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.

Work, Education, and Summer Vacation

As the summer settles in and the schooling of our children begins to transform into parties, picnics, and beaches, it is good to remember that our responsibilities to educate our kids did not end in May. Our work continues through the summer months. This is not to say we shouldn’t play, we should! Nor is this to say we shouldn’t rest, we must! Yet, in our rest and play we must not neglect our work.

God is a worker. He has created the universe, a world, a garden, and a human race to rule over it. By default, humans created in God’s image are workers. We’ve been created with a creation mandate to fill, subdue, and rule the earth. This is easy to forget and even easier to despise. Work is hard, and our labors are often accompanied by difficulties. It is easy to forget our assignment to work began not as a burden but as a blessing.

In a recent article, Peter Leithart quotes John Milbank reminding us that, “Labor is not the consequence of the fall, only the debasement of labor. God himself is fundamentally and primordially a worker, and our work is pleasurable because it is the creative tending of God’s universe.” We must remember that there is pleasure in our royal status and indeed in our royal obligations. As kings over creation we have the benefits and blessings that accompany our dignified status as God’s image bearers.

It is important to keep these blessings in mind as we toil through a fallen and cursed world. We have a task that is set before us and this task is a blessing filled responsibility. We often work to provide necessities consistent with flourishing families. Yet, we also must recognize that our jobs, our work, do more than provide food, clothing, and shelter. Leithart tell us rightly that

Work isn’t simply the production of necessities. It isn’t something we “do” with no implications for who we are. There is a right instinct in the tendency to identify oneself as electrician, teacher, engineer, business owner, or financial advisor. It’s through our work that we are realized as human beings, as the particular individual humans we are.

In our professions, we come to identify with how we are fulfilling the creation mandate. Our humanity is put on display! This is of no little consequence, especially for our Smith Prep families committed to home educating their students in our hybrid model.

We are working hard to raise children who believe the gospel. We are working hard to equip each of our children with the resources to fill, subdue, and rule. We toil with our children because we have a responsibility, an obligation.

Stay alert to those teaching moments. Read to your children or read with them, a novel or story. Discuss the themes that stand out. Tell stories about your past that have shaped you and made you into the person you are now. Go on adventure and create new stories with your kids.

Demonstrate godliness in all your actions, in the treatment of your family as well as your treatment of strangers. Your kids are watching you and they will emulate you. Put virtue on display. Allow them see to you make some hard decisions and teach them that the easy decisions are not always the right decisions. Be consistent and allow your children to see your character in action.

Aristotle said “virtues are formed in a man by his doing the actions.” It is in the consistent repetition of life that habits and dispositions are formed. If we want our children to develop good habits, we must keep a good schedule. That is not to say that we can’t make exceptions now and again, but a healthy schedule is a consistent schedule. Schedule certain times to read, talk, serve, and play! Planning and providing opportunities for our children will help them grow and develop into good students.

As parents we have work to do. Fulfilling this obligation is not easy. Yet, we must not forget that it is an honor, privilege, and blessing to be given such a noble task. Through your efforts, your humanity and God’s glory are on display. Let’s keep working.

Smith Preparatory Academy Will Be at the FPEA Convention This Weekend

3333It’s convention time! For over 20 years Smith Preparatory Academy has been serving the homeschooling community in central Florida. For many of those years, we have been a vendor and held workshops at the annual FPEA homeschooling convention. This weekend, May 25-27, the convention will be held at the beautiful Gaylord Palms and we will again have a booth. We welcome all of our families and friends to pay us a visit while at the convention.

If you have friends or know of any families still considering their options for next year, please send them our way. We still have some room in both our Lower School and Upper School programs. We also offer excellent elective and dual enrollment opportunities for high school students. Faculty and staff will be available to discuss our program and we will be offering discounts to any family registering with us while at this year’s convention. We are looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Recovering our Role as Cultivators of Creation

With this post we introduce an occasional series featuring the work of our students. In this installment, one of our upper school students, Drew Mercantini, reflects on the impact of modern technology on our relationship to the creation we have been called to cultivate. The excerpt is drawn from a paper submitted for the class Faith in the Digital Age. 

[I]t is important to understand just what we are, in relation to this great realm of technology. Because technology is not just a tool or a composite object, it reaches out and shapes us in ways we rarely, if ever, perceive. We have noticed how phones draw us in and transform us into users, absorbed into the virtual realms of messaging and Facebook. But we do not really notice the effect that a camera has on us. We become a creature that looks for photos to be taken. This in turn impacts how we connect with the world, since how we perceive what is beautiful in creation is by what comes through our phone screen or camera lens. This is just one example of course, but the principle still stands. We use technology to affect the world, but it in turn affects us […]

Finally, it is crucial to understand how powerful technology is and how much it goes beyond any of us as individuals. Technology is far more encompassing and far more integrated into our lives than we currently think. We cannot stop the world from using technology, nor would we know how to. Technology is just far too integrated for any hopes of simply evicting it from our lives. Moreover, technology has become almost self sustaining, having developed into a plethora of complex systems. Technology at this point is incomprehensible, and most definitely uncontrollable.

The crux and goal of modernity, of the new science, of the emphasis on the mind, the modern search for authenticity, the therapeutic, of our whole endeavor into technology and culture is this: We have become the cultivated, not the cultivators.

We have shirked our mandate and marching orders, and have been put in the place of the thing we are called to serve. Our postmodern condition is really just the thorough naturalization of this mindset which arose some centuries prior. At root, this is what has led to the rise of the therapeutic, the search for authenticity and identity. We rely on the non-human portions of creation to cultivate us. This inversion has cost us dearly, causing us to wander, lost like never before. These things are sub-human and impotent in their efforts and eventually unsatisfactory in their powers. And yet, we persist in our consumption, certain that the solution lies in the manipulation of the creation for the service of man.

We are stagnant, nearly motionless, having creation broken down and packaged for our consumption. This is remarkably anti-biblical, and we now realize the genuine path we must follow.  As it is outlined for us, we must be the cultivators. We must shape and grow and mature the creation in light of its God-given order. For we can fully satisfy the needs of the sub-human portions of reality, not the other way around. The solution to our emptiness, to our desire for identity and authenticity, is the inverse of the inverse: we must assume again the role of cultivators rather than the cultivated. We must turn back to our first way, reverse the positions, and act as we ought to. We seem to be farther from our God than ever before.  And to reverse this we must reverse ourselves. This calls for a life of servanthood that challenges our pride and individuality. This calls for a sharp and passionate movement to break us free and clear of our stagnancy. This calls for a level of patience that overcomes our inability to be still. And above all, this calls for a level of love that will strike at the core of our habitually hardened hearts.

Education and the Longing For God

CSLewis.jpgIn his remarkable essay, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis writes in an Augustinian vein about the human condition. We are created by God and for God. We are fundamentally desiring creatures, and our desire, whether we recognize it or not, is for an eternal and infinite good: God Himself. Or, as Augustine famously put it in the extended prayer that is the Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

In addressing this desire, Lewis says that he is “trying to rip open the inconsolable secret” in each of us. It is a secret, he says, “we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.” “We cannot tell it,” Lewis explains, “because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” But we cannot hide it “because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.”

This secret, which is really our inborn longing for the Creator by Whom and for Whom we have been made, is often suggested by our experience most poignantly and profoundly in our encounters with true beauty. So much so that we may try, in vain, to recreate those encounters. In one of Lewis’s most haunting passages, he tells us why such efforts always fail:

The books or the 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 hearts 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.

Sensing his success in evoking the very experience he is describing, Lewis asks, “Do you think I am weaving a spell?” Perhaps so, he grants. But in the old fairy tales, Lewis reminds us, spells can be used to break enchantments as well as to induce them, and, he adds, we need the most powerful spells to break the enchantment modernity has placed upon us. “Almost our whole education,” Lewis writes, “has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to
convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.”

This is a striking indictment of education in Lewis’s time, and we can be almost certain that Lewis would find the general situation today far worse than in his day. But he might take some comfort in the modest revival of classical Christian education we have witnessed over the last three decades.

Indeed, by inverting Lewis’s indictment of modern education, we get a pretty good purpose statement for classical, Christian schools: introducing students to the world in such a way that their desire for the eternal and the infinite is kindled and then directed toward our Creator and Redeemer.

Pre-Christian classical education knew that the well-ordered soul would be attuned not only to Truth and Goodness, but also to Beauty. The tradition of Christian classical education understood that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty were not abstract principles of being but rather reflections of the nature and character of God. In this light, the well-ordered soul is the soul that has found its rest in God.

May it never be said that we have silenced in our children the very desires that will lead them toward the God Who is their source and their fulfillment. Rather may we take every opportunity to awaken in our students a longing for their own “far-off country,” the “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God,” and each lesson in Language, Math, Science, History, Art, Music, indeed in any subject can be just such an opportunity.

Announcing Track D for 2017-2018

We are excited to announce that Smith Prep will be offering a Track D program for the 2017-2018 school year. Our Upper School has traditionally included Tracks A through C, corresponding roughly with 9th through 11th grade. Beginning this fall, however, we will be offering a senior year program that will include three dual enrollment courses, two electives, and a capstone senior research project.

The three dual enrollment courses will be offered in partnership with Palm Beach Atlantic University. During the fall semester, Track D student will be enrolled in Freshman English I and General Psychology. During the spring semester, they will take Freshman English II. These courses will total nine college credits.

Students may then choose two from among the various electives offered at Smith Prep. These electives are academically demanding courses designed to prepare students for the rigors of higher education and the challenges of secular society. To learn more about these classes, visit our Electives page.

Finally, students will be paired with a faculty adviser to work on a capstone research project. Planning for this project will begin in the fall. The project will be a culmination of the student’s time at Smith Prep and will encourage them to put the knowledge and skills they have learned to work as they seek to make their contribution to a specific area of knowledge they have chosen. Students will then present their research to the school community at a special event near the end of the spring semester.

For more information about Track D, please contact our office.


Third Annual Faith in the Public Square

Smith Prep is delighted to announce that Professor Louis Markos will be the speaker at our third annual Faith in the Public Square event, to be held at 6:30 PM on Thursday, March 16th, at our Longwood campus.

Preparing our students to live faithfully and virtuously in the wider culture is one of our most important goals at Smith Prep. With that aim in mind, we held the inaugural Faith in the Public Square event in 2015. It was our desire to provide our students and families with the opportunity to hear and interact with a distinguished Christian scholar on the question of faithfulness in the midst of a secular culture. In 2015, Dr. Chad Brand spoke to us about the place of faith in the political arena. In 2016, we were honored to hear from the president of Reformation Bible College, Dr. Stephen Nichols, about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This year’s speaker, Dr. Louis Markos, is the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities at Houston Baptist University, where he has taught courses in ancient, medieval, and modern literature. Dr. Markos has also written and taught extensively on the work of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

For his Faith in the Public Square lecture, Dr. Markos will be addressing the topic of his 2007 book, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics. The work addresses a number of key questions that get at the heart of a classical, Christian vision for education. Here are some of those questions as Dr. Markos sees them:

Can the basic tenets and chief embodiments of both Christianity and humanism be combined in a way that will pay homage both to the glory of God and the dignity of man, the truths of Christ and the wisdom of the ancients? What business does a Christian have devoting time and energy to reading works written by pagans who lacked the light of the Christian, or even the Jewish, revelation? Are not all the really important answers to be found in the Bible and the Sacred Tradition? Have not the pagan writers of the ancient world been so superseded by Christianity as to be irrelevant as sources of wisdom in the life of the believer?

Please join us to hear from Dr. Markos about how we might approach such questions wisely and faithfully.

The evening will begin with a dinner at 6:30. Dinner will be followed by Dr. Markos’ lecture and a question and answer time. We encourage everyone to join us for dinner, but you may come for only the lecture. If you are planning to join us for any part of the evening, we would ask that you RSVP so that we can plan accordingly. Please call or email the office to let us know if you will be joining us.

While the evening is especially designed for Smith Prep students and families, we do welcome anyone from the community to join us. Please feel free to spread the word among your family, friends, and churches.

Seven Reason to Choose Smith Prep

Our Headmaster, Mr. Michael Phillips, discusses the qualities that set Smith Prep apart.

You can find dozens of schools representing various philosophies of education throughout central Florida. Daily we hear of schools offering the newest and greatest technologies and the next best thing in education. Some schools advertise their niche programs enticing families with a narrowly focused curriculum and skill development in a particular area of interest. Other schools might include fine art programs, enrichment programs, athletics programs, and anything else that can catch the interest of students or families looking for a change. Some of these schools are good programs serving students and families well. With registration opening in less than a month why would a family choose Smith Prep over other organizations and institutions offering educational opportunities for their student?

1. We are a Christian School within the Reformed Tradition

Smith Prep is unapologetically a Christian school within the reformed tradition. What makes us a Christian school is not only that we require students to take a Bible class each year or because we pray together during opening and closing assemblies. Rather, it is because the faculty and staff are committed to the Lordship of Jesus over every discipline. Literature, history, science, and all the academic disciplines are taught in light of the biblical narrative of God’s redemptive purposes.

Furthermore, the conviction that all human beings are created in God’s Image directs our educational endeavors. We recognize the dignity and significance of each human being, and the aim of our education is to cultivate in each students a well-ordered love for all that is true, good, and beautiful. In this way we seek to establish a community of virtuous scholars who are advancing God’s kingdom in their community and throughout the world.

Throughout their course of studies at Smith Prep our students are catechized using the Westminster Shorter Catechism and they carefully read and study the Old Testament and the New Testament. Our Upper School also students formally study biblical theology, systematic theology, and apologetics.

2. We are a Classical School

Smith Prep offers a truly classical education. Most people rightly recognize that a classical paradigm of education is a challenging and academically rigorous path. Many also recognize the use of the trivium—Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric—to provide the structure of a classical education. Yet, many people are unable to articulate just how a classical program differs from any other educational paradigm.

Classical education is about the moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation of students. It seeks to shape or cultivate a disposition to the world that is animated by well-ordered loves. While other forms of education promote self-discovery, Smith Prep seeks to cultivate Christian virtue and fit the soul to God. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Education is not a subject, nor does it deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.” This way of life is modeled by our faculty and staff, demonstrated in our curriculum choices, and re-enforced through our yearly trips and activities.

3. We invite our students to the study of Western Civilization and teach them Latin

We introduce our students to the works that have contributed to the Great Conversation that is the Western tradition. Western civilization has a rich heritage of art, architecture, music, literature, and philosophy. The events, people, and ideas it encompasses have formed us and shaped our communities. To know ourselves, to provide an accurate critique of who we are and what we believe, to make informed decisions, and to make personal and informative adjustments in the way we see and respond to the world around us, it is imperative that we engage with the voices of the past that have shaped our present culture.

Latin allows our students to plumb the depths of our heritage. Our students begin Latin studies in 1st grade. In fact, we teach English grammar through Latin studies. Latin serves as the next step that follows on phonics. Once English students know how to read Latin, it will serve to strengthen their ease of reading and retention of reading content. Further, Latin accounts for nearly a third of our English words and provides the root words for nearly all technical vocabulary in the modern sciences. Additionally, Latin is the source language for law, government, logic, and theology. Studying Latin is an indispensable tool that will strengthen a student’s ability to think critically and inform their future participation in society. There are about a half a dozen other reasons we study Latin that you can find here, here, and here.

4. We are a hybrid program with qualified instructors

Over twenty years ago Smith Prep began as a tutoring service for homeschooling families. While we have become a fully accredited private school, we continue to embraces a blended paradigm. Smith Prep combines the best parts of a traditional homeschooling experience with that of a classical private school education. Our school partners with parents to provide a rich educational experience for each student.

Gifted and qualified teachers, who know and love their subject, work with students instructing, encouraging, and engaging them weekly. Students work at home with their parents on the remaining days. This allows for more personalized attention and serves to strengthen an already robust philosophy of classical education. This partnership enables students to flourish beyond what could typically be achieved in a traditional five-day-a-week program.

5. We are an accredited school that offering college dual enrollment credits

For over twenty years Smith Prep has enjoyed its partnership with the Trinity School and most recently Veritas Academy. These fully accredited schools have come alongside our students and have provided them with guidance, diplomas, accredited transcripts, and graduation ceremonies. This past year Smith Prep has begun a permanent merger with Veritas Academy of Central Florida, a fully accredited private school. We expect the merger to be completed before this school year (2016-17) is completed.

Being an accredited school gives our school both a higher level of accountability as well as college and university accessibility. It provides nationally recognized credentials and certifies our professional standards. Accreditation assures our families that we are indeed meeting college and states standards.

Given our high standards and quality of instructors we are able to offer dual enrollment classes at our campus through Palm Beach Atlantic University. This provides our students the benefit of continuing their studies at Smith Prep while earning college credits.

6. We are cultivating students of the highest academic quality

Christian classical schools have a proven track record of practical results. SAT scores in Reading, Math, and Writing are over 100 points higher than the national average and 50 points higher than the average independent and religious private school. ACT scores are on average five to seven points higher than the national average in English, Math, Reading, Science, and Composition.

While Smith Prep has not been keeping track of its students statistics until relatively recently, we have seen this trend to be true in our student’s test scores and college enrollment. Last year we had our first student accepted to Air Force Academy and past students have gone on to attend Harvard, Cornell, Baylor, Covenant College, Texas A&M, the University of Florida, Belmont University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Stetson University, New College, and many other fine colleges and universities. Smith Preparatory students are well trained and suited to engage our culture and society.

7. We offer a unique education in Central Florida

There are simply no programs in Central Florida offering the blend of educational benefits available at Smith Preparatory Academy! There are no private schools, hybrid programs, or co-ops in or around Orlando that match Smith Prep’s distinctive culture and commitment to academic excellence. Smith Prep has a tried and proven record. We have served the greater Orlando area since 1995, and as we move forward we are looking forward to many more years serving this community.

For all those looking for alternatives in education I would encourage you to take a closer look at Smith Preparatory Academy. There are several informational meetings coming up. Make an appointment, visit the school, come and talk with our faculty and staff. For those of you who have been attending Smith Preparatory Academy keep up the hard work. I promise, it will pay off!

Why Study Latin

This post is authored by our High School Latin teacher, Mr. William Eggleston. You can learn more about Mr. Eggleston at our Faculty and Staff page. 

eggleston_william-1-grayscale“What do you teach?”

“I … uh … teach Latin.”

We all recognize this stage of small talk whenever we meet someone new. Almost without fail, I can guess which of two responses are coming next. If the person I’m speaking was in school before the 70’s I get, “Ah, Amo, Amas, Amat! I think that’s all I remember from my two years in it.” For those that were in school after the 70’s, I get, “Hmmm, do you get many students in that? Why would they take it?”  

With the first group, I have fun as they recount the trouble they had learning the language and how it still comes back to them when they are writing something. We usually end the bit of conversation by lamenting that their kids didn’t take Latin but rather took Spanish or French, about which they can’t remember anything. “But we thought it would be better if they studied a language that they could use,” they add.

The younger group usually gets a list of reasons from me that run along these lines, or, if we have time, we can get academic about it.  They often smile and nod, sometimes I surprise them with a connection between Latin study and a field they are interested in. But in the end, they cite several trite reasons like this fellow, and tell me that they “Think it would be better if their children study a language they can actually … you know … use.”

Both responses show two misconceptions that I like to point out. (Let’s ignore that the “practical” uses of High School Spanish or French are often limited to knowing which pastry you ordered at Versailles Cafe and ordering the lamb with the right accent).

Tinsthe first is a failure to distinguish between deductive and inductive language study.  When a student learns French or Spanish, they are normally taught inductively, or by immersion as it is sometimes called. That’s a good method to learn modern languages that will ordinarily be spoken, but it the method is deficient in teaching you how to read the language. Latin is mostly taught deductively because it is seldom spoken and mostly read. The two different forms of instruction engage the mind differently and have different carry over effects. The question of the usefulness of a modern language and the study of Latin is a comparison of apples to oranges. Both are useful, just in different ways.

The second misconception that I try to point out is the faulty assumption that pragmatism and usefulness are knowable and desirable attributes of an education. A good portion of the educational intelligentsia believes that they can draw a 1:1 correlation from instruction to application, and they publish this belief and the proof of it in every journal of education. Parents thus tend to have too high of an estimation of an educator’s ability to know what instruction to give students to bring about the desired result. I would challenge this assumption. I have taught a variety of subjects throughout my career, from Math to Literature to Science, and the connections that different students make from one subject to another constantly astound me. Most educators wouldn’t recommend a course of Latin, Classical Philosophy, and Humanities to a student who was interested in science today, but that is how we got Bacon, Galileo, and  Newton. The benefits of any one bit of instruction are impossible to exhaustively map to a result, therefore people who have the same or very similar instruction can turn out so differently. My twin and I were taught the same things by the same people, but I became fascinated with philosophy and language, while he became a dentist.

So I don’t look merely for direct and measurable benefits from a subject. Abstract thought is taught in the reading of Shakespeare as much as in Calculus, logical thought is taught by Latin and Geometry. Which one is more likely to cause a student to be a good abstract or logical thinker? I don’t know, and neither does any other teacher. But what I noticed is that I became a better reader, thinker, and writer when I began to study Latin, and I see the same in my students. If you asked me to measure the effect or draw the connecting lines, I wouldn’t be able to. But I do know that it will benefit them in a myriad of real although often intangible  ways.

Great Books and Classical Education

Today, a new semester begins at Smith Prep. Coinciding as it does with the start of a new year, the beginning of our second semester is a fine time to reevaluate our work and reexamine our purpose. Our hope for faculty and students alike, refreshed by our time away, is that we resume our places in the classroom with a renewed desire and commitment to cultivate the life of the mind and to seek the face of God.

Among the most important means at our disposal for the cultivation of the life of the mind is the reading of Great Books. This semester, for example, our students will encounter the works of Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Dante and Dickens. We turn to these Great Books not because they are infallible or sacred; they are not. Indeed, at Smith Prep we prefer to speak of the “Great Conversation” rather than the “Great Books.” But these books, integral to the Great Conversation, are important to us because they have proven themselves to be indispensable to the life of mind and the heart. If we engage them with mind and heart, both will be enlarged and enriched. They are books whose depth and quality leave us better off for having wrestled with them.

In his recent discussion of the value of Great Books, “Winged Words: The Importance of Reading & Discussing Great Books,” Peter Kalkavage of St. John’s College had this to say:

Reading great books is vital for anyone who wishes to become a liberally educated human being. There is a great need these days—there has been for a long time now—for academic programs devoted to liberal education. Such programs are sprouting all over the nation, many of them at Christian colleges and universities. But an overwhelming trend toward the non-liberal persists. All too often we confuse education with professional training, genuine understanding with know-how, and learning with achievement on tests and with measurable results. The professions are, to be sure, necessary and noble—necessary because they minister to the demands, needs, and wellbeing of everyday life, noble because they inspire lives of achievement, service, and self-sacrifice. But human life is not co-extensive with professional life. There are also the lives we lead apart from our jobs and professions, the lives we lead in so far as we are human beings. It is this life, human life insofar as it is human, that liberal education seeks to cultivate and perfect.

Although it is not a college campus, Smith Prep is one of the “academic programs devoted to liberal education” that Kalkavage describes. Our view of classical education assumes the task of forming the whole person–not only the mind, but also the heart and the soul. It also assumes the importance of a community of learning. When we read together and discuss our reading in class, we become just such a community. And together, the books we read and our conversations about them, provide a context for the education of heart, mind, and soul.

As we begin the new year and the new semester, then, let us be encouraged in our reading, as students, teachers, and parents, by this reminder of the potential of a great book.

Great books do the following: they initiate us into the founding texts and ideas of our civilization; they aid our self-knowledge and help us to cultivate our freedom by making us critically aware of alternatives to our accustomed opinions and prejudices. Great books put our adult, professional lives in the context of human life as a whole and invite reflection on the limits of our professional knowledge. The winged words of great books fly into our souls and inspire imagination as well as critical thought regarding the deepest, most important questions of human life; they educate our feelings and desires and therefore have a powerful role to play in our moral education. In particular, they help to cultivate a taste and admiration for nobility—an intelligent appreciation of all things great, beautiful, rich in detail, and intelligently composed. Reading and discussing great books also prompts and refines our inner discourse, the conversation we have with ourselves. It thus shapes our character and our lives. And finally, some great books, the ones we most admire and love, are like ever-reliable friends who always have wise and wonderful things to say, and with whom we wrestle gladly and profitably. Thanks to these books especially, for several hours we feel no boredom, we forget every pain, and we fear neither poverty nor death.

We encourage you to read the rest of Kalkavage’s essay.