is CLASSICAL EDUCATION still possible ? 1
Issue #5 COLUMNS EDITOR’S LETTER by David Kern
CULTURAL CURRENCY: HOW NOT TO TEACH POETRY by Joshua Leland
QUO VADIS: LET US ATTEND by Andrew Kern
F E AT U R E S 16
THE QUADRIVIUM AND THE CHARACTER OF GOD by Greg Wilbur
THE SCHOOL AS TAPESTRY: THE 6 DIMENSIONS OF SCHOOL LIFE by Brian Phillips
IS CLASSICAL EDUCATION STILL POSSIBLE? by David Hicks
E S SAYS THE SEEING OF THE EYE: ON JOB, GOD’S REVELATION & THE PROBLEM OF EVIL by Adam Andrews
THE ARTS AND THE EDUCATION OF ATTENTIVENESS
by Lindsey Brigham
WOR DS OF W ISDOM 10
HOW I DISCOVERED CLASSICAL EDUCATION:
A CONVERSATION WITH ANDR EW PUDEWA by David Kern 13
BOOK REVIEWS by Martin Cothran and Cindy Rollins
ADAM ANDREWS is the director of Center For Lit and a home schooling father of six. Adam earned his B.A. from Hillsdale College and his M.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he is currently a candidate for the Ph.D. He is a Henry Salvatori Fellow of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and a founding board member of Westover Classical Academy in Colville, Washington.
LINDSEY BRIGHAM relishes the chance to learn alongside
Publisher: Andrew Kern, President of the CiRCE Institute
Managing Editor: David Kern A rt Director: Graeme Pitman
Chief Copy Editor: Rebekah Leland
Layout: Aaron Harlow (Blackwood Media Group), David Kern
students at a classical school in her North Florida hometown, where she teaches literature, composition, rhetoric, and logic.
MARTIN COTHRAN is the author of Memoria Press’ Traditional Logic, Material Logic, and Classical Rhetoric programs, and is an instructor of Latin, Logic, Rhetoric, and Classical Studies at Highlands Latin School. He currently serves as senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky. His articles have appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and various other newspapers, as well as on radio and television.
DAVID HICKS is the author of the book Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education and The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of The Meditations. H e is the winner of the 2002 Paideia Prize, given by the CiRCE Institute for dedication to classical education. He and his wife live in Montana.
ANDREW KERN is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author of The Lost Tools of Writing, and a co-author of the
This magazine is published by the CiRCE Institute.
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best-selling book Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, which he wrote with Dr. Gene Edward Veith.
JOSHUA LELAND is a humanities teacher at Covenant Classical School in Concord, NC, where he lives with his family. He earned his BA and MA in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
BRIAN PHILLIPS is the Headmaster of The CiRCE Academy and Director of CiRCE Consulting. He is the pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Church in Concord, NC, a board member of the Cabarrus Women’s Center, and an adjunct faculty member at Belmont Abbey College. He is the author of Sunday Mornings: An Introduction to Biblical Worship
The CiRCE Institute is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that exists to promote and support classical education in the school and in the home. We seek to identify the ancient principles of learning, to communicate them enthusiastically, and to apply them vigorously in today’s educational settings through curricula development, teacher training, events, an online academy, and a content-laden website.
and the editor of the new edition of Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America.
CINDY ROLLINS is the 2016 recipient of the Russell Kirk Paideia Prize and the author of Mere Motherhood: Nursery Rhymes, Morning Times, and My Journey to Sanctification (2016), a memoir of a homeschooling life. She lives in Chattanooga, TN.
GREG WILBUR is Chief Musician at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN, as well as Dean and Senior Fellow of New College Franklin. He earned his Master’s in Music Composition at the University of Alabama and is the author of Glory and Honor: The Music and Artistic Legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach and has released two CDs of his compositions of congregational psalms, hymns and service music.
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Welcome to the Fifth Issue of the CiRCE Magazine
you have ever listened to an episode of “The Mason Jar,” our Charlotte Mason-themed podcast that I co-host with Cindy Rollins, then you have heard me talk about my kids. I can’t really help it. You know how it is: one moment you’re talking about some great idea and the next you’re reflecting about how it might apply to your kid. That’s the way of parenting, I suppose. But, like most parents, the older my kids get (my oldest turns five this week, somehow) the more anxious I get. It’s easy to wonder if my kids are behind, to worry that they’re not as smart as their friends, to fear that we are ruining them and wasting all their vast potential. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the future and what it will demand of them, and of me as their dad. This may be especially true of parents (or, frankly, anyone who regularly cares for or teaches kids) who wish to educate their children classically. We believe that Christian classical education has all the right elements to help us raise wise and virtuous children. But by its very nature, it’s demanding and therefore it’s difficult. At times we wonder if we are doing it right. And that’s good. That’s the right response, I’m sure of it. We should be constantly asking ourselves if we are truly educating classically. Are we true classical educators? To answer that question we need to know what it means to be a classical educator in the first place and what a true classical education looks like. Hopefully this issue of the CiRCE magazine can help answer that. I know that it has helped me think through those questions. There’s a lot of wisdom in the following pages. I’m not sure that I feel less anxious about my kids after reading and editing all these articles, but I certainly feel justified in our collective pursuit of a true Christian classical education. It’s not likely to be an easy one, especially in 2017, but at least we have a worthy path to follow.
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Words of Wisdom: Interview
How I Discovered Classical Education
A CONVERSATION WITH ANDREW PUDEWA
By David Kern
ndrew Pudewa was once described by a young Alaskan boy as the “ funny man with the wonderful words”— perhaps the greatest fan endorsement in world history because it’s both humorous and accurate. The founder and director of the award-winning Institute for Excellence in Writing, Pudewa is a much-loved public speaker best known for his ability to communicate complicated ideas with clarity, humor, and profundity all at once. For years he has been speaking about writing, music, spelling, memory, and much more, but, of late, he can also be found at various classical education events (including at CiRCE conferences). In a way this makes sense, because classical education brings together so many of his interests; but he was late in discovering classical education, as he explains here. This interview has been edited slightly for clarity. When did classical education first come on your radar? I read a book by John Taylor Gatto entitled, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education. That was probably in 1991 or 1992. I found the book to be very freeing, as it helped me answer the question I had been asking myself at that time, “Why am I so stupid?” I had, at the age of 31, with a young and rapidly growing family, become acutely aware of how poorly educated I was, and in reading Gatto’s book, I realized it might not only be because I was lazy or unapt. Perhaps it was the type of education I had experienced. The only problem, however, was that Gatto didn’t really explain any alternatives other than his kind of eclectic teaching style . . . but that book planted the seed in my mind—there must be a better way. After a while, the Gatto thinking kind of went off my screen, as I was busy teaching violin and early childhood music classes. Then, for a couple years, I quit teaching entirely and started a different business in California, which—to make a long story short—I found dissatisfying and even depressing. However, my wife and I were always thinking and researching the best options for educating our children, a couple of whom were in a small Christian school at the time while a couple were being home schooled. I don’t recall exactly where it came from, but somehow a copy of Doug Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning made it into our hands, and that was the beginning of our pursuit of classical education. It provided the solution to the Gatto problem. We were excited.
So excited, in fact, that we left California and moved to Moscow, Idaho so that one of our children could attend Logos School! So I got to know Doug Wilson, James Nance, Wes Callihan, and other “pioneers” in classical Christian education. We lived in Moscow three years, and that’s where I started IEW. In fact, the second TWSS (Teaching Writing: Structure & Style) seminar I ever taught was at Logos school for their teachers and a few homeschoolers in town. By the time we left Idaho in 1999, there were many other classical schools coming into existence around the country, and soon after that, Veritas Press began to provide classical education curriculum to the home education market. So in those days when you were first discovering Classical Education, what about it was most attractive to you? Was it initially just that it was a viable alternative to what you found in Gatto, or was there more to it? I would say that in the early days, things were a bit confusing. It was possible to go to a homeschool convention and hear three different talks on classical education and come out more confused than before, wondering if the presenters were actually talking about the same thing. Trying to sort it out and reading more books, I came
Words of Wisdom: Interview
to see better the commonalities and found that the differences were more in priority than in content; some people explained classical education primarily in terms of methodology (talking about the “grammar stage,” “logic stage,” and “rhetoric stage” a la Dorothy Sayers’ essay). Others seemed to talk more about curriculum, with Great Books and Latin at the core. Others, like DeMille in his “Leadership Education” model (which he never called “Classical” but instead “the education of great leaders like Thomas Jefferson”) had a fuzzier approach: Classics and Mentors (with the mentor idea pointing toward a Socratic teaching approach). One large book published around that time seemed so comprehensive that it made me feel a bit overwhelmed and hopeless; giving up halfway through, I thought, “We’ll never be able to do all that in a million years!” So I was attracted to Classical Education like by a tremendous force of gravity, but what I came to realize was that it is a huge planet with different continents. The question for me was, “On which continent do I want to plant myself and my family?”
I feel a bit like Moses—I can see the promised land of a great education although I may not live long enough to get there myself. But getting closer is worth the effort, so I shall blunder on.
Did you settle on a particular flavor of classical education? Where did your studies take you? One of the most significant influences on our direction was John Senior’s collection, The Restoration of Christian Culture, which I found in 2002. Reading it, I really woke up to the vital importance of literature. Until then I probably gave lip service to literature, but I didn’t truly see the good and great books as the core of a curriculum. Being the product of the public school system and having been required to read many depressing existentialist books in high school, I was somewhat ambivalent towards literature. Then, as a young adult, I read mostly non-fiction and books pertaining to my professional interests. Honestly, I probably didn’t read a novel for ten years. But Senior’s book opened my mind and heart to the need for placing an emphasis on literature in my teaching and in our home. For the first time, I read—with a group of teenagers—books such as Jane Eyre, Don Quixote, A Tale of Two Cities. So I guess the “continent” I landed on might be called the “Why Classical Education” with the answer provided by Andrew Kern: “…the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nurturing the soul with goodness, truth, and beauty…” For my wife and me, this gave us a good discernment tool: If a curricular decision would bring goodness, truth, and beauty into the lives of our children, it should be considered; if it didn’t, we could comfortably ignore it. It helped us navigate the many options available. Now almost fifteen years later, most of my children are grown up and out of the house, and I wish we all could have done even more reading—aloud to each other at home, in discussion classes, and individually.
Fortunately, I still have some classes of students in our local homeschool community, so I have an excuse to keep reading and teaching literature. What other aspects of classical education do you consider most important?
Well, obviously writing, since that’s my business, but I might unpack that a bit. Composition is obviously the integration of the skills of Trivium—the liberal arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and while I have continued to teach our system of Structure and Style, I have also become aware of the importance of the formal study of those three foundational liberal arts as well. About seven years ago, I heard Cheryl Lowe give a talk entitled, “The Top Ten Reasons to Teach Latin,” and by the end of it I was miserable—and convicted that I was going to have to teach Latin in our community, something I had only a smattering of in high school decades ago. In California, my kids had a Latin teacher and I didn’t know much of what they were doing, but at least I could trust that they were getting something. After moving to rural Oklahoma, it became evident that if the younger kids were going to get any Latin, I was going to have to teach it. So I did. I started a first year class with twenty-three students age ten to seventeen. Desperately trying to stay a few lessons ahead of them, I carved time out of my life to learn and teach. The next year I lost a few few students, but continued on. The third year, I started to learn all sorts of interesting grammar things, and by the end of teaching the fourth year, I realized that I had learned more about grammar and the structure of language in four years of studying Latin than I had in the past twenty years of teaching English composition! Needless to say, I am now a strong proponent of Latin for every student—it is absolutely the best way to have “x-ray vision” into English. I also undertook the teaching of formal logic, also something with which I had very little experience. As I taught a two-year logic class, staying just a few lessons ahead of the students, I watched it slowly improve my own listening and thinking. Some of the students, of course, were faster than I was at grasping concepts, but persistence paid off. I am now convinced of the importance of explicit teaching of logic, not just within the context of math or writing. Then with a smattering of experience in real grammar and logic, my teaching of rhetoric was more effective (or at least easier). I only wish I had begun twenty years ago, since at my age now it is unlikely I will become a master of any of it, though I hope to continue to study the rest of my life. Sometimes, when discouraged, I remember a most helpful G.K. Chesterton quote: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” I do believe my floundering pursuit of a real education has been worth it. In what ways has practicing classical education in your life changed
Words of Wisdom: Interview
you? That is, has your attempt to study and teach classically affected your daily habits, rituals, etc?
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Well, that is hard to say, since I don’t really know what I would be like had I not taken this path. Certainly there’s been a need for more discipline in study and preparation. Owning a growing business has made it a challenge for me to carve out time to teach for a day each week during the school year, but it’s been very good for me—kind of slowed me down a bit. And we all know the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I’m on my second or third time through some books—books I probably would not have read twice had I not volunteered to teach them. In teaching writing, Andrew Kern and I both discovered the same thing: it’s all about the questions. So I hope I’ve been able to learn to ask better questions of my students and myself. Now with my own children grown and the available grandchildren quite young, I’m tempted to quit my classes, but something inside me says no, keep doing it for the other people’s kids—which may be an excuse for me to keep studying myself. I do want to read Homer and Dante again, and without some teenagers to do it with, I doubt I would take the time. So it seems that the pursuit of a classical education for me has become a lifestyle and a journey, although I feel a bit like Moses—I can see the promised land of a great education although I may not live long enough to get there myself. But getting closer is worth the effort, so I shall blunder on.
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Words of Wisdom: Book Reviews
RE-VISITING HONEY FOR A CHILD’S HEART by Gladys Hunt
Reviewed by Cindy Rollins
no longer have my original heavily underlined copy of Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart. I lent it to a ‘friend’, once, and then later noticed it on her bookshelf. I hesitantly hinted that it was mine. Perhaps she didn’t hear me, but I came very close to stealing it back. The booklist in the back of that copy was covered in notes and codes: O for own, RA for read-aloud, initials of children who had read the book, and so on. I miss that old friend. The book, that is, not the thief. Instead, I have in front of me a much nicer library-bound copy, pristine, an earlier edition than my copy, and as I browse it I realize that of the picture books mentioned on the first three pages of the densely typed bibliography, I have read aloud all but four. This is not really surprising since Honey for a Child’s Heart was the book that changed the course of my life, the course of my own bibliography — and as any real reader knows, your bibliography is your biography. When I found Honey for A Child’s Heart sometime in the early 1980s, it gave me a new way of seeing. Suddenly all the books I had plowed through as a young girl in the DeLand Public Library fit into the scope and sequence of my life. The Witch of Blackbird Pond and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were not just one-and-done books read by a moody teenaged girl, they were remembered, classified, stored in the file cabinet titled My Life. Reading through any booklist is a trip down memory lane and the booklist which takes up a third of Honey for a Child’s Heart is especially poignant for the reading mother. Lest I linger too long over past readings of Bread and Jam for Frances or Lassie Come Home, I am reminded that all is not lost or forgotten, for I have grandchildren. Honey for a Child’s Heart is a treatise on reading aloud to children. It is a book about books. That’s the funny thing about people who read books: they especially enjoy reading books about books. Just reading through a booklist can send a reader into an afternoon reverie. “Treasure Island, aye, aye, I have been there.” “Sir Launfal, Oh, my, that was a lovely summer’s day.” “Oh, dear, I have never read Black Like Me. I wonder if the library has it?” “How Green Was My Valley haunts me still. So happy to see someone else remembers it.” For that is what a book list is— a remembrance—either of things past or things to come. I love that it’s decorated with original illustrations from various children’s books. The picture of Christopher Robin and Pooh playing Pooh Sticks is enough to send me through the looking glass of memories. Did we ever walk over a bridge spanning waters without at least one game? After all, I did name one of my sons Christopher Robert; I just wasn’t quite brave enough to go the whole way, for which timidity Chris
is profusely thankful. Would you believe he recently met a friend also going through special forces training named Christopher Robert? They looked at each other and laughed. “Your mom, too?” Our sons grew up to be a bit braver than their mothers. And here is a picture of Wilbur grinning from ear to ear, under Charlotte’s web with letters spelling T-E-R-R-I-F-I-C. Why do I have a lump in my throat? It is just a picture. It is just a book—a work of fiction. It is not true, is it? I wouldn’t be mourning for a pretend spider giving her life to save a pretend pig from becoming bacon, would I? The book’s title insinuates that this honey is for children and yet most adult lives would be sweetened by reading these classics. A few years ago my husband started noticing he did not read enough. And instead of jumping into Tom Clancy or Plato, he began reading children’s classics. He fell in love with Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure stories about Sir Gerard and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. As Hunt reminds us, “C.S. Lewis says that no book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally worth reading at the age of fifty.” “What makes a good book?” That is the title of chapter three; it is a simple, clear chapter that is at the heart of what makes Honey for a Child’s Heart stand the test of time. “A good writer,” she writes, “has something worthy to say and says it in the best possible way. Then he respects the child’s ability to understand. Principles are not preached but are implicit in the writing.” We must understand that sentence if we are to understand what to read and how to teach. We must stop stealing the mystery away from our children. Hunt ends the chapter with a story of her son pondering how he learned to care for nature. He learned it over many years from many books, he decides. “You put the whole childhood of reading together and you don’t have to take a conservation course.” Fiction as much as non-fiction can teach us about the world around us, the attitudes to emulate and those to shun. With Honey for a Child’s Heart as my guide, I spent thirty-two years, and counting, reading the best books to my children and students. Often I find myself re-reading favorite stories to new students. I feel a thrill of delight as I open the spine of old friends knowing someone else is about to love them too. Recently, I read the first chapter of Treasure Island to two children unused to hearing stories. They seemed listless and uninterested. So I returned the next week thinking I would try another book only to find them disappointed. “Please, please read Treasure Island, Miss Cindy,” they clamored. Old Pew and the black spot here we come. I am just as excited as the children. CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 13
Words of Wisdom: Book Reviews
5 BOOKS ON THE MORAL IMAGINATION by Martin Cothran
have been asked to recommend five books on the “moral imagination”—an assignment that sounds easy on the face of it and yet is very hard. It has caused me to ask myself what exactly is meant by the expression “moral imagination,” an expression one rarely runs across these days. It lacks the rational or technical flavor we modern people like in our language and therefore appears to lack precision. So my first task is to determine its meaning. How might this be done? This question leads me right to the first book I must recommend: Russell Kirk’s Eliot and His Age. I resort to this book first because of its subtitle: T. S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century. There is our mysterious expression; surely the book must tell us what it means. Kirk (after whom the CiRCE Institute has titled the Russell Kirk Paideia Prize) was the father of modern intellectual conservatism. It was his book, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (a book I could have easily included among my recommendations), that formed the conservative movement in the mid-twentieth century, a movement that seems to have foundered on the rocks of individualism and libertarianism by the end of the century. And indeed, Edmund Burke and T. S. Eliot, two thinkers whose ideas Kirk spilled much ink extolling, may be the two greatest exponents of this moral imagination as Kirk conceived it. In fact, it was Burke who first coined the term in the second book I must recommend, Reflections on the French Revolution, a book that some have credited with single-handedly preventing the same kind of revolution from occurring in England that was happening in France in the late eighteenth century. It was a revolution conducted in the name of reason, progress, equality, and freedom against custom, tradition, and religion. But even more than that, the French Revolution was a war on the traditional conception of man. Its redefinition of the cosmos, its hacking of reality down to the merely material, operating by mechanical rules, forced the redefinition of man. Burke rightly perceived that the Revolution was an attempt to amputate the moral imagination of man so that he might fit into a new and truncated materialistic world. Burke recognized the enemy as ideology, a word now used promiscuously, but which Burke (and Kirk, his follower) saw as a secular religion. An ideology is a reductionist view in which all reality must be hewn to fit its secular and materialist paradigm, as in the bed of Procrustes, the legendary Greek robber who hacked off the limbs of his victims who were too tall to fit in his bed and stretched those who were too short.
In the case of the French Revolution, it was articulated rationality that rationality divorced from custom and tradition, a sterilized and dehumanized rationality that was set at odds with what classical thinkers like Cicero had called “right reason” (recta ratio), the agreement with unchanging nature. This articulated rationality would displace right reason, as the Goddess of Reason had replaced God Himself in the Temple of Notre Dame in 1793. Burke saw that the “sophisters and calculators” who powered such revolutions were the enemies of the truly human, and their radical ideologies threatened civilization itself. The majestic rhetoric Burke deployed against the enemies of Western culture formed his Reflections, the book Kirk considered the first modern conservative work. What Kirk saw was that the Revolutionaries are still with us, and the enemies of order are ever working woe on those who still cling to the “unbought grace of life” about which Burke spoke so passionately. Kirk articulates and defends both the external and internal orders that are at stake in our cultural crisis in both Eliot and His Age and in the third book I recommend, Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormality in Literature and Politics. This second Kirk book trains its sites upon the “modern defiance of enduring standards in literature and politics,” and explains how these standards are threatened by the “normative decay” that “gnaws at order in the person and at order in the republic.” Kirk once told the story of being called into the Oval Office by Richard Nixon. The President told him of asking Henry Kissinger what books he should read, and complained of the length of both the books and the lists his secretary of state gave him. What one book, Nixon asked, should he read? Unhesitatingly, Kirk told him, “Notes Toward the Definition of Culture, by T. S. Eliot.” But, said Kirk, “Nixon seemed faintly reproachful at my sibylline recommendation.” Whatever Nixon may have thought, it is my fourth recommended book. In Bradley J. Birzer’s excellent new book, Russell Kirk: American Conservative (another book I could have recommended if I had been asked for a longer list), he points out that Kirk thought that Eliot “understood, piercingly, the movement of all Western society in government, education, and business toward an embrace of ‘the machine,’ fragmenting the human person as mere parts, with an arrogant, semi- or uneducated elite ruling over all.” Finally, I recommend a book by a writer unfamiliar to Kirk, largely, I think, because he came to prominence only toward the end of Kirk’s life. That book is After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, by Alasdair MacIntyre. It may be the most influential book of philoso-
Words of Wisdom: Book Reviews
phy written in the last forty years, having single-handedly retrieved virtue ethics from the dustbin of history. MacIntyre’s book is a diagnosis of the failure of ethical theory since the Enlightenment to make any sense of what we conceive of as morality. What MacIntyre proposes is the reconnection of morality with the imagination. He recommends a return to the classical view of ethics first proposed and articulated in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in which the right action was that which corresponded with and perfected the person’s innate human nature. It was that action which brought the person closer to the ideal of what a human should be. This view of ethics held sway in the West until it was thrown out along with the rest of the medieval theological and philosophical synthesis during the European Enlightenment. From these books we discover that the imagination is that faculty by which we are able to envision what could be—and that the specifically moral imagination is that faculty by which we are able to envision what should be. It is that faculty that distinguishes us from the beast. It’s what Aristotle meant when he referred to man as the “rational animal,” not the etiolate rationality of the French Revolutionaries, but the true rationality by which we see, not just the True, but the Good and the Beautiful.
h ad this experience when I first read Flannery O’Connor. I knew she was doing something, but I could not quite understand. I could tell that her stories were packed with symbols and ideas, but I failed to grasp the sacramental significance. By reading and re-reading the stories, reading O’Connor about her stories, and reading and listening to others talk about her stories, I began to see and to recognize what she was doing, what she had created, what she had to say, and how she said it. Flannery O’Connor insisted that stories are more than just narrative. In Mystery and Manners she wrote, “People have a habit of saying, ‘What is the theme of your story?’ and they expect you to give them a statement: ‘The theme of my story is the economic pressure of the machines on the middle class’ or some other such absurdity. And when they’ve got a statement like that, they go off happy and feel like it is no longer necessary to read the story.” Her point is that how a story is told is integral to the entirety of the art. Story cannot be reduced simply to theme or narrative. In our mechanistic, reductionist age, too often the grand story of the universe—of all creation—gets reduced to bits and parts, atoms and quarks, facts and factoids. We miss the beauty and wonder of the story and fail to see and recognize what the Creator is doing, what He created, what He has to say, and how He has said it. We are too easily satisfied with the cosmic themes, and we “go off happy and feel like it is no longer necessary” to read, to comprehend, to study, to truly know the handiwork of the Creator or to see His glory declared in that which He has made. But this is a problem the Quadrivium can help us solve.
this changes the very nature, purpose, and process of discovery by focusing on disconnected pieces. However, by looking at the universe as interconnected and structured, we find its root in the creative order of an Almighty God who made the heavens and the earth. For thousands of years, this was the dominant idea and foundation of intellectual and theological thought. Since God created an orderly world, by studying this world through the means of number, we would not only learn more about the creation but we would learn about the Creator. The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain is a helpful and comprehensive approach to classical education that places the Quadrivium in the broader context of a fully realized vision for Christian Classical education. They write that the original role of the Quadrivium was “to lead the mind to the realm of eternal and unchanging truths,” but that was “eventually displaced by the amazing power of mathematics to describe the physical world.” Both are necessary: “the useful and the formative.” However, as Clark and Jain remind us, Plato speaks in The Republic about the importance of the formative aspect of mathematics above its usefulness. “Plato believed that the study of mathematics leads the mind toward pure reason and cultivates the true love of wisdom (the origin of the term philosophy). By training one’s thoughts on the perfections of mathematics, the mind learns to transcend the level of changing opinions to identify objective truth.” This wisdom and truth is found in none other but God Himself.
Thou hast ordered all things in measure and number and weight. — Wisdom of Solomon
Historically, students studied the Quadrivium in order to explore the fabric of the cosmos. The language of this discovery is number— the meaning of number, numbers in relation, numerical relations in time, temporal numerical relations in space. Or, Arithmetic, Geometry, Harmonia, and Cosmology. Michael S. Schneider writes that “Numbers are a map of the beautiful order of the universe, the plan by which the divine Architect transformed undifferentiated Chaos into orderly Cosmos.” As C.S. Lewis writes in The Discarded Image, the medieval understanding of the world, as inherited from the ancients and translated through the lens of Christianity, assumes a divine hand at work in an ordered world that is imbued with meaning. He describes it as “tingling with anthropomorphic life, dancing, ceremonial, a festival not a machine.” However, Christians are not immune to falling into the kind of mechanistic approach of which Lewis warns. In Redeeming Mathematics, Vern Poythress writes, “Christians have sometimes adopted an unbiblical concept of God that moves him one step out of the way of our ordinary affairs. We ourselves may think of ‘scientific law’ or ‘natural law’ or mathematics as a kind of cosmic mechanism or impersonal clockwork that runs the world most of the time, while God is on vacation. God comes and acts only rarely through miracle. But this is not biblical. ‘You cause the grass to grow for the livestock’ (Ps. 104: 14). ‘He gives snow like wool’ (Ps. 147: 16). Let us not forget it.” If we think of the cosmos from a mechanistic starting point,
Most, if not all, of our study of arithmetic involves the use of Arabic numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. As such, our minds more naturally gravitate towards the use of numbers, their function, and utility. In Redeeming Mathematics, Poythress explains multiple doctrines of the character of God based on simple arithmetic by analyzing 2+2=4. The truth/existence of that basic addition problem is immaterial and invisible, transcendent and immanent, rational, personal, beautiful, and displays righteousness (“arithmetical laws lead to consequences”). Calvin has 4 apples and throws 2 of them at Susie Derkins. How many apples does he have left? 4-2=2 Simple, straightforward, and helpful, these laws of arithmetic ignite the philosophical and theological discussion that Poythress expresses. However, this word problem fails to address the concept of “two” (or “two-ness” or the dyad), the meaning of “four” (or the tetrad), or the relationship between them. The ancient Greeks’ use of pips and symbols allows for contemplation of a different idea of number. The monad (one), expressed this way , signifies stability, essence, foundation, and unity. All numbers are related to the monad because it forms a part of all other numbers. The triad suddenly has a different connotation than “3” does. Unlike the Arabic numeral, the connection within the number itself becomes more apparent—each pip is related to the other two pips individually and collectively; the composition of the triad is the combination of the monad and the
dyad; the presence of the monad itself; the aspect of tri-unity or trinity becomes more clear. In addition (pun intended), arithmetic and the meaning of numbers present the philosophical question of the one and the many. For Aristotle, this line of thought caused him to realize that something could be one in essence and quality. By recognizing the unity and diversity inherent in the world, theologians directed their thinking to the unity and diversity of God as Trinity. Clark and Jain explain this connection in that: The early Church fathers elaborated the doctrine of God’s Trinitarian nature as the true foundational mystery grounding the problem of the one and the many. How God can be one nature and three persons is certainly inscrutable, though demonstrated as true in Christ. Augustine then recognized that if the Creator were a Trinity, creation might bear that imprint. Exploring the vestige trinitatis, the marks of the Trinity upon all created reality, then, suggests a path connecting this ancient Quadrivial tradition, not only to wisdom, but to worship as well . . . Arithmetic then offers a timeless introduction to the Quadrivium.
Art is an experience of balance, of the relationship of its parts to the whole. Perceiving it as anything else is missing its most fundamental component. A fine painting, a piece of sculpture, a work of architecture, music, prose, or poetry is organized and gracefully balanced around a hidden sense of proportion. — Priva Hemenway Geometry consists of numbers in relation or proportion to one another. One of the beauties of Euclid’s Elements consists in immersing a student into ratios, lines, shapes, and angles instead of just solving numerical equations. The logical progression and principles of discovery in Euclid can apply to any particular number, but the ideas behind them have deeper significance. He begins with the definition of a point—“that which has no part.” A point occupies no space and no dimension. It has no length, height, or breadth. Two points connected create a line, or, in Euclid’s words, “breadthless length.” With two points there is no height or breadth but there is a dimension of length. Three points connected create a triangle in two dimensions with length and height. A suspended, connected point over the middle of the triangle creates breadth and, thus, the third dimension (a tetrahedron). Paul gives us a bit of a geometry lesson in Ephesians 3:17-19: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Thus Paul uses a geometrical image to express the love of Christ. With regards to biblical typology, understanding ratios, proportions, and relationships significantly increases our ability to comprehend the symbols inherent in Scripture. There is correspondence between the Garden of Eden, the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, the
structure of the cosmos, and heaven itself. As Poythress puts it, “The tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon accordingly have symbolism that has affinities with the creation as a whole, and in particular with heaven as the dwelling place of God.” He goes on to say that, “The simple proportionalities belong to the small house, which is an image of heaven and in fact of the whole universe as the large house filled by God’s presence (Jer. 23: 24; compare 1 Kings 8: 27). The fact that the small house is a copy or image of the big house suggests that the big house may also display harmonious proportionalities. And indeed this turns out to be true, as the mathematical character of basic physical laws attests.”
The purpose of education is love—to see God in such a way as to love Him—to see the King in His beauty, the craftsman in His work, and the poet in His theme. God designed the cosmos and gave instructions for the building of His earthly habitation to imitate in proportion His heavenly dwelling. There is a reason for the created order that reflects divine design. In her essay, “The Pythagorean Doctrine,” Simone Weil illustrates this point by saying, “In a general way, and in the widest sense, mathematics, including under this name all rigorous and pure theoretical study of necessary relationships, constitutes at once the unique knowledge of the material universe wherein we exist and the clearest reflection of divine truths . . . It is this same mathematics which is first, before all, a sort of mystical poem composed by God himself.” Through the study of the Greeks and geometry, Weil places great significance in the idea of Divine mediation as demonstrated through geometrical proofs of circles and right triangles. Which leads into the study of music and sound.
We shall therefore borrow all our Rules for the Finishing of Proportions, from the Musicians, who are the greatest Masters of this Sort of Numbers, and from those Things wherein Nature shows herself most excellent and compleat. — Leon Battista Alberti As opposed to treating this discipline in the Quadrivium as simply music theory or music instruction, using the term Harmonia opens up this study to musica humana and musica mundana—the music of man and the music of the spheres. Harmonia is the study of harmonious relationships that reflect the biblical idea of shalom—peace, rightness, concord, or the way things are supposed to be. This idea of shalom operates on multiple levels—within a person (in their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being) as well as within relationships, organizations, society, or the movement of the heavenly spheres. We use this language all the time when we say that our car needs a tune-up, that an eco-system is balanced, or that “The man that hath no music in himself,/Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,/Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils (Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene 1).” Augustine put it this way:
The peace of the body, therefore, lies in the balanced ordering of its parts; the peace of the irrational soul lies in the rightly ordered disposition of the appetites; the peace of the rational soul lies in the rightly ordered relationship of cognition and action; the peace of the body and soul lies in the rightly ordered life and health of a living creature; peace between mortal man and God is an ordered obedience, in faith, under an eternal law; and peace between men is an ordered agreement of mind with mind. The peace of a household is an ordered concord, with respect to command and obedience, of those who dwell together; the peace of a city is an ordered concord, with respect to command and obedience, of the citizens; and the peace of the Heavenly City is a perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and of one another in God. The peace of all things lies in the tranquility of order, and order is the disposition of equal and unequal things in such a way as to give to each its proper place. Harmonia can best be understood, illustrated, heard, and experienced through the means of music. Even non-musicians have an innate sense of the movement of a melody and when it comes to a place of rest. They can recognize something that is discordant or harmonious. They can anticipate musical order and how music fulfills or plays against that ideal expectation. Reality is divided between the way things were meant to be and the way things are. We catch a vision of that in Genesis 1-2 with a world created good—where Adam and Eve have harmonious relationship with God, each other, and the surrounding world. This is shalom: the way things were meant to be. Sin wrecked that order and added a discordant tuning to that which God had made and thus reflects the way things are in our broken world. Steven Guthrie discusses that idea by including the concept of ratio and the disruption that sin causes: The fundamental human dilemma is that by aspiring to equality with God (Genesis 3:5) humanity has abandoned its well-ordered place within God’s Song of the Universe [carmen universitatis]. There has been a universal loss of ratio. We no longer stand in right relation to God. We no longer stand in right relation to the non-human creation (“Cursed is the ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat of it.” Genesis 3: 17), and we no longer stand in right relation to one another. More than this, we no longer stand in right relation to ourselves. (And so Paul for instance can speak of the members of his body waging war against the law of his mind, making him a prisoner of his own members. (Romans 7:23).) As Augustine recognizes, though body and soul are part of a differentiated unity, our experience in this life is often that of a hostile and mutually antagonistic plurality: body and mind, affections, appetites, and imaginations, resisting, refusing, and tormenting one another. In each of these arenas, we see that Satan is the Father of separation; that the dynamic of sin is division;
that the hallmark of corruption is the distortion of relation. The study of music and harmonia instructs us to identify the ideal, the discordant, the reality of sin, and the need for redemption. As Christ brings reconciliation and makes peace by the blood of His cross, He does so as the image of God by whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together (Col 1:15-20). Christ brings order and harmony to the cosmos.
Just as when one hears from afar a lyre, made up of many different strings, and wonders at their harmonious symphony, that not only the low one produces a sound, not only the high one, and not only the middle one, but all sound together in balanced tension, and one concludes from all this that the lyre neither operates by itself nor is played by many, but rather that there is one musician who by his art blends the sound of each string into a harmonious symphony—even though one fails to see him—so too, since there is an entirely harmonious order in the world as a whole, without things being at odds with those below, and those below with those above, but one completed order of all; it follows that we know there is one leader and king of all creation, not many, who illuminates and moves everything with his own light. — Athanasius, Oratio Contra Gentes 38 Cosmology is not only the study of astronomy but also of the great cosmic ordering sustained by Christ through the word of His power. Clark and Jain explain that, “While grounded in wonder, respecting work, and leading to wisdom, natural philosophy also situated its endeavor in the context of worship. The entire medieval vision of reality was conceived from the perspective of an ordered unity—a cosmos comprised of both whole and parts. While the ancient Pre-Socratics and Pythagoreans developed the concept of an ordered cosmos, the medievals understood it as creation ordered by Christ, the logos, under the creative impulse of God.” Steven Guthrie sums up this idea: In fact (as the Pythagorean tradition acknowledges), the very acoustical and harmonic foundations of music reflect principles of mathematical proportion and balance—principles expressed in every aspect of the universe, animate and inanimate. While one of the purposes of the cosmos is the creation of music, the ultimate purpose of all things, including music, is the glory of God. It is this common telos which unifies creation and invests every act and object with purpose and meaning. All things are good and significant, because they all may contribute to the Highest Good. Additionally, there is unity to the cosmos, because all things have been created for one purpose and end. Thus, the movement of the spheres expresses the beauty of The Great Dance—the interplay, motion, direction, and order of a Divinely orchestrated dance in which every step and every dancer, no matter how minor or periphery, contributes to the overall beauty and purpose of the whole.
The most beautiful things are those most reflecting of God. Along with the saints and angels, we are called into a gallery to behold the glory of God on display. The heavens declare the glory and the beauty and the splendor and the infinite variety of God, and we are called to dance in that creation. Christ is glorified as the Word of God—everything in existence was called forth by His word, is held together by His word, and is itself the communication of God: in number, in space and relationship, in harmonia and the music of the spheres, in time and space. God is all in all: sovereign over all, creating all, employing all for His glory and beauty. Arithmetic points us to the Trinity; Geometry shows the need for mediation; Harmonia displays redemption and reconciling peace; Cosmology calls us to move in sanctifying submission to the steps of the Lord of the Dance. Dante traveled through the seven spheres of heaven from sun and moon and planets and stars to encounter the living light of Divine Love “which moves the sun and the other stars.” The
Unified Theory of Everything is Christ and the Word of His power. As we begin to apprehend this with knowledge, we are led to wonder and awe and worship. Returning to Ephesians 3:17-19, Paul calls us to be rooted and grounded in love, to have the strength to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ, and to be filled with the fullness of God. A line, a triangle, a tetrahedron—from one dimension to three dimensions. But Paul doesn’t stop there: by adding depth he moves us into the fourth dimension—to new discovery and to greater fullness of Divine Love. The purpose of education is love—to see God in such a way as to love Him—to see the King in His beauty, the craftsman in His work, and the poet in His theme. The forms that flutter at the edge of our sight are the workings of Divine Love. This is Aristotle’s unmoved mover—no desire, no lack—yet He sets all else in motion, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest (their peace, their shalom) in Him.
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lassic literature is one of the great humanizing forces of our civilization. This is because literature can take an arcane philosophical problem and clothe it with living flesh, forcing
readers to grapple with universal questions in the context of human relationships. At its best, classic literature calls forth essentially human reactions from its readers; the more we read it, the more human we become. ¶ Take, for example, the problem of evil – one of humanity’s most intransigent philosophical and theological questions: “If God is good (so that He opposes evil) and powerful (so that He is able to prevent it), how do we interpret the existence of evil in the world?” ¶ If you were to confront this problem classically — that is, in the context of a classic story — you might expect a profoundly human discussion instead of a technical, systematic exposition of philosophical and theological points. ¶ If you were to choose the Old Testament story of Job as your classic, you would not be disappointed. It turns out that the world’s oldest work of literature is also the most profound treatment of the problem of evil ever written. Job’s suffering provides the perfect context for a discussion of this problem because it appears to represent pure evil coming directly from the hand of God. Job is supposedly undeserving of this treatment, so the obvious solution to the dilemma (that man brings suffering upon himself by exercise of his free will, independent of God) does not work. God is involved here, no question about that. He afflicts, for some reason and by some means still to be determined, an innocent man. Thus, an analysis of the story almost always ends in some sort of theodicy — a justification of God’s ways or explanation of how His actions can be reconciled with what else we know of Him. But I don’t think this is the main point of the story at all. This is not a story about how God is just, or good, or powerful. It’s a story about how he loves Job. It’s
a story about how God uses suffering to pursue Job and save him from his sin. It’s a story about how God forges a relationship with Job that is based on honesty and truth. It’s a story about how God makes Job a minister of the gospel.
JOB THE SINNER?
The scriptures are quick to introduce Job as a “blameless and upright” man who “feared God and shunned evil” (1:1). How then can we claim that the point of the story is the salvation of Job the sinner? It’s a good question. There certainly seems to be no argument against Job’s behavior. He is scrupulously concerned for his spiritual welfare and that of his family. He is careful to observe religious rituals and sacrifices for his children against the possibility that they have sinned without his knowledge (1:5). You might say that Job knows exactly how to keep his people in God’s good graces. And it certainly seems to be working. Job has be-
come a wealthy man, and “the greatest of all the people of the East” (1:3). You could very easily come to the conclusion that Job’s relationship with God is a simple contract: Job fears God and shuns evil; therefore, God blesses Job abundantly. If his conduct in chapter 1 is any indication, Job would undoubtedly have agreed with you. But you would both be wrong. Job’s concern for the external observance of his religion blinds him to the true nature of God’s relationship with man. This blindness becomes perfectly clear as Job labors to understand his suffering. This blindness, in fact, is the reason God sent suffering to Job in the first place: to open his eyes, not to sins his sons have committed in secret, but to his own sinfulness.
After God allows Satan to strip Job of all that he has, Job shares an ash heap with three neighbors, known to history as Job’s “comforters,” though their claim to this title is arguable, given what they say to him. These well meaning friends — Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar — take turns offering Job insight and exhortation in his distress. Job responds to each of them in turn, and the cycles of exhortation and response take up 28 of the story’s 42 chapters (4-31). It is an often stormy exchange: Job and his friends disagree violently and neither is able to convince the other of his position. The argument covers the same ground repeatedly until finally the comforters give up and “cease answering Job” because he refuses to capitulate (32:1). But what are they arguing about? Though they take a long time to say it, their message is very simple: Job’s friends are convinced that he has sinned and brought this suffering upon himself. Job, on the other hand, steadfastly maintains his innocence and the rectitude of his behavior. Here are a few characteristic passages: • Eliphaz: Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of His anger they are consumed. (4:7-9) • Bildad: Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice? If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression. If you were pure and upright, surely now He would awake for you, and prosper your rightful dwelling place. (8:3-4, 6) • Zophar: Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves. (11:6) • Job: [God] knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have
kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (23:10-12)
LEVERS OF HEAVEN
The adversarial tone of the conversation between Job and his comforters disguises an all-important fact: they agree absolutely in matters of religion. When it comes to basic assumptions about what God is like and how man relates to him, there is not a dime’s worth of difference between Job and his three friends. Eliphaz’s pronouncement that God never punishes the righteous and Bildad’s assertion that God surely rewards them are echoed by Job’s proclamation that God will reward his integrity. Elsewhere, Job agrees with Zophar that God justly punishes the wicked (21:17-21). They are of one mind on this all-important point: God’s activity follows a system of well-known and understandable rules. Here is a summary of the rules as Job and his friends understand them: • God judges his servants according to their obedience. • He sends calamity and blessing to them as punishment and reward, respectively. • A man may manipulate this system by means of his performance or behavior. • God’s servants may therefore demand and expect an explanation when their circumstances don’t represent a fair response to their behavior. In Job’s understanding, God’s heaven hangs levers down. Men who want the favor of God can simply pull the levers back and forth to loose His blessings. Those men who succeed have pulled the levers well; those who fail have pulled them ill, or pulled the wrong ones altogether. As is clear from the passages quoted above, Job and his friends are not arguing about these assumptions. They agree. These principles have been the foundation of their religious education since childhood. Their only argument is over the question of Job’s performance: Job’s friends say he must have behaved badly because God is just — that is, God always minds the levers. Job, on the other hand, says he is innocent and God is therefore unjust, or at least inscrutable. Job and his friends labor together under the misconception that their righteous behavior makes them acceptable in the sight of God. But this is more than a misconception — it is a mortal sin. They are guilty of trying to serve a fountain by pouring in tiny cups of brackish water. They are guilty of the sin of Cain, who brought the fruit of his own hands to God’s altar. They are guilty of idolatry, the exalting of the self, the blurring of the creature-Creator distinction. They are guilty of the sin of Satan, who said “I will be like the Most High.”
TOUGH TO SWALLOW
It’s one thing to accuse Job’s comforters of misunderstanding God’s plan—they get criticized for this all the time. Lumping Job in with them seems awfully harsh, though, doesn’t it? As I have suggested, Job is as guilty as any of his friends of
the misunderstanding we have been describing. This eventually manifests itself clearly as Job grows frustrated with his comforters and begins to direct his comments to God directly: Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! I would present my case before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which He would answer me, and understand what He would say to me. (23:3-5) In chapters 29 through 31, Job describes his own righteous conduct in great detail and then calls for God to justify Himself:
As a matter of fact, says Elihu, all four of Job’s basic assumptions are false. God neither judges our sin with wrath (33:17-18) nor rewards our obedience with salvation (33:23-28). Man cannot manipulate the hand of God by his behavior, either good or evil (34:15). Above all, man cannot demand an explanation for perceived inconsistencies, for God owes no creature an accounting of His works (33:13). There are no levers of heaven, says Elihu. You must relate to God some other way.
Oh, that I had one to hear me, that my prosecutor had written a book! … I would declare to Him the number of my steps; like a prince I would approach Him. (31:35-37) On the other hand, Job clings to his self-righteousness for all he is worth: “Til I die I will not put away my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go.” (27:6) These passages provide a neat summary of the state of Job’s heart: he remains convinced of his righteousness; he remains convinced that God is dealing unjustly with Him; he all but accuses God of evading the question and withholding explanations. Job’s faith is firmly anchored in his religion and his righteous conduct. He has pulled the levers well, and now demands from God an accounting. In order to destroy Job’s misconceptions, God must overwhelm him with contradiction and paradox – give him suffering without disobedience, judgment without rebellion, destruction undeserved. In order to save his soul from the judgment that all idolatry deserves, God must destroy Job’s false religion beyond repair.
A THEOLOGY LESSON
Luckily for Job, God is not finished. In fact, He has only just completed Stage One of a two-stage plan to save His beloved creature. Stage one is the destruction of Job’s religion; the destruction of all evidence that the levers work like they’re supposed to; the destruction of all the cause and effect relationships that supposedly govern God’s relationships with men; the destruction of the idea that when you deal with God, you deal with a system rather than a Person. Stage Two of God’s plan to save Job begins with the appearance of a new visitor. Elihu the Buzite, a young man who had held his tongue out of respect for his elders, now enters the conversation with a new perspective. He quickly lays waste to Job’s religious worldview and starts to make sense of Job’s suffering by presenting a new theology which Job has never heard before. Elihu reminds Job that neither sin nor righteousness affects God – that we take nothing from God by sinning, nor do we add to Him by righteousness: If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him? Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects a man such as you, and your righteousness a son of man. (35:4-8)
Elihu understands that Job’s problem is blindness. Job cannot see correctly the real situation between God and man: “For has anyone said to God, ‘…teach me what I do not see’” (34:31)? “Therefore Job opens his mouth in vain; he multiplies words without knowledge” (35:16). Enlightened by Elihu’s explanations, we can see that Job’s sufferings are unrelated to his obedience or disobedience, to his supposed “secret sins.” They are part of God’s plan to get his attention and save him from the judgment which is the lot of all idolaters, well meaning though they be. God is behind the suffering, says Elihu: “Behold, God works all these things, twice, in fact three times with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit” (33:29-30).
The Lord’s own entrance into the story follows closely upon Elihu’s lesson. Oddly enough, God does not explain himself. He has sent Elihu for that purpose. With God’s appearance in the whirlwind, the time for theology lessons is over. The time for revelation is now at hand. What does God reveal? The answers to Job’s questions? The reasons for His actions? No, none of these things. God reveals Himself to Job. God meets Job’s error with Truth in the very area, on the very issue, where the error existed in the first place. Job has misunderstood from the beginning what sort of Person God is. To bring Job’s soul back from the pit, God shows him what sort of Person he is dealing with. God’s discourse in chapters 38 through 41 is quite long, but it would be a mistake to interpret this passage as any sort of explanation. God is not communicating to Job’s mind here; He speaks directly to his soul, or to his “eyes,” as Job himself puts it later. The thrust of God’s message to Job can be summed up in two short statements: • I am the Lord, the creator, sustainer, and lover of all that is. • You are not. Job’s response to this revelation signifies that he has finally been delivered: he lays his hand over his mouth (40:4). “I have uttered what I did not understand,” he says, “things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). Job’s faith in his religion — which was built entirely on knowledge: knowing the rules, knowing which levers to pull — is finally broken. His relationship with God is now founded upon an entirely new basis: a revelation of God Himself, the “seeing of the eye.” In repentance, Job forsakes the old way: “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6).
What was God’s purpose in Job’s suffering? To have a relationship with Job, of course. God was motivated by personal love for Job. motivated by the desire to bring him back from the pit. God’s actions toward Job, including allowing Satan to afflict him, were acts of mercy, acts of grace, acts undertaken for Job’s benefit entirely. God’s plan was to bring Job to repentance and so make him a minister of the gospel. We can see this process taking place as God restores Job’s three friends to fellowship by having Job intercede for them: “My servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). It is interesting to note that though the Lord makes a great distinction between the three friends’ speeches about God and Job’s, the only difference is that Job has repented of his religion, and presumably the others haven’t. Here, in a nutshell, is what separates true ministers of the gospel from mere religious idolaters: true repentance, an abhorrence of the self in the face of God’s self-revelation.
JOB’S LATTER PROSPERITY
The story of Job ends on a satisfying note: Job’s possessions and family are restored, and we are glad to see his rightful place of wealth and prosperity restored to him. After all, this was just a lesson for Job, right? This was just a temporary deprivation designed to prove a point, after which the scales should be balanced again and everything put back in its proper place. Right? Perhaps we interpret the end of the story differently. Perhaps we see God rewarding Job for his correct response to Divine chastening. Perhaps we see that though he may have misunderstood the causes of his former prosperity, Job’s latter prosperity at least is well earned. After all, Job got it figured out in the end, so he deserves the blessing of God now, right? Can’t be. If we assume that Job’s latter prosperity is a reward for his obedience, then the religion of the levers is back. If Job is now enjoying well-earned blessings, then God is suddenly giving the lie to everything He has just said about Himself. If Job’s wealth is in any way connected to his righteousness, then he and his friends were actually right about God all along. If Job now prospers by his own hand, then God was wrong to let him suffer in the first place. The only consistent way to interpret Job’s latter prosperity is as a pure, free, un-coerced act of love on the part of God. God loves His creature Job, and blesses him; it is as simple as that. Importantly, this is also the correct interpretation of Job’s sufferings! God loves His creature Job, and sends him sufferings to save his soul from the pit.
We encounter suffering on a daily basis, just as Job did. We react similarly, too, don’t we? “Why are you doing this? What have I done to deserve this? I have tried to follow you as best I can; is this how you reward me?” Even if we know better than to shake our fists at God, we often try to make sense of suffering by assuming a God of levers. We often take it for granted that our circumstances are the results of our behavior exclusively, whether good or evil. We see prosperity as the blessing of God on our obedience and suffering as His judgment on sin, and thus take credit for the work of God. Worst of all, we unconsciously assume we have the power to create a relationship with God by religious activities, and when suffering comes despite our religious rectitude, we have the nerve to be offended. The lesson of Job is that suffering and prosperity come from God, not from us, and that they only come for one reason: because He loves us. God is at work in our suffering as well as our prosperity to save our souls by revelation of Himself; to give us a relationship with Him based not on the hearing of ear, but on the seeing of the eye. May He grant us eyes to see.
The Iliad and the Odyssey are home-centered poems. In the Iliad, The Trojans fight to protect their homes, while the Danaans fight to heal the home of Menelaus and Helen, which has been broken by Paris’ theft. Meanwhile in the Odyssey, Odysseus faces the perils of gods, goddesses, monsters, and men while on his quest to return home. And, Telemachos and Penelope strive, year after year, to hold onto their home against the tide of suitors that threaten it. Yet, the Odyssey feels more domestic than its violent counterpart, perhaps because of a recurring motif which runs throughout: weaving. It first appears in Book I when Telemachos, frustrated with his mother Penelope’s insistence that songs of the Danaan return from Troy not be sung, replies:
her loom. She is angered by the gods’ message but she cannot resist the will of Zeus, so she tells Odysseus he can leave. When Odysseus hears her promise to let him leave he believes the goddess is weaving a plot for his destruction: “I will not go aboard any raft without your good will, nor unless you can bring yourself to swear me a great oath that this is not some painful trial you are planning against me” (V.177-179). And, indeed, Kalypso does have a plan, but not for Odysseus’ destruction. Rather, she makes one final attempt to convince him to remain on the island. Son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, resourceful Odysseus, are you still all so eager to go on back to your own house and the land of your fathers? I wish you well, however you do it,
Go therefore back in the house, and take up your own work,
but if you only knew in your own heart how many hardships
the loom and the distaff, and see to it that your handmaidens
you were fated to undergo before getting back to your country,
ply their work also… (lines 356-358)
you would stay here with me and be the lord of this household and be an immortal, for all your longing once more to look on
This weaving motif continues throughout the Odyssey, and while it is viewed as “women’s work,” the loom serves as a powerful tool in the epic—for good and ill, healing and destruction.
WEAVERS OF FORGETFULNESS
In Book IV, Telemachos arrives in Sparta to inquire of Menelaos the whereabouts of his father, Odysseus. Helen, Menelaos’s wife and “the face that launched a thousand ships”, now home, joins the men with her workbox full of yarn by her side (IV.120-134). At first glance, Her weaving seems little more than stitching to pass the time. But in the Odyssey, weaving indicates a plan. Knowing the horror and heartache of the Trojan War, freshly recounted by her husband in conversation with Telemachos, and hearing of the woes of Ithaka, Helen wants the men to forget for a while. She offers them wine mixed with a drug that causes men to lose all care, sorrow, and ill humor. Helen is a weaver of forgetfulness. She hopes Menelaos can lay aside the dreadful memories of war and that Telemachos can dull the heartache of missing his father. Into the wine of which they were drinking she cast a medicine of heartsease, free of gall, to make one forget all sorrows, and whoever had drunk it down once it had been mixed in the wine bowl, for the day that he drank it would have no tear roll down his face… (IV.220-224)
Later, in Book V, another episode of weaving occurs. The gods are on Mount Olympus, discussing the plight of Odysseus, and Athene implores Zeus to allow the hero to return to Ithaka. Her request is granted under the condition that Odysseus not be convoyed by either god or man and that he would continue to face a perilous voyage on a raft until reaching Scheria, the island of the Phaiakians. Hermes, the messenger god, takes word of Zeus’s decision to Kalypso’s island, where Odysseus has been stranded for seven years and the goddess is less than happy. Over those seven years, Odysseus has spent his days weeping for home and his nights sleeping with Kalypso under the force of her enchantment. Hermes arrives on the beautiful island, finding Kalypso at home, a warm fire on the hearth, the goddess sweetly singing while working at
that wife for whom you are pining all your days here. And yet I think that I can claim that I am not her inferior either in build or stature, since it is not likely that mortal women can challenge the goddess for build and beauty. (V.203-213)
Like Helen, Kalypso is also a weaver of forgetfulness, tempting Odysseus to let go of his homesickness and his love of Penelope in favor of ease, beauty, and immortality. But Odysseus’s reply demonstrates his devotion to his family: Goddess and queen, do not be angry with me. I myself know that all you say is true and that circumspect Penelope can never match the impression you make for beauty and stature. She is mortal after all, and you are immortal and ageless. But even so, what I want and all my days I pine for is to go back to my house and see my days of homecoming. (V.215-220)
In Book VI this weaving motif appears again, this time when Nausikaa, princess of the Phaiakians, discovers Odysseus washed up on their island. She and her maidservants find Odysseus hidden in the bushes, nearly naked and covered in salty sea grime. Emboldened by Athene, the princess does not run away, but allows him to bathe while she and the maidens stand aside. Then she gives him clothing and takes him to her father’s palace, but only after Athene has transfigured Odysseus into a handsome, godlike figure. Beholding him, Nausikaa begins to consider that this is just the kind of man she wants for a husband. A while ago he seemed an unpromising man to me. Now he even resembles one of the gods, who hold high heaven. If only the man to be called my husband could be like this one, a man living here, if only this one were pleased to stay here. (VI.242-245)
In far subtler fashion than Kalypso, Nausikaa also is a weaver of forgetfulness. Will Odysseus continue his perilous journey, or remain with
Weaving done with one thread affects every other thread. Yet, schools rarely make decisions with the tapestry in mind, operating as if the six threads lie separately on a table.
Nausikaa, in the comforts of Scheria? As she leads him to her father’s palace, Nausikaa guesses at the thoughts of those they pass —“Who is this large and handsome stranger whom Nausikaa has with her, and where did she find him? Surely he is to be her husband…” (VI.276-278). While in Scheria, a banquet is thrown in Odysseus’ honor, during which he is asked to share his story. The most familiar and memorable details of the epic are found in these books (IX-XII). In Book X, Odysseus recounts how he and his men arrived on Circe’s island where they discover Circe singing beautifully and weaving at her loom (again, a cue that a plot is being woven):
to Troy, he had offered up his daughter, Iphigenia, as a sacrifice in exchange for favorable winds. So, understandably, Klytaimestra never forgave Agamemnon and plotted his death for the decade he was away. As part of her vengeful plan, Klytaimestra wove fine tapestries of crimson into a red carpet for Agamemnon to walk upon as he entered his palace. The carpets, symbolic of the blood upon which Agamemnon had already tread, literally lead him to his death. Aeschylus, in his play Agamemnon, describes the scene: Women, why delay? You have your orders. Pave his way with tapestries. Quickly.
They stood there in the forecourt of the goddess with the glorious
Let the red stream flow and bear him home
hair, heard Circe inside singing in a sweet voice
to the home he never hoped to see – Justice,
as she went up and down a great design on a loom, immortal
lead him in! Leave all the rest to me.
such as goddesses have, delicate and lovely and glorious
their work. (X.220-224) She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches,
Reluctantly stepping onto the red carpets, Agamemnon calls for servants to remove his boots:
and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture
Let someone help me off with these at least.
malignant drugs, to make them forgetful of their own country.
Old slaves, they’ve stood me well.
Hurry, and while I tread his splendours dyed red in the sea, may no god watch and strike me down with envy
Like Helen, Circe enchants her guests with drugged wine, but unlike Helen she then transforms them into beasts that, apparently, reflect their character. Like Helen, Circe is weaving a plot of forgetfulness, causing the men to forget their homeland. Unlike Helen, however, Circe’s intent is imprisonment, not mercy. Odysseus, through the help of Hermes and the magical moly flower, drinks Circe’s wine but remains unchanged, much to the confusion and fright of Circe. Yet, Odysseus and his men are nonetheless drawn into the fine lodgings and food of Circe’s palace, remaining there for a full year and losing track of time. So Circe, like Helen, Kalypso, and Nausikaa, is a weaver of forgetfulness.
WEAVERS OF DESTRUCTION
Before leaving her island, Circe tells Odysseus that, although he will return home, he must first journey to the house of Hades and revered Persephone to inquire of the blind prophet, Teiresias, who will provide counsel for the remainder of his journey back to Ithaka. From the prophet, Odysseus learns of the great troubles back home, particularly the number of suitors who daily seek the hand of his wife, Penelope. While in Hades, Odysseus encounters many perished souls, including Agamemnon, the King of Mykene who led the Greeks against Troy, but who, upon returning home, was killed by his wife Klytaimestra with the help of her lover, Aegisthus. Klytaimestra was angry with her husband because before sailing
from on high. I feel such shame – to tread the life of the house, a kingdom’s worth of silver in the weaving. (lines 941-947)
Once inside the palace, Agamemnon settles into the comforts of home by taking a bath, the very place where Klytaimestra’s gruesome plan is fulfilled. She stabs Agamemnon to death in the bath, to the horror of the townsmen. In the play, the Chorus calls: “Oh my king, my captain, How to salute you, how to mourn you? What can I say with all my warmth and love? Here in the black widow’s web you lie, Gasping out your life” (lines 1517-1521). So while in the Odyssey, Helen, Kalypso, Nausikaa, and Circe are weavers of forgetfulness, Klytaimestra is a weaver of destruction, a “black widow.” Upon their meeting in Hades, Agamemnon relates his story to Odysseus, warning him to never trust a woman. Though acknowledging the goodness of Penelope, Agamemnon cautions Odysseus to never let his wife know his full mind. Could Penelope be weaving destruction for Odysseus? Could Penelope have her own Aegisthus waiting in the wings? Agamemnon’s advice, in addition to ignoring his own culpability in his circumstances, was in keeping with how most of the women in the Odyssey are portrayed. Women are ever-present in the tale, but rarely are they flatteringly portrayed. The women are manipulative, dangerCIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 31
ous, and even deadly.
THE WEAVER OF REMEMBRANCE
But Penelope is different. She is not another woman in the story, she is the woman. Her weaving plays a major role in the Odyssey, but in a way that starkly contrasts her character with the “weavers of forgetfulness,” and even more so with Klytaimestra, the “weaver of destruction.” Harassed by unworthy suitors who, insisting that Odysseus must be dead, want to marry her, Penelope takes to her loom, claiming that before she can choose a husband she must first weave a burial shroud for Laertes, her father-in-law. She labors all day at the shroud, only to unravel her work by torchlight each night. For three years she tricks the suitors with her loom. They call upon her to forget Odysseus and remarry, but Penelope is a weaver of remembrance, and her tapestry buys time for her husband’s return. Penelope is no “black widow.” She is no Klytaimestra. Penelope is crafty and clever — perhaps more so than any other woman in the story — but she uses her wiles to protect her husband and her household. Her loom is an instrument of life for her long-awaited Odysseus, whose return marks triumph over war, temptation, forgetfulness, and death. But, how does weaving in the Odyssey relate to the life of a school or homeschool?
WEAVING & THE LIFE OF A SCHOOL
Every school setting is a tapestry, and every parent, board member, headmaster, teacher, and student is a weaver. In fact, it could be argued that every member of the school community is one of the three kinds of weavers described by Homer and Aeschylus: a weaver of forgetfulness, a weaver of destruction, or a weaver of remembrance. They help form the image of the school – not in the sense of what the school wants to appear to be, but what it actually is. A school tapestry includes six threads (or, as we often call them at CiRCE, six dimensions), all interwoven and inextricably connected. If one thread is pulled, all the others feel the tension. If one is cut or frayed, the whole tapestry is marred. These six threads are environment, community, governance, curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment.
THE SIX THREADS (OR DIMENSIONS) Environment – Every school has an environment, the aspects of which are often out of the school’s immediate control. The city or town in which the school resides, the neighborhood and surrounding houses, complete with their economic conditions, demographics, culture, and history, all form the environment. Although many of these factors are beyond the school’s control, they must be weighed and kept in mind when making decisions. How is offering a classical education in Brooklyn different from offering it in rural Nebraska? What part does environment play in recruiting, training, and retaining teachers? What sorts of blessings or obstacles might students and their families face that are unique to an environment? These questions, and others like them, are an important and influential thread of school life – one that directly affects all the other dimensions. A school’s environment inextricably colors the school’s community. Community – Every person connected with a school – the parents, students, teachers, board members, headmaster--form the school com-
munity. For many schools, the community might include churches and outside organizations that support it, and therefore bear some influence over the “feel” and emphasis of the school. All of these personalities, interests, and influences form the school, for good or ill. Does the school community understand classical education? Has it been given the opportunity and expectation to do so? What is the “spirit” of the school community? Is it Joyful? Grumbling? Peaceful? Eager to learn? One should also consider the aesthetic characteristics of the school. What do the classrooms, hallways, buildings, and grounds look like? What sounds, smells, and sights greet the members of the community? What aesthetics are being woven into the school, and how do they affect the tapestry? The Greek word “paideia” (παιδεια) referred not only to education in the formal sense, but to “upbringing” and “culture.” The Greeks understood education as enculturation, not simply as a place in which information is given out. Such an understanding of the community thread is consistent with the familiar command from Deuteronomy 6:5-9: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Governance – The decision-makers make up another thread in the tapestry of the school. What drives the decisions of the school’s leadership? What guides and governs their thoughts as they guide and govern the school? How are policies, procedures, and manuals produced? Is the dominant concern of the governors financial? Is the school governed with modern business practices, or with clear understanding of the school as a place of enculturation? Does the board and headmaster consider the other threads of school life when making decisions (i.e., how a rule change affects community, or how a budget cut might affect pedagogy, or how a marketing campaign might affect student assessment)? Curriculum – The term “curriculum” refers to the course or path students are expected to follow. A curriculum leads students on a journey, so a school must ask where its curriculum will lead a student. Where should it lead them? Where do they need to go? Curriculum choices, then, are not merely a matter of budgetary concern or (parental or teacher) preference, but a question of what helps cultivate wisdom and virtue in the students. David Hicks writes in Norms and Nobility that “The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” Does the curriculum help toward that aim? Classically speaking, there really is no curriculum outside of the seven liberal arts of grammar, dialectic, rhetoric (the arts of the Trivium), astronomy, geometry, harmonics/music, and arithmetic (the arts of the Quadrivium). These are the “liberal” arts, not in the modern political sense of the term, but in the sense that they “liberate.” They train up free men and women. The Latin term for education, educere, highlights this liberation. It means “to lead out,” and is likely connected to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (Republic, Book VII). Education is leading men and women out of the cave, out of the shadows, freed from their bonds, into the glorious
light of truth, goodness, and beauty. The liberal arts curriculum is the path from the cave to the real world. Pedagogy – How is such a curriculum taught? Classical pedagogy involves mimetic and Socratic teaching. Mimesis is an imitation, not of the outward form, but of the inner idea — not ultimately of an action, but of an idea expressed in the action. Mimetic teaching leads students to understand ideas by contemplating models or types of them. These models can be found in literature, history, mathematics, the fine arts, music, other human arts and activities, and nature. Socratic instruction, with its reliance upon probing questions, is primarily used when a student is in error. Questioning can reveal where the error has occurred, correct it, then guide the student in building accurate understanding. Assessment – How does the school assess its students, teachers, headmaster, curriculum, and board? By what standard? What measure? Does the means of assessment match the pedagogy and curriculum? Does the school claim to pursue wisdom and virtue, but measure student success by standardized test scores and college admissions? Does the school encourage teachers to teach classically, but measure them largely by student feedback?
BECOMING WISE WEAVERS
Every school is a tapestry, always on the loom, with these six threads being continually woven together by multiple weavers. Being wise weavers means, foremost, understanding and remembering the nature of a school, which is not a business, or a factory, and cannot be treated as if it were (without great harm). The weaving done with one thread affects every other thread. Yet, schools rarely make decisions with the tapestry in mind, operating as if the six threads lie separately on a table. Failing to see their interconnectedness, decisions are made in isolation and kinks in the tapestry go unnoticed. But, a wise weaver understands that the threads are connected and that, therefore, decisions must be made with the whole tapestry in mind. When a school board determines that standardized test scores must go up, is it merely a governance decision? That mandate (governance), given to the headmaster, is woven into what he or she emphasizes to teachers. Teachers, in turn, must evaluate their teaching against what is covered on the test (curriculum) and shift their emphases to match it (pedagogy). Test scores are increasingly seen as the measure of success by students and parents as well (assessment), which further affects the school’s philosophy of education and learning (community). Finally, a school’s philosophy of education and learning invariably influences the reputation of the school (environment). The same interconnectedness can be seen in lunchroom rules, dress code requirements, grievance policies, student honor codes, and Latin book selections. Weaving requires great wisdom. The weavers described by Homer and Aeschylus reside at the loom of nearly every school – weavers of forgetfulness, weavers of destruction, and weavers of remembrance. Weavers of forgetfulness tempt a school to stray from its vocation and commission, to look away from its calling, if only for a moment. Weavers of forgetfulness come in many forms - those who pressure the school to offer the trappings of conventional schools, members of the community who have no interest in classical education, to name just a few. Rarely
do these weavers mean harm. Most of them are Nausikaa or Helen, not Calypso or Circe. Yet, though they mean well, they can still mar the tapestry. Weavers of destruction can also be subtle. It is interesting that Klytaimestra used her red carpets to lure Agamemnon into the palace, leading him to his destruction under the guise of honoring him, saying, “never set the foot that stamped out Troy on earth again, my great one” (lines 898–899). One could argue, as many in Argos did, that she was simply wicked, but her motive was all-too-understandable. She wanted to right the wrong done by Agamemnon. In school life, the weavers of destruction are not nearly so violent and their intentions are not so plainly malignant. In fact, their weaving can often seem quite reasonable at the time. They may see their actions as honorable, even necessary. Often this destruction can come in the form of a headmaster or teacher being removed too quickly (or for the wrong reasons), disciplinary matters left untended, or a school culture that runs contrary to wisdom and virtue. So weave as Penelope. Weave remembrance, using the loom to fend off those who would destroy. She wisely wove a tapestry that honored those she loved, that protected them, and their home. She created a tapestry that would restore Ithaka to the rightful king. To do that one must remember as she did (the purpose of education, the vocation and commission of the school), love as she did (truth, goodness, beauty, wisdom, virtue, the children and families served), and work faithfully as she did (sometimes stitching, sometimes unstitching), always with the whole tapestry in mind.
CiRCE CONSULTING “
D AVID HIC KS
ELEMENTS OF CLASS
But like many of the terms one finds bandied about in the world of education, the term “classical education” does not so much describe a specific and well-understood approach to learning and teaching as something that feels good and appeals to this second group of reformers and to those, mostly parents, who no longer trust the first group and are looking around for alternatives to their failing local school systems. We are, after all, talking about a world in which the affective trumps the cognitive, truth is whatever we care to believe or what an enlightened “majority” somewhere tells us to believe, and our leaders lie brazenly and with impunity because their lies confirm our prejudices. In this essay, I shall argue that the necessary conditions for a classical education don’t exist in America. This is not to say that one can’t teach Greek and Latin, or the trivium and quadrivium, or adopt any of the other pedagogies loosely associated with “classical education,” but while these may suggest a flavor for what it means to receive a classical education, none of these comes close to offering the meat and potatoes of that education. In the modern, secular societies of the West, the assumptions and infrastructure necessary to support a true classical education are largely (and officially) absent. Indeed, they are regarded as antithetical to the modern state and its institutions. Classical education as practiced by the Greeks and the Romans of the ancient world and as inherited and revivified by the Italians and their followers during the Renaissance rested upon four assumptions. These assumptions were so embedded in the cultures of the time that for the most part teachers and students accepted them unconsciously and uncritically and were content to pursue their studies under the roof supported by the four pillars of this temple.
The First Pillar
The classical world, whether pagan or Christian, believed without serious questioning that Man lived in two worlds, one of time and material appearances, the other of eternity and immaterial reality. These two worlds, no one doubted, interacted in strange and mysterious ways, and whether the student was memorizing Homer’s epics or reading Plato’s dialogues, he was trying to gain a better understanding of this interaction and how it might increase his knowledge of the world and inform his life. This assumption assured him of at least two things: that perhaps in this life, and certainly in the next, he would be held accountable for his choices, and that he was wise to govern his passions with his intellect and to be aware of his natural limitations and to accept them with grace and equanimity. The modern world, on the other hand, places Man exclusively in time and rejects the notion of an eternal soul, of a reality beyond material causes and effects, or of a life after death. The social and educational consequences of this belief are manifold. It places an enormous and exclusive emphasis on the methods of science since these are the methods whereby the material universe is understood. It holds out the promise of a progressive future in which Man’s expanding knowledge of matter allows him to recreate himself and
the world in accordance with his own needs and desires. It renders largely irrelevant the works of writers and artists before, say, 1700 AD, when a false two-world assumption framed their thinking. It replaces the study of history, based as it is on a false premise, with the study of social sciences. It makes the search for meaning and the ground for morality if not irrelevant, then highly subjective, for there is no world beyond the one present to our senses that can tell us why we are here or what our purposes and obligations are. Finally, this places upon the State (society as ordered and organized) what was formerly the task of the second world to define morality and give meaning and purpose to life.
The Second Pillar
It follows from this that our modern approach to science and the study of the natural world is decidedly not classical. We study not to understand the natural world in order to shape our lives and societies around the requirements of nature, but in order to manipulate and improve upon nature for our own comfort and profit. Our success in doing this has brought many benefits in health, longevity, and material well-being. No one can argue with this. But this is also what makes “the sorcerer’s apprentice” so seductive. How can we ignore the fact that with each benefit there comes an invoice with mounting interest to be paid — whether in the form of an over-populated and over-heated planet; weaponry of unimaginable destructiveness; chemicals and substances not found in nature that poison the earth, air, and water (and our children) and cannot be rendered benign for generations; drugs that increase dependencies and addictions; and technologies that in the words of Neil Postman encourage us to “amuse ourselves to death”? The modern world’s response to these challenges merely doubles down on its contra classical approach to science. It studies nature to unlock ever more sophisticated drugs, chemicals, and gene-altering technologies with which to combat the depredations of modern science and increase the profitability of the industries “improving” on nature. Billions are now being invested to clone our way into the future, to make robots and cyborgs to do our bidding, to kill our enemies without risking our lives, to grow our food without consideration for the good soil we have wasted or poisoned, and to find sanctuary on Mars once we have made Earth uninhabitable. No wonder we are awash in literary and cinematic dystopias. One cannot offer a classical education in a world at war with nature and
A classical education is unthinkable outside of a normative framework, yet it’s hard to think of a single segment of modern life in which de-norming has not become the norm.
refusing, indeed proud of its refusal, to work within the boundaries set by nature.
The Third Pillar
Aristotle defined the classical approach to science and is largely credited with the renaissance of classical learning in both the Christian and Islamic worlds. Fundamental to his approach was his four-causal explanation of what happens in nature. Modern science and philosophy have banished from consideration the last of these, known as the final cause, or the teleological explanation. Although at the risk of what may seem an esoteric detour in an essay like this, it is worth pausing to consider the implications of this third pillar and its banishment. In his Physics 194b23-35, Aristotle states that “the end (telos) is spoken of as a cause. This is that for the sake of which (hou heneka) a thing is done, e.g. health is the cause of walking about. ‘Why is he walking about?’ We say: ‘To be healthy’—and, having said that, we think we have indicated the cause.” This example implies a psychological intention behind the cause, of course, and those who argue for Intelligent Design in nature make a similar case, but for Aristotle it is doubtful that this was necessary. The telos might inhere in Nature itself, as it does in the acorn destined to become an oak tree, but this is not a distinction crucial to the point I wish to make regarding classical education. Rather, I want us to understand that by rejecting the teleological reasoning of the classical world and no longer believing that everything has a pre-existing natural end toward which it is moving, we have freed ourselves to define or re-engineer everything’s telos, including our own, as we choose. Now, this rejection would have seemed incomprehensible to a thinking person before the modern era. Teleological reasoning was deeply embedded in this person’s education and understanding. Such an education entailed the study of final causes and, on a personal level, the knowledge of those ends by which to guide his actions and order his life. He would have believed that any alteration or interruption in an organism’s movement to its natural and appointed ends would certainly harm and possibly destroy it. He would have identified our society’s recent claim to have a (human) right to re-define or re-engineer the telos as a divine, not a human, right; but this distinction is now rendered meaningless by the First Pillar. Here it is worth noting that the telos is connected to the Christian idea of sin. “Sin” is the English translation for the Greek word hamartia, meaning “to miss the mark.” Just as an arrow is directed at a target that it is meant to hit, or an acorn is destined to become an oak tree, Aristotle taught that a telos inheres in every natural object, including Man. His failure to act in accordance with his telos (his
purpose or end) out of hubris (over-weaning pride) is what it means to sin (miss the mark). In every Greek myth this results in death. Plants and animals cannot sin because they are not free to live other than in accordance with their respective teloi. They cannot choose the mutations or environmental factors that may prevent them from achieving their ends. Man on the other hand is so free. This is the creative opportunity and most profound ethical concern of his life. In the Genesis story, the Tree of Knowledge represents this freedom, and Adam and Eve ate the fruit of this Tree to become godlike, as the Serpent promised, free of their human telos and natural limitations. The result was death. This, at any rate, would be a “classical” reading of the Genesis story.
The Fourth Pillar
Above all, a classical education is about preserving and passing on the culture’s norms for individual and social behavior. Education (paideia) as the ancients understood and practiced it, indeed as all teachers and schools until the 20th century understood it, was overwhelmingly about transferring the norms of civilization from one generation to the next. There were norms for everything. Not only for grammar, rhetoric and logic, but for drawing, dressing, and dancing; dining, dueling, and dousing. Norms governed all of life, giving it at times a ritualistic quality. Prospective teachers went to “normal school” to master the norms they would later teach and use to judge student performance. How well did the student imitate the norm for good prose, good posture, good personal hygiene? A classical education is unthinkable outside of a normative framework, yet as I’ve written elsewhere, it’s hard to think of a single segment of modern life in which de-norming has not become the norm. Art, music, fashion, language, manners, beliefs — what would have been regarded as outside the norm, if not beyond the pale, fifty years ago is now common currency and hardly provokes notice, let alone censure. Paint splashed on canvas or cardboard (or anything) sells as art; noise amplified and accompanying obscene words (lyrics?) poses as music; bodies pierced, skin tattooed, hair shaved off or dyed green, clothing torn or soiled -- the fashion is whatever startles or offends. No doubt, the nihilists, anarchists, and Dadaists set the stage for this attack on norms over a century ago, but not even they could have anticipated a time when the attack on norms would become normative and when the establishment would join in the attack with the enthusiasm of jackals around a fresh kill. There is no surer way to be dismissed as intolerant, bigoted, or outof-date by the opinion-makers of the day than to feign offense at any of this. What is distinctively American is our tolerance of everything except norms. If you want to show yourself to be an American, find something pretending to be a norm and attack it. CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 37
By tearing down these four pillars we are erasing the past, expunging memory, and condemning our children to a shallow existence of buying and selling in a Hobbesian world governed by fear and personal desire.
It will be apparent by now how intimately related these four pillars are. Each is critical not only to a classical education, but to our understanding of the past and our place in the world. By tearing down these four pillars, like the Vandals in North Africa and the Islamic terrorists in Syria, we are erasing the past, expunging memory, and condemning our children to a shallow existence of buying and selling in a Hobbesian world governed by fear and personal desire. Students grounded in the assumptions of the modern secular state will see no meaning in their lives other than whatever meanings they themselves can assign. If they think about it, they will realize that their own words and deeds will eventually be rejected by their children and will consequently have little if any enduring value, except for those actions that contribute to technological progress. Only matter matters and endures. So, are we who teach the young, or bring children into this world, to throw up our hands in despair?
By no means. We who call ourselves Christian are still charged with the responsibility to raise our children in the fear of God and educate them to treat the natural world with utmost respect, to live in pursuit of the ends for which all men and women are created, and to order their lives in accordance with biblical norms. But no one should assume this charge lightly, believing that a classical education—whether understood as Greek or Latin or Great Books, a curriculum or a method—will somehow accomplish this task for us. This might have been the case were the ground and pillars for a classical education in place, but as I hope I have shown in this essay, this is not the case. The pillars are toppled and the ground sown with salt, as thoroughly as the Romans destroyed Carthage. This requires us to make a sober estimation of the challenge we face. How are we to meet this challenge in an increasingly invasive, relentless, and hostile environment?
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he smallest things often spark the greatest alterations; our happenstance changes and choices, like pebbles dropped in still water, ring their way outwards till the whole of life’s encircled. Had you been a reflective Italian tradesman in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, your attention may have been captured by the wonderful and terrible Great Events happening all around you: the city-states finding independence from the papacy, sublime cathedrals springing towards the skies, a whole new class of merchants bridging the class divide, rumors of a Black Death prowling nearby. And with your whole world convulsed in the eager pangs of a new birth, a Renaissance, perhaps you would not have assigned much significance to the changing of the bells. It solved the problem, anyway, and that was a good thing. With the rising merchant class came an increase in trade, and that in turn had to be supplied by an increase in production, which stirred up plenty of quibbles regarding the laborers’ hours, wages, and expectations. The bells at the monastery had done well enough to mark time before, but a day divided into prayer could not be neatly divided into work. The new bells, ringing on the hour instead of the Daily Office, made things clear and simple and—best of all—efficient. But when working bells replaced the old monastic and city bells, not only the bells would change. As Kelly Johnson described in her Christian Reflection article, “Hurry and the Willingness to Be Creatures”: The sort of bells that emerged to govern work hours differed from the monastic bells, marking the community’s commitment to the liturgy of hours, and also from the old bells of the cities, which had rung to warn of a crisis or announce a festival. Those bells served and preserved a sense of time that was for the purposes of seeking holiness and fostering the life of the town. The new bells created ordinary, predictable divisions to everyday life, unrelated to any specific purpose. This turn created a sense of time much more akin to our own experience of the objective, relentlessly ticking backdrop to our days. This way of marking time makes it universally measurable, predictable, and exchangeable, which is to say it makes time capable of functioning as a commodity.
Ironically, these quaint medieval bells, meant to increase discipline and efficiency, also helped inaugurate the culture of distraction that plagues us today. It is a common complaint: a student finishes history homework in math class, a teacher plans his answer rather than listening to the student’s question, a child texts instead of participating in family conversation at the dinner table, a friend scans the crowd behind you as you speak to her, a husband watches football while his wife waits in the room to talk to him . . . such scenes are familiar because the habit of distraction has been formed in us all, inculcated by the very patterns of our daily lives, even though it hinders our ability to live well. We point to the usual suspects—technologies, media, the factory model of education, the frenetic pace of life. Yet, though these demystified gremlins doubtless find all manner of ways to disrupt our attentiveness, the most pernicious may be the one birthed by the new bells: an alteration of our sense of time. After all, attentiveness, the opposite of distraction, is a way of functioning in time; time is its medium. Attentiveness, or the setting of one’s thought and care on a particular object for a length of time, is a distinguishing and wonderful human faculty. It is kin to focus, single-mindedness, listening, solicitousness, contemplation; it is foe to distraction, inattention, boredom, belligerence, heedlessness. Unlike paying attention—an isolated act without much moral depth—the faculty of attentiveness, rightly nurtured, becomes an intellectual and social virtue imbuing one’s very way of living. But the way one understands time limits his capacity for attentiveness, and the understanding of time implicit in modern living militates against this virtue. In the first place, as the medieval bells demonstrated, modernity commodifies our sense of time. Our language about time is economic: we save time, spend it, waste, invest, lose, and buy it. In our actions as well as our vocabulary, time becomes a commodity which we seek either to produce or consume. Our goals for its use become efficiency and fulfillment, and opportunity cost becomes the evaluation of that use. More simply: doing one thing always means not doing another thing—that’s the opportunity cost—and one should always aim to choose the more efficient or fulfilling activity. But within this framework, true attentiveness is well-nigh impossible. Attentiveness itself becomes subject to opportunity cost:
as soon as we encounter something seemingly more worth our time, we attend to it instead, and in T.S. Eliot’s inimitable phrase, we become “distracted from distraction by distraction.” Additionally, attentiveness is undermined by self-interest. True attentiveness involves freely surrendering oneself to the object of one’s attention, but when time is a commodity that must yield maximum benefit, we tend to view attentiveness as condescension rather than gracious encounter. You know—the students who do you a favor by paying attention, the friend who listens only to perform a good deed. Yet paradoxically, running counter to commodification, modern society also tends to obliterate our sense of time through our limitation-defying technologies. We can talk to almost anyone, almost anywhere, at almost anytime, via phone or email or chat or text or Skype. We can be cooking dinner while doing laundry and watching TV and talking on speaker phone. We can travel almost anywhere with incredible speed—and we complain that the traffic of our hurtling vehicles is too slow, the line to the heavens-gliding airplane too long. We begrudge time for not completely disappearing, as our speeding and multitasking seem to imply that we think it should. But again, this atmosphere cannot sustain attentiveness. By definition, attention cannot be focused upon one particular object if it is being demanded by ten. Fuzzy focus and short bursts of “paying attention” replace true attentiveness. What attentiveness requires, then, is a different sense of time, an alternative education to re-shape the sense our cultural liturgies daily press upon us. This education must be compelling enough to unsettle our assumptions and rich enough to replace them; it must train our minds to think differently about time while also exercising our spirits and bodies to live differently within it. For such an education, we could hardly do better than turn to the arts. They have been sadly neglected of late on almost all fronts: at the public schools, they are being crowded out of the budget; at home, they are drowned out by the blaring of television and iTunes; at church, they are subjected to confused attempts at assortment into “sacred” (or unoffensive and often unsubstantial) and “secular” (some variety of inaccessible, unlikable, and unacceptable). Even classical educators, while valuing the arts, have rarely had attention to spare from selecting the curriculum and shaping the pedagogy. Yet the arts remain foremost among the disciplines in their power to move both mind and body, compelling enough that even a passing encounter might disrupt our quotidian assumptions, while richly embodying human experiences of, struggles against, and resolutions with, time. Recall the list of economic expressions we apply to time: saving, buying, spending. Despite their prominence, our
active vocabulary still includes some expressions that work under different metaphors, and these often describe the arts. Whatever it means to “keep time” with music, this does not have to do with the clock. Nor does a twist of the plot that happens “in the nick of time.” Nor does the feeling that “time stopped” as we viewed the majestic paintings of a Giotto, or the folds of Michelangelo’s Pieta, or a Hudson River school landscape. Our language testifies that the arts press us to encounter time in different ways than the clock does, ways free of commodification or obliteration. In literature, our sense of time is transformed from a progression of moments to the working-out of a plot: literature narrates time’s purposiveness. Events which could be marked on a timeline to indicate mere sequence are, through literature’s art, situated within a plot to become a meaningful progression. They do not merely follow one another as moments on a stopwatch, nor are they related only through cause-andeffect like a row of falling dominoes. Rather, they become part of a whole, formed from the interweaving of characters’
What attentiveness requires, is a different sense of time, an alternative education to re-shape the sense our cultural liturgies daily press upon us.
decisions; the circumstances of setting; and the ever-present, inexplicable mystery that the Greeks called Fate and the Puritans, Providence. Within a plot, time cannot be only a vehicle conveying us from one accidental occurrence to the next; time rather becomes the medium in which meaning is worked out of chaos. As the Greek tragedians knew so well, a plot effects catharsis, which philosopher Paul Ricoeur explains in Time and Narrative, Volume 1 as the making of all “discordant incidents . . . necessary and probable,” which actually “purifies . . . or better, purges” those incidents. A plot molds meaning out of moments that otherwise seem accidental, even horrible. This is a kind of redemption. If literature redeems time’s accidents, music resolves its dissonance. Dissonance is to music what conflict is to plot: the driving force and center of meaning. But dissonance occurs at more levels than the notes with which we usually associate it. Exploring what music can teach us about time, musical theologian Jeremy Begbie points out in his book Theology, Music, and Time that any musical work operates at an array of levels simultaneously; there are the pitches (notes), rhythms (beat), and colors (sounds of different instruments), to name
the major ones. Each of these will be driven by its own forms of dissonance and resolution, so that, for instance, the notes of the melody may be coming to resolution just as the rhythm changes abruptly, creating a new dissonance. In addition, each of these will continually move between introducing new elements and echoing old ones—old melodic motifs, old rhythmic patterns. As Begbie puts it, music thus “exhibits not the temporality of a single straight line but that of a multi-level matrix of waves of tension and resolution, in which the temporal modes interweave within an overall directionality”; that is to say, it reveals the fullness of time. Much as we might like to, we do not have the luxury of dealing with anything “one thing at a time.” Every moment is crammed full of living, and living’s a many-layered business. Moreover, no moment really is independent; the present is born out of the past and gives birth to the future, so that we live somehow in all times at once. And yet—music plays out the ways that time’s fullness does not finally crush, collapse, or overwhelm, but comes to rest. And what of the visual arts? Painting, sculpture, architecture— these transfix time’s transience. Unlike literature and music, which unfold in time, a work of visual art can be experienced as a whole in a single moment; it portrays but a single moment. One moment’s longing glance endures agelessly in oil paints, and the leap of a flying buttress is suspended for centuries in midair. Like Keats’s Grecian urn, these “tease us out of thought / as doth eternity;” they give the sense of time that is rarest of all, yet no less true—the sense that whatever is vital in each passing moment somehow endures eternally.
THE POWER OF THE ARTS LIES IN THE WAY THAT THEY SHAPE US AS WE DO THEM, NOT AS WE UNDERSTAND THEM .
As I have presented it here, the arts’ embodiment of time sounds abstract indeed—a game for the mind, perhaps, but hardly the sort of thing that shapes perception or cultivates virtues. But really, I’ve cheated by trying to put it into words at all. The power of the arts lies in the way that they shape us as we do them, not as we understand them. By reading and telling stories, we will begin to sense time as a purposeful narrative that must be lived out, not milked for profit; in which we have real agency, but not complete authorship. By hearing and making music, we will begin to sense time’s many layers of tension and resolution and reoccurrence, to listen for the beauty in the complexity, and to wait patiently for the harmonies to reach home. By contemplating and creating visual art, we will begin to recognize and to treasure the seed of eternity in the soil of passing moments. And, shaped by this sense of time, we may finally unlearn distraction. Whether we are contemplating art or practicing it, whether we are in the classroom or the home, the arts place us in the posture of waiting, watching, hoping, receiving, appreciating: that is the posture of attentiveness.
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HOW NOT TO TEACH POETRY
by Joshua Leland
ou might think that loving to read (or even write) poetry would make you qualified to teach poetry, but it doesn’t. I can still recall that sinking feeling in my stomach when, after reading a poem to my 10th grade class, I realized that I had to say something about it. It was a helpless feeling: “If you cannot simply see the beauty of what we read just now, what can I possibly say to make you see it?” It’s a bit like Chesterton explains in Orthodoxy: the things we are most convinced of are often the ones we find most difficult to explain or defend, like if you were suddenly asked why civilization should be preferred to savagery: the multiplicity of reasons is so overwhelming response is impossible. Where on earth could I even begin in order to try and show the beauty of a poem? It almost seemed impious to attempt such a thing, like Psyche stealing a glimpse of the god while he slept. It took me about three years of repeated, demoralizing failure at teaching poetry before several ideas finally came together in my head. There is a lot that could be said about how to teach poetry, and I certainly don’t claim to know it all, but there are a few things I have discovered about how not to go about teaching poetry. As is usually the case, someone else has already said the same thing, and better, so allow me to refer you to a poem by former poet laureate Billy Collins that really cuts to the heart of what I am trying to say. It’s called “Introduction to Poetry”, from his collection, The Apple That Astonished Paris. I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide or press an ear against its hive. I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch. I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore. But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means. Collins offers several beautiful images for the way he would like his students to experience a poem, many of them wonderful because they are not the sorts of images we would expect. But as varied as all these pictures are, they have this in common: Collins wants his students to experience a poem as a vivid, tangible thing. But then he reveals the awful truth of our modern tendency: all we want to do when we read poetry “is tie the poem to a chair with a rope/ and torture a confession out of it.” When we read poetry, Collins says, we tend to begin by “beating it with a hose / to find out what it really means.” When asked about the meaning of her short stories, Flannery O’Connor said that most people have the “notion that you read the story and then climb out of it into the meaning, but...the whole story is the meaning, because it is an experience, not an abstraction.” Cleanth Brooks, in the introduction to his textbook Understanding Poetry, admitted that the book really might have been better titled Experiencing Poetry. And I think he (and O’Connor) are speaking to a universal thing: we are often so caught up in finding meaning or understanding in art that we fail to do the more basic, fundamental, child-like thing: simply experience it. We have many confused pictures in our imaginations concerning poetry, but one big misconception is the idea that poetry is always supposed to be deep — that the value of poetry lies primarily in whatever information it holds locked up within itself, like a walnut whose
shell must be cracked in order to get to the nut. We feel stupid if we read a poem and don’t have some profound interpretation to explore right off the bat. And we are very impatient. As is so often the case, we mistake Blessings for Ends. Depth of meaning and profundity are good things, but if they are the only reason you are interacting with the poem then you are doing violence to the poem itself. It would be like interacting with people only in order to draw out some useful information that they possess, instead of respecting them as individuals made in the image of God. One is manipulative (what can I get out of this?) and the other is relational (how can I get to know them better?). Does it seem strange to say that we should treat poems the way we treat humans? Because that is precisely what I want to say. We need to stop thinking of poems as tools, as means to an end, and instead think of them the way we think of people: as worthy of honor and respect in their own right. It may not be the best metaphor for approaching a poem, but it’s a much better metaphor. A poem is an artifact of the human spirit. It is a created thing (‘poet’ in ancient Greek meant ‘Maker’), and although our ability to create poetry is not on the same level of creation as God’s (we cannot create out of nothing as he does), we are endowed with the power of what Tolkien calls “sub-creation.” Humans are gifted with the divine prerogative to use the images that God has given us in nature to create art that “pans the vein of spirit out of sense.” In other words, poetry
allows us to incarnate, to give flesh to the invisible, eternal aspects of reality that we cannot see or experience with our senses. A poem is created within the mind of a person, and is then shared or passed on to the mind of others who see or hear it. And as such, a poem carries within it a distant glimpse, a faint echo, of its human maker, just as nature reveals to us glimpses of the glory and imagination of God, or as a hand-made chair reveals the craftsmanship and imagination of the carpenter. The Iliad, while certainly not containing all of Homer within itself, does yet contain a part of the great poet. His thumbprints are indelibly impressed into the poem itself. The poem is not the poet, but it is a part of him; he has endowed it with part of himself, just as God imparted himself to us when he made humanity. So sit down with poems over a cup of coffee and get to know them. Become familiar with them, so familiar that you begin to recognize their beauties, their faults and failings, their odd peculiarities that make them unique and memorable. Don’t assume that you automatically know what they are saying: before responding to them, take time to mull over the pictures they offer your imagination. Be patient. Love them without their having to prove themselves worthy of your love; be gracious and kind with them, even forgiving. You don’t always have to like them, and you certainly don’t need to attach yourself to them for the rest of your life, but you should treat them with honor. And especially, especially: do not do violence to them by treating them as a means to an end.
Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student by James B. Nance
Fitting Words instructs students in the classical art of formal rhetoric, providing them with tools for speaking that will equip them for life.
W YO M I N G
“Low ceilings are bad for the soul.”
• LANDER, WY •
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
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LET US ATTEND - A word for the road from Andrew Kern -
Has it ever been harder to get and hold a student’s attention? It seems that we suffer from a cultural attention deficit disorder every bit as much as from the more well-known cultural amnesia. Excessive stimulation assaults our senses while fragmentation creates discord in our souls. Yet, the most important skill our students need to practice, the skill on which everything depends, is the ability to pay attention. We can learn how to cultivate this faculty, or we can ensure that most of our teaching goes to waste. It is a tall challenge, but not a new one. The Christian classical tradition offers us tremendous insight into how to coach disciples to use their God-given ability to attend. Attentiveness flourishes when these conditions are met: energy is excited to action and wonder, and wonder is sustained by hope, purpose, and harmony. Let’s look at them individually. Attentiveness demands energy Tired people find it hard to attend to anything, so we should respect the way the (non-physical) mind and the (physical) brain need each other. Food, sleep, and exercise are the common sense physical foundation for attentiveness.
others and being well-treated themselves; they like remembering and hoping, relaxing and striving. Maybe above all, they like growing, overcoming obstacles, doing things they’re good at, remembering accomplishments, and being recognized by others. They also love knowing things (something we teachers would be wise to remember!). They love to imitate and to watch others imitate (as in movies, play, stories, etc.). It excites them when they find similarities and differences between things. They constantly try to figure out how things are related to each other, such as what causes things, what things cause, how things work, which is better, which came first, and so on. These activities make up what we can call learning. In short, students love to hear “Well done,” and they yearn to grow. And they fear failure, shame, and sustained, inescapable discomfort. If we offer our students these things they long for in meaningful, appropriate ways, their souls will respond with attention.
Energy must be excited Energy is excited to action when people encounter something they like or fear. Happily, students like quite a few things that aren’t hard to identify. They like honor and admiration; they like benefiting
Wonder moves excited energy to attentiveness Once their energy is aroused, we can direct it to attention through wonder. Children wonder by nature, so we don’t have to teach them how to do it. However, we do need to cultivate and train CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 49
their wonder, making it more disciplined, self-sustaining, and confident. Questions are the eyes of wonder, so you cultivate wonder when you teach your students how to ask truth-seeking questions in the following three ways. First, teach them how to use common questions, like, “What would happen if…? What is that? Who are you? What should be done? How did that happen? How is this like that? How is it different?” The Christian classical tradition has transmitted a collection of these common questions to us, calling them the common topics. By teaching these common topics, we show our students that they have permission to ask these good questions, and they learn how to ask them effectively through practice. Second, teach them how to use special questions. Each domain of knowledge (i.e. each science, classically speaking) has its own specific questions that lead to its own specific knowledge. For example, in humane letters, students compare characters, settings, and actions, while in chemistry they ask how chemicals react when combined. While common questions help students see similarities between sciences (e.g. both letters and chemistry ask about cause and effect), specific questions reveal how the sciences differ from and how they relate to each other (e.g. letters explores human motivations while chemistry looks for physical causes, thus letters is a higher and less predictable order of learning, but is supported by chemistry). Third, teach students how to explore their own particular questions, those by which they discover the personal value of the truth learned. But don’t get confused: these particular questions arise in the context of the science or art being studied. Until the desire is drowned in the waters of fear, distraction, confusion, or hopelessness, students do seek truth. I remember that magic moment when, in 9th grade Algebra, my friend Chris simply could not grasp that a point could approach a line forever without touching it. He kept asking how. It mattered enormously to Chris (and to the rest of us) until the teacher said, “We need to move on,” at which point a class full of aroused minds went back to sleep. That was a question particular to Chris, and that made it important to all of us. But it was also very much part of the art of Algebra (and geometry, philosophy, and theology). Particular questions are often unique and usually unpredictable, though they are subsets of the common and special questions. They can seem like distractions. But the master teacher sees them as the moment she lives for, not an obstacle to get past in order to “cover the curriculum.” Hope is the life of wonder If questions are the eyes of wonder, then hope is its life. We ask questions because we don’t have the answer now. Without hope, wonder, like a magic dragon, sadly slips into its cave. Students need to hope that they can find answers, but we undermine that hope when we lead them down fruitless paths, fail to guide them on the right path (think, Chris), or rescue them too soon from a difficult path. Instead, we must help them identify and avoid fruitless paths, provide tools for exploration, and avoid rescuing them prematurely. If we let them try to figure out how to multiply by three when they think three plus three equals five, they’ll be lost (though happily a path this short is easily retraceable; when they lose their way on the deeper journeys into the underworld of the soul, it’s harder to get back to the path). If we try to lead them down the paths of algebraic wisdom but don’t equip them to use variables, we have set them up for failure. If we bring their wonder to an end with a premature explanation, we undercut their
hope that wonder can lead to discovery. In our teaching, we must cultivate and sustain our students’ greatest hope: that truth can be discovered and is worth the price. We do so through the liberating arts of truth-perception taught classically. Truth is the object of hopeful wonder If questions are the eye of wonder, and hope is its life, then truth is its object. The soul hungers for truth like the body hungers for food. Consequently, we do not need to add value to learning any more than we need to make children value food. We simply need to help them succeed when they seek it. However, if we substitute rocks for bread, inserting meaningless “comprehension” questions for real questions, we contradict our insistence that learning matters. The habit of answering stultifying questions that distract from truth-perception and encourage shallow reading cultivates cynicism, not learning. If the student is not allowed to seek truth, he will lose his wonder and his hope, and he will express his lost hope in variations on despair like pragmatism, love of power, scoffing, and “making a difference.” On the other hand, Christian classical educators have been teaching students how to find truth for many centuries and have handed on a life both rich and nourishing. We see valuable differences when we feed our children real bread and equip them for their real journeys. Harmony is the form of truth Truth is harmony and harmony sustains attention through its variation and stability. But the fragmented mind is inattentive, and schools are masters of fragmentation. The subject-driven curriculum, assessment that jangles with teaching, teaching that ignores the souls’ hungers, tension between governance, curriculum, teaching, and assessment, treating the child as less than the Divine Image—all these discords pull the child’s mind in multiple directions. For example, a sincere student might want to learn from a text, but the assessor’s voice whispers distracting questions, dragging her mind from the truths in the text to the fear of a poor score. While the soul ought to be learning how to see all things as one in Christ, she instead darts between books and tests, lessons and anxieties, and conflicted priorities, anxious because parents, teachers, and school leaders have learned to accept discord over first things. She is confused. She is fragmented. She surrenders. But if we align our curriculum and order our instruction to truth, if we assess learning wisely, if we govern our schools to support truth-seeking, if we guide our communities toward a genuinely Logos-centered experience, then the souls of our students will love harmony and enter their particular quests with faith, hope, and love. They will find within themselves the resources for long, sustained, rewarding attention. When we neglect the body’s needs, ignore the soul’s appetites, disappoint the mind’s wonder, undermine the child’s hope, and fragment the student’s experience, we fail to cultivate the very root of wisdom and virtue in our children: we make them inattentive. But if we attend to their physical needs, arouse the soul through real promises, give eyes to their wonder, give life to their hope, point hope to truth, and sing one song, we will be the ones aroused to energetic attention, renewed wonder, and living hope. We will watch as they see and pay attention to the truth, and the truth will set them free. Something profound lurks in the ancient call of St. John Chrysostom: Sophia! Orthoi! Wisdom! Let us attend!
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Featuring Is Classical Education Still Possible Today? by David Hicks The School as Tapestry: Weaving and the Life of the School by Brian...
Published on Nov 21, 2016
Featuring Is Classical Education Still Possible Today? by David Hicks The School as Tapestry: Weaving and the Life of the School by Brian...