What is Classical Education?

Picture 276What is a classical education and is it still a good option for students today? A simple answer to the question, “What is classical education?” can be surprisingly difficult to come by. And it many not be obvious what a tradition of education that emerged in the ancient world has to offer students growing up in the digital age.

When seeking to understand classical education, people most often point to the logic of the trivium: the movement from grammar to dialectic to rhetoric. But classical education is more than the trivium. It is also a set of attitudes and dispositions regarding the purpose of education. A classical education is an orientation toward learning that takes wisdom and moral formation as its goal.

You will find among classical educators, homeschool parents included, the conviction that education is a sacred and moral undertaking aimed at something more than earning good money, achieving distinction, or even accumulating knowledge for its own sake. You will find, rather, the conviction that education is about learning to live wisely and becoming the kind of people God made us to be. And this is precisely what classical education offers students in the digital age, a way out of the sea of mere information toward the heights of knowledge and wisdom.

The first stage of the trivium, the grammar stage, is focused on memorization and basic skills. Of course, even after we move into the dialectic and rhetoric stages, we must still learn new facts and skills. Whenever we enter a new area of knowledge, we must learn its grammar.

But we don’t stop with the facts and the basic skills. We then learn to reason about facts and with facts. We enter the dialectic stage. We discover how to make sense of the facts and relate them to one another. We learn logic and we learn the logic of each discipline. We learn what it means to think like an historian, or a mathematician, or a biologist, chemist, poet, etc.

Finally, with the rhetoric stage, we pass into the realm of wisdom and beauty. To begin with, the rhetoric stage is focused on cultivating the ability to communicate effectively. But if we are to avoid being sophists about persuasion, then what we will be doing is learning to communicate effectively about the truth as we have come to recognize and embrace it. In other words, learning to speak well and persuasively about the truth requires that we come to some personal understanding of what is true, and having done that, then working out how to live in light of it.

What’s more, if rhetoric is to be more than brow- beating, we must recognize and appeal to the persuasive power of the beautiful — the beauty of language, the beauty of art, the beauty of the truth. At this point we have passed from the accumulation of information and the construction of knowledge to the life-long endeavor of living in light of the truth.

Think of it this way. The grammar stage concerns Information, what is true about the world. The dialectic stage concerns Knowledge, understanding the relationships among the various kinds of information, making information meaningful. The rhetoric stage concerns Wisdom, learning to live in light of knowledge and rejoicing in the beauty of a life lived in light of the truth.

In this way, the classical model provides an answer to the worst habits of thought that emerge in an era of information overload. It does so by communicating a vision of education directed toward wisdom and moral formation.

Society has lost its faith in the transcendent order that would render knowledge meaningful and underwrite the quest for wisdom. Classical education is poised to resist this trend only to the degree that it is anchored in a biblical and theological vision of a creation and redemption.

We do well to remember that the quest to attain wisdom is premised on the belief that the world is not absurd. We can move past the accumulation of information only if we believe that the world is imbued with meaning and that this meaning reflects the mind of the Creator along with His goodness and beauty. Because we believe that the Triune God has created and ordered the world, we can confidently pursue knowledge and endeavor to live in light of it. It would not be too far from the mark to describe classical education as the work of brining our minds and hearts into harmony with the order of creation, which reflects the character and glory of God.

In Choruses from “The Rock,” T.S. Eliot writes,

“O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying
The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

The heart of Christian, classical education lies in the reversal of Eliot’s lament — in finding a way from information to knowledge and from knowledge to wisdom, and thereby finding Life and drawing nearer to God.

 

Andrew Pudewa, Writing, and Classical Education

Last month, Smith Prep was pleased to host a mini-conference on writing and classical education with Andrew Pudewa. Mr. Pudewa is the founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) and a well-respected and sought-after speaker within the homeschooling community.

Mr. Pudewa delivered two talks and took part in a round table discussion with Mr. Phillips and Mr. Sacasas. You can listen to one of those talks and the round table discussion here.

In the first talk below, Mr. Pudewa discusses the value of imitation and its place in a classical writing curriculum.

 

In the round table discussion, Mr. Phillips, Mr. Sacasas, and Mr. Pudewa take up the role of technology in writing and classical education.

 

We trust you will find both of these resources valuable and edifying. We are grateful to Mr. Pudewa for his time and work. Please feel free to share the link.

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Disciplined Learning: There Are No Shortcuts to a Good Education

We have the Internet, Instagram, Twitter, smart phones, and an array of assorted technologies giving us quick access to information, communication, and resources at a moments notice. We have online stores that deliver products within hours of ordering. Our lives are ordered by the ease of access we have to friends and family, entertainment, and the conveniences of first world wealth and pleasure. Yet, it is within this context that we must learn patience as we educate our children.

Most worthwhile things within this world take time and discipline to achieve. It takes time to cultivate a garden, to grow the food we eat. The skills to write a beautiful song or compose its accompaniment do not emerge by downloading an app on musical theory. One does not simply become a master painter by watching Bob Ross paint a forest with “happy trees.” It takes years of study, practice, making mistakes, and stumbling across the finish line that make great composers and artists. Great friendships and marriages also take patience and time. You don’t merely happen upon a beautiful marriage. It takes disciplined commitment to cultivate the trust and self-sacrifice that defines a truly good marriage.

What is so often true for so many other activities is also true for education. Today, many schools and families are looking to speed up the process of learning. They are looking for a new curriculum, a new technology, or a magic pill that will ease the burden of discipline and hard work. This is particularly true among homeschooling families. The burdens of running a household coupled with educating children at home, in a culture dominated by consumerism, make it particularly tempting for parents to buy into the lie that there will be an easy path to cultivating virtuous scholars. There are no short cuts. There are no easy paths to take and there is no special curriculum that will remove the challenges that accompany the work of teaching and learning.

Education is more than the teaching of stuff and to be educated is more that than the ability to regurgitate information. Dorothy Sayers once argued “that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.” Learning is an art! To be a good learner, like any art, takes discipline, practice and a lot of time.

G.K. Chesterton once said that “Education is not a subject, nor does it deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.” We are educating our humanity! We should not expect moral and spiritual formation to happen simply by the reading of a book, answering questions at the end of a text, watching a video, or downloading the newest app on the computer, tablet, or phone.

Human education requires flesh and blood engagement and work. We have been tasked by God to cultivate a world suitable for his presence. Education equips our humanity to respond to God’s world appropriately and establish God’s kingdom on earth. It is not an easy path, and we must accept the hardships that accompany a truly good education.

As the Headmaster of a Classical Christian School, I am consistently reminding our families that that while many contemporary philosophies of education give in to the consumer ideals of immediacy, we must not give into that temptation and shortchange our children. Education is real work and comes at a real cost. We must count the costs and embrace our own responsibilities and commitments.

Michael Phillips
Headmaster

What is Culture?

The twentieth-century English philosopher, Michael Oakeshott offers the following elegant and insightful description of culture in his essay “A Place of Learning”:

A culture, particularly one such as ours, is a continuity of feelings, perceptions, ideas, engagements, attitudes and so forth, pulling in different directions, often critical of one another and contingently related to one another so as to compose not a doctrine, but what I shall call a conversational encounter. Ours, for example, accommodates not only the lyre of Apollo but also the pipes of Pan, the call of the wild; not only the poet but also the physicist; not only the majestic metropolis of Augustinian theology but also the “greenwood“ of Franciscan Christianity. A culture comprises unfinished intellectual and emotional journeyings, expeditions now abandoned but known to us in the tattered maps left behind by the explorers; it is composed of light-hearted adventures, of relationships invented and explored in exploit or in drama, of myths and stories and poems expressing fragments of human self-understanding, of gods worshipped, of responses to the mutability of the world and of encounters with death. And it reaches us, as it reached generations before ours, neither as long-ago terminated specimens of human adventure, nor as an accumulation of human achievements we are called upon to accept, but as a manifold of invitations to look, to listen and to reflect.”

We would all do well to reflect upon this remarkably humane vision of culture and what it means for the work of education.

What Madeline Can Teach Us About Classical Education

What is classical education? Sometimes our answers to that question are long and elaborate, and sometimes a children’s book puts the matter simply and beautifully. 

In the story of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, we meet twelve girls who lived at a boarding house in Paris, “twelve little girls in two straight lines.” “In two straight lines,” we learn, “they broke their bread and brushed their teeth and went to bed.”

And then we read the following: “They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.”

In the illustrations that accompany these lines we see Madeline and her eleven friends glancing approvingly at a noble woman caring for a horse, glaring disapprovingly at a thief being caught by a policeman, and sadly looking on as a wounded soldier walked before them.  

In that line with its accompanying illustrations we encounter a lovely distillation of the essence of classical education as we understand it at Smith Prep. As simple as it sounds, we would like nothing more than for our students to smile at the good, frown at the bad, and be saddened by suffering.

But is this really the work of education? Are these not subjective feelings that can’t be helped? We don’t believe so. Our subjective responses can be trained and directed, and they should be.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis wrote that “the little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”

As fallen creatures we too often admire what is base, mock what is noble, and laugh at what is crass. We fail to be moved by pity for the unfortunate or compassion for the weak. We content ourselves with the trivial and the superficial. Our deepest disorders are often not the result of faulty reasoning or a lack of knowledge but of such immature tastes and misguided loves.

We should, of course, train the mind to think clearly, but our students will not be fully educated if it cannot be said of them that “they smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.”

Leading Our Children Toward God-Honoring Adulthood

The following remarks were delivered by our Academic Dean during Convocation.  

While reading the Odyssey recently, I was struck by a line to which I had not previously paid very much attention. It comes toward the middle of the book when Odysseus begins to tell his story to the Queen and King of Phaeacia. He begins by describing the geography of Ithaca, his homeland, and he says in passing, “Mine is a rugged land but good for raising sons—”

This in turn reminded me of an anecdote I heard long enough ago to have forgotten where I heard it. A farmer who owned a large and prosperous farm that employed many workers also put his own sons to work on the farm. He was asked one day why he put his sons to work raising crops when there was obviously no need for him to do so. “I’m not raising crops,” he replied, “I’m raising sons.”

And if I may, let me supply one more related example. When he was preparing his now famous documentary on the Civil War, Ken Burns was entrusted with a letter from a Union soldier to his wife. It is a deeply moving letter in which the solider confronts the prospect of never seeing his family again. At one point in the letter he writes,

“The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us.”

I mention each of these because they speak to a certain assurance about what exactly constitutes adulthood and how to get there, an assurance that is now noticeably absent in contemporary culture.

As a society, we are at present unsure about how exactly children become adults. Many people are worried that the transition is not happening at all. Some even question whether it is desirable that they do so. It’s been several years now since sociologists coined the phrase “extended adolescence.” And we can gauge the level of concern by the titles of burgeoning genre of books and articles including but not limited to The Vanishing American Adult, The Death of the Grown-Up, The Death of Adulthood in American Culture, and The Infantilization of Society and the Cult of Youth.

We might also point to rise of the unfortunate and inelegant verb, “to adult,” or “adulting.” As in, “I’d love to go out tonight, but I’ve got to adult.” As if being an adult was not something your were but something you did, and only if you had no choice. My own personal favorite data point in the “end of adulthood” genre is the appearance of footie PJs for adults.

These concerns are often manifested, less helpfully in my view, in the form of generational complaint and mockery, chiefly about the so-called Millennial generation. I say that this manifestation of our anxieties about adulthood is less than helpful because it often amounts to a thinly veiled self-righteousness. Like the Pharisee in the temple, we pray loudly, “God, I thank you that I am not like this Millennial.”

I will not attempt anything like a detailed explanation of what exactly is happening or why, but it seems safe to say that there is widespread confusion and anxiety about what it means to be an adult.

This confusion also has a flipside. The late Neil Postman, whose work remains ever-relevant, said that “Without a clear concept of what it means to be an adult, there can be no clear concept of what it means to be a child.”

So alongside vanishing adulthood, we can place the disappearance of childhood. In my way of putting it we are simultaneously witnessing the infantilization of adulthood and the professionalization of childhood.

That these trends have some bearing on the work of education seems obvious enough. What exactly that relationship may be is a little more difficult to pin down. But I’ll offer you, parents and students, a few observations to think about.

In the “death of adulthood” genre, the cure is often framed in terms of independence and self-sufficiency. It’s a reflection of the pseudo-Christian idea that God helps those who help themselves.

One reviewer of a book in the genre offered an alternative vision:

“Suppose adulthood were not synonymous with independence, not synonymous with working, not synonymous with grit or with achievement. Suppose adulthood is instead about accepting dependence, that you can’t take care of everything on your own, that you have limits; suppose the story we need is not the one about the worker who always says yes, but the person who is willing to say no—to the boss, to the job, to work.”

The stress on recognizing our dependence, our mutual dependence, and our limits seems much more in accord with a Christian vision of human flourishing and of the good society.

The idea that adulthood entails learning to say “No” rather than “Yes” is also appealing. Of course, it is not that we say No for the sake of saying No, modern day James Deans, rebels without a cause. Rather it is a matter, in my view, of learning to say No for the sake of saying Yes to what really matters. This is the essence of a disciplined life.

So here, then, are three characteristics of adulthood: dependence acknowledged, limits accepted, and discipline embraced. Let me say a bit more about that last one, with regards to our time and also our attention.

What has our lack of discipline, our inability to say No yielded? Our lives are stuffed, full to the brim, yet no happier. We barrel ahead, sometimes with no clear sense of where we are going, knowing only that we have to do the next thing and then the next. We have said Yes to too much and we have crowded out rest and worship and contemplation and play and joy.

Last year at this event, I asked us to consider the importance of attention. I asked us to view attention as a precious resource and urged us to become stewards of our attention because we lived in a world that had made distraction a matter of habit with devastating consequences for the life of the mind and the state of our souls.

The point, however, was not simply to become misers of attention, to learn only to say No to all of the notifications, vibrations, beeps, rings, and dings that address us constantly. The point, once again, is to say No, so that we might be able to say Yes to things that matter.

Perhaps we can frame maturity or adulthood as a matter of learning what does and does not deserve our attention.

“When I was a child,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Consider again how we have ignored both sides of Paul’s dictum. We have place before our children that for which they are not sufficiently mature. And we have, as adults, refused to put away childish things.

To return to Paul once more, do we, as parents and as teachers, give our attention to whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable. “If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,” Paul urges, “think about these things.” Give your attention to these things.

This entails an ability and willingness to judge. There is a certain irony here. Christians are often fond of pointing out that the only verse in the Bible anybody seems to know anymore is “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” Yet, we too are guilty of a failure to discern: not only between what is true and false and between what is good and what is evil, but also between what is beautiful and what is mediocre and, perhaps more importantly for our theme tonight, between the consequential and the trivial, the meaningful and the superficial.

Not only must we learn how to pay attention to what is noble and beautiful, but maturity also involves learning to pay less attention to ourselves and more attention to others.

The American novelist, David Foster Wallace put it this way in his deservedly famous commencement address at Kenyon College: “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the ‘rat race’ — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”

Finally, let me return to the idea of limits. The pursuit of endless possibility is one of the marks of our deferred adulthood. Maturity entails not only the acceptance of limits, but also the realization that our flourishing requires the recognition of limits and that our limitations are the conditions of our happiness.

Wendell Berry has put this as well as I have ever seen it put:

“our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning. Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible.”

Our places, where we make our home, where we learn, where we worship, each of these can also be a site of inexhaustible satisfaction and joy, but only if we learn to tend it and care for it.

If all of this business about the acceptance of limits, acknowledging our mutual dependence, and learning to give our attention to what is high and noble sounds like a joyless affair, it is not.

Speaking about the seriousness with which we treat our fellow human beings, CS Lewis in The Weight of Glory writes this:

“This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Likewise, when we set aside our preoccupation with ourselves and our fascination with trivial and superficial pleasures, we will find that in learning to love our neighbor and learning to love what is true and just and noble, we will experience a far deeper joy and satisfaction then we have known.

As we plan for this forthcoming year, let us consider how we might lead our children and our students toward God-honoring adulthood, an adulthood that does not consist in rugged self-sufficiency and autonomy but rather in humble recognition of our dependence–on God and on one another–our limits, and the discipline and judgment to turn our attention to what is noble and praiseworthy.

And for those caring for and teaching little ones for whom adulthood is still a far-off reality, let us guard their childhood, their wonder, and their joy.

Why Study Biblical Womanhood?

This fall, our administrator, Traci DeBoer, will be teaching an elective called Biblical Womanhood. In this post, she explains why such a class is needed. 

fountain.jpgOver the years, my husband and I have enjoyed the task of “preparing the hunt” for our kids. Whether it involved hunting down hidden clues that lead to a basket, or searching the landscape for colorful eggs, it was time spent in gleeful anticipation of both preparing the hunt and watching our kids discover their treasures.

We prepared the gift. Our children took steps to find the clues, decipher the words, and then followed through toward the goal–the prize.

This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 13 that tell us there is a treasure out there worth sacrificing everything we have. The kingdom of heaven starts here on earth. We can actually know and interact with our King and Creator. The incredible generosity of God is first displayed in His general revelation. Creation loudly proclaims the mighty works of God. In addition to this glorious gift, He gave us special revelation–His written word, to enlighten our hearts even more. Consequently, for those who find the value in these, He has even made known the hidden things of the kingdom for those who seek it. For most, it remains hidden. Proverbs 25:2 states “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

What does this have to do with Biblical womanhood? When God revealed Himself to my own heart 26 years ago, I was amazed by my hunger to know Him fully. He generously gave me the desire to search Him out. In my pursuit to discover more about Him, I found a link hidden in my own design and purpose. Before His Son came to earth in the flesh, He had already placed something living and tangible, in the creation of man and woman, that was designed to be a part of this unfolding revelation.

In studying God’s Word, I have had to confront truths about design, roles, and gender. As I embrace one, it sheds light on another. Barbara Mouser, author with the International Council for Gender Studies, mentions a childhood proverb her father often quoted, “Light obeyed brings more light; Light rejected brings the night.” [1] The Psalmist, David, also reminds us that “for with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). The scriptures are full of references to light as truth. Embracing truth helps me see more clearly. Like a child on a hunt, I find incredible joy as I accept and embrace the truths of my design and God’s generosity continues as He unfolds another. I have encountered a deep intimacy with Christ that can only be found in pursuit. I have found a treasure worth sacrificing everything.

Barbara Mouser states, “Our ancient foes–the world, the flesh, and the devil—are the same from generation to generation; yet the shape and form of the battle changes. Nothing quite like the early twenty-first century amalgamation of modern feminism, pseudo-science, and ancient idolatries has been seen before in history.” [2] Thankfully, I had a grounding in scripture when I headed to college. Most of my professors were active feminists, men and women alike, whose philosophies and agendas were opposed to the truth of the Bible. God graciously gave me favor with them as I respectfully stood my ground. Two of my professors even traveled over 60 miles to attend my wedding after weeks of trying to persuade me to remain single and pursue graduate school instead.

Our daughters will encounter this to an even greater degree. I join with Mouser in desiring to engage today’s women, not with new doctrines, but with the whole counsel of God so that the next generation will be grounded in His truth as they develop their theology of femininity. In specifically offering further study in Biblical womanhood, my intention is to partner with other members and families of Smith Prep committed to cultivating the hearts and minds of our students, giving them the tools to better shape their unique gifts and calling in God’s world.

___________________________________________

[1] Barbara Mouser, Five Aspects of Woman (Monument, Colo.: Snowfall Press, 2012), Vol 2, 33.

[2] Mouser, Vol 1, vi.

With Faces Turned Upward

Life can be hard. It is easy to be crushed by the pressures of home, work, marriage, and finances while simultaneously trying to hold together all of the intricacies of life and schooling our children. Even during the summer months, projects and plans may fall through and the responsibilities of life may become overwhelming. We experience pain, sickness, and distress navigating roles, relationships, and responsibilities to make life work.

Schooling our children at home adds an extra layer of stress. In a co-op or a hybrid school you are surrounded by families that seemingly have everything pulled together, even though this perception is far from the truth. Many times homeschooling results in a feeling of isolation. Typically, schooling our children at home results in a one-income household and a greater concern of financial stability. The extra added work of educating our kids and the regular dose of household chores provoke feelings of being perpetually behind and caught in an uncontrollable whirlwind. How do we respond to such struggles? What should we do when faced with the duress that often accompanies our lives?

Several years ago I had the privilege of studying Dante in Florence, Italy. The first evening upon arriving in Florence, I walked the city’s narrow streets. At dusk I approached the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral capped by Brunelleschi’s famous dome. As I emerged from the Florentine alleys, the imposing structure of towering height and immeasurable beauty confronted my sensibilities. A 14th/15th century gothic cathedral made almost entirely from marble and standing nearly 400 feet tall engulfed my vision. The hand carved statues and decorative facades overwhelmed my sense of place as another student was compelled to remark in a subtle and quiet voice, “It’s alien.”

The cathedral is indeed alien! The cathedral is a physical expression of the presence of God’s eternal kingdom and reminds every Christian that their citizenship belongs to another realm. The structure is designed to capture our imaginations, arrest our attention, and provoke awe and wonder in all those who see it and enter into its shadow. Its enormous size, ornate facades, and stunning craftsmanship impose its will upon the pilgrim, forcing our gaze upward.

The construction of this magnificent building occurred during a time of political unrest and economic uncertainty, even during the mid 14th century when the plague crippled Italy, indeed all of Europe, resulting in the deaths of nearly 60 percent of the population of Tuscany and as many as 40,000 Florentine citizens.[1] Yet, the work continued and the artists, architects, and engineers persevered.

During life’s difficulties, hardships, and its most trying times we sometimes find it hard to keep moving. Life can be paralyzing. This is a common experience given that we all participate in a world cursed by sin and physical corruption. Even the Apostle Paul lamented the he was “so utterly burdened beyond [his] strength that [he] despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, he goes on to explain that this was so we would “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (vs. 9). The medieval cathedral enabled the people to see through their circumstances and to recognize that they belong to a different world and were beholden to the kingdom of Christ.

The expression of God’s kingdom embodied by the cathedral aided those dealing with fractured politics, a flailing economic system, social estrangement, and a plague that killed 40,000 Florentines. It presented a physical display of the realities of God’s continued faithfulness and presence. Like the irresistible sound of the Sirens enchanting sailors, the medieval cathedral summoned men and women to gaze upward, refocusing and redirecting all momentary anxieties to a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

We need these reminders and we need encouragement! The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, physically reminds us of our need to be sustained by something other than an idea. It is the Gospel preached to our other senses. As the bread and the wine feed and nourish our bodies, so are we ultimately sustained by the work of God in Christ. God has given us the blessing of the Eucharist to sustain us in times of darkness and excite us in time of peace. Ultimately, the Supper has been given to embody the Gospel in physical form.

C.S. Lewis has said, “The more heavenly minded we are the more, the greater earthly good we might do.” We need to be reminded and summoned to gaze upward. We are not serving the kingdom of this world. Our task is to fulfill Christ’s prayer that God’s kingdom come and that God’s will be done here on Earth as it is in Heaven. We strive, struggle, and serve for purposes consistent with God’s creation mandate (Genesis 1:27-31). We raise children, work, and toil to ensure that God’s glory is celebrated by all of creation. Plato once said that the “pursuit of transcendental ideals is the sure path toward a satisfying life.” Only when we gaze upward to God’s heavenly kingdom will we overcome our trials and find hope. Only when we gaze upward to the purposes and promises of God can we find encouragement and satisfaction. Let us gaze upwards!

_______________

Michael Phillips, Headmaster


[1] Laurie Adams, Italian Renaissance Art (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2001), 51.

Classical Education: The Unity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

In a recent article, Lindsey Brigham reminds the classical teacher that there is more at stake in a classical education than truth, there is also goodness and beauty. Brigham opens by asking her readers to imagine a place of “pure and perfect proportion” that also “lacked any trace of color, sound, or scent; no music, no laughter, no gardens, no paintings, no feasts filled its symmetric architecture.” She then asks a penetrating question, “Would such a land be habitable?”

It is true that many classical schools and classical curricula emphasize propositional truth claims and the consequences of ideas. Indeed, the importance of teaching truth cannot be overstated. However, tending the mind to the exclusion of the whole person undermines a truly classical education and fails to take into consideration the world in which we live. Brigham suggests that we need to do more than teach truth:

[…] to teach truth alone is to usher students into a world of firm foundations, pure proportion, and stately symmetry with no color or sound or scent—the world of the fable above. This world lacks all that makes the truth homey and habitable, lovely and lovable; little wonder that students tire of it, poke fun at it, seek to move out of it. It cannot be home for their souls, for it lacks goodness and beauty.

Might this be the reason that when our students leave for college many abandon the first principles they had been taught by their parents? Could it be that reading the right books, attending the right school, participating in the right bible studies, and hearing the truth daily might not be enough to truly ground a student and equip them to live consistently within this world?

Stratford Caldecott, in Beauty for Truth’s Sake, argues that truth does not stand alone. Rather, according to the classical tradition, the triad of truth, goodness, and beauty are found in everything that exists. This is true because God, Who is the source of truth, goodness, and beauty, has created everything that exists. Caldecott explains:

Everything, in other words, is true, good, and beautiful in some degree or in some respect. All that exists—because it gives itself, because it means something—is a kind of “light.” It reveals its own nature and at the same time an aspect of that which gave rise to it. Beauty is the radiance of the true and the good, and it is what attracts us to both.

Cultivating the affections, for Caldecott, is, in some measure, more important than cultivating the mind. To see beauty in creation and to experience its penetrating effects necessarily leads us to fully embrace what is true and good. It was this concept that let Socrates to argue that the “object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.”

Classical education demands that we hold together truth, goodness, and beauty as an educational paradigm. It is not enough to teach about flowers; we need to smell the flowers. Teachers and parents must constantly be looking to the artistry of creation and the creativity of stories. Our children should be exposed to the wonderful sensations this world has to offer. We should be looking for opportunities to sing, dance, and play with each subject as well as those times to be quiet, still, and contemplative. We are directing more than our students minds, we are instilling in them tastes and sensibilities that will last a lifetime.

Classical education is human education. It is a philosophy of education that seeks to enliven students to colors, textures, aromas, sounds, and tastes of creation. Students are to experience the glory of creation and recognize the rot of its curse. Classical education is a formative education that trains sensibilities, inciting pleasure when appropriate and a distaste of those things that are awful. The goal of a classical education is to shape students, molding a discerning disposition toward the world. It is an education that unveils the true for students but also goodness and beauty.