If you have not read Josh Gibbs’ article on classroom décor, do it. My teachers were blessed with training this week from one of our writing curriculum publishers and for us, the article could not have been timelier. Our trainer spoke of the necessity of hanging paper word lists on the walls for our students to create a “word rich” environment and object permanence. What to do? As a headmaster who never taught in grammar school, this can be difficult.
In the early 1900s the educational system in America was in the throes of transitioning to a “progressive” education. There were also a number of theological debates raging in the halls of seminaries, the pages of theological journals, and in the pulpits of the nation. The issues ranged from origins, to the nature of revelation, to the nature of Jesus and salvation. At the root of the debate was one singular question: “What relationship is there between faith and reason?”
With classes resuming next week across the country, it seemed a good time to revisit the most common delusions which beset American classical institutions. It seemed prudent to bypass those delusions which are commonly acknowledged (grades, grade levels) among classical educators in media outlets such as this and to move directly to second-tier delusions which often go unaddressed. As such, I offer the following five observations.
What if virtue formation isn’t just about submitting oneself to the authority of great books of literature? If virtue formation were so confined, would it not mean that the only truly virtuous classes would be great books classes? Natural science, rhetoric, and music wouldn’t qualify.
Imagine being inspired to read Plato's dialogues by first reading the Autobiography of John Stuart Mill--yes, that John Stuart Mill, the naturalist and utilitarian. That is precisely what happened to Mortimer Adler.
There is no anxiety quite like homeschool mom anxiety. Can I get an amen?
Given how many classical educators attended public school when young, most classical schools have progressive “hangovers” as Dr. Christopher Perrin sometimes puts it. A progressive hangover is simply a body of assumptions about education which is uncritically and unknowingly derived from modernist philosophy, as opposed to classical or Christian philosophy. Renewing classical education necessitates slowly overcoming this hangover and rooting out all the false beliefs about education which we don’t even know we have.
This morning I begin teaching the first several weeks of our Cosmology course at New College Franklin. In preparation for the class, I developed a partial list of cosmological ideas that I plan on covering over the next weeks. My goal was to situate the discussion of cosmology within a greater medieval and theological context while providing enough handles that future connections and ideas can be made by students. The rest of the course will cover more concrete aspects of astronomy and cosmology.
What other concepts would you have included?
Myth: The trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) corresponds to stages in child development.
The origin of this fantastic claim, a nearly ubiquitous presupposition of classical education literature and the central organizing tenet of many a school’s curriculum, can be traced back to Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” So foundational (dare I say creedal) is the significance of this text for the Classical School Movement, that many schools require applicants for teaching positions to submit an essay on it.
Around ten years ago, David Bentley Hart maintained a column at First Things wherein every Friday, he wrote about some issue which had little to do with his more well-known interests (patristics, philosophy) and more or less constituted a diversion, a flight of fancy, wherein some relatively trivial or mundane matter was discussed with a good deal of sophistication, but also with a very light touch. The typical Hart essay made known his thoughts on Origen or St. Gregory of Nyssa, but on Fridays, Hart commented on The Little Prince, The Matrix, or Renee Fleming.