.  To take a mundane example, in your city there might be six elementary schools.  To speak of them that way, however, implies that all are the same thing (1+1+1+1+1+1) – when in reality, each school has distinctive architecture, unique teachers, and what might be called a singular institutional personality.  In important ways, therefore, the schools are not the same and cannot be said to exist on a 1-to-1 plane.  They cannot be counted as six of the same thing.  As another example, at the atomic level, every atom is unique, because even atoms of the same substance have electrons whizzing around in seemingly random and continually changing configurations.  Any one atom will never be structurally the same as any other atom.

Regarding the elementary schools, it is far more useful to assign adjectives and explain in paragraphs what makes them similar as well as distinctive and special.  Which approach is technically more accurate – counting them as inherently the same as one another, on a 1-to-1 plane? – or accounting for them holistically, with language?  Sure, when we need to abbreviate, numbers provide a way of speaking about those six schools in shorthand, but we must recognize that we are doing so and that we are failing to account for key aspects of our knowledge about them.  

That said, numbers sometimes impressively parallel the observable world and afford us the opportunity to solve abstruse problems.  Yes, it is true that numbers are incompatible with reality, because no two things are exactly the same; yet it is also true that the hard sciences allow us successfully to manipulate the world in dramatic ways, such as by enabling us to create machines that fly.  It is this strange contradiction that caused the ancient Pythagoreans to revere numbers as having mystical properties.  To put it in another fashion, numbers shouldn't mirror what we perceive with our senses – yet in many ways, they do.  Still, numbers are a special case of reasoning and should never be used to attempt to account for the nature of existence, as a whole.  They provide only an attenuated explanation of the world that surrounds us.

One of the special properties of disciplines like history is that they empower us to use common sense and intuition to account for all features of the observable phenomena – while also employing numbers, in the cases where appropriate – making it possible for us to supersede the limitations imposed by a narrowly quantitative viewpoint.  Within the humanities, moreover, history is a special case.  History includes and employs aspects of all humanities disciplines – and the sciences, too.  Owing to the range of a historian's possible inquiries, he can arrive at new understandings of the world that professionals from other humanities disciplines could never aspire to attain.  Only the most diligent pupils, however, will master the labyrinthine texts and formidable qualitative conundra commonly found in this branch of knowledge.

The study of history, in other words, will enable your student to master the ice chisel while also keeping the snow shovel available for when it is needed.

 

If your student were to encounter an inspiring history teacher, this is an example of the trials he or she might face.  By introducing him to the Science of Everything – the study of the nature of existence, as a whole – the teacher will open your student's mind to the possibility that the universe is far more expansive and complex than the formal and natural sciences are capable of illustrating.  By training his student in grammar and logic, the instructor will offer the means to explore this amazing, complicated world – but it is a labor, and a journey, that is not for the faint of heart. 

Even for the most brilliant aspiring scholars, the way will be perilous. The student will enter a narrow, plashy pathway, inches deep in mud, that is surrounded by gloomy hedges and treacherous ditches and overseen by mysterious, menacing creatures with glowing amber eyes, which must be kept away with fire during the night.  As your student follows this dangerous path – which is traversed principally by means of reading old books containing ancient ideas from past worlds that are now extinct – he will have the opportunity to make discoveries that he never would have chanced upon otherwise.  These ideas might be curious and helpful – or by contrast, poisonous and malignant (for there is evil in the past, just as much as there is good) – yet each of them will contribute to enlightening his intellect in esoteric ways that otherwise might have been impossible.  He will ascertain these new concepts with difficulty and by stretching his mind's capacities.  As he overcomes his previous limitations, he will acquire sophisticated new intellectual tools, of which the ice chisel is but the first of many.  He will also begin to perceive the world more fully than before, as he develops the ability to see it through the eyes of other observers, from other cultures.

The true reward is what he can do with those tools:  namely, he can arrive at an authentic and precise conceptualization of existence, as it truly is, and can communicate that conceptualization to others.  It is a conceptualization that relies upon creativity, good sense, and common logic – i.e., qualitative reasoning.  My role is to act as your student's guide so as to maximize his opportunities for growth and minimize the dangers he faces from the illogic and twisted thinking that so easily might creep up on him were the journey to be taken haphazardly.  The way is arduous – much more exacting and complicated than working in the formal and natural sciences – but the benefits are correspondingly more profound and meaningful.

In sum, quantitative reasoning is a special type of problem-solving that provides far less accurate and useful information than we typically attribute to it.  While it is well suited to improving the material conditions of our lives, it does not equal the versatility of its qualitative counterpart when attempting to account holistically for the nature of existence, in its entirety.  It is not as fine a tool!  In fact, quantitative reasoning is very nearly a way of cheating in the use of logic because it oversimplifies the universe to such a great extent.  Only a qualitative approach, with numerical reasoning subsidiary to and dependent upon it, will enable your student to perceive his surroundings in the truest possible fashion available to the human mind.  This approach is inherent to the humanities, and within those, the discipline of history offers to your student the broadest, most flexible, and most inclusive education there is.

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