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F E AT U R E S 22










An Excerpt from Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America




BOOK REVIEWS by Brian Phillips, Angelina Stanford, and David Kern

Cover photo by Graeme Pitman


CO NTRI B UTO RS ROD DREHER is the author, most recently, of How Dante Can Save Your Life (ReganArts, 2015). His other books include The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (Grand Central, 2013) and Crunchy Cons (Crown Forum, 2006). He lives with his wife Julie and their three children in St. Francisville, La.

SARAH MACKENZIE is the author of Teaching from Rest: A

Publisher: Andrew Kern, President of the CiRCE Institute

Managing Editor: David Kern A rt Director: Graeme Pitman

Copy Editor: Rebekah Leland

Layout: Aaron Harlow, Blackwood Media Group

Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace, the creator of the Read-Aloud Revival, and homeschooling mama of six (including twins!). Find her online:

JENNY RALLENS is a speaker, teacher, and writer in the world of Christian classical education. She is currently studying for her Phd in theology and memory at Oxford University. Currently, she lives C.S. Lewis’s house and is learning to cycle everywhere. She and her husband, Ty, have

This magazine is published by the CiRCE Institute.

Copyright CiRCE Institute 2015. For a digital version, and for additional content, please go to

two sponsored daughters and one sponsored son in Rwanda. She blogs at

MARTIN COTHRAN, the author of Memoria Press’ Traditional Logic, Material Logic and Classical Rhetoric programs, 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 has have appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and various other newspapers, as well as on radio and television.


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JOHN MASON HODGES is a conductor, lecturer, composer, and writer. He lectures on the subjects of aesthetics, classical education, and music, and writes for various publications on the arts. He is founder and director of the Center for Western Studies, and serves as scholar-in-residence for the National Fellows movement.

ANGELINA STANFORD has taught in various Christian classical classrooms for almost 20 years. She also works as a freelance writer and editor and is a columnist for Home Educating Association’s Family Magazine. This year she completed her tenth year of homeschooling and she recently joined the online teaching community at the Harvey Center


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.

for Family Learning.

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 and the editor of the new edition of Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America.

ANDREW KERN is the President of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author of The Lost Tools of Writing, and the co-author, with Dr. Gene Edward Veith, of the book, Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping American, now in its third edition.



Editor’s Letter

WELCOME TO THE FOURTH ISSUE OF THE CIRCE MAGAZINE. At the outset, it’s hard to say how a publication like this is going to come together; the final product is always a bit of a surprise. Months ago, when we started to commission articles and columns, we didn’t necessarily have a unifying theme in mind. We asked writers to contemplate ideas we believe are worth thinking about, to consider how their own experiences and knowledge can teach us how to teach (and live) classically. We didn’t necessarily intend for them all to focus on the same idea. Yet here we are with an “imagination issue.”  Now I don’t mean to suggest that each of the articles in this magazine is directly about imagination, although some certainly are. But each, in its own way, has to do with the myriad ways our imaginations affect how we live and determine how we teach. Jenny Rallens, for example, writes about her experience teaching in Rwanda, where the ravages of genocide still linger, and the way works of imagination helped her reach children who can sometimes barely understand her when she speaks. Meanwhile, Rod Dreher argues that a work of imagination—The Divine Comedy—can save us from a form of  pseudo-Christianity so common in our day. And Sarah Mackenzie, in discussing the importance of beauty in the ordinary home and classroom, suggests that imagination is a key tool. And those are just the features.  So, yes, here we are with a unifying principle, despite no intention on our part.  God, it seems, had his hand in the development of this magazine. We hope that means that it will prove useful and instructive and inspiring and meaningful to you; that, whatever meager intentions we have for it will be overshadowed by His purposes.  It’s been a delight to sit back and look at the beautiful design in these pages (bravo to our Creative Director, Graeme Pitman, and our collaborator, Aaron Harlow of Blackwood Media Group) and to re-read the articles and to imagine the ways God will use them. To pray, in fact, that He will use it for far more than we could ever imagine. 

David Kern Managing Editor







Words of Wisdom: Interview

The Mind Is A Fire



nyone who has had the privilege of listening to Wes Callihan speak or, better yet, been one of his students, knows that he is the kind of man that books are made of. He’s a tall, broad gentleman with a full, dark beard, a deep voice, and a way with words. He is a storyteller par excellence. But he is also a generous, kind man. He is slow to speak but quick with advice; humble, but humorous. He is, in short, a man who has read a lot. So it seemed only right to discuss the art of good reading with him, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions. You’ll find, I think, a wellspring of wisdom (and kindness) in his answers. You are known as someone who not only provides a classical education through your teaching but also as someone who actively and purposefully cultivates his own classical education. What is the biggest challenge to being classically educated in our day? The single biggest challenge to continued self-education now is simply a variation on a very old one: distraction. Those who want to pursue learning have always had to struggle against the tyranny of the urgent—too many important things clamoring for our attention and keeping us from beginning or continuing the life of the mind—or the tyranny of the terrifying—the news is always meant to keep us constantly frightened and addicted to that fear. C. S. Lewis touches on this in his essay “Learning in War-time”, saying that there will always be threats looming on our horizon, and if we wait for the right moment to begin any pattern of mental pursuit (reading, praying, studying), then we’ll never begin because the right time will never come. But the new variation is the tyranny of the irrelevant, the tyranny of distraction by the shallow, stupid, inane, and unnecessary, which results from the internet, smartphones, and social media thrusting on us news, information, advertising, messages, videos clips, and stories that have absolutely nothing to do with our real lives and true goals. This isn’t news to anyone reading this, but it’s astonishingly difficult to overcome for many people because those technologies are so pervasive. We waste our time and our lives, then kick ourselves for it, then do it again. Few people take seriously the necessity of simplicity and singlemindedness in their inner persons, and those who do rarely have the resolve or take the practical steps necessary to achieve them. I feel a bit as if a finger has been pointed directly at me. You are describing a very personal malady. But you imply that there are, in fact, practical steps that can be taken (if we are sufficiently resolved). Can you reveal a few of them? Believe me, it is indeed personal—I struggle with this all the time. The steps I referred to are those which helped (and continue to help) me,


but they come with a warning which will be ignored by many readers who just want to add to their head knowledge (“I now know another cool thing about classical education!”) and not really do something about this problem. It’s the warning Dante gives his readers at the beginning of the Paradise. He warns them not to read on if they’re merely looking for information or amusement, because to hear the glories he unfolds in his poetry and not heed them is to harden oneself to Truth and bring one closer to destruction. Yet how many teachers blithely require their literature students to read on anyway, thus hardening the souls of their charges? So the warning here is that these steps I mention will seem rather trite or anti-climactic to those who don’t resolve to put them into practice; but to nod at them and then go on as before is to take one step closer to never changing and to be lost in one’s own chains of accidie. Those who resolve and carry through will find that these things, faithfully carried out whether one feels like it on a given day or not, will make a world of difference. These are not the only steps one can take, but they do work. Some that I won’t go into are obvious, like setting aside time to be at your computer and others to be away from it. Take walks and look at the world. But the steps I want to talk about are these: First, begin each day with prayer. With that I’ve already lost some people, even Christians, but I gave the warning! I don’t mean praying for myself and my dedication to mental improvement, and I don’t mean a “quiet time” where I study the Bible, as valuable as that is. I mean real Christian prayer of confession, adoration, dedication, and

Words of Wisdom: Interview

We’re not trying to get information into our heads, we’re trying to form habits and ultimately character. So what we begin with is less important than that we begin.

thanksgiving, with a Psalm or two and of course intercession for others. Prayer that is simply bowing in the presence of the infinite, almighty, and holy God. It needn’t be long, and in fact shouldn’t or one will quit soon, but it should be done faithfully and wholeheartedly. That means no distractions for the ten or so minutes it will take to go through the Morning Prayer from the Anglican or Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, or the Lutheran or Orthodox Prayer book, or one of the many other prayer books. How is this a step toward avoiding distraction in the pursuit of self-education? If done faithfully, it will begin teaching us one of the lessons our distracted minds need to learn, and that is putting other thoughts aside and focusing our attention on what is most important. When we start praying, the distracting thoughts begin to buzz around our heads like flies, and then we have to decide how to deal with them. The worst ones are the ones that seem truly important—about the rent check, the kids, the deadline your boss is on your back about, the groceries, that email you forgot to write. When you start praying, you’ll suddenly remember all the important things you need to do and you’ll worry that you’ll forget them if you push them aside to keep praying, which means you think they are more important than praying. You could write them down to remember them and then get back to praying, but they will never stop. So ignore them. Push them aside to keep praying. If you don’t, you’ve lost. If you do, you’ve begun to learn discipline—the very discipline you’ll need to study, read, pursue the life of the mind. But the point is that you’re first learning to engage in this unseen warfare against your own undisciplined thoughts in the one arena where you know that it’s true to say, “there is nothing more important.” Then, later, when reading Homer, you can tell yourself, “there is nothing more important at this moment,” and you will already have the discipline to listen to yourself. This is far and away the most important step. The second is to make a list of things you want to read or study and stick with it. Avoid being distracted by all the Good Reads recommendations, all the suggestions of friends, the suggestions on Amazon and Facebook. Don’t be afraid to change, but don’t change without very good reason. Make a list of books you know you want to work through and then don’t keep looking at other suggestions, wherever they may come from. Be reluctant to keep changing the list. It’s almost certainly going to be relevant in forty years and the other recommendations almost certainly won’t. The third step is to keep the list relatively short. There will always be more great books than you can ever read. Don’t try and don’t worry about it. It’s terribly damaging to the soul to always be trying to keep up with your well-read friends. The point is not to read a lot. The point is to read well. And that doesn’t require a huge library. I have several thousand books in my library, which is not many compared to some of my friends, but I have a personal list of only about fifty books that I would be content reading for the rest of my life and my soul and mind would be well-fed and strong. The fourth step is to have variety in your reading. Read history, nov-

els, spiritual books, travel, poetry. If you have a genre you’re drawn to, all well and good, but keep variety in your list. Finally, read slowly. Never speed read. That is only for those things you have to read but are not worth much. And you shouldn’t be reading those unless you absolutely have to. Read the good and great books, of all kinds, slowly. The way to gauge this is to read aloud—at least mutter, read under your breath. Now you’re reading closer to the pace at which the book was written and thought about by the author as he wrote, and you should not read the book faster than he wrote it, or not much. You have a mouth, so use it. If you read aloud, you’ll be getting the words into your soul through three avenues (eyes, mouth, and ears) instead of just one (eyes). Pray, for the good of your soul and to learn to wave away distractions. Make a list of books to read and stick to it. Keep it short and varied. Read slowly and savor. There is so much to ponder here. I’m not even sure a follow up is a good idea! But I suppose that defeats the purpose of an interview. So I suspect the natural follow-up is this: many of us feel intimately the limitations of time, not to mention a late head start. So with that in mind can you recommend a few books that everyone should begin with? You say to keep the list relatively short and have variety in what we read, but the world is so full of wonderful books, where do we start? It’s true that the work of educating oneself seems overwhelming; where do we start? The first point to make in response is that we must remember that there is no rush, that this is a life-long habit we’re trying form, and as much as we want to, we cannot simply become educated all at once. We know that, but we feel the pressure anyway. Remember, we’re not trying to get information into our heads. We’re trying to form habits and ultimately, character.  So what we begin with is less important than that we begin. Secondly, as C. S. Lewis said, no matter where we start in literature, it all leads to everything else, so no matter where we started, we’d eventually be led to everything else we wanted to get to. So the second reason that it’s not absolutely critical where we begin is that we’ll get everywhere else eventually, if we maintain the habit. Thirdly, even after we’re convinced of the previous points (that just starting is far more important than where we start), the question does still remain: is there a better place to start? Some books would be mistakes to begin with, no matter how great they are, because if we begin with difficult books before the habit is formed of constant study (constant in the sense that you eat constantly but that doesn’t mean all day long, just that you never abandon the habit!) you may abandon it altogether from weariness or strain or boredom. So start with something you’ll enjoy. I would recommend books like Augustine’s Confessions, Xenophon’s Anabasis (The March of the Ten Thousand), Homer’s Odyssey, AthaCIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 11

Words of Wisdom: Interview nasius’s On the Incarnation, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the King’s of Britain, Benedict’s Rule. These books are short, or adventurous, or chatty, or stirring, without being too heavy or abstract. There is no reason to launch into Aquinas’s Summa or Kant’s metaphysical works (I have doubts about the value of ever reading that, actually) or Aristotle’s Organon, when you’re still trying to form the habit of lifelong study, and you need all the psychological advantages you can get, like things that actually interest you. You don’t give a baby steak and rich wine, no matter how fitting they are for adult tastes. And no one should feel badly about starting small, starting at the beginning, as though it were somehow a failure. It’s humbling to start small and easy, but humility is something reading the Great Books ought to teach us anyway. Do you have any advice or tips for how to be good, active, thoughtful readers? Being an active and thoughtful reader is important, and there are practical steps to take to become that kind of reader. One very good way to approach this is to study Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. It’s entirely about just this issue. I myself don’t do everything he suggests, but the book is eminently worth studying to get yourself into the necessary mindset. My suggestions are largely echoes of Adler, with some additions. First, doing your reading and study in the same place and at the same time every day is a help, though that’s not always possible. Just as the right sort of atmospheric setting helps you to sleep at night, attention to the setting will help you read too. Good light, good posture, seclusion or at least quiet, a time when you’re not hungry (like right before lunch or dinner) or too tired (like the very end of the day)—all these are important. If you’re the sort of person who likes to have a cup of tea or coffee handy, do it! Don’t make yourself too comfortable or you’ll fall asleep but if you’re too uncomfortable you won’t concentrate. Second, read attentively, and this means with a pencil in your hand. Seriously. You should not be reluctant to mark your books because they were made for man, not man for books; but the main reason is that if you’re holding a pencil you will feel more like a student and that makes a difference. The assumption in the first point is that our bodies and minds are connected - and the same is true here. If your hand is working (underlining, making marginal notes, writing “woohoo” at the top of the page) your mind will be more engaged. Third, ask yourself questions of the book: what is the author really saying overall? How is he saying it—what arguments does he use and how are they structured? Is it true? If so, how should it affect me? Finally, begin and end your reading time with prayer, asking the Lord for light and wisdom in application. Pray that you will be a doer and not a hearer only. And after you pray, at the beginning and end, sit quietly and let yourself become still before you open the book. Set your reading apart (“sanctify” it) from the rest of your day by prayer and silence.


Words of Wisdom: Book Reviews


by Karen Glass

Reviewed by Angelina Stanford


round 12 years ago, as a new homeschooler desperate to figure out how to educate my children at home, I stumbled onto the work of Charlotte Mason. I had been teaching at a classical school, but found that I simply was unable to translate that brand of classroom classical into a home setting. Those early attempts were filled with a lot of tears. But, for me, Charlotte Mason was liberation.  She offered a model of education that accomplished everything I wanted to achieve as a classical educator in a way that seemed ideally suited for teaching a variety of ages at home—a less anxious, less busy, (dare I say it!), more restful education. As I continued to research educational philosophies, I was very surprised to see Charlotte Mason contrasted to classical education by modern voices. Again and again, the standard conversation was that classical education was “rigorous” and Charlotte Mason’s model was “gentle.” You had to choose one or the other.  Not so fast, says Karen Glass in her new book, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. Glass not only argues that Charlotte Mason’s philosophies and methods are truly classical, but further presses the case that modern interpretations of classical education have missed the mark. She begins by demonstrating how Charlotte Mason rooted her philosophy in ancient, classical voices and insisted that any model for classical education must not only include the methods of classical education but also the principles. Likewise, Glass repeatedly brings us back to those principles and forces us to reexamine many of the methods that are currently synonymous with “classical education.” She argues that true classical education is primarily concerned with nurturing virtue in students, rather than intellectual prowess. We gain knowledge as part of “a process of learning how to live rightly.” To achieve this goal, students must be humble and also must be shown that all knowledge is connected. In other words, classical teaching will show students that the universe is orderly and understandable, and that all knowledge is interconnected—what Mason calls “synthetic” thinking and stands in contrast to “analytical” thinking, which Mason believes should be delayed until after synthetic thinking has been well established. This principle is a direct assault on almost every modern manifestation of education, which is deeply rooted in critical thinking and analysis. After carefully laying out the ancient principles that have informed Mason’s philosophy, Glass turns her attention to where she thinks modern “neo-classical” voices have gotten it wrong. First, she challeng-

es the place of Latin in the modern classical curriculum. While she never argues against the inclusion of Latin and Greek, she does believe that modern classical educators have misunderstood the purpose of Latin instruction and therefore have embraced an analytical, scientific understanding of knowledge instead of a classical, synthetic understanding, thus inadvertently contributing to an elitist understanding of classical education. Many home educators struggling to find the time or resources to teach Latin will find this chapter extremely encouraging.  But perhaps  most importantly, she  challenges  the modern understanding of the trivium. Neo-classical educators take it for granted that when Dorothy Sayers explained the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) as stages of child development and learning methods that she knew what she was talking about. When her speech “The Lost Tools of Learning” resurfaced in the 1990s, an entire educational pedagogy was developed on the Sayers Classical Model. Classical schools and classical curricula exploded onto the scene; each based on the understanding of the “Ages and Stages” model. But Glass argues compellingly that the trivium was never understood in antiquity or the Middle Ages as developmental stages. Ironically, in rushing to embrace “classical education,” she argues, we have put a very modern spin on an ancient idea and have created a modern system that has little in common with the original trivium.  As Glass reexamines in detail the principles behind the trivium, we quickly see that Charlotte Mason’s methods beautifully, naturally, and—yes—gently achieve the goals of the trivium, and do so without all the “drudgery” that came to characterize Victorian versions of classical education, manifestations that were hanging onto the trappings of classical education while abandoning the principles behind it. The very same drudgery and rigor that I was having such a hard time trying to replicate in my home.   For example,  Mason believed in feeding  young minds with ideas, especially emphasizing the interconnectedness of ideas. Sayers, on the other hand, argued that young children should be given facts to memorize with little or no explanation of these disconnected, almost random facts. Sayers wanted to create pegs on which to hang later learning; Mason wanted to create relationships between the student and the world. Practically speaking, this means that, in the Sayers model, younger students spend the majority of their time memorizing, and in the Mason model, students spend the majority of their time exploring ideas through books or hands-on exploration. Glass argues that the rigor of the Sayers model has little in common with true classical education. Modern neo-classical education looks a lot like the classical education of the Victorian period, and Glass tells us that those days were the final breaths of classical education before it was completely abandoned. Learning had become a system of drudgery and rigor for its own sake, cut off from the ancient principles that birthed it. Karen Glass encourages us to go back to the beginning. By looking all the way back, we will find the way forward. And drudgery can become delight. Self published. Available from for $13.95. CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 13

Words of Wisdom: Book Reviews


by Anthony Esolen

Reviewed by Brian Phillips


quiet four-year-old can make for a frightened parent. Surely, we fear, the silence only conceals the plotting of some dangerous or forbidden act of vandalism. Granted, I have intruded upon my two sons silently building a tower of play tables and chairs to reach their ceiling fan, but I have also observed that when children are at play – true play, without duties or games assigned by parents – they are often quiet. Punctuated by the occasional burst of laughter or joyful shout, the wonder of focused play reveals itself in silence, the opportunity for which is frequently robbed by the scripted, over-scheduled existence endured by too many children. In his newest offering, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child (2015, ISI Books), Anthony Esolen explains that he wrote the book because he believes that “. . . we are bringing our children up not for the freedom we enjoy but for the compulsions we suffer.  Some of those compulsions we even mistake for freedom, so that the more of them we win, the more tightly we bind ourselves, body and soul.” Life Under Compulsion, more than anything, is a book about freedom—not the false conception of “freedom” that enslaves so many to their own passions—but true freedom.  Esolen laments: The habitually worldly do not feel themselves to be compelled at all.  They are heedless in their flippancy.  They seem to have before them a smorgasbord of choices…The sheer range of choices available to them convinces them that they are free.  But they dwell in a cramped world, spiritually and intellectually and humanly speaking… Having clogged up their ears against the whispering of the divine, they are easy prey to the transient – exactly as Uncle Screwtape points out to his demon nephew in advising how to deal with his ‘patient.’ Their incapacity is both symptom and disease.  They live Life Under Compulsion. True freedom, Esolen argues: Is not to do as you please but rather to realize the fulfillment of your natural and created being, without impediments. To admit those impediments would be to compromise your freedom. It would be like cutting your own


hamstrings. So when love is offered, the free heart, unimpeded by niggling selfishness, responds in love.  When truth is asked for, the free mind, seeing truth clearly and not wishing to duck under a covert, speaks the truth. To will to do otherwise would be like willing that you were not the kind of being you are.  Dropping the Screwtape-esque approach of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (2010, ISI Books), Esolen’s acclaimed semi-satirical “how-to” manual for those seeking to rid their students or children of wonder, Life Under Compulsion continues the writer’s blazing attack on the humanity-devastating tendencies of our culture.   Esolen’s blunt approach, described as “skewering,” “devastating,” and “witty, provocative, and insightful” by supporters may be unlikely to persuade opponents, but it is nonetheless effective and seems to arise from sincere anguish over the ef-

Words of Wisdom: Book Reviews fects of life under compulsion, and not out of simple animosity towards those with whom he disagrees. Take this passage, for example, in which Esolen addresses the mistakes of parents under compulsion: We can trace out a nice chain of compulsions, thus.  Mr. and Mrs. Ergonome are moving to a new state. They choose to live in a ‘good’ neighborhood – set apart from the unwashed – for the sake of a ‘good’ school, a well-funded factor that produces ‘college material,’ the half-finished industrial stuff that is then transformed into transistors, gas engines, and Styrofoam packing.  To secure this good school, they buy a house beyond their means.  To pay the mortgage, Mrs. Ergonome must earn a salary outside the home.  To enable Mrs. Ergonome to do that, they must purchase a second car, and day care for the two children.  They choose the ‘best’ day care, the one brightest in Plasticine, and with relatively few of the unwashed (although Mr. and Mrs. Ergonome, upholding the dignity of the people they flee, would deny any such motive).  That, too, is a noose for the budget. While certainly direct, and perhaps offensive to those who sense themselves the target of such criticisms, Esolen’s dominant concern seems to be exposing the bondage in which such families live, and the numbing effect such decisions have on the souls of children. The pattern of life described is all too common and comfortable, perhaps to the point that those living under such compulsion need to be shocked.  If so, Esolen’s Life Under Compulsion may very well do the trick. Available from ISI Books for $27.95.



By Carol & Philip Zaleski Few twentieth century figures have received the depth and volume of scholarship as have The Inklings, that famous group of like-minded compatriots best known for housing the friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. So it might seem unnecessary that another biographical volume now appear. Yet The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Carol and Philip Zaleski, is an erudite and worthy addition to the ever-growing canon of Inklings scholarship. A thoroughly researched must-read for anyone fascinated by the evolution of—and process behind—the works for which they became famous, this is a book about the books as much as the men. Yet for all its concern with the inspirations that gave us works like The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, it’s also a deeply human study of the joys and tribulations that each man lived through and their various journeys to Faith. Perhaps most valuable, though, considering the sheer volume of work available on Lewis and Tolkien, is the book’s detailed examination of Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and the various other men who made up the group and whose own literary genii (and deeply odd personalities) are woefully under appreciated. The Inklings was a literary club built around friendship and common  passion, around laughter and shared taste, and as such was a foundational inspiration for much of the work these great men produced. So it makes sense that some of the book’s most stirring passages are the ones that explore the relationships between the figures and the specific ways they influenced, challenged, and supported each other. Oh to be a fly on the wall during one of their gatherings.

- David Kern Available now for $35 from Farrar Straus Giroux



My wife and I were staying at a little inn in the

mountains recently. We woke up one morning and she opened the blinds on the window. “Oh!” she said. “A tractor!” There was a parking lot for some cabins next to us and a tractor was parked there. For some reason at first unclear to me, she had found this astonishing. She giggled, and explained how babysitting our oneand-a-half year-old grandson several times a week had affected her way of looking at the world. When the weekly trash truck comes, she explained, they stand at the window, and Søren (that is the kind of name you get when your father and grandfather happen to have been philosophy majors) watches in rapt attention and my wife with him. And little do the gardeners know that their every mowing and blowing movement is the object of so much scrutiny and reflection.


“When Søren and I see something like that,” she said, “we get pretty excited about it.” This reminds me of G. K. Chesterton’s point that children have a sense of wonder of the world that goes beyond the normal vision of an adult. Children, he says, are more directly plugged into what he calls “the ancient instinct of astonishment”: This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. A child looks at the world in a way that is quite different than the way an adult looks at it. And people in older cultures looked at things in a way that is different from our own. For this reason the modern adult is at a double disadvantage: He is several steps away from his own childhood, and several more steps removed from the childhood of his race. Both a child and a primitive tribesman would be astonished at a tractor. But those of us living in the 21st century are not so easily astonished. Wonder is not one of the characteristic attitudes of our age. We are, says Michael Aeschliman, the men of Canto III of Dante’s Inferno, the “sorrowful people” who have lost all meaning and purpose because they have, in Dante’s words, “lost the good of the intellect”: These are conditions for which by now we have not only a ready recognition but a large vocabulary: alienation, nausea, absurdity, anomie, ennui (which Tolstoy brilliantly defined as ‘the desire for desires’), anxiety, estrangement, weightlessness (“everything that is solid melts into the air,” as Marx put it), meaninglessness, purposelessness, and nihilism. ... The heirs of Canto III are among us and within us too to some extent; we inevitably share in the ethos or sensibility of our age to some extent, however much we may hate and work against it. The modernists among us have tried to escape from this nihilism through the invocation of a new religion: that of scientism. Here, as in any other religion, they can find a creed (materialism, the belief that only the physical is real), a code or methodology (the scientific method), and a cultic motivation (a scientific utopia in which all questions about the tangible world have been answered). One day, we are told, if we continue on the road of scientific progress, even life itself will give up its secrets and we will conquer death. But modern scientism is just a way station on the road to nihilism, as Nietzsche and the existentialists who followed him pointed out, since even an eternal life, lived with no transcendent purpose, can be a sort of damnation - a Hell on earth. This is perhaps why Albert Camus, at the beginning of the Myth of Sisyphus, said that the chief philosophical question of our time was why we should not commit suicide. Wouldn’t it be ironic if one day people discovered a way to al18

low people to live forever, but, faced with the prospect of living a life of perpetual purposeless, they all committed suicide? “The goal is lacking,” said Nietzsche. “The answer is lacking to our ‘Why?’” Modern science can answer the questions of “What?” and “How?” but it cannot answer the question “Why?” In other words, even if science could achieve its highest aspirations, it would not be able to address our deepest problems, whose remedy lies, not in the instrumentality of modern science, but in the apprehension of a meaningful and purposive world--a world which is more than it seems, a world that has something behind it. It is not the length of life that comforts, nor even safety in the short one we have. Walker Percy once pointed out that, according to several published studies he had read, people are happier in hurricanes. For a few hours in the midst of their mundane lives--and by virtue of the very dangers that threaten their earthly existence--their lives are rendered meaningful, and therefore happy. This is why the protagonist of Herman Melville’s short story, “The Lightning-Rod Man,” refuses the pleas and assurances of the demonic lightning rod salesman who arrives in the midst of a thunderstorm promising him refuge in the safety and solace that his man-made and scientifically-forged instrument can offer. He drives him away with a question: Do you think that because you can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar, that you can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt? ... The hairs of our heads are numbered, and the days of our lives. In thunder as in sunshine, I stand at ease in the hands of my God. Maybe it is possible to say, with songwriter Neko Case, “This tornado loves you.” With only materialism at his back--and instrumental rationality in his hand--modern man has succeeded only in distancing himself from his own world. “We are so used to the fact that we forget it or fail to perceive,” said the late philosopher William Barrett, “... Every step forward in mechanical technique is a step in the direction of abstraction. This capacity for living easily and familiarly at an extraordinary level of abstraction is the source of modem man’s power. With it he has transformed the planet, annihilated space, and trebled the world’s population. But it is also a power which has, like everything human, its negative side, in the desolating sense of rootlessness, vacuity, and the lack of concrete feeling that assails modern man in his moments of real anxiety.” We have externalized our world, and in doing so placed it further from us. We now deal with reality at second hand. The German sociologist Max Weber had a name for what had happened: the “disenchantment of the world,” by which he meant to describe the result of the increasing rationalization and bureaucratization of life in Western society. Increasingly, thought Weber, Western man saw nature and himself in the quantitative terms of instrumental rationality. Life was no longer seen in terms of inherent meaning and purpose, but in terms of a kind of rational economic or scientific calculus. We have all become Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych, who uses ab-


straction and formality to screen off the world around him. One of the ways we do this is by surrounding ourselves with manmade things. The old Thomists taught that God endowed natural objects--plants, animals, and men--with a nature. A tree has its own tree nature, a horse a horse nature, and every man a human nature. This nature or essence--and the corresponding final cause or purpose--makes it what it is and is intrinsic to it. Everything that God makes is something and is for something in a way that man-made objects are not. A chair for example, may, if it is made of wood, have a tree nature, but it does not possess a chair nature. While the nature of a tree is in the tree, the nature of a chair, insofar as it is a chair, is in our minds. Being only a sub-creator (and not a creator) man cannot imbue a thing with a nature. This is why, Aristotle says, that if you buried a wooden bed, and it sprouted, it would not grow a bed, but a tree. In the old classical conception of the cosmos, natural things not only seem more real, but really are more real. They possess a metaphysical weight. So when we surround ourselves with an overabundance of artificial, man-made things, it should not surprise us when we find that we have been distanced from the world around us and from our natural selves. We build manmade houses in man-made subdivisions in which we watch our man-made television sets and eat our increasingly man-made food, enabling us to lead our man-made lives and think our man-made thoughts. It is not coincidental that the nihilist modern adult stories that make up so much a part of modern literature are set almost exclusively in the city. All the modern tales of alienation and despair—Gogol’s Overcoat, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Sartre’s Nausea, Camus’ The Stranger—they all take place in an urban setting, far away from the Hundred Acre Wood. They exemplify what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “the urban distaste for the concrete.” Most children’s stories are country stories. “You may have luxuries and dainties that I have not,” said the country mouse to the town mouse in the famous children’s story as she hurried back to the country, “but I prefer my plain food and simple life in the country with the peace and security that go with it.” This children’s story is joined by innumerable others in the case for the country. It is hard to imagine Laura falling asleep to the sweet strains of Pa’s fiddle in mid-town Manhattan. Wilbur was “some pig,” but would not have been so “terrific” in a place other than the barn in which he lived. And good luck finding blueberries for Sal in the cement jungles in which many of us live. The country life, far from being “at odds with God and man,” as the pastor tells the reclusive Uncle Alp in Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, is a life closer to the real things that God made. Heidi, who is being raised by her grandfather in the mountains, is taken to live in the city. Used to going out first thing in the morning “to see whether the sky was blue and the sun shining, and to say good

morning to the trees and flowers,” Heidi finds the doors of the house nailed shut and no view at all from the open front door. She was “like a wild bird in a cage, seeking a way through the bars to freedom.” We have all become trapped in the modern, disenchanted world. We are all orphans from reality. It is part of the great value of children’s literature that it reconnects us with the older vision of a meaningful world. “It is Mother Goose,” says John Goldthwaite, in his excellent book, The Natural History of Make Believe, “who first introduces us to who we are in the world … Our infant imaginations are jollied awake as she translates the toes on our feet into pigs going to market, sends a cow over the moon, and tucks the world’s biggest family into bed in a shoe.” In his great essay, “The Ethics of Elfland,” a chapter out of his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton articulated how children’s literature helps us see the world as it really is. “My first and last philosophy,” he says, “that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery.” Chesterton realized that modern thinkers saw the existence of order in the universe as an argument that the world itself was nothing but dead mechanism: All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. ... Now, the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational. It was as if, having seen a curiously shaped nose in the street and dismissed it as an accident, I had then seen six other noses of the same astonishing shape. I should have fancied for a moment that it must be some local secret society. So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot. I speak here only of an emotion, and of an emotion at once stubborn and subtle. But the repetition in Nature seemed sometimes to be an excited repetition, like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again. The grass seemed signalling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood. There is something about poetry, and children’s poetry in particular, that helps to lead us past the limited materialist view and toward Chesterton’s deeper metaphysical insight. As Thomas Howard points out in his book, Chance or the Dance, poetry is the ceremonial organization of language. In ceremony, order is everything; formality is the essence. Benediction is conferred, meaning is communicated. This is nowhere more true than in nonsense verse, where to the benedictory function of language is added a sense of playfulness. Part of the allure of nonsense verse is its ability to toy CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 19

with our expectations in that way that jostles us out of the normal course of things so that we can look back and see them more objectively. “The mind is stubborn in its need for order,” says Goldthwaite. “Upset its expectations with a spiel of gibberish and, like a turtle looking to right itself, it will seek the stability of meaning every time. Nonsense might be defined more accurately as a flirtation with disorder, a turning upside down of the world for the pleasure of seeing it come right side up again.” Chesterton loved the nonsense verse of Edward Lear for precisely this reason and this is why he considered Lewis Carroll

great insight was to observe that the rhetoric of amazement was a reflection of something deeper: a metaphysics of amazement. It was not simply that fairy tales and nonsense verse made the world seem enchanted. Rather, they simply served to show us that, in fact, the world is enchanted. Poetic language, says Howard, “tends toward the way things are, and not away from it.” Fairy tales are not an escape from reality, like we experience in Lewis Carroll, but a re-engagement with the wonder of the world, like in Edward Lear: We have all read in scientific books, and, indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget. “Every work of make-believe,” says Goldthwaite, “bears the same implicit message. Its miracles may be mysterious like [George] MacDonald’s, they may be tricks for fun like Helen Bannermans’, but they all announce to a credulous audience that the world is possessed of a quality that is beyond empirical knowing.” The classical scholar Samuel Butler once met an Italian man who professed a great knowledge of English literature. He asked him which English poem he liked the best. “He replied,” Butler said, “without hesitation”:

Lear’s inferior. Carroll’s poetry was rationalistic and intellectual, while Lear’s was poetical and evocative. Carroll inverted reality, Lear turned it upside-down. In fact, Chesterton’s first book was a book of nonsense poetry for children: Greybeards at Play. He saw the same quality—the quality of re-imagination—in fairy tales, tales that say that “apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” But Chesterton’s 20

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon; The little dog laughed to see such sport, And the dish ran away with the spoon. “He said,” Butler recounted, “this was better than anything in Italian. They had Dante and Tasso and ever so many more great poets, but they had nothing comparable to this.” If there is a way out of the modern malaise, surely it is this. It is not only the imaginations of infants that need to be “jollied awake.” In fact, it is adults who stand in the most pressing need of fairy tales. Only then will we be able to say, “Oh, a tractor!”




N MY FIRST AFTERNOON visiting Bright Future School in Nyagatare, Rwanda, the 6th grade teacher waves me into his room. “Teacher from America,” he says, “they have asked that you will lead them.” He pushes his white stub of chalk into my hand and disappears into the back row. The sudden request takes me by surprise. I am scheduled to teach English classes later this week, but today I am the learner, studying this Rwandan school which hopes to import classical methods into its country of terraced green hills and silvery eucalyptus forests. I step from red-dust sunlight into the concrete cool of this classroom, halfway across the world from my own. Forty Rwandan students press forward on their benches. Reflex takes over and I find myself doing what I almost always do when I’m not prepared, or when I want my students to taste goodness beyond any explanation I can prepare. I read them a story. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. Instantly the dear familiar words evaporate the distance between this sweaty concrete classroom and air-conditioned, carpeted 5th grade at The Ambrose School in Idaho where I read The Hobbit aloud every year. No matter that my American students have self-flush toilets, smartphones, and organic peanut butter sandwiches while my new Rwandan students have squatty potties, cracked blackboards, and no lunch at all. 8805 miles away from Idaho, Tolkien’s words are home. Part of my soul dances at the joy of sharing a favorite story with these new friends, my little brothers and sisters, who seem to be devouring it eagerly. But another part of me wrestles doubt. What am I doing reading a challenging Western book to African students who struggle to track with my American accent in simple conversation? What was I thinking, plunging students straight into dwarves, dragons, wizards, and a fat, pipe-smoking reluctant hero with no previous introduction to the mechanics of literature? What could classical Christian education from Idaho have to offer these children who are already much richer in faith and community than me and my American companions? Of course, I don’t really expect Rwandan 6th graders to understand The Hobbit. The most I can reasonably hope is that they will be entertained by my animated facial expressions and the distinct voices I’ve

developed for each of the 13 dwarves. But, somehow, they are getting more. I pause now and then to ask comprehension questions, and their answers come at first in hesitant whispers, but reveal an understanding that astonishes me. When the class period ends, more than a dozen students linger hopefully in the classroom. “Do you want to keep reading?” I ask, sitting down on one of their benches and inviting them closer. There is an instant scramble, and then fuzzy shaved heads are pressing so close I can hardly breathe. One circle of students squishes around me, some of them trying to read the screen upside down. A second circle leans over their heads. One student, Dian, begins to read aloud along with me, then another, and another, their beautiful accents harmonizing with mine. As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of the dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves . . . Why do they stay? I still wonder. Is it their unending fascination with my white skin and straight hair? My theatrical reading? Does their culture’s generous tradition of hospitality insist they maintain polite interest? Or Is it possible that they have been captivated by this fat, frightened hobbit and want to follow his adventure? We read until the headmaster comes to tell me school was dismissed a half hour earlier, and I must leave the classroom or the students will never go home. They squeeze me goodbye and scatter down footpaths through corn fields and the red dirt road that winds through the village. Several of these children will walk two hours or more on tattered shoes, through glowing fields of banana trees, lush rice paddies, and up and down some of Rwanda’s “thousand hills” before they reach their homes. There they might collect jerry cans and walk another mile or two to bring water back to their family, eat supper, do more chores, sleep on a mat over a dirt floor, and get up well before dawn to walk the two hours back to school. And those are the lucky ones. How will I ever forget the little huddle of yearning faces outside every classroom window, where the village’s uneducated children stood straining to catch fragments of the stories we read in classroom after classroom. Though public schooling is nearly free for Rwandans, many families must choose between food and paying the miniscule monthly fee for education supplies. And then there are the mothers who buy


schooling for their children by selling their own bodies. I get on the bus and cry all the way back to our hotel. I’ve spent the past eight years teaching some of the most delightful, faithful people in the world, and yet I’ve never encountered children so hungry to learn. Starving African children with toothpick limbs and bloated bellies so regularly haunt my Facebook news feed that I subconsciously expected to find them around every corner in Rwanda. In reality we met very few underfed children on this trip. Instead, we were welcomed by the most joyful, hospitable, Christians I have ever met, whole communities who seem astonishingly free from the particularly Western temptation to control life rather than to offer it as a holy sacrifice. What I would consider heroic faith—a fatherless young woman taking a year off to serve a church instead of pursuing her career “just to say thank you to the Lord;” a large family opening their small home to a half-dozen orphaned children; a poor village pastor providing a lavish meal for me, a stranger before that moment, when I appeared on his porch; a highschool student sharing his own two shirts and one bar of soap with a struggling classmate—these are mundane habits among the Rwandans I met. But still, the word that kept coming to mind was hunger. This love is the natural embodiment of their hunger to follow a God, I realized, they somehow believe is more real, more present, and more good than I do. And hunger was again the desire I sensed at Bright Future School: a hunger for Christ and for education in His Truth, a hunger fueled in part by their recent history, a hunger I wish I and my Idahoan students tasted more often. The reason our group of students, teachers, and parents from The Ambrose School traveled to Rwanda for two weeks was to better understand this hunger. We had also been asked to share a few classical methods with teachers and students at Africa Bright Future School in Nyagatare and to try to understand the vision for classical Christian education in this small country healing from centuries of colonialism and ethnic violence. IN THE SPRING OF 1994, I was 8 years old, chasing fireflies in Maryland woods, feeding earth worms to box turtles in my bathtub, and watching purple East coast lightening with my newborn sister’s fist curled around my thumb. On the other side of the world, genocide was choking the streets of Rwanda with dead bodies, babies’ heads smashed systematically against a killing wall, a country crippled by the slaughter of a seventh of its people, many of whom were now orphans and HIV-infected widows. In 100 days between April and June, 1994, the Rwandan majority


ethnic group, the Hutus, executed a secretly planned extermination of one million Tutsis, the minority ethnic group, while the United Nations and the international community pretended to be unable to understand Rwanda’s repeated cries for help. Bullet wounds scar the red bricks of Nyamata Church, the tin awning, the front door. Inside, the low, wood benches that line the dirt floor sanctuary could seat several hundred. On every bench, stiffened bloody garments are stacked high—row upon row, pile upon pile, still soiled with the blood and tears of the men, women, and children slaughtered inside them. This is not some piece of comfortably distant history. The clothes are recognizably modern: jeans, hoodies, Nike. On the top of one stack, blood splatters a small Disney t-shirt, a shirt I could have worn in 1994, the year the genocide began in Kigali. Hundreds of Tutsis sought refuge in this sanctuary, believing they would be protected as they huddled around the altar that is now bathed in their blood. Their priest spoke comforting words to them, then secretly called the Hutu militia. Soon guns were tearing holes in the windows. The doors were ripped off their hinges by murderers, young men who had been trained to use clubs, machetes, and any available blunt object to kill as many people as possible in two minutes. The truth cuts deep through American fantasies about nice Christianity. At the time of the genocide, the vast majority of Rwanda’s population was Christian. Christians killing other Christians, often in the name of Jesus. ‘Not only was it the most horrifying hell that I could imagine, but my first view of it was at a church,’ wrote David Guttenfielder, a National Geographic photographer who visited Nyamata before the bodies had been removed from these stacks of blood soaked garments. ‘Rwanda is one of the most religious countries I’ve been in . . . But this beautiful, seemingly pious nation also holds one of the darkest, most evil things I’ve seen in my life. I couldn’t understand or believe what had happened here.’ Why does a genocide like the one in Rwanda happen? What can sicken a church and culture to permit such desecration of human life? Could anything have prevented or healed it before it grew into the fullblown monster that destroyed a whole people? A million human lives were brutally wiped out that spring of 1994. A hundred thousand more were mutilated, raped, or forced to watch their family slaughtered before their eyes. Young Rwandans, many of them fiercely dedicated Christians, were the muscle, but not the mind, behind the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

‘Most people who participated in the genocide were young people who couldn’t read or write,’ Pastor Patrick explains. Most were impoverished. Many were hungry.” They had not been taught to think critically, to ask questions, to feel wisely, and they were led by a handful of immoral but highly educated masterminds who exploited them. ‘Lack of education made these young people vulnerable, believing what their leaders told them to do was right, led by the promise of a better life if they killed their neighbor.’ So when the genocide masterminds told them that God wanted the Tutsis dead, they obeyed unquestioningly. Rwandans were slaughtered at nearly three times the daily rate of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust, despite a lack of sophisticated extermination machinery. The murders, designed to humiliate and torture as well as kill, were performed mostly by machete, and where machete was unavailable, by club. I stand in this slaughter house church only 21 years later. Of a family of 10, our guide Rachel whispers, she is the only one who survived. When someone from our team asks her to tell her story, she shakes her head, presses her lips together and lowers her eyes. 45,000 of those who died in the genocide are buried here in three mass graves. Fresh flowers left on the white stone testify to living hearts that still ache for the dead. In a shaft below the church neat piles of bones are sorted by kind and heaped on shelves. Rows of skulls are stacked on others, many of them pierced or dented from blunt weapon trauma. The shelves are a few stories high, row upon row, bone upon bone. The bones are too many to count. The shadow of an enormous cockroach, illuminated by my flashlight, raises a ghastly antenna over a shelf of skulls. The catacomb smells of dust and bones. I Corinthians 15 flickers through my mind, and I try to imagine the resurrection, the explosion of life that will burst from these shelves and mass graves when Jesus comes to knit these bones back together and to wipe away the tears of the thousands buried here. I want desperately to be comforted by this truth, but hope of a new earth shrivels next to the real horror of broken bones and bloody garments. God, where were you when this happened to your people, in your church? Christians killing other Christians in your name. I sit down on the steps of one of the mass graves and sob. Our translator, John, takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. ‘Take heart,’ he says, pointing toward heaven. John remembers being six years old in 1994, when he and his family returned from forced exile in a Ugandan refugee camp-in which four of his ten siblings died from malaria--to a Rwanda whose villages, fields, and dirt roads were blocked with brutalized bodies rotting in piles. How can your people bear it? I ask. “The genocide has taught us the precious worth of every single hu-

man life,” John replies, “and in valuing persons so deeply there is great joy.” We mourn this past, but we take heart because God brings beauty out of ashes. As Pastor Patrick Twagirayesu explains later, the passion he and other Rwandan leaders invest in education—and the revelation that Christian education could make the difference, literally, between life and death—was forged in this holocaust. AS OUR BUS BUMPS along the red Rwandan roads, I can’t stop thinking about a conversation I had with a disgruntled Ambrose student shortly before I left for Africa. All I want to be when I grow up, he said, is a good Christian dad and a park ranger. And all that takes is some science, the three R’s, and God. So why Augustine, poetry, critical thinking, Beowulf, discussions, medieval history? I get that you want us to be virtuous, he added, preempting the usual answer, but why this classical stuff when all we need is Jesus? How I wish he could hear the Rwandan answer to his question. Because they had Jesus, and they also had genocide. ‘I treasure education,’ Pastor Patrick Twagirayesu explains one night over steaming mugs of nutmeggy African tea, ‘because illiteracy hinders your ability to truly comprehend Christ himself.’ Why, we ask, does he—already a prolific evangelist and church planter—consider academics a crucial part of his mission? Why not stick to spreading the gospel? His answer, framed by the backdrop of bloodspattered killing walls and shelves of fractured skulls, takes my breath away. Moral education would have prevented the genocide, he claims. Education that is Christian and thoughtful, cut along the grain of how God’s own nature and the nature God gave to man, is an antidote to genocidal ideologies and ‘the key to a better future for Rwanda.’ Consider an illiterate Christian Rwandan peasant, Pastor Patrick goes on to explain, one who might easily have been a killer in the genocide. This peasant believes the gospel and loves Jesus, but embodying the gospel requires the ability to understand how the gospel shapes all parts of life, the eyes to see how genocidal ideology contradicts Christianity—even when the leaders he has been educated to blindly follow tell him God wants him to kill Tutsis. The unschooled person has been prevented from growing the spiritual, intellectual, human capacity for asking moral questions, applying ideals to situations, or contemplating different narratives of action. An uneducated person, Pastor Patrick analogizes, is like a man who cuts down the pillar that is holding up his own house and burns it for warmth, thinking he has done a good deed. LATER THAT WEEK we return to Bright Future School to teach literature lessons. Pastor Patrick has asked that we model specific practices that he has seen at Ambrose for his teachers in Nyagatare: integration of biblical truth in every lesson rather than only in Bible class, critical CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 25

and creative thinking instead of mindless “cram-work,” discipleship not just discipline, pedagogy that forms what a student loves and not just what he knows. On this day my Rwandan students eagerly eat up the story of Aslan’s sacrifice in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. They listen breathlessly, spellbound by the great Lion’s death on the Stone Table under the glittering knife of the White Witch, Susan and Lucy’s long bitter night, the nibbling mice, and the deeper magic of that bright dawn. Divided into small groups led by students from Ambrose, the Bright Future students narrate the story back, timidly at first but then with increasing flair and relish. Eventually a few groups reenact the story while their classmates cheer. They grasp, with some struggle at first, the idea of allegory: how Aslan’s sacrifice is an image of the gospel, and they begin to articulate their own insights about the story. This is better than Christmas, I write in my journal after spending a few more days reading Frog and Toad, The Hobbit, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all over the Bright Future School grounds with students, not only during class, but also before, after, and during every break. They can’t seem to get enough of stories, appearing in groups at my elbow, a book in hand, grinning up invitingly. We sit down on curbs, or in the dust, or on grassy hillocks, open the book, and read a little bit more about four Pevensies, who somehow belong in Rwanda as much as they do in Britain or Narnia or Idaho. On the one, simply reading Tolkien, Lewis, or Arnold Lobel— whether in Boise or Nyagatare— seems unlikely to be the antidote to genocide. But then I remember Irving Babbit’s insistence, echoing moral educators through the centuries, that literature is “emancipating,” because it presents us with universal ideas and questions and “leads him who studies it out and away from himself . . . and servitude to the present” illuminating the demands of the here and with the holiest, wisest of thens and theres. When my future park ranger asked me back in Idaho why an Ambrose education was worth it, to prevent a genocide was not the answer I gave him. But now I wonder if perhaps Pastor Pat-


rick’s answer is the most honest one. We classical educators speak of instilling virtues, ordering loves, imitatio Christi, passing the (healthy) soul of society from generation to generation. But Augustine, Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, the medieval monastic tradition, and Pastor Patrick know all too well the dark antithesis to a culture without moral education: churches full of barbarized bodies, small children forced to slaughter their own parents, shelves of battered skulls and bones. Later that week I hear Bright Future students dramatically retelling the story of Aslan’s sacrifice to each other, to other members of my team, and to younger students. I imagine them trekking home that night to share the story with their siblings who yearn for stories, as much as they hunger for their evening meal of beans and roasted plantains. I imagine them finding and devouring the rest of the Narnian Chronicles and other great books, where we left them at Bright Future School. AS RWANDA’S thousand hills ripple away under my airplane window, I pray that the heart-stirring hunger—for worship, for a life poured out, for Jesus—we experienced in this community is both fed and deepened as they read these books, and I beg God that after tasting the keen longing for His presence here, I will learn from my Rwandan friends how to always be this hungry too. A note from the author: Dear friends who are reading this, if you would be willing to help give hope to a Rwandan child whose family and life have been negatively impacted by the 1994 genocide, please consider sponsoring a student to attend Bright Future School. For $35/month your sponsored child will be given a Christian education, a uniform, school supplies, sanitary supplies, and a health clinic card. You can visit or email me at for more information--or to ask me to meet and take pictures with your sponsored child when I return to Rwanda this spring! Thank you so much, Jenny Rallens.


“ With whom you read is as important as what you read.”

Worshipping. Thinking. Making. Educating the whole person. You enjoy reading and talking about ideas for the purpose of application. You value the interaction of intimate, discussion-based instruction. You appreciate the parallel development of your spiritual and intellectual life. You welcome growing together as a community to serve and provide accountability. You desire to walk in a discipleship and mentoring relationship. You believe that there is life beyond a classroom. You seek to have your vocational passions ignited with greater clarity and wisdom. You believe that wisdom for the present is best informed by great minds of the past. You respond to the wonder of God’s creation and providence with gratitude and awe.

Understanding is found in the

Harmony of Knowledge


is found in

Putting Understanding into Practice

Classical Liberal Arts CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 27



TRUE STORY: a few years ago, a friend of mine was on a family vacation to Europe where he attended Easter Sunday services with his cousin, a college student we will call Elizabeth. After leaving the grand cathedral, Elizabeth asked my friend, “Where is Jesus’s body, anyway?” My friend, knowing Elizabeth to be a Christian who had been a faithful churchgoer and active in a high school Evangelical parachurch organization, didn’t understand the question. She repeated it. “He arose from the dead and ascended into heaven, like the Creed says,” my confused friend replied. “I know,” said Elizabeth. “But where is His body?” “He was resurrected in His body, and ascended with it into heaven,” said my friend, not quite believing this conversation was real. “Oh!” she replied. “I never knew that!” Turns out there was a lot Elizabeth didn’t know about Christianity. But this undergraduate was no simpleton. She was a straight-A student who had always been at the top of her class, and thoroughly churched. Back home in the States, my friend couldn’t quit thinking about how a bright kid who had been raised in such a Christian environment could be so theologically illiterate. What he discovered is that Elizabeth’s parish leadership had made a deliberate decision years ago to keep the Sunday school curriculum simple and upbeat. When an older church member, worried that the youth were not learning much doctrine or church history, came up with a more substantive course plan, the parents firmly rejected his proposal as “divisive.” These parents thought of faith as little more than a set of ethical maxims by which one can live a successful middle-class life. Christianity, in their view, was not supposed to be about disturbing our inner peace. Though the parents would not have put it this way, for them, the point of the Christian life is not to be conformed to Christ, but rather to have one’s anxieties about life assuaged, and to convey a divine stamp of approval on the community’s way of life. Explained the older man to my friend, “They were satisfied to give our kids nothing but Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It’s a term coined by Notre Dame sociologist of religion, Christian Smith, and his colleague, Melinda Lundquist Denton, in their book The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, 2005). Based on the findings of the four-year National Survey of Youth and Religion, Soul Searching revealed that most American teenagers, whatever their professed religion, actually believed a watered-down pseudo-faith comprised of these basic tenets: • A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth. • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem. • Good people go to heaven when they die. Smith and Denton found that this worldview was especially strong in Catholic and Mainline Protestant youths, but that a troubling number of Evangelical kids also espoused it. And why not? It fits in well with the mainstream of American life. It’s moralistic because young Americans are not devil-may-care ni-


hilists, but actually take ethical behavior seriously. The problem is they equate being moral with being nice, sociable, and responsible. For MTDers, “Mean People Suck,” as the bumper sticker says, is pretty much the whole of the law. The MTD worldview is therapeutic because it maintains that the value of a religion depends on whether or not it helps you be happy and successful. As Smith has written: This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.” Deism comes from the Enlightenment-era belief that God is a non-specific supreme being, a cosmic architect who is universally accessible through reason. Historically, Deists did not believe in a personal God. Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, on the other hand, believe that God is a generic higher power who cares about us, but only needs to be consulted when we need help with something. The MTD god is not the God of the Bible, but rather, in Smith’s pithy phrase “something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist.” No Christian teenager would describe himself as a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist, of course, or even know what that phrase meant. As Smith and Denton show, MTD cannot stand on its own, but is parasitic on historic religious traditions. It hollows them out, reducing them to form without content. This is how a Christian kid can be a Sunday school stalwart, and attend youth groups where she learns week in and week out that Jesus is her best friend, and never quite grasp that He was raised from the dead. How do young people wander into this dark wood of fake Christianity? “Young people don’t subscribe to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism because they’ve misunderstood what we’ve taught them in church,” Kenda Creasy Dean, a Princeton Theological Seminary professor, has said. “They subscribe to it because this is what we’ve taught them in church.” Elizabeth’s experience bears this out. In my own family, I attended my niece’s confirmation ceremony at her United Methodist church, and heard the class of 13-year-olds recite their own “class creed” in place of the traditional Apostles Creed said by Methodists. “We believe Jesus loves us to infinity … and beyond!” the confirmands said. Pap like that may seem user-friendly to young American teenagers, but it’s the kind of thing that makes the faith seem trivial when they get older. But it’s not only the fault of the churches. If anything, parents bear a stronger share of the blame. Part of this has to do with outsourcing their children’s religious education to institutions. In a recent conversation about MTD, one well-informed pastor told me, “So many parents expect the church to carry the entire load. We do the best we can with them, but then the kids go home, and there’s nothing to back us up.”


Said the frustrated principal of a private Christian school, “These moms and dads think that paying tuition relieves them of the responsibility of teaching the faith to their kids. You can’t fool kids. They know that religion doesn’t mean a lot to their parents. The parents don’t realize it, but they undermine everything we’re trying to teach them here.” The bottom line is that MTD is not just the de facto religion of American youth; it is the de facto religion of their parents. “Our religiously conventional adolescents seem to be merely absorbing and reflecting religiously what the adult world is routinely modeling for and inculcating in its youth,” Smith has written. This should not be a surprise. For at least three generations, perhaps longer, the American mainstream has transformed religion from within, shaping it into a psychological outlook that the late sociologist Philip Rieff labeled, yes, “therapeutic.” In his landmark 1967 book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Rieff, a secularist, observed that Western culture had been conquered by a spirit of individualism and pleasure-seeking, in the process transforming the language and concepts of Christian faith into a technique for achieving well being. Rieff said this cultural revolution, one that liberated individuals from commitments and institutions, and posited the sovereign Self as the ultimate concern, would compel churches to reinvent themselves not as temples proclaiming truth, but as a cross between a hospital and a theater. In the therapeutic culture, nobody would care to hear right and wrong proclaimed from the pulpits, but rather a gospel of self-esteem. The Christianity of the future, he prophesied, would trade in the Beatitudes for the Be-Happy Attitudes. By 1985, the transformation was well underway. Sociologists Robert Bellah and Richard Madsen, in their book Habits of the Heart, labeled the bland, individualistic approach to religion “Sheilaism,” after an interview subject – Sheila Larson – who used it to describe her pickand-choose form of faith, based on what feels right to her. Sheilaism, the sociologists said, was “a perfectly natural expression of current religious life.” But it also made forming communities much more difficult. And so we come to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a corrupted form of Christianity that nevertheless makes perfect sense as the cult at the heart of our self-centered, relativistic culture. MTD makes no demands on the believer, who, if she has any religious sensibilities at all, may describe herself as “spiritual, but not religious.” It is no coincidence that in our “Bowling Alone” era –- the phrase comes from Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- the communal institutions that used to be a normal part of American life have largely evaporated. More recent data, though, indicate that MTD is for many the last stage before an abandonment of formal religion entirely. In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that 35 percent of Millennials (those born after 1980) declare themselves to be atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated with any particular religion. That number is unprecedented in American history – and it’s still rising. The good news for Christian classical educators is that the quality most needed to build MTD resistance into their children – a willingness to be strongly countercultural -- they already have. The same instinct that leads parents to embrace the classical model is typically part

of a broader critical stance toward popular culture. Homeschooling Christian parents have an added advantage: their children tend to be more comfortable interacting with adults, who take a comparatively more active role in the spiritual formation of their kids. Experts say that children raised in families that treat religion as inseparable from everyday life, as opposed to something the family engages with only on Sunday and holidays, stand a much better chance of reaching adulthood without losing their faith. Classical educators also have a resource against Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that they may have overlooked, even as they teach it to their children and classes: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. THE DIVINE COMEDY – or Commedia, as it is called in the original Italian – ranks with the Odyssey, the Iliad, and the Aeneid as one of the greatest poems of Western civilization. Of that select group, it is the only one that is Christian. The 14th-century poem details an epic imaginative journey of a pilgrim named Dante through the afterlife – Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise – as he learns how he lost the straight path through life and found himself lost in a dark wood. In real life, Dante Alighieri reached the middle of his life as a shattered man. Early in his adulthood, Dante earned a reputation as one of the most brilliant poets of his generation. He entered politics, and was named to the governing council of Florence, his hometown, which at that time was the richest city in Europe. Alas for Dante, his political enemies seized power in a coup partly engineered by the pope himself. They stripped Dante of his office and his wealth, and sent him penniless into permanent exile. There the poet was, broken and humiliated, not knowing where to turn next. He was a believing Catholic, but given the corruption in the medieval Church, and especially the conniving wickedness of the sitting pope, he could take no easy refuge in religion. Dante was a castaway on the shipwreck of his life. “In times of shipwreck, ‘feeling good about ourselves’ and being ‘nice’ are unthinkable,” writes MTD critic Kenda Creasy Dean. “And if this is all religion is for, then shipwreck naturally convinces us that God is either make-believe or impotent.” Dante, of course, knew nothing of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. But as his fictional alter ego learned in his journey through the afterlife, the medieval Catholic poet shared the core quality of modern MTD: a worship of the Self in place of God. As the pilgrim Dante proceeds with his guide Virgil through the Inferno, he meets a rogue’s gallery of the damned who awaken him to the reality of sin. Lust, Greed, Envy, and more – all the deadly sins are accounted for in the stinking cauldrons of fire and pitch. The damned are condemned for their particular sins, but the root of all their sins is the Luciferian Pride that caused them to choose themselves over God. In the Inferno, Dante learns that none of the damned has any consolation in their wretched company. The presence of others is a burden, even a torture. This is a consequence of the individualism they chose in their earthly lives. They pursued their own desires – for lovers, for money, for fame and wealth, for adventure – over serving and obeying God. CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 31

And having chosen Self over God, they also chose Self over others. Other people were only a means to a selfish end in the earthly life; in the afterlife, other people are, quite literally, hell. It is startling to the modern reader coming to Dante for the first time to discover how contemporary his characters can be. In one level of hell, the pilgrim meets his old mentor, Brunetto Latini, who had been an accomplished statesman and man of letters back in Florence. Brunetto dotes on Dante, and encourages him to follow his bliss, and he will surely find glory. Brunetto’s advice is the stuff of every hackneyed graduation speech – and Dante eagerly receives it, not noticing that the egotistical man advising him is condemned to hell. In time, Dante grows wise from his excruciating sojourn among the damned. He discovers how he himself is guilty of the same sins, and he comes to learn how sin seduces the soul by manipulating our desires for power, pleasure, comfort, and curiosity. In the second book of the poem, Purgatorio, the pilgrim, forgiven of his sins but still needing to be purged of the desire to sin, climbs with legions of penitents up a holy mountain, to reach the Garden of Eden on the summit. The pilgrim Dante gains more insight into the qualities of sin and the way it alienates the individual from God and from others. He sees among the struggling penitents the beginnings of community, and the rebirth of love, the fruit of God’s mercy. On the terrace where the sin of Wrath is purged, the pilgrim meets the penitent Marco. Standing in the choking smoke and cinders symbolizing the blinding quality of anger, Dante asks Marco to tell him why things are so violent, disordered, and miserable back on earth. The problem, sighs Marco, is that the world is blind, and so are you. The source of all disorder in the world is the corrupt human heart, which seeks its own desire over the will of God. “Therefore, if the world around you goes astray,” says Marco, “in you is the cause and in you let it be sought.” In other words: if you want to fix the world, start with your own rebel heart. The hard march up the holy mountain symbolizes the role repentance and asceticism have in the Christian life. All the penitents suffer, but they suffer in joy because they know that they will be with their Redeemer in Paradise soon, and that their temporary pain is to prepare them for eternal life. By the time Dante reaches the top of the mountain, he is convicted of his own responsibility for the shipwreck of his life. The problem is not that he got himself exiled and impoverished, but that when this great misfortune befell him, he allowed it to destroy his hope. At the summit, he confesses to Beatrice, his saintly true love, that the root of all his suffering was loving mortal pleasures more than the things of eternity. That is, Dante admitted that he chose Self over God. The third book of the poem, Paradiso, tracks the pilgrim’s soaring journey through the heavens, to the very throne of God. Along the way, he meets with saints and learns what a life of blessedness, in harmony


with God and filled with the light of His love, is like. The most famous line in the entire poem is uttered by Piccarda, a Florentine nun who died young, at the hands of her thuggish brother – the same man, Corso Donati, who threw Dante out of Florence. Says Piccarda to the pilgrim Dante, “In His will is our peace.” There could not be a more succinct contradiction to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism than the words of Piccarda Donati. The false religion of MTD teaches that in following our own will is our peace. The testimony of every damned soul in Dante’s Inferno, every grateful penitent in his Purgatorio, and every shimmering saint in his Paradiso, contradicts this lie. None of this is novel to Christians, or it shouldn’t be. I knew it all when I first picked up the Commedia in the middle of the journey of my life, back in 2013, when I was 46 years old, and deep in the thicket of a midlife crisis. Had you preached those principles to me, I would have nodded along in agreement, but continued blindly along the crooked path of my own exile. The difference Dante made was that through the beauty of his verse and the emotional power of his storytelling, he overwhelmed my defenses and planted the seeds of truth and redemption in my heart. Walking with Dante on his grand adventure was really a pilgrimage through the dark places of my soul – places that I didn’t know existed. The Commedia revealed them to me, brought me face to face with myself, and led me to repent. Dante helped me accept God’s mercy, and eventually, to extend it to those who had hurt me. Because it is a work of astonishing drama and beauty, the Commedia captivated my imagination and made the Gospel come alive for me as it never had. At the end of my Dante experience, I was able to thank God for all the suffering I had endured in my own crisis. He gave me the gift of this poem, which for me served as an unexpected icon, a window into the divine through which the light of God poured through, showing me the way out of the darkness of myself. In the end, I learned through experience the radically countercultural wisdom of the Gospel: that the only way to truly live is to die to yourself. IT SOUNDS TRITE, and so very MTD, to call the Divine Comedy the world’s greatest self-help book – but it’s true. In fact, that’s exactly how Dante saw it. In a letter to his patron, Dante said he intended his poem “to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of bliss.” Unlike the false gospel of MTD, the faith to which the medieval poet bears witness teaches that true happiness can only be found in denying oneself for the sake of God’s love. Suffering is not to be avoided, as in MTD, but rather to be embraced and sanctified. This is a very difficult lesson to convey to students in a culture that esteems comfort and valorizes self-centeredness at every turn. When led by a good teacher, though, students may come to identify Dante’s pilgrimage as their own, and may be captivated by the emotional intensity of his narrative and the beauty of his words and images. The power of great art to convert the heart is too often overlooked. In 2002, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, wrote in a letter to a group of Italian Catholics:

Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection, of exact and precise theo-

logical thought; it remains absolutely necessary. But to move from here to disdain or to reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time. This is precisely what Dante’s Divine Comedy did for me: presented the beauty of Christ in a more real, more profound way than any apologetic, devotional, or theological work I had ever read. Once you have beheld beauty and truth like this, it is hard to un-see it. It changed me forever. Would I have avoided the dead ends on the path of my life had someone introduced me to Dante as a student? It’s hard to say. Maybe I would not have had eyes to see or ears to hear. On the other hand, as a teenager who was acutely attuned to the false and trivial, and therefore closed to happy-clappy modern versions of Christianity, I had no idea that the faith could be something so real, so penetrating, and so profound. Happily, my own classically homeschooled children will have what their father did not: a youthful encounter with Dante. GREAT BOOKS, like all great art, are a powerful antidote to MTD because they call us out of ourselves. What makes the classics classic is their deathless insight into human nature and its follies. And more, the classics endure because they embed wisdom in beautiful form. The beauty of the form appeals to our love, and through loving beauty we open our hearts and minds to the truths it carries. When people encounter truth in beauty, and particularly in a beautiful narrative, truth becomes harder to resist. A well-known poem by the 20th century German poet Rainer Maria Rilke describes an encounter with a beautiful sculpture in an art museum, and concludes with the line: “You must change your life.” This is beauty as a revelation that leads to conversion. The narrator of Rilke’s poem does not yet know how, precisely, he is to change his life, only that he will never be the same after meeting beauty like this. That is because, in part, the stark encounter with beauty strikes the seer forcefully with the truth that there is a world outside of his own head. In my case, wandering through the unsurpassable verse of Dante, and the vivid characters he created, I saw myself and the story of my life with fresh eyes. The Commedia taught me to analyze my own sinfulness in a more penetrating way, and most important of all, impressed powerfully upon me the urgency of humility, repentance, and discipleship. It did this by showing me the way sin works to close us off from God’s grace, and the way His grace works, over time and with our humble cooperation, to heal us from within. This is the complete opposite of MTD, obviously, but it is also distinct from the systematic rigidity and dessicated moralism of some hard-shell forms of Christianity that offer no attractive alternative to the squishy emotionalism of MTD. A personal story: When I was 17, I had discarded my faith, convinced that Christianity offered either the rigor-free MTD in which I was raised, or the fierce anti-intellectual piety of evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, whose ministry was extremely popular in my part of the world at that time. And then, on a bus trip through Europe, I wandered unawares into the 12th century Gothic cathedral at Chartres, and was overawed by the complex harmonies in stone, dedicated to the glory of the Christian God. Nothing in my experience as a 17-year-old know-it-all had prepared me for any-

thing like this. Though I did not have the words or concepts to explain what I was feeling at that moment, I sensed that I was in the presence of an overwhelming mystery, one in which the splendor of beauty was at the same time the splendor of truth. I did not stumble out of that cathedral as a repentant Christian, but I did leave it with the firm sense that I was on to something, that I had to change my life. The Commedia is a cathedral in verse. I am convinced that it can have the same effect on teenagers today. All of life is inside that poem. Its beauty, depth, and complexity offer a vision of the Christian life that’s more substantive and real than MTD in the same way that the Chartres cathedral is a more potent representation of the holy and eternal than, say, a modern suburban megachurch. AT A FAMILY GATHERING this past summer, my friend ran into his cousin Elizabeth, the girl who had not realized that Jesus was resurrected in His body. He learned that she had quit going to church at some point before college graduation. Nowadays, she isn’t sure she believes in God anymore, and doesn’t see why it matters, because she’s got a good job, a cute boyfriend, and is happier than she’s ever been. Isn’t that the most important thing in life? That was me at her age, catechized by the culture, and its captive. I got lucky. In the middle of the journey of my life, a 600-year-old poem washed ashore like a message in a bottle, and rescued me from the shipwreck of myself. How much more fortunate – blessed, really -- are classically educated students who learn Dante’s map in their youth, and who may bring it to mind when life blows them off course, and the world tells them to relax and learn to love being lost.




Classical education cultivates wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty. The ancient Greeks and Romans recognized that free citizens require an education that enlarges the mind and cultivates the soul. They believed that the cultivation of virtue, knowledge of the world and of human nature, active citizenship, and practical action all demand this purpose-driven education. When Christianity was planted in the soil of the classical world, its adherents found what was good and true in classical thought, purged out the dross, and handed on the rest to their heirs. In recent decades, as the classical renewal in education has matured, we have sought to understand its nature and secrets and to discover its essential ingredients. This essay proposes four elements that define classical education and that provide the ground on which we must meet the coming trials:  1. A high view of man 2. Logocentrism 3. Responsibility for the Western tradition 4. A pedagogy that sustains these commitments



A High View of Man In the heart of classical education beats the conviction that the human being is a creature of timeless significance. The Christian goes so far as to see him as the Image of God, the lord-steward of the creation on whose virtue the well-being of the earth and its inhabitants depends, and as a priest, offering the creation to God for the sake of its flourishing and his own blessedness. The purpose of classical education, therefore, is to cultivate human excellence, or virtue, which is that word’s original meaning. Yet this high view of man is no self-indulgent fantasy, for it carries with it the duty to strive for nobility that the classical educator perceives in every person. Human flourishing depends, not on one’s material well-being or adjustment to society, but on one’s relation to the true, the good, and the beautiful. In Norms and Nobility, David Hicks argues that a fully rendered image of man includes three domains: the social, the individual, and the religious. Educators, then, must envision students’ engagement in their communities, both as voters and as leaders. Educators must also recognize that students have their own spiritual lives on which their citizenship and their economic life depend. A wise and virtuous citizenry not only supports the economy through entrepreneurship and innovation, it also challenges the powerful with well-reasoned arguments rooted in a love for liberty and virtue. A classical education cultivates the creativity and spiritual lives of students so that the much-celebrated (and much neglected) “whole child” is truly prepared for real life, without losing touch with his deepest and most intimate self. Thus are all three dimensions honored, and society benefits from the membership and quiet influence of well-rounded, healthy persons. According to the classical tradition, the true, the good, and the beautiful are the soul’s nourishment. Furthermore, as Image of God, a person is able to know them. To fulfill this role, a person’s human faculties to perceive truth, to love and reproduce the beautiful, and to revere and act on the good must be cultivated. A faculty refined to a pitch of excellence becomes a virtue, such as wisdom or kindness. Christian classical education cultivates the human capacity to know and act on this holy triumvirate, thus nurturing wise and virtuous souls. Furthermore, the classical educator lives in a knowable and harmonious cosmos that makes ultimate sense. A system can make sense only if it possesses a unifying principle, or “Logos.” Without such a logos, true knowledge is impossible.


Logocentrism Christians recognize that Christ is that Logos. He makes reason possible, harmonizes everything, and creates the conditions for ordered, knowable truth. He is the unifying principle of thought, the key in which the music of the spheres is played, the archetype of every virtue. The commitment to a logos that makes ultimate sense of the cosmos and makes knowledge possible is expressed in the much-maligned word, “Logocentrism.” According to a logocentric view of the universe, organized knowledge can be discovered, arranged, and even taught. This is the first principle of the Christian classical curriculum. As everything is ordered by a logos, so each particular thing has its own logos, or nature—in Latin, species. The power to see truth is the ability to see the nature of particular things and to see each of them in their relations to each other. The tools of learning enable a learner to


identify the nature of a thing and to relate to that thing in a manner suited to its nature. Without this knowledge, a human cannot bless what he is interacting with, whether it be a horse, a farm, or a child’s soul. Perceiving that humans live in a cosmos that makes ultimate sense and that they share it with other members of that cosmos, each of which can be known according to their natures, the Christian classical educator is reminded of his responsibility as a steward and priest. The knowledge available to us is not given to amass power, but to cultivate and guard the earth. The whole creation groans and travails when creation’s lord shirks his stewardship.


Responsibility for the Western Tradition Classical educators take responsibility for Western civilization. The West is unique in its view of mankind as the Image of a transcendent God and in its acceptance of the view that both truth and the world can be known. These commitments are the hinges for much that defines Western civilization. Western civilization is the property of all who live in America. Our national roots have grown deep in the customs, traditions, discoveries, and conversations that make up American, British, European, Greek, Roman, and Hebrew history. It is our privilege to receive and to share this heritage, and it is just as immoral to keep it from others as it is to despise our heritage. Christ formulated the essential political doctrine of the West: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” But this idea permeated Western thought from the time when Moses freed the Israelites from their Pharaoh-worshipping masters and when Aristotle developed his politics and ethics. Truth alone, the tradition insists, can sustain the political ideals of liberty and human rights. If the truth cannot be known and does not govern human societies, then there is nothing to restrain the rulers. If rights are not derived from truth, then they are granted by the ever-changing state. Liberty and knowable truth are interdependent. Because truth is needed to be healthy and free, classical educators believe that to empower the powerless, prepare students for a job, and enable future citizens to play their role in society, every child needs a classical education: deliberate training in perceiving the true, the good, and the beautiful through the tools of learning. The classical educator understands that Western civilization is as full of vice as it is of virtue. He does not “privilege” or even idealize Western civilization; he assumes responsibility for it. While the conventional educator seems to see Western civilization as something to escape, the classical educator sees it as the locus of his vocation. He demands a conversation that challenges his culture and himself with the standards of the true, the good, and the beautiful. He understands that survival and power are not their own justifications. Agreeing with the oracle that, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he continues the Western habit of perpetual self-examination. He appreciates that the Western tradition contains elements of restless idealism, non-conformity, and self-examination. These have always threatened the status quo while also revealing new springs of cultural nourishment. One of the goals of classical education is to discern the appropriate manner by which the mistreated and oppressed can challenge their oppressors without destroying their civilization.

While the classical educator recognizes the West’s recent achievements, especially in technology, he fears that, having lost its moorings in knowable truth, the West has become deaf to challenges from within its own tradition. The modern West, to the classical educator, is the prodigal son, energetically spending his inheritance, perhaps far from “coming to himself.” Nevertheless, while the classical educator may agree with those who contend that the West is in decline, his sense of responsibility prohibits despair. Instead, he diagnoses the decline as the loss of confidence in the true, the good, and the beautiful, and offers a cure in the renewed quest for that truth, goodness, and beauty. To this end, he offers a classical education.


An Appropriate Pedagogy Western civilization, the classical educator believes, offers its children a rich heritage on which they can feed their own souls and those of their neighbors. The classical curriculum provides the means to do so. The classical curriculum can be divided into two stages. First, the student masters the arts of learning. Then he uses the skills and tools mastered to enter the great conversation, which is another way to say, to study the sciences. The classical curriculum begins with an apprenticeship in what has come to be known as the “tools of learning,” a term coined by Aristotle when he developed his elementary handbooks. He called them The Organon, which is Greek for “tool.” The Organon provided the foundation of the trivium in the medieval school and was combined with the quadrivium to form the seven liberal arts. These arts of learning give the classical curriculum its form. Those who master them gain access to a realm of unified knowledge that includes the natural and moral sciences, philosophy, and theology. The seven liberal arts are not subjects per se, nor do they compose a “general education.” Instead, they are the arts of learning that enable one to move from subject to subject, text to text, or idea to idea, knowing how to handle the particular subject, text, or idea. More than that, they introduce the student to the arts and convictions needed for a community and its members to remain free. They are the trunk of the tree of learning, on which the various sciences are branches. Probably the term with which classical education is most closely associated in the popular mind is the word trivium, which is a paradigm for the mastery of language. The Latin trivium literally means “where three roads meet,” and it refers to grammar, logic, and rhetoric. But the trivium applies to far more than language. To be educated in any discipline, you must (1) know its basic facts (grammar); (2) be able to reason clearly about it (logic); and (3) communicate its ideas and apply it effectively (rhetoric). Nevertheless, the trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric is fundamentally a collection of language arts. The priority the classical educator places on language turns his attention to the classical languages: Latin and Greek. Tracy Lee Simmons proposes in Climbing Parnassus that classical education is “a curriculum grounded upon ... Greek, Latin and the study of the civilization from which they arose.” In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Ravi Jain and Kevin Clarke add, “The indispensability of the study of classical languages … is something that our schools will have to realize if they desire faithfully to remain in the classical tradition.” Classical educators defend Latin and Greek in a number of ways.

They are convinced that language studies discipline the mind. Nothing cultivates attentiveness, memory, precision of thought, the ability to think in principles, communication, and overall accuracy like the study of Latin and Greek. In addition, Greek and Latin authors recorded an astounding range and depth of political thought from a wider perspective over a longer period of time and covering a wider geography than is embodied in any other language. In the study of literature, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton become isolated from their sources when the student encounters a language barrier between himself and Virgil, Ovid, or Homer. Most theology has been recorded in (and the church has sung its hymns in) Latin and Greek from the time of the apostles and the first martyrs. The Great Conversation that is the beating heart of Western civilization took place in Latin and Greek and their offspring. A Western community lacking citizens versed in Latin and Greek must lose its heritage. The citizenry will communicate, vote, work, and think in a manner increasingly isolated from the sources of their own identity. For those who love their heritage and who want to offer the riches of that heritage to others, the classical languages are the sine qua non. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his classic Democracy in America, “All who aspire to literary excellence in democratic nations ought frequently to refresh themselves at the springs of ancient literature; there is no more wholesome medicine for the mind.” The Quadrivium Reality is linguistic. It is also mathematical. That is why the classical tradition emphasizes the quadrivium, the four liberal arts of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These arts were related to mathematics because they dealt with numbers considered under different aspects. Jain and Clarke have made an eloquent case for the quadrivium and the powers of the four mathematical arts. The ancients believed “that arithmetic led the soul from wonder to wisdom.” Euclidian geometry “provides the paradigm of certain and airtight reasoning.” Astronomy, the centerpiece of ancient science and the key to profound mysteries, gave birth to modern science. Music, surprisingly to the modern, was a driver of the scientific revolution. “It may,” say Clarke and Jain, “be the chief art of the quadrivium.” Until very recently, a man could not claim to be well-educated until he had mastered the quadrivium. Classical educators see the arts of the quadrivium as essential tools that enable us to perceive the reality of the world around us and our relation to it. They also discipline and open the mind. Therefore, say Jain and Clarke, “Classical schools must uphold a high standard for mathematical education precisely for its special role in human formation and developing the virtue of the mind.” It is important to remember, however, that the trivium and quadrivium are not discrete subjects. They are modes of learning. Nor are they ends in themselves. They are tools for learning. The thing learned is knowledge, for which the Latin word is scientia, or science. A science, then, is a domain of knowing. To the classical educator, the word science is much more inclusive than its conventional use. While the modern usually thinks of science as natural science, the classical educator recognizes that there are other kinds of knowledge, much more practical, though less precise, than CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 37


natural science. These include the moral sciences (history, ethics, politics, etc.), philosophy, and theology. Natural science deals with knowledge of the material world. Moral science considers human flourishing and is driven by the question: “How is virtue cultivated in the soul and in community?” Philosophical science explores first causes and theories of knowledge. Theological science is the knowledge of God and His revelation. Each science gains its own kind of knowledge, responding to its own set of inquiries and developing its own tools to gain the kind of knowledge it seeks. The experimentation and calculation used in the natural sciences can contribute to discussions over ethical matters, but these tools are not adequate to answer either the daily questions that make up human life or the large socio-political issues that determine the destinies of human society. For this, what Socrates called “dialectic,” and what has come to be called the great conversation, is necessary. Russell Kirk argued, “The end of liberal education is the disciplining of free minds.” The means to that end is the great conversation, an exploration of the human soul and the quest for the best way to live the truth in present circumstances. It draws the students’ attention to soul-fortifying ideas that reflect permanently relevant truths. Contemplating the great books and great works of art draws the student

out of himself and his own age into those permanent and powerful tools for living and to the truths that transcend the practical. The classical curriculum is a formidable and comprehensive theory of education. It is one of the great creations of Western thought. By mastering the tools of the seven liberal arts and participating in the great conversation, the student is nourished in all his faculties and equipped for the never-ending battle (internal and external) for liberty rooted in truth, where virtue can be cultivated and beauty can be incarnated in art, action, custom, and thought. In closing, it must be added that this course cannot be properly run if the pedagogy does not match it in goal and means. Only dialectical engagement with the truth can lead to the soul’s apprehension of that truth. Only a true apprenticeship in the tools of truth-seeking can set a person free. There can be no guarantees. CAN CLASSICAL EDUCATION be adapted to the needs and culture of the twenty-first century? Yes, it can. It is neither of one time nor one culture, but is grounded in human nature and in the nature of learning. Classical education offers an intellectual framework that is disciplined and liberating, open both to the past and to new knowledge.

If I could choose only one book for my kids to read this year, this would be it. Go get it! Officially our favorite read-aloud ever. Sarah Mackenzie author of Teaching From Rest and host of The Read-Aloud Revival 38






oes beauty actually matter? For a busy mother of an ordinary, bustling homeschooling family—the kind of family that leaves behind mounds of dirty dishes, scattered popcorn kernels, and used towels on the bathroom floor—or for an overworked teacher in a classroom where the expectations are high and time is extremely limited, isn’t it enough to just get things done and call it good? Must we add the burden of beauty to the mix? If education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life—and the great classical educators like Charlotte Mason insist that it is—then beauty is not a burden, or an extra, or a bonus. Beauty matters and taking time to weave it into our students’ educational experience is essential. Beauty matters because it is a gateway to God You can’t escape beauty: The smallest flower in a tiny vase, the fading sunlight slanting just so across a hardwood floor, leaves rustling on grass, a curly-topped toddler, steam bending from an evening cup of tea. A hymn, a swipe of paint, a plate of food prepared with love. Of the three transcendentals, truth, goodness, and beauty, only one requires that we use our senses to apprehend it. Truth is perceived and goodness is known, but beauty? We see it. We smell it. We hear it, taste it, and touch it. It invades our physical being and transforms us in an immediate and tangible way. As Gregory Wolfe said during his plenary talk at the CiRCE Institute’s 2015 Pacific Northwest Regional Conference, “beauty lives in tension between ideal and real. It is prophetic. It is a challenge to complacency.” Thus being so, beauty is how we physical beings in the real world rise to the ideal. It is how we are lifted from our dailiness and brought into the presence of God. It jars us. It requires us to contend with the magnificence of God when we want just to go through the motions of our lives. Beauty matters not for its own sake, but because, well, C.S. Lewis says it best in The Weight of Glory: The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the heart of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Beauty matters because we long for that flower we have not found, that tune we have not heard, and that country we have never yet visited. This longing for the beautiful is what makes us human. It is what makes us His. Beauty in a child’s education Is your school day beautiful? I’ll give you a picture of my homeschool; perhaps it will help you feel better about your own: Cheerios crunched on the floor, dirty clothes in a pile in the hallway, dishes stacked in the sink, children


scattered – some bickering, some wandering, all of them a tangle of arms and legs and loud noises. There’s a jar half-filled with pencils, some broken, and as I make my way to the school room to gather our math books for the day, I trip over a couple of toys. If I’m an overwhelmed homeschooling mom or an overworked classroom teacher, beauty may be one of the last things on my mind as I plan my lessons or gear up for a new day. It is so easy to push it aside or put off until we’re finally on top of things; once we’re caught up. It seems superfluous. And yet. If we are attempting to cultivate wisdom and virtue in our students, and if beauty is a gateway to God, then we can’t afford to shuttle it off our radar. Our students live their days through their senses, and we can either draw them closer to, or further from, Christ, depending on the sensory input we provide. On an average day, we’re not just drilling math, diagramming sentences, or writing up history summaries. We are bringing order out of chaos. We are rightly ordering our own thinking and teaching our students to rightly order theirs. That is, after all, the work of our Creator: to bring order from chaos. Bringing order from chaos is how we live out our vocation best. It is a supreme gift to infuse the light of Christ throughout our students’ day, to invite them to seek after truth and goodness through the beauty that surrounds us by using the senses that our God so carefully crafted for our use and pleasure. Beauty as a teacher’s art Teaching, Andrew Kern often reminds us, is the art of being imitated. A student, fully trained, becomes like his teacher (Luke 6:40). As imitators of Christ, then, we seek to bring order from chaos. We know that God delights in the order of His creation, whether that be a glorious landscape, a mathematical equation, or a perfectly diagrammed sentence. But how do we express that beauty to our children in a world that has forgotten what beauty is meant to do? It is easy to forget that teaching is holy work. The building up of the intellect — teaching children to really think and to rightly order that thinking — does not happen by the might of human reason, but rather by the grace of God. With that in mind, I’d like to explore five practices homeschooling moms and teachers can use to infuse beauty throughout their students’ learning. Putting these into practice will help us nurture a lively imagination, a thirst for wonder, and a disposition of awe. Doing so is a great gift we give to our students, to ourselves, and to our God. Practice 1: Establish rituals Creating rituals to carry us through the otherwise ordinary moments of a day immediately lifts us from monotony. In general, the best rituals — the ones we will carry out from day to day and that have the power to make an impact on our students — are not created out of thin air and added to the already full schedule. The most effective rituals are created from what we are already doing each day. Those monotonous daily tasks are transformed in some way to remind us of the presence of God, always in our midst. Liturgy is a form of public worship, and a ritual that we create in our school day is a daily liturgy, a way for us to communally worship God through the ordinary tasks of that day. Consider doing the following:

• Light a candle at lunch to transform an otherwise rowdy and hurried meal into an opportunity to give thanks, slow down, and connect with each other. • Begin the day with the Doxology, sung with palms facing up to Heaven, so as to acknowledge the glory of God at the beginning of our work, and to symbolize our own openness to whatever God has in store for us that day. • Allow classical music to waft through the room as lessons commence after recess, heightening the senses and setting the tone for the next bit of work. Rituals become daily liturgies when they are ordinary tasks transformed into something beautiful for God. Adding a single ritual to the school day can make a tremendous impact. Practice 2: Read Aloud Stories are a discreet entrance into each of the transcendentals. A good story, well-told, transports us into the heart of what it means to be true, good, and beautiful without hitting us over the head with it. After all, Christ himself taught truth and explained goodness not through precepts, but through parables. When we enter into story, the hero or heroine’s quest shapes and forms us. In fact, if beauty is a passageway to God, then stories are, quite often, a way to immerse ourselves in beauty. Lyrical language is balm. The beauty of a poem spoken aloud, a sonnet of Shakespeare recited with feeling, a tale of justice and nobility and truth and courage — all of these speak to the beauty of language and its ability to nourish us. Consider: • Beginning the day with a single poem, read aloud. • Allowing for 20-30 minutes of quiet reading time under a blanket fort, beneath the leaves of a shade tree, or huddled in a restful nook. • Reading a classic or beautiful story out loud, so that the language goes in through the students’ ear. Don’t underestimate this sensory experience; it is different than reading to oneself. This is how we get out of the way and let God do His work on our child’s heart: by using a story to let truth and beauty do its work on the child himself. Practice 3: Recite What would happen if our children had a storehouse of beautiful language tucked away inside of them? What might that do for them if, on some day in the future, when they are unexpectedly overcome with grief or loneliness, joy or thrill, the thoughts that bubble out of them are beautiful, comforting, and nourishing? When I was ten, I won a big round of applause and a picture book about Dorcas at our church’s Bible study club. I was beaming with pride that day. I don’t remember how many memory verses I had mastered, but it was a lot, and I had outdone everyone else, even the “big” kids. I wish I had kept that book about Dorcas. I also wish I could remember a single verse I had memorized. Apparently, I had lodged every one of those verses in my short-term memory. I remembered all of them long enough to win the applause of the crowd and bring home my prize, but I can’t recite a single one for you today. When it comes to teaching my kids to memorize Scripture, I want to help them tuck the Word of God into their hearts — not so that they can stand before a crowd and earn a prize, but so they can call

upon it in their time of need. When hard things happen in their lives — and they will –– I hope they will find consolation and healing balm in Scripture. The only way I can make sure they have His Word with them wherever they go is to help them tuck it into their hearts in a way they won’t forget. I am not at my strongest when I am overwhelmed, scared, or heartsick. The day I stared at a positive pregnancy test just nine months after having my fourth baby (and this time it was twins!), the day my sister-in-law died suddenly of a brain aneurysm we didn’t know existed, the time I was wracked with unexpected grief after my beloved grandpa passed away — those are the days I needed God’s Word to bubble up for me like a rush. To wash over me and let my soul feed on them like a poem. Those are the kinds of moments when His strength really is made perfect in weakness, especially if we can call His Word into our life at a moment’s notice. Consider: • Teaching your students to memorize a whole passage of scripture, rather than breaking it up into verses. Psalm 100 and John 1 are both great places to start. • Making more room for poetry in your day. It doesn’t need to take long, and children can take turns choosing and reading the poems themselves. • Having even very small children memorize bits of Shakespeare. This is beautiful language bar-none. Learning something by heart is a gift that will comfort, console, energize, and carry our students through life’s unexpected trials. It will do that for us, too. Practice 4: Revise the conversation in your head The story we tell ourselves about life matters. My friend Mystie taught me that the metaphors we use to describe and understand our life need to be objectively true, not a reflection of how we currently feel. This is the objective truth: you have been set before the children in your care in order to cultivate wisdom and virtue in their lives. Also: the work you do each day in your homeschool or classroom is of eternal importance. One more thing: you were made for this. And because of those truths, the math lesson, the latin declension, the vocabulary list, the timeline are all beautiful too. Those students who bicker and sass and frustrate you to no end? Beautiful. The incomplete assignments staring at you menacingly at the day’s end? Beautiful. The day you want to describe as rotten and frustrating and the worst you’ve had all year? Beautiful. Objective truth: This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24) We can apprehend beauty more fully when we revise the conversation in our head to reflect that which is objectively true. Consider: • When everything is falling apart, God is still good. • When we are utter failures, He is made strong. • When our students are struggling and breaking our hearts, God loves them more than we do. Truth is beautiful, and we need to cling to these truths when the days get rough. Revise the conversation in your head to see that the reality in front of you is beautiful, because it is. It is His. Practice 5: Resemble Christ CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 43


“You become what you behold,” Andrew Kern reminds us. Furthermore, “the only way a person can perceive truth, goodness, and beauty is if these virtues are embodied or incarnated and he is then disciplined in their incarnation” ( When our students look at us, do they behold beauty? Do they hear it in our voice and see it in our disposition? If the only way a child can perceive truth, goodness and beauty is if these virtues are lived out by the adults in their lives, then that means that the formation of virtue in their lives is directly related to our ability to demonstrate these virtues ourselves. I am convinced that the beauty our children need to behold more than any other — more than flowers in a vase, classical music after lunch, or poetry read aloud — is that of a cheerful, content mother (or a cheerful, content teacher). That radiant beauty, demonstrated by good-natured smiles, warm hugs, and kind eyes, is what our children should behold when they are in our presence. Consider: • An intentional morning ritual of hugging each child as they stumble into the kitchen (or walk through the classroom door) as a way to say, “I see you. I am grateful for you. I am glad you are here.” • Humming when you feel like scolding or snapping. • Smiling. So simple, yet it works wonders to soften the hearts of

children and to demonstrate that we are their allies, not their foes. At the CiRCE Institute’s Pacific Northwest regional conference earlier this year, David Hicks told us, “Nature is beautiful because God is looking at it. We are beautiful because God is looking at us.” So let him look at you. Gaze back. Notice the beautiful in your own life, set out to create small bits of beauty in your everyday interactions with your kids and in your ordinary environment, and in those ways you will live out His radiant beautiful love just a little bit more for the young people in your care. And always, always seek Him.

“Seek beauty, Miss Prim. Seek it in silence, in tranquillity; seek it in the middle of the night and at dawn. Pause to close doors while you seek it, and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t reside in museums or in palaces. Don’t be surprised if, in the end, you find beauty to be not Something but Someone.” The Awakening of Miss Prim, page 244

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Cultural Currency


Why our universities are consumed with meaninglessness by John Mason Hodges


very fall millions of college students settle into hundreds of campuses around the country. They go to college for various reasons: hopeful careers, social engagement, intellectual curiosity (you can find classes on nearly any subject today) or maybe, just because it is the thing one does after high school (see Urban Dictionary: FOMO). But while college life can afford all these things (perhaps “afford” is a poor choice of word, given college’s ever-increasing price tag), what about the question of meaning? Job placement is important, and so is meeting new friends, but are they why the university was invented centuries ago? We have become a society that has reduced the definition of “the good life” to purely physical concerns, no longer expecting answers to questions like, “Why do we live?”; “Why do we work?”; “How do we know what is true, good, beautiful?” Yale law professor Anthony Kronman wrote some years ago that the university has “betrayed their students by depriving them of exploring the meaning of life.” He rightly thinks colleges should address the question of meaning, but he would prefer the college address this question rather than leaving it in the hands of those he calls “motivated by religious conviction, a disturbing and dangerous development.” I share Mr. Kronman’s concern that the academic world has largely given up an interest in answering these kinds of questions, but I disagree that religious conviction should play no part in establishing that meaning. Mr. Kronman has forgotten the history of the University which would never have come into being at all if it had not been for the religious convictions of its founders. By extension, we cannot reconsider the question of the purpose of academic work without including a discussion of those religious convictions. Faith and learning are not at odds with each other as most assume. Academia has not rejected the pursuit of meaning due to a lack of interest in the subject. Colleges are constantly trying to invent meaning to fill the vacuum left when religious convictions were dismissed. Definitions of social justice, civil rights, economic disparity, and op-


pression of various minorities attempt to fill that void, but those terms are vague and sometimes conflict without a larger moral framework. On the contrary, colleges have given up asking questions of meaning because their assumptions (which are held as faithfully as any religious convictions) simply cannot give such answers. Once you claim that the study of this world is all there is, you by definition reject any discussion about transcendent truth, goodness, and beauty. There is no way to connect with meaning if you are not allowed to consider anything outside this material world. It would be only a matter of time before the subject of Theology, once known as the Queen of the Sciences, would be reduced to the subject of Comparative Religion, and tossed unceremoniously into the department of Anthropology. No academic subject can be pursued without first believing two things that cannot be proven by science. First, at the heart of an academic career there is something there to be discovered; and second, that the human mind can grasp that discovery. It is an unprovable axiom that the world itself is knowable. If there were no constants in the material world such as gravity, momentum, chemical reactions, or the basics of arithmetic, there would be no knowledge to be had through experiment and study. If every time we conducted an experiment in the laboratory the results were different, we would give up the scientific method and go back to playing video games. The world is ordered. Secondly, one must assume not only that the order of the world is knowable, but that the human mind can grasp that knowledge. It makes no sense to try experiments, read books, or study lecture notes, if your mind is unable to grasp what it finds. It may be that there are rules, principles, and laws to which the material world conforms, but if we could not grasp them when we come into contact with them, the academic endeavor would never have started. We would be like bears looking at a nuclear reactor: oblivious to its complexity and indifferent to its purpose. Yet we do assume that we can grow by study. We accept these two premises but we cannot prove either of these by science or logic. If they are not taken on faith from the outset, we would not just do “secular” science; it would never occur to us to do science at all. So the very academic pursuit itself rests on faith. So, we begin our college life with a basic contradiction. We must believe to know, but we must check all our beliefs at the door before we can be “serious” scholars. Yet Academia embraces its own faith-based assumptions. It is not a rejection of all faith that we find on campus today; it is the rejection

of one set of beliefs in favor of another: that mankind can know for itself apart from any religious underpinning. This is an unprovable assumption that gains momentum in a culture that generously allows for a pluralistic freedom of religion. This very important freedom (one that I would die to defend), has a necessary downside. By refusing to require that a student embrace a religious foundation for knowledge, classes must be taught without making reference to religious assumptions. But it is only by way of religious assumptions that the class came to exist in the first place. How can we overcome this impossible contradiction? By embracing first that the university is really a Christian endeavor from the start, and second that whether or not the faculty and students embrace that faith, the Christian approach to the world is a requirement before academic work can be done. Either we hold BY FAITH that there is a God who made the world and has given us the ability to know it (a combination of a knowable world and a mind that can grasp that knowledge), or we hold BY FAITH that we can know the world on our own; that we don’t need God to reveal anything to us. Which do we choose? The former position explains the latter, but the latter cannot allow for the former. We were told in the garden (by someone who clearly had our best interest in mind) that we don’t need God to reveal to us, that we can know for ourselves without him. Since then, we have

always been tempted by the belief that we don’t need God in order to know. Sinful men (all of us) have argued for it in every generation, but finally, several hundred years ago, this approach became the tacit assumption in nearly every academic endeavor. One doesn’t need God to know anything; we can know all on our own. However, the loss of this very religious assumption reduces the entire enterprise of academia into a kind of “hoop-jumping” through which we land a job. It used to be professors professed something. They felt it a calling to shape the souls of their students to learn to love the true, good, and beautiful. Today professors ask, who cares about the soul? We may not even have souls. But still the university is shaping souls — only without the right faith-held assumptions. Thus it aligns our minds to lies, and our hearts to the depraved and the ugly. Can you deny that in the last few generations this is the direction our culture has gone? What if a student could be prepared to attend college armed with a knowledge of these foundational assumptions and how to apply them to every academic field with clarity and a sense of humor? What if we had a faculty who could offer good reasons for the foundation of their academic work? Education under those circumstances would be full of meaning indeed.



Quo Vadis

THE PROBLEM WITH PRAGMATISM IN OUR SCHOOLS by Andrew Kern You know Father Mowbray hit on the truth about Rex at once, that it took me a year of marriage to see. He simply wasn’t all there. He wasn’t a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnaturally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory. I thought he was a sort of primitive savage, but he was something absolutely modern and up-todate that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending that he was whole. -- Julia Flyte, from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited


t is foolish to be impractical. It is even more foolish to be a Pragmatist. The difference matters: while the practical person respects circumstances the pragmatist bows to them. By constantly demanding practical applications, the Pragmatist shields himself from inconvenient or undesirable realities. By perpetually demanding relevance, he dodges what matters more than relevance. And yet, what is not practical, does not matter. The tension between Pragmatism and practicality arises, not over the question of whether we ought to be practical, but over what we conceive as ultimately practical. Is it more practical to know and embody truth or to attain measurable success? We live in a Pragmatic age, in which practical and measurable solutions to problems are the driving force of most thought. That is not the same as being practical. Much of reality stands outside the dimensions of problems and measurable solutions, which compels a humility alien to the Pragmatic mind. Nature and purpose are set aside for measurable success. The gospel is practical, but (because?) it transcends Pragmatism. Truth is more practical than problem-solving or knowing what to do next. The sermon on the mount is the ultimate success guide for human beings. But is it practical to turn the other cheek? Will it pay the bills? Will it help the school grow? Will it improve standardized scores? What about going the extra mile or enduring persecution? How are these practical? Only if there really is a Kingdom of God and God raises people from the dead. But does the Kingdom of God and His righteousness affect the way we govern our schools, build our communities, respond to our environments, order our curricula, practice our modes of instruction, and assess our schools, teachers, and

students - or do practical considerations undercut our commitment to the Kingdom? Pragmatism The Pragmatist breaks the world into manageable pieces and then devotes all his efforts to developing his favorite piece: his ideology, business, school, family, party, tribe, career, vocation, etc. But nature, purpose, and truth claim authority over all these things. The Pragmatic mind is a weakened mind, its reach limited and its capacity to harmonize reduced. Its fundamental belief is that it knows enough or can learn enough from within its framework of analysis to act in such as a way as to achieve its ends. Its value and the good it can do are undercut by its habits and assumptions. The Pragmatist secretly says, “I have to succeed even if my success is a compromise or even harmful. The measure is whether my school keeps going, gets more students, achieves higher grades, pays its bills.” Faithful stewardship of the schools calling becomes an expensive luxury, while the nature of the students creates distractions for teachers and administrators. The Pragmatic mind works like an imaginary steward on the Titanic, who, having struck the iceberg, wants only to do his job better, attending to coats and hats, polishing the brass, showing people to their rooms. The last thing he wants is to deal with something he hasn’t been trained for and for which there are no known techniques, like how to survive in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Pragmatism, like cancer, is an excess, an out of control cell, consuming the things around it and draining the life from the system it consumes. How does the patient respond to his cancer? Many choose to ignore it, pretending they don’t have it, to live a normal life. To some extent this

is prudent, but one can go too far. It is not practical to deny reality, so these people find themselves very unhappy. Many American educators enact the reality-denying behavior of a fourth stage cancer patient. Historical context For most of its history, education patterned itself on the agrarian household, which was an amazingly flexible structure, adaptable to circumstances, negotiating respectfully with its environment. But with the late 19th and early 20th century, schools increasingly patterned themselves on the inflexible, unadaptable, and, when applied to education, irresponsible structures of industry. One of the key moments in this transformation was the so-called Gary Plan that John Dewey celebrated in his Schools of Tomorrow. Industrialization of the schools initiated follies like the 52 minute classroom with bells and five minute breaks – follies that were soundly rejected by the parents of the day. In addition, schools came to be run by the principles of scientific management. The agrarian community’s patterns of leadership were replaced by those of the industrial capitalist and the socialist. Present reality Industrialization and scientific management, applications of Pragmatic and Utilitarian philosophies, transformed school into something so unnatural that the very concept of nature stands outside any discussion about education, on assessment, curriculum, teaching, governance, community, or even the environment of the learning experience. Like the cancer patient, we can ignore this fact or we can recognize its awful implications. They are, after all, all around us. If we CIRCEINSTITUTE.ORG 49

use a structure that is not Divinely or naturally ordained, we are going to have just the sort of problems we do have today. Explanation and application The way many of us assess our students and teachers embodies a Pragmatic approach as much as anything. I once led a roundtable discussion about assessment in light of the nature of things. Afterward, somebody suggested that it was more relevant to the home school parent than to the school teacher. I took him to mean that the discussion about assessing students and their work according to the nature of the child, the subject, and the lesson can be done better at home because the circumstances are more conducive, whereas the school setting presents obstacles that make assessing according to nature impractical. Think about the implications of that position. The argument is, the school setting is not natural, so it is not practical to assess students and their work according to nature, (i.e., with standards derived from the nature of the student, the lesson,


the subject, etc.). Since, then, we are teaching children in an unnatural way, when somebody suggests an assessment that arises from a natural way of teaching, we can’t be troubled to bother with it. This describes the customary practice of most conventional schools, public or private. The conventional school does not provide a natural setting. It does not arise from the needs, desires, and aspirations of human nature. Consequently, when you try to assess what it does by the standards provided by the nature of the case - the truths that govern it - it creates discords and disturbances. But these discords tell us something terribly important, which is that nature itself judges the school to be unnatural. Though this may be true, it is not necessary. Here, perhaps, is the crux of the matter: If the modes of assessment that arise from the needs, desires, and aspirations of created human nature work at cross purposes with the school setting, which submits to the other? If a school or home seeks to cultivate wisdom and virtue in its students, it needs to initiate a

discussion about all six educational dimensions (curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, governance, community, and environment). You can’t change everything right now: discussion produces anxiety, you have too much work to do while you and your parents are being accredited, certified, college-admissioned, and otherwise intimidated by the forces of chaos, anxiety, and despair. Nonetheless: start the conversation. Rise up and begin to assert your freedom to mentor free people. We can’t know how far the cancer has advanced and, after all, maybe you are part of the cure. But only if you begin the discussion. Act only on what you discover. Implement only what you believe in. But begin the discussion. You have to live in the world that you live in, which is where God will transform and sanctify you. But you don’t have to be ruled by it. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Do you believe it?


䌀椀刀䌀䔀  倀伀䐀䌀䄀匀吀  一䔀吀圀伀刀䬀

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儀唀䤀䐀䐀䤀吀夀   簀   吀䠀䔀 䴀䄀匀伀一 䨀䄀刀 吀䠀䔀 䌀伀䴀䴀伀一匀   簀   䌀䰀伀匀䔀 刀䔀䄀䐀匀 䘀漀甀爀 猀栀漀眀猀⸀ 伀渀攀 渀攀琀眀漀爀欀⸀ 䨀漀椀渀 琀栀攀 挀漀渀瘀攀爀猀愀琀椀漀渀⸀ 

䌀 䤀 刀 䌀 䔀 䤀 一 匀吀 䤀 吀 唀 吀 䔀 ⸀伀 刀 䜀 ⼀ 倀 伀 䐀 䌀 䄀匀吀 䄀䰀匀伀 䄀嘀䄀䤀䰀䄀䈀䰀䔀 伀一 䤀吀唀一䔀匀 䄀一䐀 匀吀䤀吀䌀䠀䔀刀


2016 CiRCE Magazine  

The Imagination Issue

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