The Impact of The Classical Renewal Movement on Higher Education

The classical renewal movement has become a disruptive force in higher education. Students who graduate from classical Christian schools stand out among their peers and become leaders on campus. Colleges are more eager than ever to find and recruit these students. e growing influence of the classical renewal movement comes with the responsibility of doing everything in our power to refocus colleges and universities on the timeless truths that were once the foundation of academic inquiry.

Jeremy Tate

Jeremy Tate is founder and President of the Classic Learning Test (CLT). A er graduating from Reformed Theological Seminary, Jeremy started an SAT prep company while serving as the Director of College Counseling at a small Christian school. Since launching CLT in 2015, Jeremy has visited more than 100 colleges and secondary schools throughout the nation. Jeremy resides in Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife and four kids.

A Guide and Warning From America’s Classical Education Past: The Yale Report of 1828

In the early 19th century, Yale College stood as the last, great bastion of classical education in the United States. Buffeted by demands for “useful learning” and scathing critiques of “dead languages,” the Yale faculty produced an eloquent apology for classical education, the famed Yale Report of 1828. This document provided an aegis for the antebellum, American, classical education project, defending it against the attacks of utilitarian, modernist educational reforms up through the Civil War. In focusing on the Yale Report’s stirring defense of Greek and Latin’s pedagogical value, however, scholars and educators have overlooked the role of a discipline central to both the report itself and the tradition of the classical education it defended — mathematics. As we rebuild the classical education tradition, putting the Yale Report of 1828 in its historic context and attending to its arguments about mathematical education offers today’s classical schools both a guide and a warning.

Shea Ramquist

Shea Ramquist is a native of Tokyo, Japan. He earned his bachelor’s degree in humanities after studying at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute and Oxford University. He then earned a master’s degree in American intellectual history at the Universityof Notre Dame, specializing in the antebellum American classical college and the rise of the modern university. In 2015, he accepted a position in the Rhetoric School of Trinity Classical Academy in Santa Clarita, California, where he teaches honors courses in American and European history, ancient philosophy and rhetoric.

Studying Rhetoric for College Success: How the Study of Classical Rhetoric Can Prepare Students to Excel in Higher Education

Rhetoric seeks to prepare students to “observe all the available means” of persuasion, enabling them to more easily master every kind of writing from analytical reports to argumentative essays. Sadly, many high school educators seek only to have their students write longer papers with long lists of resources and citations, calling that “higher-level” work. The truth is, merely addressing “the who, what, when and where” does
not prepare students for good, college-level writing. The study of rhetoric surpasses the limited training of the high school “research paper” by studying how to collect the best ideas and resources for a thesis (invention), how to arrange ideas and evidence in a compelling way (arrangement) and how to adapt the most engaging language to communicate those ideas (style). In this seminar, we will survey other important kinds of rhetoric-inspired writing beyond the research paper, such as exploratory essays, deliberative essays and argumentative papers, all of which will help students become versatile writers prepared for all types of college writing assignments. The seminar will also address the value of peer review and collaboration, and ways the teacher can serve as a writing coach. The seminar will conclude by noting some of the best curricula and Internet resources available.

Joelle Hodge

Joelle holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. She began her career as a staffer to Senator Arlen Specter before finding her professional home in the world of classical education in 1999. She has nearly 20 years of logic-teaching experience, most of which were spent at a classical school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There, she also developed much of their Logic and Rhetoric curricula. She has co-authored two logic books: The Art of Argument: An Introduction to the Informal Fallacies and The Discovery of Deduction: An Introduction to Formal Logic, both published by Classical Academic Press. Joelle was recently appointed as Scholé Academy’s Principal and works to support a staff of nearly 20 educators. She enjoys helping them develop productive and inspiring classrooms. She also travels to classical schools and co-ops across the country, tailoring workshops and training teachers in the fundamentals of dialectic and Rhetoric-stage pedagogy.

Preparing for Christian Higher Education

As a professor of English at a Christian liberal-arts university (Houston Baptist University), I have dedicated much time to identifying the critical and creative skills that a liberal-arts university should instill in its students. In this essay, I would like to speak directly, not to my colleagues, but to high school students who are preparing to be freshmen at a liberal arts university, particularly one founded on Christian beliefs and principles. By surveying four key skills that lie, or at least should lie, at the heart of a liberal arts education, I hope to alert future undergraduates to the kind of intellectual rigor that will be expected of them in college and to start them thinking about the kinds of skills they will be expected to have developed by the time they graduate. When I teach freshmen composition, it is my habit to forbid students from using the second person; however, to help increase the immediacy of this essay, I will break my own rule and address college-bound high school students as “you.”

Move beyond the Surface

During your college years, you will be encouraged again and again to analyze, to dig deeper, to explore. Your professors will not be satisfied—and, soon, you should not be satisfied—with simple answers that only scratch the surface of the subject at hand. In many high-school English classes, if you wrote a paper on Romeo and Juliet that offered a well-written, grammatically-correct synopsis of the plot, you would likely receive an “A.” Not so in college. If all you can manage to do is retell the play, if all you are capable of is a simple plot summary, that paper, no matter how effectively written and organized, will receive, at the very most, a “B-.” In college you will be expected to move beyond the surface.

Likewise, if you are asked in a freshman composition class to describe an incident that occurred in your past and the significance of that incident, don’t give your teacher a detailed, blow-by-blow description of the event and then conclude, in a single sentence, that after that incident you “took life more seriously.” When a teacher asks you to define and explore the significance of something, that is what you need to do. Most people, students or otherwise, cling to the surface, for it is hard work to explore: it is risky, it is time-consuming, and it calls for significantly higher brain functions. It is so safe and peaceful on the surface of the water; to dive down to the depths below would be uncomfortable and challenging. But down there, on the ocean bottom, are the real wonders. Knowledge “too” is like that; she hides her wisdom and her insight lest the lazy and the reckless should get a hold of it and treat it rudely and harshly like the swine who trample the pearls underfoot.

If you are at a Christian university, bring this same zest for adventure and discovery to your religious growth. On the surface of Christianity are rules and regulations, standards of behavior and moral expectations. These, of course, you must learn, but you must also go deeper: move to the heart of the spiritual life. Yes, you will ask such academic questions as “Does God exist?” and “What does He expect of us?” But you mustn’t stop there. God is more than a definition to be memorized. He is a living, active Being who desires to have a relationship with you. It is not enough to determine merely whether God is true or not; you must also decide if He is real.

Uncover Assumptions

We live in an age of sound bite knowledge. That is to say, much of our information comes to us in the form of discrete, pre-packaged capsules. The media, in all its forms, assaults us daily with a kaleidoscope of sounds and images that are meant to appeal to us not on a rational or logical level, but on a strictly emotional “knee-jerk” level. Thus, a politician will make a long speech that details his platform and the assumptions on which that platform stands, but the media will only provide us with a smattering of disjointed, ten-second fragments from the speech. Even worse, the fragments will never reveal or explore the assumptions, nor will they detail the position itself; they will confine themselves, instead, to a witty pun, an emotional illustration, or a slanderous attack.

Trained as we are in such knee-jerk responses, it has become increasingly difficult for young people (and adults!) to uncover the assumptions on which political, theological, ethical, and aesthetic statements rest. It has become so much easier to turn off the higher functions of our brains and just think in sound bites. Such behavior, however, is dangerous, especially in a democracy where the leaders are a reflection of the people.

One of the traditional functions of a liberal arts university has been to make good citizens, people who can analyze complex issues, who can break down arguments into their component parts and then examine the validity of each part. Most college students don’t realize that behind all of their majors are assumptions that are accepted without question. It is imperative at a liberal arts university that students learn and apply tools for critical thinking that will allow them to determine the assumptions on which the central claims of their disciplines rest.

And these tools are more, not less, important in a Christian university. Most of the differences that distinguish modern thought from traditional Christian thought can be traced back to the assumptions upon which these contrasting systems are built. Thus, whereas our modern world rests on an evolutionary paradigm (that emphasizes progress and that posits physical matter as the origin of all things), biblical Christianity rests on a creationist paradigm (that emphasizes fixed codes and unchanging essences and that posits the spiritual as the origin). The fight between Christian and modern lies far deeper than any squabble over whether the six days of creation are literal or figurative; what is at issue is a battle over the very nature of reality. When a Christian and a modern disagree over whether the parting of the Red Sea was a miracle, what is more often at issue is the underlying assumption of whether or not miracles are possible.

Students who attend a Christian university must test the assumptions on which modernism rests. Now, after close study, you may decide that you agree with modernist assumptions. That is all right. What must be avoided at a liberal arts university, especially a Christian one, is not the informed acceptance of modernism—human beings are, after all, free agents—but the uncritical embracing
of systems of thought that claim to be “objective” and based solely on facts but which rest on unstated (and often unproven) assumptions.

Make Connections

To my mind, the greatest joy of a liberal-arts education comes in those dazzling moments when a connection suddenly, almost magically forms between areas of thought that might at first seem wholly unrelated: English and biology, psychology and physics, history and economics, and so forth. It’s that “aha” moment when the light bulb flashes and you glimpse a previously invisible thread that weaves its way through the academic tapestry. I hope you will experience many such moments in your college career and that they will encourage you to avoid isolating and compartmentalizing your knowledge.

Many today believe that wide-spread access to the vast stores of information available on the web is producing more intelligent students. I do not agree. The internet alone cannot make a student wise. That students now have access to more facts, figures, and statistics is not bad in itself, but the possession of discrete information is not equivalent to wisdom. Wisdom, understanding, and discernment only come when knowledge is synthesized into a greater whole, when connections are made that render the knowledge knowable, meaningful, and human.

If you attend a Christian liberal arts university, then the call to connect and integrate knowledge becomes even more vital. If you attend such a school, you will spend at least one semester studying works that were written by pre-Christian pagan writers. If you want to benefit from your education while remaining a serious Christian, then you must learn to draw together the lights of Athens and Jerusalem, the great accomplishments of humanism with the timeless truths of Christianity. You must not compartmentalize your faith, cutting it off from your humanistic studies or professional goals. You must know the maxim that “all truth is God’s truth” and seek to profit from all the wisdom that has been learned through the centuries. You must not reject the teachings of Plato or the symbols of classical mythology as pagan deceptions, but must learn to discern within them a seed of truth whose final source is the Triune God.

Enter into the Dialogue

At the core of any true liberal arts education lie the Great Books of Western Civilization, those timeless classics that contain, to quote Matthew Arnold, “the best that has been thought and known in the world.” They include the works of such thinkers as Homer, Virgil, Dante and Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and Nietzsche, Herodotus, Machiavelli and Mill, Euclid, Ptolemy, Newton and Einstein, Marx, Darwin, and Freud, and, of course, the writers of the Old and New Testaments. Some of these writers you will have read in high school, but at a liberal arts university you will be expected to do more than read passively the works of these mighty thinkers. You will be expected, quite literally, to enter into the dialogue, to become an active participant in a three-thousand-year-old conversation.

The reading of Great Books is not a one-way activity. The dialogue is real and energizing and calls for intense effort. In high school, perhaps, you thought it sufficient to do your homework assignments while lounging on your bed. Such passive, lazy reading will no longer do on the college level. You will be expected to read actively with pen in hand, marking key passages and underlining recurring themes and images. The business you are about is serious and life-changing; it is not to be trifled with.

That, however, is not to say that you should slavishly accept everything that is in the book merely because it is a classic or that you should reject it out of hand as being out of date. To enter into the dialogue means neither to kowtow to the status quo nor to close off your mind to the voice of the past. It means treating your mind as a raw piece of wood and the Great Book as a lathe. Use the work not as a substitute for original thought but as a tool for shaping and honing your ideas. Be like Jacob, who wrestled all night with the angel, and don’t let the book go till it bestows its blessing on you. And yes, if you are at a Christian liberal arts university, then don’t be afraid to carry that wrestling match into the precincts of the Early Church Fathers and even the Bible itself. Remember that the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, wrote a book of the Bible (Ecclesiastes) whose theme lies far afield from the cheerful optimism generally expected of the Christian.

So gird up your loins, and prepare yourself for an adventure! An exciting world of ideas lies in wait. But remember this: the point of a liberal arts education is not just to prepare you to do something, but to be someone: someone who is unafraid to think, to explore, to question, and to grow. May God speed you on your way!

Preparing for Multiversity

What should Christian Classical schools do in order to prepare students most effectively for higher education? At one level, the answers are obvious and have already been given many times. Classical schools often, for example, have staff dedicated to helping students negotiate the college application process. Similarly, there are many resources available for those hoping to do well on standardized tests. As necessary as these kinds of practical considerations can be, however, Classical educators are not satisfied with such answers because we are concerned to help students flourish as whole persons. In order to answer this question in a fuller way, we first need to consider the character of what is commonly referred to as “higher education.” We can then begin to understand how a Classical education, based on the liberal arts, provides arguably the best preparation for the challenges that follow high school. Ultimately, if Classical schools aim to form students who cooperate with God’s redemptive purposes in the world, teachers need to ensure that the practices that constitute the liberal arts are transformed in the light of Christ.

What do people typically mean by “higher education”? Depending on the speaker and the context, the phrase can have at least four distinct meanings. Sometimes, “higher education” refers specifically to undergraduate training in research at a research university. In other contexts, however, the term may refer to undergraduate technical or professional training. Such education may involve a four-year degree, or a shorter program, but the assumed purpose is to train professionals for a specific set of tasks, based on a shared body of knowledge, whether medical care, pastoral care, civil engineering, or social work. Beyond an emphasis on either research or professional training, there is also a third possible meaning for “higher education”: it can refer to a four-year liberal arts degree, whether in the context of a faith-based university or a secular institution. Even when this third sense of higher education is invoked, however, there is also often a further goal in view, a goal which indicates an additional meaning for “higher education”: that is, post-graduate professional training. This fourth sense includes graduate research degrees, but also training in the applications of research, whether at medical schools, law schools, or seminaries. Despite the variety of curricula, institutions, and purposes named by “higher education,” I suggest that all four senses of the term involve a deeper set of assumptions: 1) that education consists of learning how to discover “knowledge” about the world or to apply such knowledge to the world— regardless of whether that knowledge takes human or non-human nature as its object of inquiry; 2) that such “knowledge” consists of information about neutral objects that make up the world, the value of which depends on human purposes; 3) that the ultimate purpose of education is reducible to job training—regardless of whether that job is oriented toward research or the professional application of others’ discoveries.1 As we shall see, these shared assumptions suggest that the term, “multiversity,” rather than “university” or “college,” more accurately names the educational context of most students who study beyond high school.

The political philosopher, George Grant, uses the term, “multiversity,” to name the institutions embodying the belief that knowledge consists of discrete facts about objects that make up the world.2 We shall consider below exactly what such a view of knowledge involves, but we should note here that the attempt to construe the world as a set of neutral objects whose value depends on human purposes is uniquely modern. The evident success and power of that vision appears in the technological triumphs that surround us daily. We need to appreciate, however, that the common complaint about how specialization has fragmented the academic disciplines (because no one can master the volume of information) is a sign of the success of that vision, not its failure. The lack of integration in modern education more generally, of which the multiversity is the highest expression, reveals the “success” of this modern treatment of the world as neutral objects. Why is the character of higher education as a “multiversity” important to understand? It implies that a student who attends a small liberal arts college, or a Bible college, or a local community college, or a vocational institute, even if that student never attends a so-called “research university,” may still be participating in the larger institutional reality of the multiversity.

The multiversity embodies, in institutional form, three widely shared educational assumptions: 1) that education is reducible to the acquisition of information and analytic skills; 2) that the purpose of education is to learn things that are “useful”—that is, to master neutral objects in the world; 3) that such knowledge (“information”) can be had without personal participation—that is, without engaging the affections or relying on an assumed good. In regard to this last point, obviously many teachers, over several decades, have explicitly addressed the problem of student engagement. These attempts to improve student engagement are, however, a response to an underlying assumption that remains in effect today: the belief that “real learning” is reducible to information that does not necessarily include either “values” (any particular notion of an assumed good) or any beauty that would evoke desire. When we construe the world—whether plants or other people—as “objects” that are “held away from us for our questioning,” we participate in a version of truth that is disconnected from goodness and beauty.3

How then can students be formed so that they go on to participate in the practices of the multiversity in a manner that reorients those practices toward a union of truth, goodness, and beauty? The difficulty is that modern Classical educators sometimes reduce “grammar” to “information.” In doing so, we risk reinforcing the assumption that the world consists of neutral objects
for human disposing. I suggest that teachers can best help students prepare for multiversity by giving them a thorough formation in grammar, understood as a liberal art and in the light of Christ.

As many teachers in classical schools can testify, an education based on the verbal arts of the trivium and the mathematical arts of the quadrivium is simply the most complete preparation for any version of higher education.4 We can appreciate the benefits of these arts more fully, however, if we consider one of them in more detail. What does it mean to understand “grammar” as a liberal art? An “art” consists of knowledge regarding how to make something.5 An art is “liberal” if it is concerned with intellectual things (such as words or numbers) rather than tangible things (such as wood, metal, or paint). Grammar, in this strict sense, as a liberal art, consists of knowledge regarding how to arrange words in order to make appropriate statements and how those statements refer to reality. The term “appropriate” includes appropriate to the topic, the occasion, the audience, and the purpose of any given utterance. By “statements” I mean not only propositions, but all manner of language use, from single- word imperatives to questions. In the same way, the term “refer” includes not only indicative gestures but all the indirect ways that reality is susceptible to being construed by words. The crucial feature of mature grammatical formation is careful attention to the explicit and implicit ways in which words relate to reality.

The root issue in teaching the grammar of any discipline is for both the teacher and student to recognize that grammar is ultimately about faithfulness to reality— specifically, whether our words are faithful to reality (created and uncreated). Students formed in this way, will have little difficulty handling any new subjects or modes of inquiry that they face in the multiversity—they will be in the habit of asking questions such as, “What are the assumed definitions in this text (or speech, or lab report)?” or, “What ethical purposes are implied by this word?” More accomplished students of grammar will also ask about the purposes of a given discourse or a mode of inquiry—whether those purposes are explicit or implicit. Such questions also obviously involve logic and rhetoric; however, the grammatical training is never left behind— in effect, every decision regarding a particular word also involves a range of logical definitions and connotations that shape persuasive effect. The key point for teachers at all levels to appreciate is that students form the ability for such advanced understanding when they form the habit of considering the manner in which words refer to reality.

Such grammatical formation may, by itself, enable a student to be an effective participant in the multiversity, but it may still limit that participation to the cycle of information production and consumption. Such grammatical skills need to be formed also in the light of Christ. I suggest that, apart from the Gospel, grammar tends in one of two directions: either presumption or despair—specifically regarding the capacity for words to get at reality. Some people tend toward unwarranted optimism about what language can do—presuming a direct connection or a necessary relation between words and reality. In practice, this typically involves reducing reality to our words, rather than using them to reveal some aspect of a reality greater than our words. By contrast, other people may be inclined to see language as only equivocal or ambiguous. In effect, they are tempted to despair of any meaning for language that would be greater than ourselves. For Christians, the Incarnation of God’s living Word in the person of Christ means that human language does have some capacity to get at reality (created and uncreated). At the same time, however, the Christian insistence upon the ongoing effects of creaturely finitude and fallenness means that our verbal accounts of reality will always be partial and incomplete. Thus, Christian revelation transforms grammar—that is, our assumptions regarding how words relate to and participate in reality—by providing warrant for both humility and hope.

What difference do those virtues make to the way in which grammar shapes the intellectual life of students? If students are formed by grammar in the light of Christ, rather than by a grammar reduced to information, they will have the following distinctive qualities: 1) they will be in the habit of using words to think well about reality— neither forgetting the distinction between words and reality (presumption) nor dismissing the connection (despair); 2) they will have a clear sense of how to discern the implicit purposes for any given discipline—that is, the good implied by the persuasive ethos in its use of language; 3) the will understand each academic discipline as a tradition of inquiry, including specific practices and language use.
By contrast, if students are in the habit of reducing their studies to information they will tend: to mistake the words of human inquiry for the reality being studied, to ignore questions regarding the non-instrumental purpose for
their studies, and to forget the inherited character of the languages and academic disciplines that they use. In other words, teaching the grammar of any discipline in the light of Christ will lead students out of themselves, whereas reducing studies to information simply reinforces the tendency to ethical egoism that dominates our culture. In his conclusion to The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis proposes what he calls a “regenerate science”—that is, a manner of knowing that “would not even do to minerals and vegetables” what the construal of the world as objects does to human beings.6 Lewis proposes, in effect, that, if the realities in the world were construed as having worth and beauty in themselves, rather than as neutral objects for human disposing, we would change the investigative means by which we seek to understand the world. Students who are grammatically prepared to discern the unity of truth, goodness, and beauty in the person of Christ and to bring that discernment to the practices of any given intellectual inquiry will be uniquely prepared to undertake such a challenge in the disciplinary contexts of the multiversity.