Teaching in the Light of Christ’s Achievement

Christ was born of the Virgin, incarnated the Word, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, resurrected and ascended into heaven. Join us to examine His person and His accomplishments, as well as their influence over the establishment of the foundations and goals of our teaching.

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the Founder and President of CiRCE Institute. He has also helped found Providence Academy, Ambrose School, Great Ideas Academy and Regents Schools of the Carolinas. Andrew is the co-author of Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, The Lost Tools of Writing and The CiRCE Guide to Reading. Andrew is also a consultant and founded the CiRCE apprenticeship.

Why Rhetoric is Not a Subject, Why Every Subject Needs Rhetoric, and How to Teach It

Our fragmented age tends to think of everything we do in school as a subject, no more or less important than any other subject. Kern contends that Rhetoric is so important that it should not even be considered a subject. Indeed, teaching Rhetoric properly may well be the most important thing you teach in your school.

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the Founder and President of CiRCE Institute. He has also helped found Providence Academy, Ambrose School, Great Ideas Academy and Regents Schools of the Carolinas. Andrew is the co-author of Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, The Lost Tools of Writing and The CiRCE Guide to Reading. Andrew is also a consultant and founded the CiRCE apprenticeship.

More Than a Subject: the Purpose, Place and Power of Language

Picture a city, established long ago through the wisdom and virtue of those who founded and built it, but gradually weakened by the long neglect of that wisdom andvirtue. Now it finds itself assaulted by a tyrannical and temperamental enemy whose weapons consist of deception, envy, and confusion.

What should they do, return to the forgotten virtues, or forsake them entirely and learn instead to think and act like the attacker? Could they win with the second option? If they did, would such a city be worth living in?

Language has been under assault for a long time. For one thing, the logic of technology is to reduce reality to something it can manage, but language can never be managed. Furthermore, the dual philosophical attacks of Relativism and Utilitarianism (“meaning is determined by usage alone”) have severed the fruitful bond between language and both the things it names and the insights it prompts through its generative forms.

I was asked, “Why subject children to the agony of learning to sustain a line of thought in well-ordered written paragraphs in the computer age which has redefined human communication and freed us from linear thinking. Isn’t it akin to teaching children to build catapults in the age of the nuclear guided missile?”

One is struck by the use of weapons technology for the metaphors, typical of the modern thinker even in this post-modern age. Power, it assumes, is found in machines and techniques.

There are better metaphors with which to think about education. For example, it was once common to think of education as a tree. We still speak of the branches of learning, and, occasionally, of the fruit of study. It is less common to mention the trunk of the tree of learning.

The conventional curriculum, however, presents branches of learning lacking both trunk and roots. But the classical curriculum attended assiduously to trunk and the roots, allowed the branches to grow naturally from the trunk, and watched those branches bear fruit.

source of life, rendering it as fruitful as a branch lopped from a tree. It is a liberating art reduced to a specialized subject. But writing cannot be a mere subject, it must be an expression of rhetoric, and rhetoric must be recognized as the focal point and organizing principle of the whole tree of learning.

Therefore, the argument I offer in this article is that writing is at least as important as ever, and for this reason it must be taught correctly. Writing is important for two reasons, each of which I will develop while considering what it means to teach correctly. First, writing is the practical integrating principle of the curriculum. Second, writing is an art of truth-perception.

To realize the significance of these two values, let us consider how to teach writing correctly in five areas, each drawn from the heart of the Christian classical tradition. Writing must be taught according to its nature, its purpose (i.e. for the right reasons), its modes (i.e. in the right ways), its parts, and its relations (i.e. it must be given its proper place in the curriculum).

According to its nature

First, to teach writing correctly, we must understand what it is, and the most important thing we must understand about it is that it is a Liberating Art, not a mere “subject.” To be precise, writing is an element flowing through the three language arts contained in the classical trivium. I cannot overemphasize the fact that the trivium does not consist of isolated “subjects,” but rather of the skills that flow through and, in fact, enable what we call subjects (though this is an unfortunate use of the word).

The liberating arts are arts of truth perception, and writing is a tool those arts use extensively. Therefore, the second biggest mistake a school can make with writing is to treat it like a specialized subject, equal to any other, when it is truly an art on which every other study depends.

Thus writing must be taught as an art that enables students to perceive and reflect on truth and that enables the subjects, activities, and artifacts that compose the rest of the curriculum. It must not be treated like a specialized

The trunk of the tree is the seven liberating arts. Writing severed from this trunk does not abide in its activity or an isolated subject, but as the heart of the classical trivium.

According to its purpose

Next, writing must be taught for the right reason. Wisdom instructs us to distinguish purpose from blessings. It is for us to faithfully fulfill our commission; it is for God to bless according to His wisdom. When we approach teaching writing classically, our goal must not be to seek the known benefits that writing usually provides, but to faithfully fulfill its God-given purpose.

Only love of God and neighbor provide an adequate motivation and sufficient purpose for writing instruction. Well-ordered thought is a fine way to express love for your neighbor. Disordered thought is self- indulgence.

Since, above all, our odyssey requires wisdom and virtue, cultivating them is the secondary purpose of writing instruction. A virtue is a human ability (a faculty) refined to a pitch of excellence. Language is a faculty given to us by God to glorify, know, and enjoy Him and to bless and love our neighbors. Writing is a means to transform our use of language from a natural ability into a virtue. No lesser purpose will reveal the extent of its power or achieve its full benefits.

In addition, writing should be taught to teach us how to think and communicate. It is the most effective way we humans have ever come up with to practice thinking, explore our thoughts, and communicate them with each other.

Thus writing must be taught to the end that the writer is better able to love God and neighbor, both of which are nourished through the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.

According to its modes

To these noble ends, writing must be taught according to its modes, or in the right ways. Once again, this means, not as a specialized activity or isolated subject.

Specialized writing courses want to take a single path – and that a shortcut – to good writing, but there are six paths on which the student must travel, some of which are not usually considered “writing.”

These six paths are:

  • The Literary Path: writers must read the best

    writings available to them,

  • The Linguistic Path: writers must learn a

    foreign language,

• The Theoretical Path: writers must study the principles, elements, and forms of writing,

• The Critical Path: writers must master the rules and customs of good writing (e.g. Spelling, grammar rules, rhetorical conventions, etc.),

• The Practical Path: writers must practice the coached exercises that discipline their raw skills.

• Life: the aspiration to write requires that the writer live a little and pray a lot, or at least open himself to inspiration.

In other words, learning to write takes a very long time with consistent coaching, examined experience, and wide learning.

According to its parts

Furthermore, no one can learn to write well unless he is taught its elements (the practical path). Writing embodies three canons, or elements, of classical rhetoric: Invention, or coming up with something to say, Arrangement, or ordering what has been discovered, and Elocution, or expressing the materials appropriately.

Invention might well be the pith of the trunk of the tree of learning because it provides the most fundamental and universal tools of thinking: the questions that we ask no matter what we are thinking about. These questions, which comprise both material and formal logic, are the tools of perception, which is partly why I argued earlier that writing is a tool of truth-perception: what we perceive depends on what we ask.

In addition, the topics of Invention equip students to read at ever higher levels by teaching them to ask their own questions. Students answering text-book questions are necessarily reading at a low level, if only because they are not engaged in self-directed reading. Giving them the tools of Invention enables them to read well on their own.

The second canon of rhetoric is Arrangement, which teaches writers the structures of the various types
of writing, enabling them to write and to read ever more challenging compositions. Arrangement tends to be boring; however, it is one of the areas where love of neighbor most manifests itself in the writer’s character.

The third canon of rhetoric is Elocution, which consists of schemes, tropes, and revision. The forms learned through Elocution reveal the generative power of limits. By learning about subordinate clauses, the student is enabled to pursue a raw thought in multiple directions.

By learning about parallel structures, he learns to explore relations between real things (not just words). By learning how to rhyme or use alliteration he experiences the sensory pleasure of words and is often surprised by the insights generated by the coincidences in words. By learning how to generate similes and metaphors he learns about surprising relationships between the things that make up the universe of images created by the Good Creator.

According to its relations

I have insisted repeatedly that writing is a liberating art, not a mere subject. I have also argued that, as a liberating art, writing is the foundation for every other subject. What I am trying to stress is that writing is not and cannot be a class or subject but that it is the very core, the only appropriate integrating activity, of the curriculum. Nothing else flows between the subjects without mingling and confusing them. Not only is it appropriate for writing to be used in the subjects, it is writing, or at least the trivium, that makes the subjects possible. The Trivium, therefore, is the trunk of the tree of learning.

I should perhaps clarify what I mean by a subject. Indeed, the very word subject is a vague and almost meaningless substitute for what the classical tradition called arts (ways of making) and sciences (things known). The liberating arts are liberating because they are used to make knowledge, knowledge can only be of truth, and truth liberates us. Arts > Truth perception > Liberty.

Subjects don’t concern themselves with such idealistic matters.

Think for example of history. If you see it as a subject, and most students do, then it’s easy to see how you could regard writing as unnecessary. You just need to learn a lot of information about history and go on to the next subject. But if you see it as a moral science, as the classical tradition does, then you need to think about the questions it raises, not simply remember information. You need to apply the liberating arts of reading and writing, logic and dialectic, and rhetoric to the issues raised in historical

studies. That way, you learn to perceive the sorts of truths history teaches which can strengthen a nation’s liberties, not through indoctrination but through truth.

When you begin to think, you need to write.The decline of writing in the school curriculum, therefore, is a product of the loss of the classical curriculum and a cause of the loss of freedom.

One could go on, and comment on how writing prepares the writer to speak, supports his memory, and disciplines the mind in a dozen ways while opening to him the “realms of gold” about which Keats sang. But I am out of space. I will only say that this gold is the Christian classical curriculum and that writing prepares the student to love and feed on it.

Our duty is to teach writing as a thread of classical rhetoric, for the right reasons, in the right modes, including the right parts, and in the right relations. God will attend to the blessings that will flow from that according to the measure of His good will, though some of them are bound up in the nature of writing and can be realistically expected.

It takes a long time with intensive coaching over many years to learn how to write. All six paths have to be walked intelligently. All three canons must be mastered. The relations between writing and other subjects and artifacts needs to be recognized and nourished. But the blessings it contains are more than any student or teacher will ever know.

A closing thought: it wasn’t hard for me to purge my mind of the ideas that poured into this article. Most of my time went into putting it in order so you could follow
it and think about these things for yourself. I hope it was worth the trouble because it was done out of respect to you, my dear reader/neighbor.

Integrating Curriculum with Rhetoric

If we want to integrate the curriculum (and we do), we need a principle of harmony that is both big enough to include everything and practical enough to prepare for everything. [Kern] shows how classical rhetoric is the necessary practical tool to integrate the curriculum.

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the Founder and President of CiRCE Institute. He has also helped found Providence Academy, Ambrose School, Great Ideas Academy and Regents Schools of the Carolinas. Andrew is the co-author of Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, The Lost Tools of Writing and The CiRCE Guide to Reading. Andrew is also a consultant and founded the CiRCE apprenticeship.

The Ultimate Rhetoric Handbook

Andrew Kern proposes that Homer meant the Iliad to be understood and used as a guide to rhetoric – and that there is no better handbook available. It can and must be used to teach rhetoric, and rhetoric is a key to understanding the Iliad. If you like either (or if you like teaching) watch how Homer achieved this marvel.

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the Founder and President of CiRCE Institute. He has also helped found Providence Academy, Ambrose School, Great Ideas Academy and Regents Schools of the Carolinas. Andrew is the co-author of Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, The Lost Tools of Writing and The CiRCE Guide to Reading. Andrew is also a consultant and founded the CiRCE apprenticeship.

Analogical Knowing: Creation is a Temple

The church prays Psalm 3, saying:

Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!
Many are they that rise up against me.
Many there be which say of my soul, there is no help for him in God.


But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; My glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, And He heard me out of His holy hill.


I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, That have set themselves against me round about.

Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God:
For Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone;
Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.

Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: Thy blessing is upon Thy people.


Christians have prayed this prayer many times, reciting or reading it. But should they?

I want to ask a simple question but I’m not sure how. Let me try it practically: Is it fitting for you as a Christian to pray this prayer? Let me ask analytically: can we see the “ten thousands of people” as demons? These are the same question in that both ask a larger question: what kind of world do we live in?

Is it a world in which the material is ultimate and only people trying to hurt you physically can be considered your enemies? Or is there some other realm just as real, of which the material is a manifestation but not an exact likeness.

Do we live in a naturalistic a-cosmos in which power rises against power producing, by some unapprehended logic, the wonders of the world we live in?

Or might we live in a magical cosmos – in a sort of Hegelian dialectic where some transcendental force works in and through events (thesis battles antithesis, releasing new glories in a synthesis of creative destruction).

Or might we, in fact, live in a world that is an image?

King David lived in an image. He could speak of ten thousand people surrounding him quite physically (I will not say “literally”). There they were and he could see them. Opposition arose time and again, sometimes ten thousand people.

When David spoke of the holy hill whence God heard his cry, he had a specific place in mind, bearing all the antiquity of Abraham’s offering and all the freshness of his own temple-building resolution.

So was that all David had in mind? Was he thinking only of a physical mountain on which Jerusalem would be built and on which a temple would manifest the glory of God to the nations? Did he have in mind only ten thousand human people surrounding him?

David himself stretches the physical interpretation when he says in verse three, “Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me.” Surely he doesn’t mean that he walks around with a round or octagonal version of God attached to his wrist. God shares a quality with a shield: He will preserve David from harm.

Clearly, metaphors are used throughout the poetry of the Psalms and Proverbs and common sense helps us understand them 95% of the time. Does that justify sweeping the whole of Psalm 3 or the whole book of Psalms or even the whole Bible into some spiritualized interpretation that clouds the obvious and plain meaning?

Well, no, not if you put it like that. I would never want to lose sight of the obvious and plain meaning. But we can’t ignore the clues given throughout the Bible that God is not only talking about historical physical events. The whole Bible, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22, presents reality as, ultimately, not a physical place, but as a temple of the living God. Yes, the physical is physical. But even it is not ultimately physical; it is meant to be spiritual. You could even say that our vocation as human priests is to offer the physical to God and by doing so to “spiritualize” it. It won’t lose its physicality but transcend it, finding and fulfilling its purpose (a house, still a house, becomes a house in which God lives – a temple).

Genesis 1-3 describes the creation of a temple and the placement and eviction of its priest. The same pattern is repeated in Exodus and throughout the Bible until we reach Revelation, where the temple of God, the very holy of holies, encompasses the whole cosmos.

This creation is a temple.

When we pray to “Our Father who art in heaven,” we don’t mean that He sits up on the clouds in a blue sky, but that He inhabits the holy place where His throne is surrounded by ten thousand times ten thousand angels. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Moses all saw it, and Hebrews shows that the earthly tabernacle and temple were an image of the eternal temple in the heavens.

There is an eternal heavenly temple that is the dwelling place of God and an eternal manifestation of His nature. The earth and the physical heavens are an imitation of this eternal temple (thus earth is His footstool, heaven His throne, etc.). The tabernacle and temple are specific imitations of the eternal temple because, having fallen, we can no longer see clearly the heavenly image in this earthly mess.

The church is the earthly fulfillment of the temple of God, in which the Holy Trinity takes His habitation by the Holy Spirit and the blood of Christ. It cannot be understood apart from its nature as temple. The spirit of man is the temple of God. Its inmost dimension is the holy of holies, possessing the Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat sitting upon it and the law of God contained within it.

We do have a problem though: perhaps the first manifestation of God’s extraordinary humility is that He allowed the first priest to evict Him from His own temple. Since then He has stood at the door knocking, but He will only come in to those who open the door.

It is more natural to pray Psalm 3 analogically than

We are the temple. Within us is this holy hill. If God

is welcome there, He abides there and He hears us when

we cry to Him. But we are surrounded by “ten thousand people,” Those spiritual beings rise up against us with challenges and accusations, speaking directly to our souls, telling them, “There is no help for him in God.”

It is no “spiritualization” or “allegorical” interpretation to say with David, “Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” The allegory would be to look at the people David fought and to think that it had actually happened to them.

Those spiritual beings speak, and that is all they can do now. They tell us lies. We don’t hear physical voices because they are hovering around that deep inaccessible part of our beings, the place where a still small voice keeps beckoning to us, simply and unobtrusively. They make as much noise as we allow them to make so we can’t hear the still small voice.

“There is no help for you in God.”

That is the one thing they most want us to hear. That way we’ll try to help ourselves. That way we’ll turn away from the one thing needful. They speak. But they speak with a disjointed jaw and broken teeth.

This is everything. Do you believe that you are the temple of the living God, living in a cosmic temple, whose task it is to receive into your inner sanctuary the God of life so that you can have, like the garden of Paradise, rivers of life flowing out of you into the four corners of the earth, renewing the whole earth with the life of the eternally living God?

Do you believe that the world around you is a temple and that you are the priest, called to offer it to God?

Do you teach your students as though they are temples and priests – images of the God of heaven and earth – or do you teach them like they are beavers whose highest calling is to build a house that dams up the river?

The cosmos is first a creation, a temple, a work of art; it is not a scientific experiment. We live in a cosmological analogy. That is the first step to understanding the cosmos, the human soul, or, for us, education. You can’t put things together by cutting them up.

And that makes all the difference.

We have the opportunity to offer our schools to God by thinking of them with the right analogies used appropriately.

First, we must subject analytical thought to analogical (i.e. to acknowledge the power of our governing analogies).

In particular, we must learn to think using sound

analogies in the following areas.
1. School governance and leadership. We tend to

use military and industrial analogies. We need to think with more humane and ancient analogies, such as farming, building a temple/house, and weaving.

2. Teaching. We need to teach analogically, under which I include mimetic and Socratic teaching. The goal of our teaching is love from a pure heart, and that pure heart is able to see both the whole and the right relations of the parts to each other. Administering information on behalf of a text book company or a state or accrediting agency might be necessary since as slaves we are told to submit to our masters. But we mustn’t do it without transcending it with more sound approaches.

3. Curriculum. A curriculum is already and always an analogy because it is the model of reality from which students learn as much or more as they do from the content. The curriculum that is not integrated lies to the children and confuses them. It must model the harmony of reality, giving due honor to each art and science and aligning the relationships among the arts and sciences.

We must recapture the Christian classical meaning of arts and sciences. An art is a mode of making something and a science is the knowledge made by the liberal arts. We must reexamine the nature, power, and limits of the natural sciences. I refer you to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, lecture 3, paragraphs 22ff. for a discussion starter.

We must learn to treat the cosmos as a temple where the skies are spread out as a roof and the earth is

the King’s footstool. We must learn to view the soul of each student as the very Temple of the Living God, the center of which is the only place where the King of glory waits to sit on the Mercy Seat from which will flow rivers of life to the whole world

4. Assessment. We must not be governed, driven, or anxious over analytical assessments, which wrench student performance from its context and reduce it to something that can be measured. Again, we have to submit to our masters, but to be intimidated by them is distracting folly. We must realize that whoever assesses us is our boss, that assessment determines how we teach, and that conventional assessment undercuts the apprenticeship that characterizes a classical school (I specifically protest against standardized tests and the A-F grading approach, neither of which would ever have entered the mind of a classical educator prior to this age that is lost in the wrong metaphors).

5. Community: We cannot manufacture or produce a community. We can only nourish and grow one.

The fact that these are hard challenges is irrelevant. The child’s soul trumps all other needs. Teachers must
be hired, equipped, and valued based on their ability to nourish the children’s souls through the sound analogies that lead them on the path to truth, goodness, and beauty – without which they are lost, no matter how successful.

Assessment that Blesses

When we assess, we can guide or confuse our students, sustain or undercut their work, and bless or curse them. Come and explore how to bless, edify, and ennoble your students while removing and overcoming common obstacles to the blessing we seek.

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, founding author of The Lost Tools of Writing, co-author of the best-selling book Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, which he wrote with Dr. Gene Edward Viet, and is an SCL board member. Since establishing CiRCE as a research and consulting service to classical educators, Andrew has trained teachers, led board retreats, and assisted with institutional development and start up in over 100 schools. Andrew helped start Providence Academy in Green Bay, WI in 1993, where he served as “Lead Teacher,” Foundations Academy (now Ambrose School) in Boise, ID, where he served as Director of Classical Instruction from 1996-2000, The Great Ideas Academy in Charlo e, North Carolina, where he served as Headmaster from 2001-2003, and The Regent Schools of the Carolinas where he served as Dean of Academics from 2006- 2008. He and his family live in North Carolina.

Teaching from a Place of Rest: Christ Centered Teaching

We are counseled to, “Be diligent to enter his rest,” but what does it mean to enter His rest and how can we do so in our schools and classrooms? The answers are surprisingly practical, and unsurprisingly important. Come and reflect on how diligence and rest belong together in Christ.

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, founding author of The Lost Tools of Writing, co-author of the best-selling book Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, which he wrote with Dr. Gene Edward Viet, and is an SCL board member. Since establishing CiRCE as a research and consulting service to classical educators, Andrew has trained teachers, led board retreats, and assisted with institutional development and start up in over 100 schools. Andrew helped start Providence Academy in Green Bay, WI in 1993, where he served as “Lead Teacher,” Foundations Academy (now Ambrose School) in Boise, ID, where he served as Director of Classical Instruction from 1996-2000, The Great Ideas Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he served as Headmaster from 2001-2003, and The Regent Schools of the Carolinas where he served as Dean of Academics from 2006- 2008. He and his family live in North Carolina.

The Elements of Classical Education

Classical education cultivates wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, free citizens required an education that enlarged the mind and cultivated the soul. They believed that the cultivation of virtue, knowledge of the world and of human nature, active citizenship, and practical action required this purpose-driven education. When Christianity was planted in the soil of the classical world, it found what was good and true in classical thought, purged out the dross, and handed on the rest to her heirs.

As the classical renewal 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 on which we must establish ourselves for the coming trials:

1. A high view of man
2. Logocentrism
3. Responsibility for the Western tradition
4. A pedagogy that sustains these commitments

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.

Yet this high view of man is no self-indulgent fantasy, for it carries with it the duty of 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 & Nobility, David Hicks argues that a fully rendered image of man includes three domains: the social, the individual, and the religious. Students will be involved in their communities, both as voters and as leaders. Furthermore, they 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 all three dimensions are 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, the human soul is able to know them. To fulfill his 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. When a faculty is refined to a pitch of excellence, it 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.

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, the 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 for tyranny, but to cultivate and guard the earth. The whole creation groans and travails when creation’s lord shirks his duties.

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 their heritage.

It was Christ who 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 Moses freed the Israelites from their Pharaoh-worshipping masters and when Aristotle developed his politics and ethics.

Truth alone, the tradition tells us, 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 insists 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 discovering new springs of cultural nourishment. One of the goals of classical education is to establish 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 he 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.

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 have 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 became the Trivium of the Medieval school and was combined with the Quadrivium to form the seven liberal arts. These arts of learning comprise the form of the classical curriculum prior to a higher education. 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 comprise 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, of 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,” a paradigm for the mastery of language. But it applies to far more than language. Every subject has its grammar, logic, and rhetoric. 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 he places on language turns the classical educator’s 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: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education 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.

Furthermore, Greek and Latin authors recorded an astounding range and depth of political thought from a wider perspective over a longer period of time covering a wider geography than is embodied in any other language. In 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 a roster of citizens versed in Latin and Greek must lose its heritage. It will communicate, vote, work, and think in a manner increasingly isolated from the sources of its 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.

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.

Jain and Clarke have made an eloquent case for the quadrivium, describing 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 was grounded in 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 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 that disclosed the first principles which undergird all truth. 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 that, “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 and music 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. Surely 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 to the past and to new knowledge.

Can Virtue Be Taught?

100 years ago, Europe began its long, slow suicide in The Great War. It may well have been the greatest tragedy of the last millennium.

A year earlier, Vienna, capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shocked by the treachery of one of its rising military stars. Colonel Redl, among the highest-ranking commoners, hope of the middle class in a steeply hierarchal society, recently head of Austrian counter-intelligence, was discovered selling highly classified information to the Russians. It seems that his need to provide luxuries for his paramour, a young officer called Stefan Hromodka, had driven him to betray the Empire. “Like a riptide the disaster churned through the Empire,” said author Frederick Morton.

C. S. Lewis famously said in The Abolition of Man, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

What is a man without a chest, and what is the link between the chest and virtue? And what has all this to do with Christian classical education in our 21stst century? Lewis is defending a position that is ancient because it is perennial: that humans possess an organ that resides between the head and the heart, the tending of which determines the well being of the soul and of society. Contemporary education disdains that organ. Following Homer, Plato, and others, Lewis calls it the chest.

It is in the chest that we are sensitive to honor, which opens us to the possibility of great evil (such as eating fruit when told it will make us God-like), yet also raises us above the utilitarian striving of the beasts, whose goal consists of comfortable survival and who put no thought into the artistry of their songs, homes, prayers, or meals. Lewis wisely sees the link between virtue, honor, and the chest.

Homer also believed that virtue depends on a healthy chest (“thumos” was his word for it). His love of virtue compelled him to write two nearly perfect epics that revolve around the two noble virtues of wisdom and justice. In the one on wisdom, Homer went so far as to give the name Arete to the queen of his idyllic, “faery” island. Arete is Greek for virtue.

Plato opened his dialogue, Meno, with the primal pedagogical question: “Can virtue be taught?” Socrates,

Plato’s Odysseus, questing for wisdom through many wanderings and transformations, shows Meno an answer that Meno seems unable to hear. He teaches virtue before his very eyes by teaching a slave-boy geometry. Socrates opens the boy’s mind to a truth the boy had failed to see previously, and he also whispered a truth into the minds of those of Plato’s readers who had ears to hear.

Plato had inherited the tradition of the “four cardinal virtues” on which every other virtue hinged (“cardinal” is Latin for “hinge”): wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. When Christ came, He showed that the truth sought by the Greeks depended on the spiritual virtues of faith, hope, and love. These three plus four became the seven cardinal virtues on which all human society and personal growth depend.

The attentive reader is perhaps wondering why I argued that Socrates was teaching virtue to a slave-boy when he was teaching him a simple geometry lesson. He may also wonder what that has to do with the seven cardinal virtues. These are such pregnant questions that I will encourage you to make them the matter of your own reflections and will content myself to take only one of the multifarious paths that open before us.

The Christian classical tradition speaks of at least four kinds of virtue: physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Each is good, because each enables us to function as human beings. Strength is better than weakness, memory than obliviousness, justice than bias, and faith than distrust. The four depend on each other.

It is fascinating; in a way it is a relief to see that each of these virtues is taught after the same pattern, which I will call Socratic coaching. Briefly, it involves modeling, imitating, reviewing, and refining the virtue taught, which is how Socrates taught the slave-boy intellectual virtue through geometry.

Consequently, we can observe how Socrates teaches the slave-boy, how Christ disciples the twelve, how a wise parent cultivates his children’s moral sensibilities, and how Vince Lombardi prepares his players. These reveal the challenging simplicity by which every master can cultivate the fitting virtues in his disciples.

Sadly, the teacher without a virtue can neither model nor assess it. That may explain why we teachers tend to fall back on rituals and moralism (like the Imperial Austrians) and affix the label of rebellion to any movement by the student toward self-mastery.

The second great pedagogical question is whether everybody can be taught. In Socrates’ day, most assumed that slaves were not teachable. Thus most could never see Socrates’ answer to Meno. Shakespeare deals with the same question in his magisterial wonder The Tempest. In it, Prospero the schoolmaster numbers among his students his daughter Miranda (whose name can be translated, “She who must be wondered at”) and Caliban (whose name seems to be an anagram for an early spelling of canibal).

Prospero gives up on Caliban, though perhaps Shakespeare does not. You and I, however, teach neither admirable Miranda nor incorrigible Caliban. We teach humans, neither angels nor beasts: potentially, men with chests.

The standard of our teaching cannot be the college and career focus of the Common Core for geldings. It must be the cultivation of virtue in those Mirandas we teach – those who must be wondered at first and taught only in the light of that wonder. For it is only in that wonder that we can fulfill our duty to awaken them “from the slumber of cold vulgarity”(Lewis again) and turn their opened eyes to the splendors of the virtuous soul. “For the glory of God,” said St. Irenaeus, “is the man fully alive.”