In his Republic, Plato strives to answer pivotal questions about education: What is it? What is its goal, its purpose in our lives? How should it be accomplished? He begins by describing education as a quest to seek, know, and love truth. It is not a simple acquisition of facts, but a journey that transforms the soul. Its purpose is to bring us to know and love what is just, beautiful and good, and to enable us to live a life guided by devotion to the truth.
Fifteen years ago, I took my first high school teaching job. I was set to teach sophomore English at a large public school. The first day of classes was just a few weeks away. After some frantic reading and planning, the time came to decorate my classroom. Included among the most prominent items: a large printed C.S. Lewis quotation, a large printed Michael Scott quotation, and a Pearl Jam poster.
Having given hundreds of writing assignments over the last decade, I can safely say the best student work comes in response to narrow, rigid essay prompts with extensive, nit-picky submission guidelines. The worst sort of student work comes in response to slatternly requests like, “Create a response to The Divine Comedy. It could be an essay, a short story, or an art project. A good response will be personal and involve somewhere between 4 and 8 hours of work.”
When he was about 10 years old (around 306 A.D.), Athanasius was playing with a group of his friends on the beach, pretending to baptize one another, taking turns playing the part of the minister. When Athanasius took his turn, he so accurately recited sections of the baptismal service, bishop Alexander - who was walking along the beach at the time - approached Athanasius to talk about his faith.
By my count, I published my 500th article for CiRCE last week and I thought it a fitting occasion to look back on what I have learned since beginning this column. As a longer reflection on the first five hundred articles, I will be giving a lecture entitled “Intellectual Honesty in an Age of Flattery” through my website GibbsClassical.com on January 21. The lecture will largely concern Nikolai Gogol’s “The Portrait” and what the story means for anyone involved in intellectual work, from painters and poets to teachers and critics.
“Oh, if only I could see that manger in which the Lord was laid! As a tribute of honor, we Christians have now removed the mud-baked one and replaced it with a silver one; but the one that has been removed is more precious to me! Silver and gold are appropriate for the pagan world: the manger of baked mud is more fitting for the Christian faith.... I am amazed that the Lord and Creator of the world was not born amid gold and silver, but in the mud.”
- St. Jerome
It is believed that the tradition of the New Year's Resolutions may go back as far as 153 B.C. Janus, a mythical king of Rome was placed at the head of the calendar, his two faces directed to the left and right – one looking back on past events, the other gazing forward to the future. King Janus eventually became the symbol for resolutions. Some Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies, exchanged gifts, and made commitments to better themselves as the New Year began.
Student: Can we talk about what happened in the capital yesterday?
Student: Mr. Gibbs, these are historic times. I think we would all benefit from discussing what is happening to our country.
Gibbs: How would we all benefit from it?
Student: We could think through everything on a deeper level.
Gibbs: And what tools would we use to think through what is happening?
Student: Scripture, common sense, and the tools you’ve given us through our study of classic literature.
December 25, 1956, New York City
It was Harper Lee’s seventh year away from home in Alabama. When she wasn’t working at her job as an airline reservation agent, she wrote fiction. She never expected to make a living from it.
Quiz: Name the five most influential philosophy books in Western Civilization. Go ahead, make your list. Don’t worry if you are not an expert in the history of philosophy. Just name the five most influential philosophy books of which you have heard.
There are a lot of viable candidates for that list of five. The number of possible lists is vast. But there is one book that, while it should be on everyone’s list, would show up on very few lists unless mentioned in advance. What is this most important work of philosophy that nobody remembers to list? The Bible.