Cicero on The Good Life and His Influence on the Modern World

The first entrance requirement to Harvard College in 1642 was to be “able to read Tully or such like classical Latin Author ex tempore.” Tully is Cicero. Why did Harvard and other Colonial colleges want students to read Cicero’s writings before admission? I believe the decisive factor was Cicero’s character as found in his writings. He was an influential politician, a canny defense attorney, and the author of dialogues of philosophy, rhetoric, and politics. Cicero’s range of accomplishments inspired the ideal of the Renaissance Man, the man for all seasons, who balanced a thoughtful ethical life with participation in politics. We shall explore both Cicero’s views of the Good Life, beata vita, and his influence on major figures of the 16th and 18th centuries: Thomas More, Martin Luther, David Hume, Edmund Burke, and John Adams.

Christian Kopff

E. Christian Kopff was educated at St. Paul’s School (Garden City NY), Haverford College and UNC, Chapel Hill (Ph. D., Classics). He has taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, since 1973, and most currently as Associate Director of the Honors Program. He has edited a critical edition of the Greek text of Euripides’ Bacchae (Teubner, 1982) and published over 100 articles and reviews on scholarly, pedagogical and popular topics. A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he has received research grants from the NEH and CU’s Committee on Research. The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (ISIBooks, 1999) is widely cited by Classical Christian educators. He translated Josef Pieper, Tradition: Concept and Claim (ISIBooks, 2008; St. Augustine’s, 2010) and contributed the Introduction to Herbert Jordan’s translation of Homer’s Iliad (Oklahoma UP, 2008).

Classical Christian Education and the Future of Science

Classical Christian educators are often asked how their curriculum prepares students for jobs in science and technology. History shows that while classical education prepares its graduates for any profession, it was central in the creation of modern science. Advocates of STEM education say it prepares graduates for a world where good jobs will be in areas indicated by the acronym STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Classical education, however, teaches the arts of mathematics, the quadrivium, with four different subjects: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. The superiority of the quadrivium is acknowledged by those who see the need to supplement STEM subjects with an arts component (STEAM).

The quadrivium, however, is only half of classical education. The other half is the trivium, the arts of language: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. The trivium aims at mastery of the fundamentals of language, then of logical thinking and finally of winsome and persuasive discourse. The arts of language are essential for anyone who wants to participate actively as a citizen in governments with consensual institutions. Citizens need to be able to think clearly and express themselves grammatically and persuasively. The narrowly pre-professional STEM curriculum ignores this important vocation. Furthermore, even if it were to be true—which is not proven and not likely—that all good jobs in the future will be in STEM areas, many of these will involve using language. This includes teachers, researchers who must write grant proposals for committees of scientists with other specializations, and writers who explain the significance of the results of scientific research to non-scientists. A STEM or even STEAM curriculum without mastery of the arts of language is a recipe for personal frustration and national disaster.

Classical Christian education is not only useful for those looking for STEM jobs. History indicates that it provided the intellectual environment in which science prospered. From the invention of science by the ancient Greeks and its development under the Roman empire, during late Antiquity and the Middle Ages and on into the early modern and modern age until the middle of the twentieth century, science has been associated with classical culture and classical education, in fact, for most of this period, with classical Christian education.

Let us limit ourselves to the modern period. Marie Boas Hall called the first period of the Scientific Revolution The Scientific Renaissance (1960). She showed that modern science began with Renaissance humanism, the cultural initiative to re-establish contact with classical antiquity. Renaissance humanists discovered, interpreted and translated ancient texts, including Greek scientific manuscripts. They studied ancient science, corrected its errors and misconceptions, and then made new discoveries.

Renaissance humanists had classical Christian educations. Peter Dear in Revolutionizing Science: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1500-1700 (2009), after discussing medieval science, goes on to explain the classical curriculum, trivium and quadrivium. The classical curriculum taught the arts of language (trivium) and mathematics (quadrivium) so students could speak, think and compute. They revered the past as the source of beauty and truth. Michelangelo promised in his contract that his Pietà would emulate the beauty of ancient art. Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy’s First Decade ransacked the Roman republic for ways to restore freedom to Italy. Protestants like Luther and Calvin tried to reform the church by reading the Bible.

Sixteenth century scientists had the same classical education as other Renaissance humanists. Science then was self-consciously a return to the ideas and texts of ancient science. Copernicus (1473-1543) knew that he was reviving the heliocentric hypothesis of Aristarchus of Samos (third century BC). His book did not start from scratch, but was
a careful revision of Ptolemy’s Almagest (second century AD). The great doctor Andreas Vesalius (1514-64) devoted years to editing the works of the ancient Greek doctor Galen (second century AD) before publishing his seminal work on physiology, On the Structure of the Human Body, in 1543, the same year Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus was published.

As Peter Dear wrote, “Like Copernicus, Vesalius presented his work as a restoration of an ancient practice; also like Copernicus, he pointed out flaws in the work of his great model from antiquity; and like Copernicus the rationale for his project emerged directly from humanist values and ambitions.”

Classical Christian education continued to foster scientific research. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a Copernican who read the texts of the Pythagoreans and Plato. Like them, he believed that mathematics was essential for understanding the physical world, even when this method led him to postulate that the planets moved in ellipses instead of circles. His fellow Copernican Galileo (1564-1642) denounced him for breaking with the ancient tradition of positing circular motion for the heavenly bodies. He too quoted Plato and the Pythagoreans. Scientists like Kepler and Galileo studied geometry in Euclid’s ancient text to understand the natural world, as Plato had urged in Timaeus and Republic VII. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) called geometry “the only science God hath seen fit to bestow upon mankind.” Newton composed Principia (1687) in Latin with geometrical proofs as part of the same tradition.

There is a wide gap between popular opinion and the scholarly consensus on the role of Christianity and the classics in the explosive creativity of the seventeenth- century Scientific Revolution. Voltaire in the eighteenth century and twenty-first century polemicists and federal judges have presented the Scientific Revolution as rejecting tradition and explaining the world as mechanical and godless. In fact, the leaders of the Scientific Revolution were classically educated Christians.

In 1938 sociologist Robert K. Merton studied the founders of the Royal Society in 1660. So many were Puritans that he hypothesized they all were. They were certainly Christians. Merton’s careful study of the Royal Society, a key institution in the Scientific Revolution, showed the “warfare” of science and religion did not exist then. In 1988 historian Steven Shapin wrote, “No historian of science now seriously contends that religious forces were wholly, or even mainly, antagonistic to natural science. When Merton wrote his thesis, that was not the case.”

The memo had not reached Judge Jones when he composed his decision in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005): “Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.”

Scholars have continued to confirm Merton’s results. Stephen Gaukroger in The Emergence of a Scientific Culture (2006) argued that in the seventeenth century “Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy” or science. In 2009 Margaret J. Osler agreed: “For many of the natural philosophers of the seventeenth century, science and religion—or, better, natural philosophy and theology—were inseparable, part and parcel of the endeavor to understand our world.”

Scientists then were also influenced by their study of the ancient classics. Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and Newton were products of classical Christian education. They studied ancient authors and could read and write Greek and Latin. Kepler and Galileo quoted Plato’s Meno and Timaeus. The atomic theory Newton used in his optics was based on Gassendi’s recovery of ancient Epicureanism. Classical Christian education shaped science then and continued to educate scientists for centuries.

Today scientists hide their faith in the closet unless they become so famous, like Francis S. Collins, that it cannot damage their careers. Seventeenth-century scientists openly proclaimed that their discoveries confirmed their faith. Robert Boyle (1627-1691), for example, discovered Boyle’s Law in chemistry. Gaukroger wrote, “For Boyle the whole point of pursuing natural philosophy in the first place is that it reveals to us the handiwork and purposes of God in a way that goes deeper than anything we can achieve by
use of natural reason.” Boyle established a lecture series to defend the coherence of science and Christianity.

The first Boyle lectures were not delivered by a professional scientist, but by England’s greatest classicist, Richard Bentley. Bentley did not see his Christian faith or knowledge of ancient authors as obstacles to science. On the contrary, he argued that Isaac Newton’s Principia (1687) confirmed God’s existence. Newton responded to a letter from Bentley, “Sir, When I wrote my Treatise about our System, I had an Eye upon such Principles as might work with considering Men, for the Belief of a Deity; nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that Purpose.”

In the appendix he added to Principia in 1713, Newton wrote, “This most elegant system of the sun, planets and comets could not have arisen without the design and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being…. He rules all things, not as world soul but as lord of all. And because of this dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator.” The classically educated Newton composed Principia in Latin with geometrical proofs to show that an omnipotent God had designed the universe. Newton shared with other contemporary scientists a confidence in the compatibility of classics, science and Christianity. (Today, of course, Newton could not teach science in public schools.) The classical Christian education that shaped scientists like Kepler, Galileo, Boyle and Newton was then and still is the best education for scientists.

Sceptics object, “Of course the greatest scientists then had classical Christian educations. All this proves is that they were educated. There was no serious alternative back then. It was only in the eighteenth century that the case for vocational training was made by men like Tom Paine and Benjamin Rush, who argued for a modern education that rejected the trivium in favor of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for a world that wanted the fruits of science and technology.”

History does not usually allow us to study events with a control group. One exception is nineteenth-century Germany with its two distinct educational paths. One path preserved the classical Christian curriculum (supplemented with more Greek) taught in the classical or humanist Gymnasium, from which students went on to the university. The other path was devoted to STEM subjects and a modern language (usually French) taught in technical high schools, from which students went on to a professional school or a job in industry. This critical mass of technically trained graduates working in factories protected by the tariff spurred German industrial growth in the generation before World War I.

The decades on either side of WWI also witnessed brilliant discoveries in Physics: the concept of quanta, the theories of special and general relativity and the development of Quantum mechanics. One might expect most important work in Physics to be done by graduates of the technical school system. Nearly the opposite is true. Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and Niels Bohr were classically educated. Einstein attended a Swiss technical high school, but he spent his first six years at a classical school, where his sister remembered his best subjects as Mathematics and Latin: “Latin’s clear, strictly logical structure fit his mindset.” Latin and arithmetic are the fundamental arts of language and mathematics found in the classical curriculum.

When Einstein published his four great articles of 1905, his editor was Max Planck, the discoverer of quanta. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “When Planck was nine years old…Planck entered the city’s renowned Maximilian Gymnasium, where a teacher, Hermann Müller, stimulated his interest in physics and mathematics. But Planck excelled in all subjects, and after graduation at age 17 he faced a difficult career decision. He ultimately chose physics over classical philology or music because he had dispassionately reached the conclusion that it was in physics that his greatest originality lay.” Classical Christian educators will notice that his favorite subjects belong to the Seven Liberal Arts: Latin (and Greek) grammar from the trivium, mathematics, science and music from the quadrivium. In a speech delivered shortly after Planck’s death, physicist Werner Heisenberg, also a graduate of the Max Gymnasium, said, “I believe that in the work of Max Planck, for instance, we can clearly see that his thought was influenced and made fruitful by his classical schooling.”

Heisenberg then explained how his own science was shaped by his classical education. After World War I Heisenberg was drafted into the militia. In his spare time he read Plato’s Timaeus in the original Greek. He had been bothered by the notion that the fundamental particles of nature were little hard things with irregular shapes, the atoms of the ancient scientists, Democritus and Lucretius. Recently scientists had observed light behaving sometimes like particles, but at other times like waves. In Timaeus Plato argued that nature made most sense when viewed mathematically, not physically. Plato’s advice to follow the math even when it contradicted common sense helped Heisenberg toward his discovery of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics. As a young scientist, Heisenberg reports, “I was gaining the growing conviction that one could hardly make progress in modern atomic physics without a knowledge of Greek natural philosophy.”

Classical Christian education formed the minds of important scientists from the sixteenth to the twentieth century (and long before as well). They learned from ancient wisdom to make important discoveries. Americans should not desert a curriculum that has been successful for so long. If they do, they may learn that the relationship of classical Christian education and science is integral and that science will not and cannot flourish apart from the educational ideal and curriculum that fostered it.

Truth and the Classical Curriculum

One argument for Classical Christian education is its practical effectiveness. An educated human being needs to command language and mathematics. The best route to teach the arts of language begins with grammar, proceeds to logic or dialectic and culminates in rhetoric. Some
feel that this route parallels the way children develop. Others believe that learning any subject proceeds through these stages, from memorizing fundamentals to learning how to manipulate them to attaining real creativity. In the arts of mathematics, the quadrivium, students learn the basics, arithmetic, then how to apply these basics to two- and three-dimensional objects, geometry, with reasons for every step and then proceed to science, specifically astronomy, and music. (Obviously geometry is a good propaedeutic for other arts, such as painting or architecture.) Since this scheme of learning can be applied to all subjects, it might seem a matter of indifference what subjects, topics and works are used in actually teaching our students.

Classical educators have not drawn this conclusion, however. In the fourth century AD, after the emperor Constantine declared the Christian faith a legal cult, Christian educators worked on defining the curricular content of Classical Christian education.

Since the ancient world the grammar stage of language was taught using Latin. “Grammar schools” taught Latin grammar. (During the Renaissance ancient Greek became part of the curriculum because the New Testament was written in Greek.) The content of the “reading list” was two-fold: Biblical and Classical. This double reading list could have introduced a sharp difference between the works of the Two Canons. The classical works of the curriculum were of high artistic quality, like Homer and Plato in Greek or Virgil and Cicero in Latin, but they did not possess the authority of Holy Scripture and contained polytheism and other ethical and religious errors. The Bible, on the other hand, taught divine truth infallibly, but its artistic quality varied from great literature like Isaiah or Job to plain and simple narratives such as Mark’s Gospel. There have always been those who made this distinction, from Augustine in the fourth century, who in his Confessions objected to being led

to feel sympathy for Dido because of the beauty of Virgil’s verse, to Jan Comenius in the seventeenth, who denounced the immoral stories of Greek myth and Roman paganism.

For the most part, however, over the centuries classically educated Christians have been impressed by the truth found in the beauty of ancient literature. Naturally they acknowledged that the Christian faith contained truths known to us only by revelation in the Bible, for instance, Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. The great works of pagan literature, however, contained within their beauty important ethical, philosophical and even religious truths that made them essential for a liberal arts education. This point was made in the fourth century by Augustine’s Greek Christian contemporary, Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea. In his “Address to Young People, on how to profit from Pagan Literature,” he urged his nephews not to be misled by the religious errors of pagan literature into ignoring the moral truths found in works from Homer’s Odyssey to Plato’s dialogues. Those truths were like the fruit found on trees whose leaves gave pleasure to the eyes and also protected the fruit. Pagan literature contained inappropriate elements, but the great works combined beauty and truth to provide an excellent basis for a liberal arts education for Christians.

Homer and Plato were the highest exemplars of Greek pagan literature; Virgil and Cicero held a similar position in Latin literature. Does their artistic beauty explain their continuing role in the classical curriculum? Why, for instance, did colonial colleges like Harvard and William and Mary insist that young men demonstrate the ability to read the orations and dialogues of Cicero to gain admission? I suggest the reason was Cicero’s character as much as his talent. Cicero (106-43 BC) was a popular politician, who rose to the highest office in republican Rome, the consulship. He was a successful defense attorney, who also prosecuted a few significant cases. He composed dialogues on rhetoric, politics and ethics and wrote letters that are models of the genre. Cicero’s range of accomplishments inspired the ideal of the Renaissance man, the man for all seasons. In our own time we appeal to the specialist, the expert. During the great creative periods of the modern age from the Renaissance through the American Founding, the opposite was true. Men as different as David Hume, Edmund Burke and John Adams took Cicero as their model in their careers and writings. Bright amateurs knew Cicero in ways that no specialist does today because today’s academic specialists do not model their lives on Cicero. His influence encouraged many educated folk to strive for lives that balanced philosophical thought and political action. The care and brilliance of Cicero’s epistles encouraged Jefferson to devote similar attention to his letters. Burke spent years prosecuting Warren Hastings for his mistreatment of the people of India in imitation of Cicero’s prosecution of Varro for his abuse of the people of Sicily. Hume’s Dialogue on Natural Religion carefully imitated Cicero’s dialogues. These are only some eighteenth century figures decisively influenced by Cicero’s life and example. Their ideal was a man who balanced a thoughtful ethical life with active participation in politics. Their wide-ranging creativity and deep commitment to consensual institutions reflected their admiration for the kind of excellence they found in Cicero’s life and works.

Virgil (70-19 BC), the other peak of Latin literature was equally influential. His poetry has played an important role in education since the Aeneid was first published under the Emperor Augustus. Almost every Latin poet after its appearance responded to it in admiration, imitation, competition or parody. It is the most commonly quoted work among the graffiti found on the walls of Pompeii. Its role in education continued into Christian times. The one surviving speech of the emperor Constantine devotes pages to explicating Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue as a prophecy of the birth of Our Lord. (Constantine’s “Address to the Assembly of the Saints” is preserved in a Greek translation made by the fourth century Church historian, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea.) Manuscripts of Virgil’s works copied in the ancient world still survive, one of the few ancient texts beside the Bible of which that can be said.

Virgil’s works were copied and used as school texts from the time of the revival of Classical education in the days of Charlemagne. They continued to be taught, studied and read with the humanist and Reformation reforms of medieval education in the early modern period. Classical education, including reading Virgil, continued to be the gold standard for education throughout the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century Virgil was the standard author read in fourth year Latin in high schools. Reading Virgil was the culmination of pre-collegiate classical education. Apart from the rich vocabulary and subtle use of syntax that studying Latin gave to the founders of modern Europe and America, Virgil played a major role in the lives of students. They took him seriously as a role model and a source of truth.

There is no more significant figure in the popular Christianity of the last century than C. S. Lewis. His Christian apologetics touched many lives. He made important contributions to scholarship and creative writing in science fiction and children’s literature. His conversion to Christianity marked a sharp division in his life, one memorably recounted in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. One area of continuity, not division, is his study and love of the ancient Classics, especially Virgil.

Lewis himself was the product of a classical education, studying Greek and Latin at four English public schools and with a private tutor, W. T. Kirkpatrick, the inspiration for Professor Kirke in the Narnia books. Lewis loved Virgil’s Aeneid wholeheartedly (1939).

I have read the Aeneid through more often than I have read any long poem; I have just finished re- reading the Iliad; to lose what I owe to Plato and Aristotle would be like the amputation of a limb. Hardly any lawful price would seem to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek. If any question of the value of classical studies were before us, you would find me on the extreme right. I do not know where the last ditch in our educational war may be at the moment; but point it out to me on the trench map and I will go to it.

In Preface to Paradise Lost Lewis sees clearly that at the heart of the Aeneid lies the question of vocation.

It is the nature of a vocation to appear to men in the double character of a duty and a desire, and Virgil does justice to both…. On the one hand we have Aeneas, who suffers but obeys….On the other hand, we have the women, who have heard the call, and live long in painful obedience, and yet desert at last. Virgil sees their tragedy very clearly. To follow the vocation does not mean happiness: but once it has been heard, there is no happiness for those who do not follow…. The will remains suspended between two equal intolerables.

‘Twixt miserable longing for the present land

And the far realms that call them by the

fates’ command.’


It will be seen that in these two lines Virgil, with no intention of allegory, has described once and for all the very quality of most human life as it is experienced by anyone who has not yet risen to holiness nor sunk to animality. It is not thanks to the Fourth Eclogue alone that he has become almost a great Christian poet. In making his one legend symbolical of the destiny of Rome, he has, willy- nilly, symbolized the destiny of Man.

J. R. R. Tolkien, like his friend, C. S. Lewis, had a classical education, which shaped him as scholar and creative writer. He wrote a family friend, “I was brought up in the classics, and first discovered the sensation of literary pleasure in Homer.” In his important essay on “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” Tolkien turned to Virgil to explain what the Beowulf-poet was trying to do. (In the process he tells us much about what he was to attempt in Lord of the Rings.) “He was, in fact, like Virgil, learned enough in the vernacular department to have an historical perspective…. He knew much about the old days,” but “one thing he knew clearly: those days were heathen—heathen, noble and hopeless…. The poet of Beowulf saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death.” “In Beowulf we have, then, an historical poem about the pagan past…. It is a poem by a learned man writing of old times, who, looking back on the heroism and sorrow, feels in them something permanent and something symbolical.” Beowulf is “his attempt to depict ancient pre- Christian days, intending to emphasize their nobility, and the desire of the good for truth.” Tolkien’s description of Beowulf is also true of Lord of the Rings.

Vocation is one theme not found in Beowulf that is central to Lord of the Rings and the Aeneid. For all their differences, Frodo and Aragorn share a deep sense of vocation. Vocation is linked to destiny, fatum, a key word in the Aeneid. Christians call it Providence. Fate and Providence come from different worldviews, but they touch in the speeches of Jupiter and Anchises. At the end of Book Eight Aeneas picks up his mother’s gift, a shield decorated with scenes from Rome’s future history. “He rejoices in the pictures, though he does not know the events.” (rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet.) Tolkien may have remembered this line as he composed the Council at Rivendell, where Frodo accepts his mission. “I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.”

We must never ignore the beauty and artistic power of the great works of classical literature, but these works also shaped people’s lives and moral commitments. Cicero gave to key figures from Petrarch in the fourteenth century to Adams and Jefferson, Hume and Burke in the eighteenth a model of the fulfilled human life that they strove to emulate. Virgil did not just achieve high standards of artistic accomplishment, although that is no small gift. He gave to Christians like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien a literary work shaped by a sense of vocation that is both fulfilled and tragic. Vocation is guided in the Aeneid by pagan fatum, which is not the same as, but is also not completely different from Christian providence. Lewis and Tolkien learned many things from their Classical Christian education. Among them is what Tolkien called “nobility and the desire of the good for truth.” We need these traits if we hope to keep the Western Tradition alive.

Latin is Essential

A number of years ago at a meeting of Classical Lutheran educators a pastor spoke up. He was clearly somewhat overwhelmed by the discussions of theory and curriculum we were presenting to our audience, most of whom were newcomers to the movement. His question was quite simple. “At my school we use Saxon Math and the Writing Road to Reading. What else do we need to be classical?” As I remember, Dr. Veith gave a low-key and helpful response. I refrained from blurting out my answer: “Pastor, Pastor, you are anxious and troubled about many subjects. Only one is necessary: Latin!”

Hyperbole has its place in classical rhetoric. Although I believe that Latin is necessary for a classical curriculum, I do not hold it the unum necessarium, “the one thing needful” (William Tyndale’s translation of Luke 10:42, which was kept by the King James revisers). The place
of Latin in classical Christian education has been blessed with stout defenders from Tracy Lee Simmons’ winsome eloquence in Climbing Parnassus to Andrew Campbell’s clear and detailed The Latin Centered Curriculum and Cheryl Swope’s straightforward and moving Simply Classical.

A recent addition to the cohort of defenders of Latin appeared last year in the unlikely site of Education Week 33.10 (October 30, 2013), p. 22. Ed Week tends to devote its pages and webpage to educational progressivism and sympathetic appreciation of the Common Core and the Teachers’ Unions. Jacob Weiss, a senior at Edgemont High School in Scarsdale, NY, undertook the Herculean task of explaining to its readers “Why Latin should be part of the ELA standards.” The young man’s essay deserves to be read on its own, but it may be worthwhile to mention a few of his points.

Mr. Weiss cites the Common Core’s claim that its standards “are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.” He then confronts some common objections to Latin.

(1) Latin is a “dead” language. Latin survives in the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Rumanian and their dialects) and knowledge of Latin is a good introduction to all of them. More than that, studying Latin teaches a surer command of one’s first language.
Mr. Weiss throws down a challenge to the proponents of “living” languages:

Because Latin will help anyone gain a solid understanding of English, I would pose this question: In this day and age, which is more important—a firm and comprehensive grasp of English or moderate ability in many tongues? Personally, I would rather have the mastery of English and be able to persuade and communicate with my command of English diction and rhetoric rather than be able to merely get by in several other languages.

(2) Latin is not just irrelevant; it is a waste of time. Studying STEM subjects prepares students to succeed in a world of science, technology and social media. Mr. Weiss makes two points. (a) If Latin is so irrelevant to our world, how come Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg loves Latin and praises the Aeneid as one of his favorite books?

(b) There is a highly logical aspect to Latin. Reading or writing a line of Latin is fundamentally no different from reading or writing a line of Java or C++. Each activity requires the same process of determining the role played by each separate part of the line and then piecing together the separate parts to create a coherent and functional statement. Latin teaches you how to think strategically and use reason to produce a desired outcome. Similarly, computer programming teaches you how to ‘problem-solve,’ a popular phrase in the discipline.

In addition, studying Latin gives students what learning computer languages cannot: the vocabulary of law, politics, philosophy, theology and science itself; a command of grammar that affects every serious document you read and write and even, as Mark Zuckerberg might remind us, access to Virgil’s Aeneid and other great shaping works of literature and thought from Catullus, Cicero and Ovid to Thomas Aquinas, the Augsburg Confession and Calvin’s Institutes.

This is a lot to get from one subject in a world in which there is limited time. Many classical educators will be inclined to echo Shylock’s exclamation after hearing Weiss:

A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel! O wise young judge, how I do honour thee!

Progressive educators are always telling us that we cannot “turn back the clock,” although they often fail to see how true this is of our shared culture. We can teach children the languages that provided the vocabulary of consensual institutions, science, politics and theology, or we can leave them stranded without the words to talk meaningfully about these and many other important institutions and traditions. It is too late, however, to start again from scratch and try to develop a new civilization on the basis of the Epic of Gilgamesh, let’s say, and Hammurabi’s Code. As T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney put it, “I gotta use words when I talk to you.” Latin permeates our language. When we choose a leader, we elect a president. We also elect representatives and senators to Congress. As philosopher Josef Pieper reminded his classical high school in Germany, we all speak Latin every day. “It may be permissible to ask whether it is really proper to call people educated who only half understand the words they are using.”

Some readers may be thinking about now, “This is just preaching to the choir.” Do not all classical Christian educators agree on the importance of Latin in their schools or homeschooling curricula? Magari! as the Italians say. If it were only so!

At the 2012 SCL conference in Charleston a principled objection to Latin as a necessary and even, perhaps, as a good part of a classical Christian curriculum was made by Susan Wise Bauer during the Q&A period that followed her plenary address. (It had been implicit but unstated during her pre-conference event the day before.) Someone from the audience asked about foreign languages—it is about 55 minutes into the hour-long recording on the SCL URL. Dr. Bauer did not avoid the hard part of the question. (1) “For practical reasons” she grudgingly acknowledged that a K-12 curriculum should include two years of a foreign language to satisfy state requirements for graduation from high school and because many colleges and universities have a two-year language entrance requirement. This, of course, is not about classical education, but about outside requirements.

(2) She confronted head on the issue of Latin. I quote from her comments, I hope fairly, but you can check out what she said on the SCL webpage. “You noticed that for me Latin is not really a huge part of this,” i.e. “the central elements of classical education,” the topic of her clear and informative address. “Unless you study a language for probably eight or ten years, you are not going to read in it at a level that will be comfortable. You are much better off reading in translation.” Therefore studying Latin is “a little bit of a pointless effort” because (a) it does not lead to “reading comfortably” and (b) does not leave time for what she called “the ability to specialize“.

These comments seem to me to misunderstand the goals of any possible curriculum, not just a classical one. A curriculum does not aim at producing experts in each subject studied, but encouraging students to think critically and respond creatively in many areas, including topics not formally studied. A colleague in our Mathematics department told me that he felt students could not follow the math in Kurt Gödel’s classic 1931 essay where he presented the “incompleteness theorem” until they had moved beyond the M.A. level. Students with an aptitude for math would need not ten but almost twenty years of study before understanding the most important mathematical text of the twentieth century. If so, is mathematics “a little bit of a pointless effort?” Decidedly not! There are educational goals and advantages from studying mathematics from arithmetic to geometry and onward that have been understood and achieved since Plato’s arguments for a mathematics intensive curriculum in Republic VII, which was composed in the fourth century BC.

The situation with Latin is parallel. One year of Latin gives an introduction to grammar that is superior to relevant alternatives. Millennia of experience show that there is a profound difference between the way we learn a first language and a second one. Most people only truly master grammar when they have studied a second language consciously and attentively. For historical reasons Latin has been taught to achieve this end for so long that it functions better for this goal than trying to re-circuit other language texts to imitate Latin. Dr. Bauer praised diagramming sentences in her pre-conference presentation. Diagramming sentences is a useful exercise at a certain stage of language instruction because it forces us to think of English as a dead language. It is a good alternative for teachers who do not know Latin. It was, however, always intended as a crutch for those who did not know grammar from studying a foreign language. There are disadvantages to it as a replacement for Latin, though it is a useful supplement,

because it encourages teachers and students to privilege diagram-able sentences over more complex ones. This is often useful and helpful for expository prose, but expository prose is only one use of language and the rhetoric stage should open up students to the range of creative language use, a goal that is best achieved by learning a real language, beginning with its grammar and proceeding to real texts. Experience shows that Latin is the best language for this purpose for members of our society.

Dr. Bauer, whose mother had her study Latin for six years, says, “unless you study a language for perhaps eight or ten years, you are not going to read in it at a level that will be comfortable. You are much better off reading in translation.” The advantages of Latin begin long before 10 years.

(1) In his little book Learn Latin Peter Jones showed that with twelve weeks of Latin, you can read passages from the Bible, the text of the Bayeux Tapestry and Catullus 84, which begins “odi et amo.” If you never read another line of Latin after Catullus’ couplet, you will have read one of the great poems of the Western tradition and confronted unforgettably one aspect of love. If from a Latin Bible you read the parable of the “Prodigal Son,” you can begin from these two texts to understand some of the deepest mysteries and most immediate truths of the Christian faith.

(2) Four years of Latin in the usual HS curriculum involves studying Cicero and Virgil. Virgil influenced profoundly people who studied Latin for their whole lives, such as Martin Luther and C. S. Lewis. He also influenced people who, whatever their personal faults, were objectively successful in very different ways, although they did not study Virgil after high school: poet John Keats, football coach Joe Paterno, and Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. These men, personally flawed but very successful in their chosen areas, never forgot Virgil and quoted him again and again though they only studied him in high school.

(3) Maybe by “reading comfortably” Dr. Bauer meant that most of us never read Latin texts with the speed and fluency with which we read English ones. To Friedrich Nietzsche this was precisely the point. “A philologist,” he wrote, is “a teacher of slow reading.” (Philologe…das will sagen, ein Lehrer des langsamen Lesens, Morgenröte “Vorrede”) It is too easy to read English “comfortably.” People who learn to read easily and rapidly texts that are suitable for such reading, newspaper stories or popular fiction, may apply that skill to texts that require a much different style of reading. Studying Latin teaches a student to read slowly and carefully, word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence. This is the way educated people read great, life-transforming texts. Reading them should never be comfortable. They should excite your mind and break your heart. Nietzsche was right.

Classical education is the most successful curriculum ever developed, if measured by its influence in literature, art, music, science, philosophy, law or politics. Latin and Greek provided the vocabulary for these areas of thought and accomplishment. Studying the ancient tongues
trained the minds of the modern masters of these fields and transmitted the cultural legacy that was the soil in which they flourished. Latin is the language of such central modern works as More’s Utopia, the Augsburg Confession and Newton’s Principia. It formed the styles and shaped
the writings of America’s Founders. So I wrote, “We need to know Latin if we want to think like the Founders” and published a book whose subtitle I still subscribe to: America needs the Classical Tradition. And this includes Latin.

Classical Christian Education and the Secular University

Classical Christian educators often ask for a description of “some aspects of the preparation, academic, spiritual, social, etc.” needed by our students to help them prepare for the secular university. These requests are sincere and well-intended. The problem I have with them is that today’s secular universities are so thoroughly secularized, so completely opposed to the culture, philosophies and institutions that gave rise to them that no “aspect” of Classical Christian education can be omitted when discussing the preparation students will need when they arrive at these schools.

Classical Christian education rests on a balanced teaching of the arts of language (trivium) and the arts of mathematics (quadrivium). In the quadrivium arithmetic leads to geometry and then to astronomy and music. We see there are other subjects both directly and indirectly mathematical that can be taught, studied and learned on this basis. The other pillar of our curriculum is the trivium, the arts of language: grammar, logic and rhetoric. Throughout most of the history of Classical Christian education, whether we trace it back to Dorothy Sayers, Martin Luther, Alcuin and Charlemagne or Saint Augustine, grammar has been taught through Latin.

The seven liberal arts understood as the arts of language and the arts of mathematics are the foundations of education in Europe and America, but there is an even more essential element, an atmosphere and an environment rather than a curriculum, which has nourished education ever since Plato formulated the first curriculum based on both language and mathematics. I am speaking of a commitment to the reality of the transcendent as wise, benevolent and above all good, which then was developed in the ancient Roman Empire and was most fully realized in the Christian faith.

Medieval, renaissance and early modern universities were founded in part to train professionals in important skills, such as medicine, law and theology. In recent years this aspect has expanded to include engineering and business. It was soon clear, however, that the knowledge of the seven liberal arts needed to be taught and developed on the university level as well as earlier. The goals of university education for a thousand years have depended on deepening and developing students’ command of the liberal arts so that they could ultimately take full advantage of professional schools and other vocations.

Universities were founded to educate Christians in the liberal arts so that they would be adequately prepared to live out their vocations as believers, subjects and later citizens and, lastly, as trained professionals. This is still the only explanation that can begin to make sense out
of the enormous and enormously expensive educational system of the United States and Europe. For these historical reasons, Christians educated in the traditional liberal arts are the students best equipped to take full advantage of universities.

Universities, however, have sometimes forgotten their original mission and, in many cases, have systematically worked to root out and eliminate the traces of that mission in the life of the institution. Their excuse is research, especially research in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. They often boast how many jobs and how much money has been “generated” by education directly and indirectly by the discoveries and patents of their researchers.

Actually research does not pay for itself. Universities and colleges make money, when they do, from tuition. In the secular university I know best administrators admit, when pressed, that 70% of the operating costs of the university come from tuition.

Tuition is money paid for teaching by parents and students, who earn the money or borrow it. Although universities love to put on their webpages stories of undergraduate students participating in research, most students do no research and many who do are engaged at
a relatively elementary level. Most students do take classes, however, and many of these classes form part of distribution requirements and requirements for majors.

What goes on in these classes? We can answer these questions in many ways. There are many large lecture classes, where information is given with the help of PowerPoint presentations and checked with the use of clickers and multiple-choice examinations. These classes are very profitable for the institution. Unfortunately this kind of course has produced the idea of the MOOC, “massive open online courses,” where similar lecture courses are offered to large numbers over the Internet. If the idea of the MOOC catches on, we sometimes hear, almost everyone will have the opportunity to enjoy the advantages of university-level lecture courses at little or no cost. We hear less often what those advantages are supposed to be. One department at a state university I know has invested heavily in large lecture courses taught with PowerPoint and clickers. Its latest program review revealed an interesting parallelism. Based on its research it was ranked #10 among public university departments in its area, while it was ranked third from the bottom of its university’s departments on the basis of student evaluations of its teaching.

Much university teaching is still in smaller classes where students’ work is evaluated on the basis of papers, examinations with longer or shorter essay answers and even oral reports. Courses in foreign languages, philosophy and mathematics will often encourage class participation
in discussion and debate. Students of the trivium and quadrivium are well prepared for success in such classes, where they will also enrich and improve the skills in language and mathematics they brought with them to the university.

There is another side of the intellectual atmosphere of American universities, however. At a recent open meeting organized to “kick off” the program reviews of departments in the social sciences, representatives of various departments offered insights on what makes their department or program special or successful or, at least, worthy of additional financial support from the administration. The spokesman of one department opined that, along with all the research and outreach to the non-academic community that other departments were boasting of, “Let’s face it, folks. It’s not just about research in an academic subject. We are here to change our students and change the world.” She then went on to note that students in her classes, especially freshmen, begin by rejecting the ideas that she taught, that they were the beneficiaries of an unjust and racist power structure that unfairly privileged their acceptance into a good school and later into obtaining a good job. Soon, however, they learned and by the end of one semester they accepted what they were taught. A discussion and question period followed the brief departmental presentations and I waited patiently for someone, anyone, to stand up and say, “In my department we teach an academic subject that we believe is interesting and important. I do not consider it my mission to turn our students into an ideological Mini-Me, who spouts my views.” I waited until we broke for coffee. I am still waiting.

Classical Christian educators have a dual mission. They teach their students subjects in the context of a traditional and balanced curriculum. This curriculum is the course of study for which universities were originally founded in the Middle Ages and for which they were founded and maintained throughout the renaissance and modern world. Universities still need and usually want students equipped with this education because they can profit from what universities have to offer and can contribute to universities on every level, but especially in their core mission of teaching. Classical Christian educators, however, have a further goal: preparing their students for their vocations as citizens of their earthly country and their role in the heavenly kingdom of transcendent truth and moral absolutes ruled by a just, merciful and loving God. This worldview has been sensed by many people and is most clearly revealed in the Bible. This goal our educators once shared with professors and teachers of the universities of Europe and America.

University professors, however, no longer share this goal. There has been a dramatic change in the object of university education as seen by professors and the public school teachers that train (though they scarcely educate) future students for universities. Their current goal is to liberate students from the traditional attitudes they have learned from their parents and teachers, often unconsciously, but with the students in our schools, quite consciously. Plato in Republic VII talked of teachers who see themselves as putting sight into blind eyes. Our university teachers see their students rather as glasses and their mission as rather emptying those glasses of the filthy water left there by society in general and their parents in particular, cleaning out those glasses and pouring in clear water unpolluted by the dead hand of the past, traditional morality and Christian faith.

Plato rejected this idea of teaching. For him humans have the capacity to see and understand truth, if educated in the arts of language and mathematics. The teacher’s vocation is to turn students, not just the eyes or head but the whole person, body and soul so they can see the real world, appreciate and love it. This is not the reductionist world of materialism and physical and chemical forces, but a world where beauty, justice and truth are real, the soul is real, and where God is real, in fact the ground of all reality.

On one level university professors want morality and justice. They do not want their students to cheat or elections to be rigged or the stock market and social security to be ponzi schemes, where the clever and ruthless succeed while the innocent and naïve suffer. Still they teach their students about such a world. With only materialism and the Darwinian war of all against all, what else can there ultimately be? Their students will be “in the know”, although they may decide it is wiser not to spill the beans to their fellow citizens.

Classicist John M. Rist has written on this theme. His book Real Ethics: Reconsidering the Foundations of Morality (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2002) begins with a memorable excoriation of the hypocrisy of academic philosophers, who want to retain the social advantages
of religion and morality while building careers on undermining their intellectual foundations. In Plato’s Moral Realism: The Discovery of the Presuppositions of Ethics (Catholic University of America Press: Washington DC, 2012) Rist surveys Plato’s dialogues. His conclusion is modest
but challenging. “What I have tried to argue is not that moral realism can be defended, but that Plato believed— and I agree with him—that only some version of the transcendental moral realism he developed over time offers any possibility of an honest defense against moral nihilism, whether explicit or logically implicit, whether that of Athens in the fourth century B.C. (which he specifically tried to defuse) or of twenty-first-century Cambridge, Boston, or Mecca.”

The tradition-challenged nihilism of the academy has seeped down into the ethical thinking and practical morality of ordinary citizens and politicians and has affected university teaching on many levels. Classical Christian educators are not only teaching students important subjects in a meaningful curriculum. You are standing up for and teaching your students to stand up for the worldview that makes sense out of every subject, of education as a whole and of every human life. This is your mission, if you choose to accept it.

Virgil’s Aeneid in the Modern World: From Martin Luther to Mark Zuckerberg

Virgil’s Aeneid has been a central part of the classical Christian curriculum since the ancient world. It is not just a legacy of the past, but an important and shaping part of the traditional liberal arts curriculum in the modern world, as shown by a series of case studies. In the Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther used quotations from Virgil, the Bible, and Augustine, to show that both classical and Christian authors recognized God’s sovereignty. The Continental Congress chose mottoes for the new nation’s Great Seal taken from Latin literature and Virgil’s Aeneid. In the twentieth century figures as different as C.S. Lewis, football coach Joe Paterno, and Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that their careers were shaped by reading the Aeneid. This is no time to stop reading Virgil.

Christian Kopff

E. Christian Kopff was educated at St. Paul’s School (Garden City NY), Haverford College and UNC, Chapel Hill (Ph. D., Classics). He has taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, since 1973, and most currently as Associate Director of the Honors Program. He has edited a critical edition of the Greek text of Euripides’ Bacchae (Teubner, 1982) and published over 100 articles and reviews on scholarly, pedagogical and popular topics. A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he has received research grants from the NEH and CU’s Committee on Research. The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (ISIBooks, 1999) is widely cited by Classical Christian educators. He translated Josef Pieper, Tradition: Concept and Claim (ISIBooks, 2008; St. Augustine’s, 2010) and contributed the Introduction to Herbert Jordan’s translation of Homer’s Iliad (Oklahoma UP, 2008).

Why STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Education Needs the Trivium

Christian Kopff

E. Christian Kopff was educated at St. Paul’s School (Garden City NY), Haverford College and UNC, Chapel Hill (Ph. D., Classics). He has taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, since 1973, and most currently as Associate Director of the Honors Program. He has edited a critical edition of the Greek text of Euripides’ Bacchae (Teubner, 1982) and published over 100 articles and reviews on scholarly, pedagogical and popular topics. A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he has received research grants from the NEH and CU’s Committee on Research. The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (ISIBooks, 1999) is widely cited by Classical Christian educators. He translated Josef Pieper, Tradition: Concept and Claim (ISIBooks, 2008; St. Augustine’s, 2010) and contributed the Introduction to Herbert Jordan’s translation of Homer’s Iliad (Oklahoma UP, 2008).

The STEM Pipeline Meets the Trivium

Classical Christian Education, the latest, cutting edge curricular development in American education, was also the educational Gold Standard in the United States from the Colonial Era until after World War II. Critics arose, however, as early as the time of the Revolution. Some were radicals like Tom Paine, who wanted science to replace both the classical and the Christian elements of the traditional curriculum. Others were devout Christians like Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rush argued that American education should promote Christian knowledge and morals and give Americans the practical training they would need to settle a new continent. Rush felt that engineering and science, not the classics, should be taught in schools and colleges.

The objections of Rush, Paine and their supporters were drowned out by the response of educators and political leaders. Thomas Jefferson defended classical education in his Notes on the State of Virginia: “The learning of Greek and Latin, I am told, is going into disuse in Europe. I know not what their manners and occupations may call for: but it would be very ill-judged in us to follow their example in this instance.” John Adams wrote to Rush, “I should as soon think of closing all my window shutters to enable me to see as of banishing the Classics to improve Republican ideas.” George Washington did not enjoy a classical education, but he made sure that his step-son, Jack Custis, did.

When the utilitarian assault on the classical curriculum was renewed in the 19th century, it was opposed by a wide spectrum of Americans. John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun, for all their political differences, agreed about the importance of the classics. New England Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau left the church, but defended the classics. “We might as well omit to study Nature because she is old,” wrote Thoreau in Walden. “These works of art have such an immortality as the works of nature and are modern at the same time as they are ancient, like the sun and stars.” The “Yale Report,” published by the President and faculty of Yale in 1828, cemented the place of the classical Christian curriculum in colleges and so in preparatory schools until after the Civil War. As historian Carl Richard has seen, “From the beginning, Americans had been a pragmatic and commercial people, but one who had simultaneously harbored a reverence for tradition, both Christian and classical, and who had seen in these theistic and humanistic traditions a crucial means of moderating their own penchant for utilitarianism and materialism.”

Recently there has been a revival of some of Rush’s ideas; not about teaching Christian truth and morals, but his call for science and engineering. Under the acronym STEM (“science, technology, engineering, mathematics”) educators and politicians have insisted that Americans are sadly uneducated in these subjects and have demanded that schools and even the federal government intervene to save the nation from an educational gap that will mark the end of American prosperity and plunge the United States into bankruptcy and ruin as it falls behind competitor nations, such as China and India.

This is not the first time that such appeals have been made. A similar hue and cry went up after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957. A few days later Elmer Hutchinson, director of the American Institute of Physics told the New York TIMES (October 8, 1957) that unless the US revamped its educational system to emphasize science, “our way of life is, I am certain, doomed to rapid extinction.” Threatened with rapid extinction, the national government poured money into science programs, one aspect of the educational environment in which enrollments in high school Latin went from 728,637 in 1962 to barely 150,000 by the late 1970’s.

This significant change in the nation’s priorities in curriculum and funding was accomplished with remarkably little public debate. As we saw, earlier generations rejected calls to repudiate traditional classical Christian education, and America enjoyed 200 years of prosperity, creativity, and freedom. The success of the American space program in the 1960’s could not have been due to the money directed at what are now called STEM subjects in schools. The scientific and military leaders associated with the space program were all educated in the previous generation.

Classical educators recognize STEM as a modern version of the quadrivium, the second level of the Seven Liberal Arts, which consisted of mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music. Few would question that the arts of mathematics needed to be expanded in the modern period to include, for instance, algebra, calculus, chemistry, and the life sciences, to name only a few. On the other hand, those who have reflected on Dorothy Sayers’s classic essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” or observed the success of classical schools and classical home schoolers understand that the quadrivium follows and depends on the trivium, the arts of language, grammar, logic and rhetoric. They feel uneasy when they see educators and politicians rush forward with large-scale and expensive programs aimed at expanding the quadrivium at the expense of the trivium.

What T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney says about himself is true of the elite: “I gotta use words when I talk to you.” In Real Education (2008), Charles Murray argues convincingly that “The tools of verbal expression… are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.” The inability of our leaders to think soundly and speak persuasively affects all of us. Leaders of a regime based on consensual institutions need the full panoply of verbal ability. Even science grant proposals must be written grammatically, logically, and persuasively.

Schools know there is a problem. Throughout most of the 20th Century, when classical education and Latin were still flourishing, poor writing was viewed by colleges as a deficiency to be corrected by taking remedial courses without college credit. Those days are long gone. Most colleges and universities have regular writing programs and even departments to teach remedial writing courses that receive full college credit. Too many students arrive without the requisite writing ability. Schools do not feel justified in denying credit for such common educational gaps. They are not gaps anymore. They have become the norm. This is a real educational crisis that requires curricular reform. There is only one viable curricular alternative that puts the arts of language at the heart of its educational vision and that is classical education and its trivium.

Another area where teachers perceive a problem is what educators call “critical thinking.” Many colleges and universities have instituted critical thinking requirements. Polls indicate that college teachers feel that improving their students’ grasp of critical thinking is the most important goal of a liberal arts education and are frustrated at the lack of achievement in this area.

My own anecdotal experience is that both teachers of writing and those committed to improving critical thinking share a common complaint. Time and again I hear them say, “It is hard to find time to improve students’ writing or critical ability, because I spend so much time correcting their grammar. They make so many elementary mistakes.” When I respond, “So you have come to think that teaching students a robust command of grammar would be a substantial aid to their ability to think critically and write clearly and persuasively,” they respond with a yes. These are not classical Christian educators. Most of them have not heard of this new movement. They have learned the hard way that grammar is fundamental for critical thinking and effective writing. As classical Christian educators understand, there is a connected hierarchy of language arts and grammar is primary and basic for a later command of logic and rhetoric.

A renewed commitment to teaching the arts of language does not involve undermining math and science education. On the contrary, the greatest figures in the Scientific Revolution were classically educated: Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, to name only a few. They had studied ancient texts and could read and write Latin. The Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries was very self-consciously a return to the ideals and even the texts of ancient science. Copernicus knew that he was reviving the heliocentric hypothesis of Aristarchus of Samos from the Third century B.C. The atomic theory Newton used in his optics was based on Gassendi’s brilliant philological recovery of ancient Epicureanism. Galileo quotes Plato’s Meno and Timaeus over and over again. The education of scientists remained classical through the time of Linnaeus in the 18th century and Charles Darwin in the 19th.

Skeptics object to the premises of this historical narrative. “Of course the greatest scientists of the modern age had classical Christian educations. All this proves is that they were educated. There was no serious alternative from the Renaissance to the 19th century. The case for vocational or technical training was made in the late 18th century by men like Tom Paine and Benjamin Rush. They argued that a relevant modern education can bypass the trivium and concentrate on an expanded quadrivium for a world in desperate need of the products of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

History does not usually allow us to study events with a true control group. There is an exception to this situation in 19th century Germany, where there were two distinct educational paths. One led from the old classical school, now with more Greek added, and culminated in the classical or humanist Gymnasium, from which students then went on to the university. The other path was devoted to math, science, technology, and a modern language (usually French) and led to the technical high school or Realschule, from which the student went on to a professional school or a job in industry. This critical mass of technically trained graduates working in factories protected by the tariff spurred German industrial growth in the generation that preceded World War I.

The decades on either side of WWI witnessed brilliant work in Physics: the concept of quanta, the theories of special and general relativity, and the development of quantum mechanics. One might expect that the most important work in these fields would be done by graduates of the technical school system. Nearly the opposite is true. Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Niels Bohr were classically educated. Einstein a ended a Swiss technical high school, but he had spent his first six years at a classical school, where his sister remembered his best subjects as Mathematics and Latin: “Latin’s clear, strictly logical structure fit his mindset.” Heisenberg wrote, “I believe that in the work of Max Planck, for instance, we can clearly see that his thought was influenced and made fruitful by his classical schooling.” Heisenberg insisted that his own insights into nature came from his classical education. Its combination of math and physics with language instruction led him to read Plato’s Timaeus in Greek. He was impressed by Plato’s rational appeals to understand nature mathematically rather than as a purely physical reality: “I was gaining the growing conviction that one could hardly make progress in modern atomic physics without a knowledge of Greek natural philosophy.”

When we review the story of SAT scores from the high point in 1963 to a nadir reached in 1981, after which the verbal scores experienced only slight improvement, we may want to add one factor to those usually discussed. 1962, the year before the SAT high point, marked the year of the zenith of enrollment in high school Latin in the United States, when 728,637 students enrolled in high school Latin. The decline in Latin enrollments tracks the decline in SAT-Verbal scores. Latin has never regained its position as a “more commonly taught language,” just as SAT-Verbal scores have never go en back to their 1963 level. If the relation of high school Latin and SAT-Verbal scores is significant, we may note that the decline in measurable achievement was most striking in good students and it was precisely good students who tended to take high school Latin.

“Man is like the drunken peasant trying to ride a horse,” Martin Luther noted. “If you prop him up on one side, he falls off the other.” Luther could have been describing the educational establishment in the United States. A few years ago they perceived a crisis in writing and established writing programs in most universities. Now the STEM pipeline is supposedly drying up, and we need federal intervention to save our country.

Instead of careening from one crisis to another, our nation needs a curriculum that is balanced between the arts of language and the arts of mathematics. It should not be a recent fad; it should have been practiced for a long time, preferably for centuries. Its success should be demonstrated by wide acceptance in many countries for a long time. Its best graduates should be distinguished in a wide variety of areas, like literature, art, philosophy and political thought, politics and science, people like Shakespeare and Michelangelo, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Je erson and Adams, Adam Smith and Karl Marx, Galileo and Newton, Linnaeus and Darwin. Where in contemporary education can we find a curricular alternative that meets these requirements?

We know the answer. Classical Christian education balances the arts of language and mathematics and so avoids the hysterical swings between crises in reading and science that have afflicted American education since the triumph of Dewey. Classical Christian education has flourished throughout the modern era in many European countries and the United States. Its graduates are widely recognized as the most successful and creative figures in history. It connects students with their past and prepares them for a free and creative future. To restore its prominence, the drunken peasant of American educational policy needs to sober up and start listening to the wisdom of the past and then face the challenge of teaching the classical Christian curriculum that created the modern world.