Book Review: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Recently, a colleague of mine—whose first child was born just weeks ago—noticed my copy of Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. “You know,” he said, “a friend of mine told me that parenting is the most guilt-inducing profession there is. That’s why when I saw the title of that book you’re reading, I decided I will never read it.”

As a soon-to-be father myself, I understand his sentiment. There are so many ways that we fall short in raising our children; why read a book that outlines ten more so that we can feel even worse than we already do? And yet, Esolen’s book is worth reading, and not just for the concerned parent or early childhood educator. I will admit that as a warning about what not to do with children, Ten Ways can at times be overwhelming and even heavy- handed. But read as a broader critique of our system of education and culture, it offers a creative and poignant reminder not only of what a good childhood used to—and might still—be, but also of what it means to be fully alive.

The introduction to Ten Ways is worth the price of the book. In it, Esolen adroitly establishes the conceit that holds the book together: His narrator, a sort of twenty- first century Screwtape, is fed up with children. He has opened his essay decrying the dangers and inconveniences of classic books, but now he turns to children, who are, he writes, “worse than books.” For “a book makes you see the world again, and so ruins your calm and efficient day. But a child does not need to see the world again. He is seeing it for the first time.” The curiosity and wonder that come from seeing the world afresh make children unpredictable and unmanageable. Turning the cliché that “children are our greatest resource” on its head, the smug narrator argues that if we do indeed see children in this way, then we should treat them as we would any other resource: standardize them, warehouse them efficiently, prepare them to fit neatly into their proper place in the commercial juggernaut that we call culture. And to accomplish this we must kill their imagination. “If we can but deaden the imagination,” he says in his eminently practical way, “we can settle the child down, and make of him that solid, dependable, and inert space-filler in school, and, later, a block of the great state pyramid.” This deadening is critical, because even a single act of imagination is a threat, as this hilarious analogy makes clear:

A vast enterprise like McDonald’s can only function by ensuring that no employee, anywhere, will do anything sprightly and childlike in the way of cooking. I sometimes think that if a single boy at the grill tossed paprika into the french fries, the whole colossal pasteboard enterprise would come crashing down. Barbarians everywhere would be grilling the onions, or leaving the ketchup out, or commandeering the Swiss to take the place of the American. The great virtue of McDonald’s, that of the solid, dependable, inert routine, would vanish. The rest of the book gives us a program for making sure the paprika will never be tossed. Esolen presents ten “methods” for squashing individuality and creativity in children, each in itself an ironic critique of trends in education, child- rearing, or the culture at large. The first of these, a chapter entitled “Keep Your Children Indoors as Much as Possible, Or They Used to Call it ‘Air,’” is one of the best. It attacks the increasingly prevalent sheltering of children indoors, away from the majesty and risks of the natural world. By recounting the joyful alfresco adventures of his youth, and by cataloging insights about the natural world from books (from the Epic of Gilgamesh to C.S. Lewis and Wendell Berry), Esolen reminds us that like the Psalmist, we should be awe-struck by the glories of God’s creation. He also makes it clear how easily we can miss them: “A child that has been blared at and distracted all his life will never be able to do the brave nothing of beholding the sky.” Thus
the need for time in nature, which builds resistance to the flashy and ephemeral distractions of culture and leads to curiosity, resourcefulness, and self-knowledge. But children no longer spend much time outdoors, for the school day is too long, the summer too short, the parents too scared. So children, whose little “free” time is regimented out in a slew of formal extra-curricular activities, don’t really get to experience life.

This is the focus of Method 2: “Never Leave Children to Themselves,” in which Esolen looks back wistfully to a time when children were allowed to organize games and adventures through their own initiative. He praises pick-up baseball and spontaneously formed clubs devoted to the love of singing or stamp collecting or chess, while he critiques what he sees as the largely utilitarian motives behind the zealous involvement of parents and organizations in children’s activities. “Everything you do as a child,” counsels the narrator, “must be geared—I use the word “geared” deliberately—toward the resume which will gain you admission to Higher Blunting, followed by Prestigious Work, followed by retirement and death.”

Method 4, “Replace the Fairy Tale with Political Clichés and Fads,” is a diatribe against Deconstructionism and political correctness, the violence they do to the love of learning, and the mediocrity they breed in literature. Such an argument has been made before; for example, see Francine Prose’s scathing and controversial 1999 essay “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read: How American High School Students Learn to Loathe Literature,” which begins in this way: Like most parents who have, against all odds, preserved a lively and still evolving passion for good books, I find myself, each September, increasingly appalled by the dismal lists of texts that my sons are doomed to waste a school year reading. What I get as compensation is a measure of insight into why our society has come to admire Montel Williams and Ricki Lake so much more than Dante and Homer.1

Both Ms. Prose and Esolen make the point that growing up on drivel stunts young people so that when they face more challenging and potentially rewarding literature, they don’t stand a chance of understanding it or appreciating it. Why the drivel? Both authors maintain it is because the childrens’ overseers are less concerned with stretching the imagination or presenting the real complexity of human relationships than they are with keeping things “relevant” and socializing children well. Now, the problem is not that literature is used to teach deep moral truths to the young. That must happen. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “unless civilization is built upon truisms, it is not built at all.”2 The problem is that the books that high schoolers read, many of them of dubious literary merit to begin with, are presented solely as a pretext for facile discussions of values that are in vogue. As Esolen’s subversive narrator concludes, “Reading is all about the adopting of the correct position.” Of course, the correct position—and Prose and Esolen agree in this critique—is always some modern piety along the lines of a predictable and very limited set of socially acceptable morals.

Esolen does offer an alternative, though, and that is where this chapter is of most use to the parents of young children. He praises folk tales, fairy tales, and fables for their potential to stir up in young readers a love of virtue and justice and to help them recognize, and believe in, love and beauty.3 Because folk tales present a moral universe where right is right and wrong is wrong, they are dangerous. When learned in childhood, these stories—and Esolen provides a number of specific examples—make it possible for young people later to appreciate Shakespeare, and Dostoyevski, and even Puccini. Therefore, says our narrator, the stories must be suppressed: “If you do not want a child to paint, you take away his palette. If you
do not want him to use his imagination to conceive of archetypal stories, you take away his narrative palette.”

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child makes a lot of other good points as well. There is no space here to outline, for example, the book’s insights into how a child’s belief in heroes, his love for his country, his openness to learning from the past, and his respect for the mystery of the opposite sex all help to nurture his moral imagination. The book is a valuable contribution to the conservative corpus on education and virtue that should provoke good discussions among educators and parents. Where others have laid out in a more analytical way the reasons for the decline in moral education, such as empirical psychology, logical positivism, and general moral relativism,4 Esolen’s contribution is to make us understand these causes through laughter and then mourn their effects. His writing is elegant and vigorous and his love for the classics infectious. Readers who want to follow up on any of the dozens of books, folk tales, and children’s stories he draws from can consult the detailed bibliography he provides. There is some repetition between chapters, but this makes it possible for sections of the book to be read independently by those who are not ready to attack the whole. I might even suggest that parents consider forming a group to discuss sections of the book together, perhaps along with a teacher or school administrator, as has been done with success at the school where I teach. Not everyone will love the book: the author’s strong opinions (on everything from day care to pop culture to true manhood and womanhood) and his tone (at a few moments almost belligerently pedantic) may be off-putting to some, and others may feel crushed by the sense that modern life, or their particular situation, makes many of his ideals difficult to realize. But I think that most readers will be grateful for this inspiring charge to foster and protect our most human resource.

Book Review: The Story Killers

In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton wrote that “If the world becomes pagan and perishes, the last man left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die.” In other words, it is the greatest story of human heroism ever told. In The Story-Killers, Terence Moore argues that the Common Core is a vehicle which, both by accident and by design, is destroying our love of, and even our knowledge about, the important stories of Western heritage.

The Iliad begins in the tenth year of the Greek siege of Troy, near the end of the war. To begin near the end of The Story-Killers: Moore does what few authors do and suggests a real, practical solution to the Common Core deficiencies he finds by proposing his own curriculum. Actually most of the list is not his own, but it is the basic curriculum that existed for many centuries before the twentieth.

Before Moore reveals his list, The Story-Killers targets the Common Core’s suggested reading, and Moore uses some examples that other Common Core critics have pointed out: Huckleberry Finn is not on the list, for example. Moore also writes about the 70/30 literary/informational split, which is often repeated and defended by Common Core supporters as harmless or even supportive of literature, but is nowhere really defined. The only logical outcome of this vagueness, Moore argues, is that schools will teach less literature. This is not an argument unique to Moore, but he explores the issue in more detail than others have.

Moore spends another chapter examining a Common Core-aligned textbook for American Literature. He goes through multiple examples Common Core opponents
will find objectionable about the standards: a few short excerpts from Shelley’s Frankenstein, with many more pages on Saturday Night Live skits and other representations of Frankenstein in pop culture; only 23 pages out of 111 in the section on the founding on the United States actually consist of the founders’ writings and speeches; etc. Aside from judging the merits of the textbook Moore criticizes, this is a useful exercise in that readers, at least English teachers, may notice that this Common Core-aligned, survey-style textbook doesn’t sound extremely different from the pre- Common Core glossy survey-style textbooks most schools have used for years. This is not to say that expensive, glossy survey-style textbooks are or ever have been good. It’s just that now states have been provided with another incentive to buy new editions from the publishers.

A complaint historically more often heard from liberals than from conservatives like Moore is that schools have an over-reliance on standardized testing, which Common Core will only make worse. Moore writes that “schools slavishly teach to the test,” and they “teach nothing beyond the test.” The sweep of these statements is over-broad, though they fit with Moore’s theme that public schools are prone to check off boxes and are happy to make do in a command-and-control environment, rather than
to really push boundaries and buck the system based on larger visions of what they could be. Educators who bristle at the notion that they “slavishly teach to the test” should ask themselves, first, whether that is true, and then, if it is, whether that fault is “in our stars” or in ourselves – must we explicitly practice for and worry about standardized tests, or might we get better math and reading scores by simply spending our time teaching more math and reading, confident that good results will follow?

Backing up to an earlier chapter, Moore takes on the concepts of standards and the way some specific Common Core standards are written. He translates one second grade standard into normal English, and the result does not flatter the standards writers. So: “By the end of the year, comprehend literature, including stories and poetry, in the grades 2-3 complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the higher end of the range” becomes “Students in second grade should read and understand more difficult books at the end of the year than at the beginning. They may need help though.” Other examples include a litany of jargon-laden first grade standards boiling down to a child asking, “Are you saying you’re going to read us a book and we’re going to talk about it?” The teacher’s answer: “Yes, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

As with his examination of textbooks, Moore is not saying that schools would necessarily be better off with their old standards – he is challenging the entire structure and culture, with Common Core as the vehicle.

And this brings up what is really new, especially from a more conservative perspective. One foundation of The Story-Killers is a sustained assault on the phrase “college and career readiness.” Moore considers this phrase to be a thin reed on which to hang the education of our children and the future of our society. As he puts it, the purpose of the Common Core

…was never to read complete works of literature written in beautiful language that speak straight
to the soul. That is, the reason for serving up a smattering of The Odyssey was not to give young people a view of the heroic and of the passions of men, but rather to introduce students to an epic. The reason for having them read Romeo and Juliet was not to unveil to hormonal adolescents the heights and dangers of love and passion and invite them to sympathize with the star-cross’d lovers but to get them to recognize a tragedy.

What the Common Core promises is getting students into college and into a career. Assuming that the Common Core could actually accomplish that successfully, we are still left with the question, Then what?

Moore is not afraid to delve into the minute details to argue his points, which sets this book apart from much of the Common Core debate on both sides. One argument that did not make its way into the book, but might have been

helpful, is a discussion of whether a public school that wanted to be truly classical with its curriculum, could do
so in a Common Core environment. Could a charter school that wanted to follow some or all of Moore’s suggested curriculum even do that, in practice? Moore himself
seems to be attempting this in his efforts with the Atlanta Classical School, a new charter school in the city of Atlanta. The Common Core’s reading list is all supposed to be a suggestion; can enterprising school leaders in charters, or even in traditional public schools, not simply ignore the suggestions and include what they wish? Or is the pressure of the new tests, the piling on by the College Board and the federal government, and the inertia of the way things work simply too much for all but those most devoted to classical education? (The focus of The Story-Killers is literature; the problem of prescribed methods may be even more acute in Math). Every book has only so many pages, and is meant for particular audiences, but this discussion would help Common Core opponents in more concrete ways, especially those facing it directly (though private schools and home schools are not far behind, as Common Core works its way into the SAT and is considered in college curricula). Are Common Core opponents Hector, doomed to lose the fight, or are they Achilles, able to win the day if they can be roused to action?

Book Review: The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education

The writing of book reviews warrants a hesitancy that is often ignored, at least if social media and the blogosphere are accurate indicators. With any book, the reviewer is often unqualified to review the author in question. Who, truth be told, would feel qualified to review the work of a Nobel prize-winning economist, for example? That is exactly the case with the book being reviewed herein. Who among us would be qualified to write a review for a book on classical education by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain? Few have done the amount of research and preparation that these two committed to, along with the experience in teaching and education that they brought to the writing of their most recent publication, The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education.

This book, published in 2013 by Classical Academic Press, has received the praise of Christian classical schoolteachers and headmasters, homeschool curriculum developers, university professors, and research institute presidents. This is high praise for a paperback book weighing in at less than 170 pages. Clark and Jain, moreover, hold nothing back in setting forth this clear, concise thesis for their work: “The seven liberal arts were never meant to stand on their own as the entire curriculum, for they are designed particularly for cultivating intellectual virtue” (Clark and Jain 2).

The Liberal Arts Tradition, with that thesis in view, embarks on a journey for the sake of the Western Tradition. Walking the reader along the various points on the educational path, Clark and Jain remind him of the earliest phases in education: piety, then gymnastics and music. Piety, “the proper love and fear of God and man” (13), is a necessary but often overlooked aspect of a child’s education if for no other reason than it is assumed that it has already been instilled or will be instilled by the education and discipline that will follow. Piety cultivates love for God and love for neighbor; it cultivates a healthy respect and honor for father and mother—best understood in the fullness of those terms to include all of those who have gone before us, those who have participated in the passing on of culture from one generation to the next. The teaching of piety, then, is accomplished, in part, by the passing on and reception of the very tradition we are striving to keep alive, because “without a respect for this Western Christian heritage and a desire to emulate the great leaders and thinkers of the past, Christian classical education surely unravels” (17).

Gymnastics and music, moreover, are just as necessary and just as overlooked as piety has been. Christian classical education creates monsters if it succeeds only at growing the mind to the neglect of the body and soul. “Musical and gymnastic education point to a profound truth about the nature of human beings: the body and soul are united in such a way that failure to cultivate the capacities inherent in either is a failure to cultivate the whole person” (20-21).

Clark and Jain continue to take the reader through the more familiar Trivium, often the only landmark attended to on this journey, then through the Quadrivium, which has only recently gotten any attention. Finally, they introduce the reader to two other landmarks along the path: Philosophy and Theology. Philosophy, not reduced only to the intellectual foray into well-known names such as Freud and Hume, but seen also to include a more robust study of what was once called natural philosophy, now known primarily by its synonym, natural science, as well as the study of moral philosophy and metaphysics. All of these conclude with the study of Theology, the queen of the sciences.

Clark and Jain set out as their thesis that Christian classical education was never meant to be reduced to the seven liberal arts, far less so to just the Trivium. Each step along the educational journey builds upon and needs the preceding steps to be fully grasped and understood and thus to lead us to wisdom. All of this matters, they argue, because “education is more than the transference of knowledge; it is the transmission of values, culture, and the proper ordering of loves” (ix). To properly engage in education, as defined here, students need more than just the arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium; they need instruction in piety, music, and gymnastics. They need instruction in philosophy and theology. They need an education of the whole human person.

Most readers will have already grasped the importance of the Trivium, yet Clark and Jain show how it connects to the previous concepts of piety, music, and gymnastics too often ignored. For example, “dialectic is the art of reasoning through the voluminous material encountered in a thorough musical and grammatical education” (41) and an education in piety, one might add. Dialectic is not the art of reasoning through what
a student has just encountered, but through this and all of the previous information encountered throughout his life. Add to this the case for the Quadrivium: “the study of mathematics leads the mind toward pure reason and cultivates the love of wisdom…. The mind learns to transcend the level of changing opinions to identify objective truth” (50). The latter serves as a great aid applied to previous studies through the Trivium, and the former is a great aid that will lead students through the study of philosophy (for that is what the phrase ‘love of wisdom’ means) as well as theology.

Piety, which inculcates love for God, neighbor, and our cultural inheritance, is precisely what is lacking in modern education: “This rejection of the past, our neighbor, and nature, may in fact be the hallmark of modernity” (11). Gymnastics, moreover, is necessary, Clark and Jain rightly conclude, precisely because “education is not merely an intellectual affair, no matter how intellect-centered it must be, because human beings are not merely minds…. A full curriculum must cultivate the good of the whole person, soul and body” (23). And, musical education, they show, “considers some of the same ‘subjects’ as the liberal arts, [although] it does so from the perspective of forming the heart, the sense of wonder, and the affections. It contains in seed form the liberal arts and the philosophies. What is sown by music and gymnastic training will be cultivated later in the liberal arts portion of the curriculum…” (29). As stated above, these ideas encountered earlier in education prepare the student for later education in the liberal arts and, ultimately, in philosophy and theology.

With regard to philosophy, Clark and Jain remind the reader that it is an inclusive study, inclusive of natural philosophy (science), moral philosophy (ethics), and metaphysics (the True, the Good, and the Beautiful). “Most ancients and medievals believed that man both constituted the community and the community in turn made him into a true man” (114). Natural philosophy gives knowledge of the community’s environment, moral philosophy of man’s and the community’s ethical obligations, and metaphysics of their coherence, of reality itself. Philosophy, then, helps man to rightly constitute a community and to rightly be made into a true man by it, and philosophy is “studied with all the tools of the liberal arts, both linguistic and mathematical” (113). Thus, it both necessitates their previous study and becomes part of the purpose for their study.

It is important to note that Theology is the final end to which we devote all of our studies. Thus, Theology as “God’s revelation is a source of knowledge in addition to that studied by the classical curriculum, [requiring] a science devoted particularly to its study” (129). Theology is the goal of education because, among other things, “it furnishes the concepts of creation, universe, intelligence, telos, and so on, which are essential to our understanding of the natural world” (131). Everything we are teaching, including the seven liberal arts, point us toward this end, but it is this end which will also and finally fill out and unify all that we have studied.

This is the thesis of Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain in The Liberal Arts Tradition. It is a call to Christian classical educators, be they school teachers, administrators, or homeschoolers, to no longer forget the broader tradition incorporating more than just the Trivium and to intentionally seek out, use, and apprehend the whole of the tradition, preserving our Western Christian tradition as we do so. While Clark and Jain do a compelling job at presenting their thesis, there is more to say. If there is a complaint, and there isn’t, it would be that the book is too short. It is filled with footnotes that might have been worked into the text itself, but the book was meant to be the beginning to a larger conversation and that demanded the format it has.

A book review written by the unqualified is limited in what it can say and do. All that has been written here has been written in light of the author’s limited experience and knowledge of Christian classical education and the Western Christian tradition. Any interaction with this book will be greatly expanded by the experience and knowledge the reader himself brings to the text. Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain have begun a conversation and you are being invited to join that conversation. Don’t ignore this invitation; purchase a copy of The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education, grab your favorite highlighters and pen, and join the conversation. It is a conversation worth having, and they and you will be bettered by having participated in it.

Book Review: Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

James K.A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, is the second volume in what will be a Cultural Liturgies trilogy, which seeks nothing less than to overturn what Smith perceives as the dominant paradigmatic approach to Christian education. In his first volume, Desiring the Kingdom, Smith challenges the notion that education is essentially about “ideas and information” which seek to cultivate “the life of the mind” into a distinctly “Christian perspective, or more commonly now, a Christian worldview.”1 For Smith, this line of thinking entails the Cartesian assumption that human beings are essentially minds, “thinking things,” and thus places a premium on the cognitive and propositional relative to the practical and aesthetic. Instead, Smith argues that human beings are essentially desiring beings, in that “before we are thinkers, we are believers; before we can offer our rational explanations of the world, we have already assumed a whole constellation of beliefs – a worldview – that governs and conditions our perception of the world.”2 But this precognitive sense of the world is not arbitrary;
it is developed by the shaping of our dispositions and habits which inscribe what Smith refers to as a ‘social imaginary’ within us. And the primary means by which our dispositions and habits are shaped is through social and bodily practices. Thus, Smith proposes that we “re- vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project,” paying particular attention to how “Christian education shapes us, forms us, molds us to be a certain kind of people whose hearts and passions and desires are aimed at the kingdom of God.”3

With this second volume, Smith supplements the central argument of Desiring the Kingdom by developing three interrelated constituents of a liturgical anthropology: first, the centrality of the imagination for our desires and actions; secondly, the role of the body in the formation of the imagination; and thirdly, the role of narrative in the integration of body, mind, and environment. “In short,” Smith writes: “the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story.”4 The focus of the second volume is thus the formation of the kind of imagination that is behind the desire for the kingdom.

The book is made up of an introduction and two parts, each comprised of two chapters. Part One, “Incarnate Significance: The Body as Background,” provides an overview of how the body is the site for its own unique form of knowledge. In Part Two, “Sanctified Perception,” Smith develops how such physiognomic knowledge primes the human person to perceive the world through metaphor and narrative.

In his Introduction, “A Sentimental Education: On Christian Action,” Smith sets the stage with an inquiry borrowed from political theologian William Cavanaugh: how does a provincial farm boy become persuaded to join the military and travel thousands of miles away to another part of the world to kill people he knows nothing about? The answer is not that he has been convinced by an argument, but rather “he has been conscripted into a mythology: he identifies himself within a story that has seeped into his bones at levels not even he is aware of… He is the product of a sentimental education” (16). Smith observes that the dynamics of inscription operate more at the level of the imagination than the intellect, and that our imaginations are shaped by the cultural ecosystem that we both imbibe and shape by virtue of our bodies. For Smith, the ‘imagination’ is “a quasi-faculty whereby we construe the world on a precognitive level, on a register that is fundamentally aesthetic precisely because it is so closely tied to the body” (17). Thus, he notes, becoming a soldier, “takes practice;” it involves innumerable kinaesthetic and poetic reinforcements that persuade by attuning the desires of the provincial farm boy in accordance with frames of reference constitutive of nationalist narratives (19). In the interest of Christian education and formation, Smith intends to account for these desire-shaping dynamics by “recognizing and understanding this intertwinement of embodiment and story, of kinaesthetics and poetics” (20).

In Chapter One, “Erotic Comprehension,” Smith draws from research that has foregrounded the role of the body in knowledge acquisition. In as much as the mind exists in a body, it has been recognized by scholars that we as humans cannot but experience ourselves simultaneously in and as our bodies. Smith observes: “My body is not something I have, but something I am; it is the ‘me’ that dwells in the world” (49). Statements such as ‘My foot hurts’ and ‘I am in pain’ are in fact synonymous statements that indicate I don’t just have a body, I am my body. We experience things done to our bodies as done to ourselves. This means that there is no such thing as ‘disinterested’ thought; all human perception entails an aesthetic evaluation, such that our thinking is affected invariably by our affections, the ways in which we feel. This combination of emotion and perception, what Smith links to the imagination, is primed or trained by narrative, a “storied pedagogy,” that is inextricably linked to embodiment (36- 7). It is this interface between imagination, narrative, and embodiment that serves as the nexus for Smith’s liturgical anthropology.

In order to explicate this kinaesthetic link between story, body, and imagination, Smith turns initially to the French philosopher Maurice Merleau- Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment, by which Smith disambiguates the nature of bodily knowing, or what Merleau-Ponty calls ‘perception’ (41). For Merleau-Ponty, the world as perceived through the body is not merely the foundation for knowledge of the world, but involves its own unique mechanism of knowledge. He argues that humans are neither solely intellectual nor instinctual, but rather we live between instinct and intellect. There is, as it were, an immediate relationship between the perceiver and that which is perceived. For example, in order to reach for a spoon, one need not first search for his hand and then calculate the distance between the hand and spoon. Nor is the act merely instinctual, devoid of any meaning or significance. The reaching for the spoon is an act that exists in between our intellect and instinct, and it is this interstice that accounts for the way the body knows (44). It is the body that mediates our ‘being-in-the-world’ and inexorably shapes our perceptions of the world; I know what a tree is not by merely analyzing it but by what I do with it (e.g. climb it, decorate it, cut it down, etc). The same goes for tables, chairs, and doorways. Thus, “the body carries a kind of acquired, habituated knowledge or knowhow that is irreducible and inarticulable, and yet fundamentally orienting for our being-in-the-world” (45).

In Chapter Two, “The Social Body,” Smith seeks to answer how such habituation is acquired. Here he enlists the help of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his theory of habitus, defined (somewhat confoundingly) as “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures…” (81). Human dispositions or inclinations for Bourdieu involve norms, habits, rules, understandings and goals that reflect the constituents of a wider social order. The important insight offered by Bourdieu is that
our dispositions and inclinations are not learned abstractly or intellectually but rather through the unconscious inculcation of objective social conditions inherent in bodily postures, gesticulations and rules of etiquette. The social inscription entailed in various reciprocal practices produces dispositions that are homologous to the social conditions through which they are acquired. Thus, the dispositions of human persons are always structured and structuring; they are produced by the rules, understandings, and goals inherent in the practices constitutive of the larger social order on the one hand, while, on the other hand, the socially inscribed dispositions provide a range of options for the actor to choose from that are appropriate to any given situation. In Smith’s words: “I need the community and social body to enable me to perceive the world; however, the social body needs my body to instantiate its vision and practice” (82). Again, in a wonderful turn of phrase: “I learn how to constitute my world from others, but I learn how to constitute my world. The ‘I’ that perceives is always already a ‘we.’ My perception is communal, a debt I owe” (84).

This practical sense is not so much a formal knowledge per se, but more a kind of proficiency or mastery which does not entail necessarily the ability to mentally process such proficiency. As Smith notes: “There are all kinds of virtuoso players who make terrible coaches, precisely because their practical sense and feel for the game does not necessarily translate into the ability to communicate and teach what they know” (87). This practical sense, this habitus, is thus a belief, a taken-for- grantedness that arises as the result of the body’s interaction with its culturally conditioned world. “To have acquired a practical sense is to have imbibed embodied beliefs in such a way that I ‘naturally’ relate to my world and my environment on those terms” (88). This imbibing is acquired through various rituals that incorporate or initiate us into a culturally defined habitus, such that the social body in effect co-opts my body (94).

In Chapter Three, “‘We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live’: How Worship Works,” Smith develops the concept of the socially invested body by exploring the centrality of stories for our existence. Each of our acts, however mundane, in fact constitute micropractices of larger macrocosmic narratives. “Such orienting narratives are not explicitly ‘told’ in a ‘once-upon-a-time’ discursive mode … We don’t memorize the Story as told to us; we imbibe the Story as we perform it in a million little gestures” (109-10). Stories are imbibed by our bodies through gestures that have a semiotic relationship with our environments; that is, each action of the body corresponds to our environment by virtue of human “meaning- making” (110). For example, the act of kneeling does not merely communicate or symbolize subordination but in fact subordinates the kneeler in the act itself; the act of kneeling is the site of meaning. “Our bodies, brains, and environments function together as the three-legged stool of our experience; any meaning is generated at the nexus of all three” (111). This nexus entails a ‘feel’, an aesethetic evaluation inherent in human perception. It is this aesthetic sense that sketches out our neural maps of the world, providing the plausibility structures by which the world is imagined and interpreted.

This tripartite complex of body, brain, and environment accounts for the primacy of metaphor for how we make sense of our world. Citing theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie, metaphors are mechanisms for the enactment of meaning. When someone makes a statement, “This rose is my love for you,” the rose is presented not merely as a rose, but as a tangible expression, a concrete manifestation, of the person’s love. The metaphor represents one thing in relation to another, and in so doing, it transforms the object of representation; the rose in our example is no longer merely a rose, it now embodies an idea, an expression that transforms its connotative significance. But metaphor is not merely linguistic; Smith argues that metaphor is in fact “characteristic of the aesthetic aspect of human being-in-the-world” (118). We experience our world tacitly, such that our learned tastes and distastes and the cultural shaping of the senses provide the aesthetic lens through which we know our world. For example, when someone points something out with his finger, we see the finger, but we are not looking at it but rather through it. Our awareness of the finger is the subsidiary means, the instrumentality, by which we may focus on the object to which it points. For embodiment theorists, knowledge obtains primarily through a tacit collection of subsidiaries that constitute a framework through which our perception of the world is shaped and focused, very much the way sight obtains through the instrumentality of the eyes. It is through this tacit awareness that we know our world, a knowledge that is rooted in the body and sensory experience. The mental, somatic, and ecological constituents of liturgical environments shape the way we see, that is, imagine our world. And it from this imagined world that our desires spring. We simply do not self-generate our desires; rather, “they are birthed in us. There are formed in us as habits, as habitus.” (125) Our desires thus arise from our somatically- and environmentally-shaped imaginations. Smith concludes:

Our incarnate significance, our imaginative being-in-the-world, is governed by the dynamics of metaphor and narrative, poetry and story…. Liturgies – those formative rituals of ultimacy – marshal exactly these dynamics…. [L]iturgies are pedagogies of desire that shape our love because they picture the good life for us in ways that resonate with our imaginative nature … We are conscripted into a Story through those practices that enact and perform and embody a Story about the good life…. [W]e are incorporated into a social body when the stories of a people become the dominant landscape of our imaginative background – when those stories have worked their way into our ‘practical sense’ in such a way that they now (automatically) govern how we perceive the world…. This is how worship works (136-37).

In Chapter Four, “Restor(y)ing the World: Christian Formation for Mission,” Smith applies the previous chapters’ explicated liturgical anthropology to distinctively Christian worship practices. Smith writes: “Worship and the practices of Christian formation are first and foremost the way the Spirit invites us into union with the Triune God.” The discipleship inherent in worship is thus not merely imitating Christ, but rather being formed in Christ, absorbed in the shared lifeworld of the church which is the body of Christ. This Christocentric formation entails the ‘sending’, the missio, distinctive of Christian worship, since to be incorporated into Christ is to be incorporated into the story of God sending his Son, the Son sending the Spirit, and the Spirit sending the church. Thus, Smith argues that if this sending-action is so central to our Christian identity, then Christian missional institutions such as churches, schools, and universities, must form actors. Formative education requires “sanctifying our perception” through “restor(y)ing the imagination” (160). Restor(y)ing the imagination involves, first, foregrounding narrative and art as primary ways in which we know our world and, secondly, ordering our perception in such a way that we take the right things for granted (161). This entails that Christian education must be rooted in Christian worship and liturgical formation, for it is only through such formative practices that we experience a reformation of our habits and dispositions distinctive to a Christian vision of life. Moreover, Christian worship provides the allure or the momentum for such a reformation by virtue of the divine calling that initiates our worship. This calling awakens the obligation of my response to that call, and thus orients my body to a liturgical environment reconstituted by such a call. Smith writes: “Christian liturgical practices and spiritual disciplines are not just means of personal renewal; they remake the world because they transform the perception of the people of God who not only inhabit the world differently but inhabit a different world, a world constituted by God’s creation” (167).

Smith’s Imagining is an important work for classical educators. It helpfully draws together a number of embodiment and literary theories into a singular coherent paradigm, a synthetic vision, of physiognomic logic indispensible to teaching in accordance with the nature of the student. While the content of Imagining is quite dense (a mere four chapters comprising nearly 200 pages of theoretical argumentation), Smith’s writing is lucid, enlivened by nice turns of phrase and inviting prose. There are also a number of sidebars that illustrate richly his points with literature and film, poetry and litany. As Smith himself admits, however, the density of practice and literary theory will likely be a challenge for most readers, especially those not accustomed to the theorists from whom Smith draws. While his Introduction does map out the scope and sequence for his study, it would have been helpful if Smith had delineated his argument at key points within each chapter to guide the reader through what can be rather bewildering content. Furthermore, the theoretical focus of the study does at times come across as ironically ‘disembodied.’ There are a number of studies on historic Christian educational practices which could have been analyzed illuminatively by Smith’s practice and literary theory. Finally, though a small quibble, Smith’s occasional social, political, and economic comments can come across as sanctimoniously selective, predictable, and sententious.

That being said, Smith’s second volume of the Cultural Liturgies project does not disappoint as a supplement to his already well-received first volume, and has awakened within this reviewer an ardent anticipation, a desire, for the third.

Believing and Behaving

It’s the most profitable 54 pages you could read in the next month. I’m talking about Josef Pieper’s, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart. Pieper’s clarity and style – even the clunky passages woodenly translated from the original German – quickly induced me to welcome him as I would an old friend.

But first, some background if you haven’t read anything by Pieper. As a Catholic Social Philosopher, he was part of the neo-Thomistic revival of the twentieth century. Pieper isn’t well known among English-speaking Protestant Evangelicals, having spent the bulk of his career at the University of Münster where he taught from 1950 to 1976. Thereafter, until his death in 1997, he continued to lecture as Professor Emeritus. If you have hung out at SCL conferences, however, you’ve no doubt noticed on the table his better-known book, Leisure the Basis of Culture, an outstanding read that we’ll save for another day.

His gift to the German-speaking world was his translation of Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, suggesting his appreciation for brothers across traditions. His gift to us (one of them!) is this little reader nicely packaged in a thin 5×7 paper cover – suitable for your coat pocket. It’s so small it doesn’t even get notice on his Wikipedia entry, no doubt because it is a digest of his longer works on the virtues. As such, it’s a valuable introduction.

Pieper must be read with an awareness of some basic commitments. His sympathies are in the Scholastic tradition, notably with Aquinas, while remaining surprisingly more Platonic than Aristotelian. As Gilbert Meilaender noted in his obituary of Pieper in First Things, he had “inhabit[ed] a system of thought long enough to see the world in its terms. He had so digested Aquinas as to make him his own.” And, while Greek thought is not far beneath the surface, it is transcribed into theological constructs, viewed through the corrective lenses of biblical reflection. For example, Pieper says that “all duty is based on being. Reality is the basis of ethics. Goodness is the standard of reality” (11). In other words ethics is based on metaphysics.

The book begins boldly by asserting that “virtue is…the realization of the human capacity for being” (9). Thus, a “man is wise when all things taste to him as they really are” (21). Reality – and knowledge of it – is essential to an ordered and flourishing life.

When Pieper talks about reality, however, he doesn’t mean brute reality the way the Greeks talked about it. He insists that reality is the Triune God, and a Christian is one who, in faith, not only embraces this, but strives in hope for the fulfillment of his being in eternal life. This brings us to the heart of Pieper’s thought, the virtues: love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. These are the means by which one apprehends the truth of God. “Becoming a moral person occurs in the individual’s appropriate response to reality” (17). This is a common theme not only here, but across Pieper’s writings, the close connection between intellectual and moral virtue. In order to grasp the reality of God, which is ultimate and final, we have to become a certain kind of person. If Augustine taught us to believe in order that we might know, Pieper reminds us that we have to behave, in order that we might know. “For us, the…connection that links the knowledge of truth to the condition of purity has vanished from our consciousness” (42). For the classical, Christian teacher, the implications for moral formation in education are profound. We teach
in a culture that intentionally and powerfully attempts to separate a student’s behavior, and his loves, from his intellectual development. Pieper says that this cannot be done.

Drawn out in summary in the Reader, Pieper shows us progressively how the virtues link together as pathways to truth. I can reduce them to some axioms; you’ll have to read the book to connect the dots fully:

– On prudence: Prudence belongs to the definition of the good; it is the birth mother of all human virtue (14-15); false prudence is really covetousness, “the anxious se- nility of a frantic self-preservation bent on only its own assurance and security” (19);

  • On justice – Justice is not merely giving each his due; the just man who is a recipient of the gifts of God, will alone be ready to fulfill to others what he does not owe (24);

  • –  On courage: Fortitude implies vulnerability; to be brave means to be ready to sustain a wound (25); fortitude protects a person from loving his life in such a way that he loses it (28);

  • –  On temperance: Abandonment of the soul to the sensual world wounds the fundamental capacity of the moral person to apprehend reality and respond to it appro- priately (42);

  • –  On hope: Human existence has the structure of hope;

we are “not yet” creatures.
And so on. Few have had the ability to navigate the world of the medieval mind. Pieper is one of them, and the Brief Reader is a gateway to that world.

Book Review: Beauty Will Save the World

If the too obvious, so straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three. And in that case it was not a slip of the tongue for Dostoevsky to say that ‘Beauty will save the world’, but a prophecy.” Inspired by these words from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Laureate lecture, Gregory Wolfe’s book, Beauty Will Save the World, is an extended meditation on the soteriological significance of beauty. The book comprises a series of essays organized in five parts. Parts One and Two constitute the theoretical foundation of the book, while Parts Three to Five are devoted to a survey of writers, poets, and artists who embody the theoretical insights specific to Christian humanism.

Part One, “From Ideology to Humanism,” recounts Wolfe’s aesthetic journey from right wing politics to editor of a journal devoted to the analysis of art and culture. Having graduated from Hillsdale, where he sat in the classrooms of Russell Kirk and Gerhart Niemeyer, Wolfe began his professional career with National Review during the time of the Reagan Revolution in the early 1980s, only to find an irreconcilable dissonance between the spiritual and intellectual depths of the Western tradition and those who purported to defend that tradition in the political arena. Wolfe found increasingly that modern politics constituted an economy of power and coercion that affected corrosively the aesthetic nature of classical humanism. Eventually, Wolfe turned to a different state of affairs, one constituted by culture and art, which operated according to the grace of beauty and imagination. Here, in this aesthetic economy, one acts not in response to the consequentialism and compulsion inherent in statist practices, but rather according to the physics of beauty, the attraction that awakens wonder and draws one to encounter divine life through the evoking of a moral imagination.

Wolfe began to see the contemporary conservative political movement as a microcosm of a larger cultural crisis that centered on the loss of the metaphysical and transcendent. Citing Elaine Scarry, he notes that if the metaphysical realm has vanished, “one may feel bereft not only because of the giant deficit left by that vacant realm but because the girl, the bird, the vase, the book now seem unable in their solitude to justify or account for the weight of their own beauty. If each calls out for attention that has no destination beyond itself, each seems more self- centered, too fragile to support the gravity of our immense regard” (15). This is coupled with the observation of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who noted that the modern age has pursued the quest for truth and goodness at the expense of beauty and, as a result, has lost the primary agency of love. Wolfe concludes: “Taken together, these two statements suggest not only the enormous challenges facing our politicized society, but also the possibility of a theological aesthetic that can heal and unite” (15).

With the loss of beauty as an objective value, like truth and goodness, the American West has increasingly turned to power in order to influence cultural outcomes, resulting in the so-called ‘culture wars’. The problem here, as Wolfe observes, is that politics was appropriated classically as growing out of culture, not determinative of it. Said differently, liturgy, art, music, education, and science were properly basic to politics, such that the power of the state was relativized to and shaped by a collective moral imagination gifted to humans by God to perceive the divinely-infused meaning of the cosmos.

Reflecting on and contributing to the formative nature of culture was the task of the classical Christian humanist, who conceived of culture as the point of integration between the social and the transcendent, where eternal values are made palpable and substantial within the nexus of social practices. Quoting Virgil Nemoianu: “Culture is seen as a kind of tumbling ground for the spiritual, the social, the historical and the psychological…. the human being individually, and the human species collectively, act as a key, as the intersectional locus where all areas of the cosmos can meet … According to [the Christian humanists], aesthetic culture is that which seeks to articulate the opening toward transcendence that appears as a human constant in all human societies known to us” (34). Culture in the classical sense, as differentiated from the more mechanistic modern socio-anthropological sense, involves the development, nourishment, and exercise of what makes us distinctly human, namely, the embodiment of the Socratic trinity: the true, the good, and the beautiful.

For Wolfe, at the heart of this project is a sacramental vision of art. “To the Christian humanist, culture and art can become analogues for the Incarnation: a union of form and content, the inherence of divine meaning in the crafted materials of this earth” (45). He cites David Jones who writes in his essay, “Art and Sacrament,” that the Eucharist, consisting of culturally transformed grain and fruit, is the foundry for a sanctified and redeemed culture. And because culture is that which nourishes our humanity, the redemption of culture reciprocally fosters sanctified senses and souls. In the words of the art historian Hans Rookmaaker: “Christ didn’t come to make us Christians. He came to make us fully human” (46).

In Part Two of the work, “Christianity, Literature, and Modernity,” Wolfe maps out how such a Christian humanism can effectively engage a world constituted by secular modernity. Wolfe highlights several Catholic writers who seek to recover the sacred in the modern context, that is, a new vision of the transcendent that reveals itself through the frames of reference specific to the modern age. For example, Walker Percy’s last novel, The Thanatos Syndrome, depicts a futuristic world where human free will has been superseded by a scientific elite that manipulate the masses through dumping quantities of heavy sodium isotope in the water supply. When confronted on the devastating effects of heavy sodium on cortical function, the lead scientist defends his experiment:

What would you say, Tom … if I gave you a magic wand you could wave over there [Baton Rouge and New Orleans] and overnight you could reduce crime in the streets by eighty-seven percent…. Teenage suicide by ninety-five percent…. Teenage pregnancy by eighty-five percent…. (68)

Percy’s novel thus probes how the modern age has combined intellectual brilliance with unprecedented brutality: the key to comfort, peace, and security is the elimination of human free will. “The twist to this arrangement, which the Devil is careful not to divulge, is that by reducing man to the level of cattle – taking away the sacred dignity of human personhood – men become as expendable as cattle” (69).

In Part Three, “Six Writers,” Wolfe highlights the work of Evelyn Waugh, Shusako Endo, Geoffrey Hill, Andrew Lytle, Wendell Berry, and Larry Woiwode. Wolfe’s analysis of the latter three, who share an affinity with the great Southern Agrarian writers such as Allen Tate and William Faulkner, is particularly penetrating. Lytle, one of the “Twelve Southerners” who defended the South’s traditional agrarian culture in the 1930 publication, I’ll Take My Stand, believed that historical consciousness is inseparable from attachment to place and family. Wolfe writes: “For Lytle, the essence of Christendom is the family: it provides us with identity and schools us in love and self- sacrifice. Modernity, on the other hand, is characterized by the desire for power, a lust which leads man to wander, alone, separated from the community in the monstrosity of his ego. Technology without limits, the secular welfare state, the arts dominated by pornography and neurosis – all these are the effects of power without love, the individual without community” (143). In the writings of Berry and Woiwode, the distinctly sacramental vision of the landscape awakens the moral imagination to the ways in which the land mediates a quality beyond itself. Wolfe contrasts such a vision with the relation of a technician to nature, which is one of power and manipulation, and thus represents a fundamentally different economy than that constituted by the reciprocal love between the gardener and his garden. “It is not without significance,” Wolfe observes, “that the gardener is usually on his knees” (166).

In Part Four, “Three Artists,” Wolfe takes us past those who are satisfied with lamenting over the loss of classical Christian culture (‘declinists’, he calls them) and into an encounter with artists who have embraced the redemptive possibilities of modern art, such as Mary McCleary, Fred Folsom, and Makoto Fujimura. His analysis of Folsom’s Last Call (at the Shepherd Park Go-Go Club) is nothing less than Taboric. Wolfe’s exegesis transfigures a painting of a strip-tease scene into a sacred encounter with the grace of God: “Her [the stripper’s] arms are in the process of lifting up to an outstretched position, an implicit crucifixion …. In the lower left corner sits Pascal. Moving across the baseline we come to Folsom himself, almost directly underneath the stripper. Following his pointing hand we come to the lower right corner … which presents us with the wounded hand holding a glass of wine… It is the hand of the one who issues the ‘last call’ to all of us” (190).

The book concludes with Part Five, “Four Men of Letters,” where Wolfe surveys the contributions of Russell Kirk, Gerhart Niemeyer, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Marion Montgomery. Kirk and Niemeyer are singled out for their contributions to the moral imagination. “There is no more pressing need,” Wolfe writes, “in the moral and spiritual crisis of our time than the need to recover the imagination.” (206). For Kirk, inspired by Edmund Burke, the moral imagination is constituted by a symbolic universe where the images recorded by the senses are stored in our memory and are in turn constructed into analogies, metaphors and paradigms by which the totality of our experience can be synthesized and expressed in a coherent intellectual, moral, and spiritual life. In short, the moral imagination is the means by which we commune with divinely-infused meaning in our human experience and conform our lives accordingly.

If there is a refrain throughout this catena of essays, it would be that of invitation, for this is the nature of the soteriological significance of beauty. It has long been recognized that the Greek term for beauty, kalon, is related to the verb kalein, ‘to call’. Beauty is the effulgent or illuminative manifestation of the loveliness, the delectableness, the delightfulness of the true and the good, which awakens eros or a loving desire within the human person. Thus, beauty serves the indispensable role of momentum or motivation in intellectual, moral and spiritual pursuits, which stands in stark contrast to the coercion and manipulation inherent in political power. Wolfe’s essays are a collection of exhortations calling us to jettison our ideological abstractions and instead embrace a sacramental imagination that through a sanctified culture lifts us up into an indissoluble union with the divine source of life. With Beauty For Truth’s Sake, we encounter the redeeming nature of art and are thereby reminded that regardless of the secular eclipse of truth and goodness, beauty still shines through.

Wisdom and Eloquence

I really enjoyed reading Wisdom and Eloquence by Robert Littlejohn and Charles Evans. This is a well-written book, with certain chapters that should be read and re-read by all educators seeking to provide a classical and Christian education. There is good information here for everyone involved in the work of recovering a classical and Christian education.

The book also exhibits a central pedagogical departure from the application of Dorothy Sayer’s insight in The Lost Tools of Learning. In order for me to set forth this departure appropriately, it is necessary for me to back up, and give some background history. When our founding board began discussing what kind of education we should seek to provide, we knew that we did not want a fundamentalist reactionary academy, and we knew that we did not want a compromised prep school. So we came up with the motto, “a classical and Christ-centered education.” The word classical excluded a truncated fundamentalism, and the Christ-centered excluded a compromise with unbelief. Somewhere in this process I remembered an article by Sayers that I had read some years before. We tracked down a copy, and, with the view that this represented considerably more wisdom than we knew about, we adopted it, and resolved to give it a try.

Now the heart of Sayers’s article is her application of the Trivium (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric) to the natural stages of child development. Her argument is that the Trivium is foundational, giving the kids the “tools of learning.” Now at the time, we could not have told you anything about the history of the Trivium and its relationship to child development issues beyond what we had read in Sayers. But what we did know (from Sayers), we put into practice and the results can only be described as a roaring success.

As the years went by, we read up on what we were doing, and learned a great deal more about it. In other words, we started blind, but we didn’t stay that way. And so it turns out a lot rides on whether we describe what Sayers was advocating as her historical explication of the medieval practice or, instead of this, describing it as the Sayers insight—what somebody really ought to try sometime (for the first time). Littlejohn and Evans point out (rightly, in my view) that the historical application of the Trivium did not do it the Sayers’s way. In other words, I don’t think that little kids in 1352 were taken through the grammar stage (the way they are at Logos), and then on to the dialectic stage, and so forth.

In my book, The Case for Classical Christian Education (2003), I refer repeatedly to the Sayers insight, and this is the reason why I referred to it this way. I believe that Littlejohn and Evans are quite correct on the historical point. In other words, if we look to Sayers for information on how they were doing it “back in the day,” we are going to miss the mark. But if we look to Sayers for a valuable idea on how this approach to the Trivium could and should be applied to modern education, we will find ourselves cooking with propane and extremely pleased with the results. And that is exactly what has happened to us at Logos. There are numerous indicators that I could point to here—from stellar test scores to nationally-recognized accomplishments of graduates. We have won the state championship in mock trial nine years (out of twelve years competing), and sent a mock trial team to national competition ve times. In short, as the sage once put it, “if it ain’t broke, don’t x it.”

A proposed departure from this is a significant part of the argument presented in Wisdom and Eloquence, and the point is reiterated a number of times. In short, the central contribution that Sayers has to offer (in my view) is the major thing that Littlejohn and Evans take issue with. This is not the end of the world, and I am sure that both gentlemen remain very fine educators despite disagreeing with Sayers on this. But it does represent a significant disagreement within the classical and Christian education world, and every classical Christian school needs to decide what they are going to do on this point. Both are fine dances, but you can’t waltz and do the Texas two-step at the same time. For their part, Littlejohn and Evans want to “separate the arts from the question of cognitive development altogether” (W&E, p. 39).

There is a significant amount of agreement in this disagreement. I agree that child development was not in view eight centuries ago. But suppose we reject the Sayers point considered as historical exegesis but go on to accept it considered as a new proposed pedagogical paradigm. The people who tried this in the early eighties in north Idaho didn’t know any different, and so we just went after it. The educational results have been astounding, and so if it was all based on a mistake it was therefore a very happy mistake. And further, the mistake would have been ours for assuming that Sayers was talking about how education used to be, and not about how it ought to be. I am not saying that Sayers shared any of our possible confusion on the point.

There is also an additional argument against going back to the purist view of the Trivium. One of the central reasons why we should not just return to the Trivium “as it was in the medieval period” is because
it used to be a pretty confusing hodgepodge. The simultaneous inculcation of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric (along with the Quadrivium) is something that could get away from you pretty easily, and in the middle ages, it certainly did. Reading this book by Littlejohn and Evans makes me think that they have it well in hand, but this is more than could be said for some early forms of it.

Just two final comments and I am done. The first is to make sure we keep this difference where it ought to be—as a matter of important emphasis, and not as a matter of fundamental substance. In other words, every advocate of a graded approach to the Trivium acknowledges that none of these three stages are “pure,” free from all contamination from the others. Spelling is taught in the grammar stage, and spelling is a rhetorical matter.

It is important for ACCS educators to recognize that it is not going to be “pure grammar,” and then “pure dialectic,” and then “pure rhetoric.” These are not watertight categories. Nevertheless the Sayers Insight means that we emphasize the grammar of all subjects in the elementary years, the dialectic of all subjects in the junior high years, and the rhetoric of all subjects in the high school years. But of course, each stage will have important elements of the others contained within them. Students in the rhetoric years still have to memorize things, and students in the grammar stage learn to make letters that stay within the lines, thus presenting a more pleasant rhetorical effect. For their part, Littlejohn and Evans retain an understanding of the importance of gradation—they just don’t tie it together with the language of the Trivium (e.g. pp. 130, 164).

Having said all this, I suppose it means that I believe that the Sayers Insight represents a better application of the medieval Trivium than was practiced in the medieval period itself. And it would follow from this that I believe schools that follow the Sayers Insight will enjoy richer educational fruit than schools that simply return to the practice of teaching all seven of the liberal arts at every age.

But this is just a disagreement, not a collision. I still recommend this book highly—there is much to be gained from it. Schools that follow the pattern suggested here will no doubt be superior to many of the typical American schools around them. At the same time, I do believe that ACCS schools should be encouraged to stay the course on this point. But of course I would say that—you don’t work for MacDonalds in order to sell Wendy’s burgers.

Summer Reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Ravi Zacharias once said, “If a storm could be embodied, it would have been embodied in Oscar Wilde.” Born in Dublin in 1854, Wilde was a brilliant writer who defied convention. His turbulent and scandalous life turned heads and raised eye- brows throughout the world. Yet he captured the imaginations of thousands of readers with his penetrating analyses of the human heart.

Of all of Wilde’s famous work, the most brilliant is his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story revolves around a young man who, upon seeing a portrait of himself, wishes he could trade his youth and beauty for a life of excess and extravagance. In Faustian style, Dorian trades his soul for his youth.

The life of the character Dorian Gray paralleled that of the author. In addition to various addictions, Wilde was most widely known for his openly homosexual relationships. Yet, he was a man in turmoil about his own soul. He once wrote, “Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.”

Wilde and his most famous character demonstrate their relevance to me in the lucid depiction of the human condition plagued by sin. Wilde reminds me that
our souls will not be concealed forever, that every soul has a face. We may escape the physical damages of sin, but we cannot escape its rendering effects on our souls.

It appears, despite a short, intense life of depravity, God used the penetrating questions Wilde raised in Dorian Gray, and he converted to Christianity on his death bed. He penned these words two years before his death in 1900:

And every human heart/that breaks/In prison-cell or yard,/Is as that broken box/that gave/Its treasure to the Lord,/And filled the unclean/leper’s house/With the scent of/costliest nard./Ah! happy day they whose hearts can break/And peace of pardon win!/How else may man make straight his plan/And cleanse his soul from Sin?/How else but through a broken heart/May Lord Christ enter in?