Expanding Access to Classical Christian Education: The story of the Eccleisal School Initiative

A Classical Christian Education can seem prohibitive for many families. While many schools are very generous in offering scholarships, they often fall short in providing access to a classical Christian school. How can schools consider the least of these and provide access to those who are academically disenfranchised, culturally diverse, and economically disadvantaged?

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Conceptually-Based Upper School Mathematics Curriculum: Lesson Learned From Transition

Geneva School transitioned to a conceptually-based, problem-solving focused mathematics curriculum for upper grades. We implemented Math in Focus for lower grades eight years prior. This curriculum uses
collaboration to foster learning and focuses on students making sense of mathematics for themselves. We will share lessons learned from the process, feedback from parents, implementation challenges, obstacles and success stories. Come learn from our experiences and see how you might make a similar transition within your school.

Janet Andreasen

Janet teaches prospective and practicing math teachers at the University of Central Florida. Her research interests include examining mathematical knowledge for teaching and using technology to foster learning of mathematical concepts. She received a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Miami and both a master’s and doctoral degree in mathematics education from the University of Central Florida.

Kevin Clark

Kevin serves as Academic Dean of Th e Geneva School, where he has been a member of the rhetoric faculty for 14 years. Dr. Clark is a founding Fellow of SCL’s Alcuin Fellowship and speaks regularly at SCL and Alcuin retreats and conferences.

Christine Miller

Christine joined Th e Geneva School faculty in 2006 and teaches mathematics to dialectic and rhetoric students. She received her bachelor's degree in computer engineering from the University of Central Florida and worked as an engineer in the Central Florida area for seven years. In its inaugural year, Christine was the upper school winner of Th e Geneva School 2012 Paideia Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Metaphysics for Science Majors: How to Build a Conceptual Bridge from the Sciences to the Humanities

Without forethought, science class will unwittingly form reductionistic, materialistic assumptions about all of reality in the minds of students. These metaphysical assumptions are not from science and need to be removed before connecting with the humanities.

Robbie Andreasen

Robbie Andreasen has been teaching life science, biology and anatomy and physiology at The Geneva School since 2007.

Kevin Clark

Dr. Kevin Clark Serves as Academic Dean of The Geneva School, where he has been a member of the Rhetoric faculty for 14 years. Dr. Clark is a founding fellow of SCL's Alcuin Fellowship and speaks regularly at SCL and Alcuin retreats and conferences.

Metaphysics for Science Majors (LAB)

This workshop follows upon the material discussed in the prior seminar and is designed to help fellow science and humanities colleagues work together to create practices that will form a Christian metaphysic in their students.

Robbie Andreasen

Robbie Andreasen has been teaching life science, biology and anatomy and physiology at The Geneva School since 2007.

Kevin Clark

Dr. Kevin Clark Serves as Academic Dean of The Geneva School, where he has been a member of the Rhetoric faculty for 14 years. Dr. Clark is a founding fellow of SCL's Alcuin Fellowship and speaks regularly at SCL and Alcuin retreats and conferences.

A Practical Introduction to the Liberal Arts

As the tools and seeds of learning, the liberal arts of language and math have important implications for teaching and learning in the classical classroom. This session introduces the basic logic of liberal arts teaching through concrete examples.

Kevin Clark

As the tools and seeds of learning, the liberal arts of language and math have important implications for teaching and learning in the classical classroom. This session introduces the basic logic of liberal arts teaching through concrete examples.

Cultivating Organizational Health through Leadership

In his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Patrick Lencioni argues that becoming a great and successful organization has everything to do with a humble and cohesive leadership team that creates, over-communicates clarity, and reinforces clarity in everything they do. The Geneva School leadership team recently worked through the exercises in this book, answering six critical questions to create a one-page playbook for communication, decision making, and planning going forward. Kevin Clark, Andrew Smith, and Jim Reynolds will share The Geneva School playbook and the lessons learned from doing the work together to answer the six critical questions.

Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark has been a member of the rhetoric faculty at The Geneva School since 2004, where he teaches Rhetoric and Christian Thought to seniors. In the spring of 2013 he became the school’s academic dean. Kevin holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Central Florida, an MA in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary, and is a candidate for Doctor of Liberal Studies (DLS) at Georgetown University. Kevin as recently co-authored a book on classical education with his friend and Geneva colleague Ravi Jain entitled The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education (Classical Academic Press, 2013). He loves spending time with his family (married with four children) doing most anything outdoors from running, hiking, and splashing around at the beach, to looking a er the family chickens.concepts. Prior to joining the faculty at UCF, Dr. Andreasen was a high school mathematics teacher. Dr. Andreasen has published books, book chapters, and articles in state and national publications as well as professional presentations throughout the United States. Dr. Andreasen received a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Miami (FL) and both a master’s degree in Mathematics Education and a Ph.D. in Education, Mathematics Education from the University of Central Florida.

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith came to Geneva in 2014 from Memphis, TN where he spent eleven years at Westminster Academy, serving as head of upper school, teaching in the disciplines of rhetoric, philosophy, and theology, and shaping the school’s rhetoric curriculum. He earned a BA in History from the University of Memphis, an MDiv from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, and an MA in Philosophy from the University of Memphis. He currently serves as an Alcuin Fellow with the Society for Classical Learning. Andrew married Keri in 1997, and they have four children—Lizzie, Anna, Sara Kate, and Hugh. One of Andrew’s favorite pastimes is roasting and enjoying great co ee, and he is always happy to converse about that subject.

Jim Reynolds

Jim Reynolds helped begin an ecumenical Christian school in the Ann Arbor, MI area in the 1980s and taught there for eight years before becoming a consultant with Harcourt School Publishers. In his nineteen years at Harcourt School Publishing (and later Houghton Mi in Harcourt), Jim transitioned from an educational consultant, to mathematics marketing manager, and then to Vice President/Editor- in-Chief, Mathematics. Jim left educational publishing in 2011 for the opportunity to serve the students, parents, and faculty at The Geneva School as the dean of faculty. Jim has three sons: Michael (class of 2010), Wesley (class of 2013), and Ben (class of 2016). He enjoys reading science fiction, playing the drums, listening to jazz music, fishing, being on the beach, canoeing, and hitting tennis with his lovely wife, Nancy.

The Liberal Arts and Human Flourishing

One encounters any number of reasons for the importance of a liberal arts education, both from within the Christian classical renewal and in the broader educational culture. In Christian classical circles one is likely to hear an emphasis upon the potency of the liberal arts as tools of learning, while in the broader culture the emphases one often meets range from vague notions of well-roundedness to pragmatic claims of employability. Thus the thesis advanced in the present article may appear to some as bold and somewhat surprising.

The best reason for pursuing a liberal arts education is not that it produces well-rounded persons, though the breadth of human experience it affords is expansive. Nor is it that the liberal arts foster or engender the kind of written, verbal, or critical thinking skills sought after by some employers, though the skills of persuasive writing and speaking and of interpretive reading and analysis indeed lie at the core of the liberal arts curriculum. Rather, the most compelling reason for pursuing a liberal arts education is the distinct claim that the historical, aesthetic, philological disciplines of the traditional liberal arts curriculum
cultivate the qualities of moral judgment, common sense (sensus communis), and taste.1 It is not only that the Western tradition has understood the distinctively human element of civilization to consist in the acquisition and exercise of these qualities, but also that they actually constitute the pre-critical conditions for human rationality itself. Put most simply, then, the best reason for pursuing a liberal arts education is that it cultivates the qualities necessary for human flourishing, both in terms of human reason and of human moral being in the world. It is also the most compelling because it is perfectly attuned to our own cultural moment.

Cultivating moral judgement, common sense, and taste

There is perhaps no single aspect in which a liberal arts education is more obviously unique than in its telos— the acquisition of moral wisdom or judgment. Earlier thinkers such as Plato or Aristotle would have called this virtue phronesis, practical wisdom. While our own culture is preoccupied with a plurality of incommensurable educational goals—rational mastery of a subject, technical proficiency, the ability to calculate, to deduce, or to process data—the ideal of a liberal education has always been wise and responsible action in the world. Phronesis thus unites the theoretical and the practical goals of education; we might say that it is the good sense to know what to do with truth. Honed through imitation and continual practice, it is the skill of living a good human life in the world.2

The question arises, however, if the liberal arts are primarily academic in nature, how does such an education cultivate this virtue of practical rationality? The most direct answer is that they do not and cannot do so on their own. Acquiring the skill of living wisely in the world takes practice— real choices, real actions, real consequences.3 However, the liberal arts provide irreplaceable imaginative resources for acquiring this skill. In fact, imagination is perhaps principal among these resources, for the poets and historians have bequeathed to us the great gift of literature—narratives historical and fictional—where one may observe the lives of the wise and the foolish, experiencing those lives vicariously by entering imaginatively into their stories. Through the study of literature the student gains the kind of experience in life necessary for moral formation that his or her young age does not permit. Hence, what one lacks in lived experience he can glean from literary experience. Cicero adds a further dimension to our understanding of this imaginative effect of literary experience in his famous oration Pro Archia Poeta. “All books are full, all words of the wise are full, and all history is full of examples,” he writes; “I have always kept these images in view when serving as a magistrate, shaping my heart and mind after them by meditating on their excellences.” For Cicero the study of history and literature afforded by a liberal arts education not only instructed him but compelled him boldly to act for the common good of his community. The experience gained from the liberal arts provides narratives for making sense of one’s own life and directs one’s affections toward what is good and noble and true. Potent resources indeed for acquiring moral wisdom.

Sensus communis is closely connected to the skill of moral judgement. Although we often render this Latin phrase with the familiar words common sense, it is necessary to recall something of the technical meaning these words carry over from the art of rhetoric in order fully to appreciate their importance.4 Of course, we use the phrase common sense all of the time to mean an intuitive understanding of how to get along in the world, often contrasting it with academic or specialized knowledge.
(In fact, one is at times tempted to conclude that common sense is precisely the one quality many academics are lacking.) Although the ordinary meaning of the phrase is not identical to its technical sense, it happily flows from it. In classical rhetoric, sensus communis actually refers to that shared understanding of the world that a rhetorician can rely on when crafting his oration. It is not something he must prove, nor even that he will often state. Rather, it is that shared body of assumptions that invisibly bind together a group of people and, as writers from C. S. Lewis to Alasdair MacIntyre demonstrate,5 actually make moral reasoning possible in the first place. Since this quality was first marginalized and then suppressed during the Enlightenment, it is difficult for the contemporary reader to appreciate just how important the acquisition of common sense was to educators in the classical world.6 Aristotle notes in the Ethics, for example that the conscious transfer of the culture’s body of shared assumptions is one of education’s primary objectives.7

As a quality intentionally cultivated by the liberal arts curriculum, sensus communis is best characterized as a studied sense of the wisdom and insight (and indeed the prejudices and presuppositions) of previous generations. As such, it awakens us to that indefinably familiar atmosphere that breathes through the pages of the stories, shapes the historical narratives, and inflects the language of a people at a given place and time. It develops a conscious sense for what is commonly, though implicitly, held to be true. Common sense is thus closely related to what Edmund Burke famously coins the moral imagination in his Letter Concerning the Recent Revolution in France, and sounds remarkably like that distinctly human faculty-the chest-whose loss C. S. Lewis laments in the first part of The Abolition of Man. Philosopher Paul Ricoeur also seems to be invoking this sense of the common, when he speaks of the insight into life acquired via the “long detour” among the literary and imaginative works of humanity.8 He argues that what seems to be a detour is actually the obligatory path we must take if we are to understand ourselves and our culture. Failure to take this detour, to run along this path, is to guarantee the short-circuiting of self-knowledge. Interestingly, Ricoeur’s detour among the historical, aesthetic and philological disciplines is actually the well-worn path of the liberal arts curriculum—the study of history, literature, poetry, and language. The liberal arts connect us to our historical tradition by cultivating a sense for what is held in common throughout the history of that tradition.

The development of taste is something of an aesthetic analog to the cultivation of common sense. While it is not only artists who need to cultivate taste, reflection upon their experience is helpful in understanding its foundational importance. For to become a musician, fine artist, actor, or poet, is to take the long detour via the aesthetic achievements of humanity. The cellist works through the instrument’s received repertoire, the fine artist makes master copy after master copy, the actor rehearses the same lines countless other actors have performed for generations. I suppose we grasp intuitively the role tradition plays in the pedagogy of the arts. Lest we fail to recognize its significance, however, it is important to see that the specific claim of the arts in this regard is that creativity and artistic sensibilities are formed by attention to tradition. Picasso, to cite a somewhat dated but brilliant example, is highly original (to many of his time shockingly so); yet, without the tradition of European masters, there would be no blue paintings, no Guernica. Again, we grasp all of this intuitively; but how often do we fail to reflect upon the actual process of artistic formation when we wonder over much that is crass, tasteless, or vulgar in contemporary culture? The development of aesthetic taste, like the development of the adult palate, is formed by experience. As common sense is a studied sense for
the commonly held truths of a culture, taste is a sense for what is fitting or decent that is cultivated over time and experienced in the arts.

The liberal arts are more timely than timeless.

I asserted above that the most compelling reason to pursue a liberal arts education is that it cultivates the qualities necessary for human flourishing. To understand why this makes the liberal arts relevant to contemporary culture it is necessary to place our cultural moment within historical perspective. The last century witnessed a series of radical upheavals in the cultural and intellectual life of Western civilization. While one is tempted to think here only of cultural developments—the world wars, the advent of the nuclear age, or the sexual revolution—the intellectual landscape changed forever as well. Most importantly in this regard is the abandonment of what some intellectual historians have termed the Enlightenment project.9

To paint with very broad strokes, the Enlightenment is an episode in the intellectual life and culture of Western civilization, where on the basis of and in reaction to a number of factors—scientific, social, religious, and political—Western thinkers experienced an acute loss of confidence in central elements of human tradition and in the institutions which embodied and perpetuated that tradition. Where Western civilization had been maintained by a tensed harmony (at least in theory) of a number of incommensurable authorities—faith, tradition, reason, experience, community—the Enlightenment project is perhaps best characterized as the attempt to secure the goods of that tradition upon the putatively certain ground of reason. A brilliant illustration of this project
is Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? in which he famously describes enlightenment as man’s emergence from self-imposed immaturity, an immaturity strictly defined as reliance upon such traditional mediating structures and institutions as books, doctors, priests, and judges in human intellectual, physical, religious, and moral life. To be enlightened, claims Kant, is to dare to think for oneself—sapere aude!— and thus his ideal human is a rationally autonomous subject for whom reason is the sole guarantor of human intellectual and moral goods. The notion that human flourishing is dependent upon anything more fundamental than reason is precisely what is repudiated here.

By the mid-twentieth century, when the realization that the European Enlightenment had culminated in the most devastating (and efficient) elimination of human  life the world has yet witnessed—indeed, greater in quantity than all armed conflicts in human history combined—recognition of the Enlightenment project’s failure was widespread. Yet, it was not merely malaise or disillusionment that signaled the end of the Enlightenment. Throughout the twentieth century there was also a succession of insights—notably from the sciences— concerning the role historical tradition and community practices play in forming our philosophical outlook, the influence that religious (or anti-religious) presuppositions have in our reasoning, and the comprehensive effect that language and culture have in shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live. With this succession of insights has come renewed appreciation for the displaced notions of faith, tradition, reason, experience, and community. There has been renewed appreciation as well for the practices and ways of being in the world that gave these notions plausibility prior to the Enlightenment.

It is this new way of thinking about human rationality that provides a renewed context for liberal arts education, and the most compelling case for its contemporary re-appropriation. An Enlightenment view of reason has simply proved too narrow to account for human rationality, much less to secure the goods of human life. The historical, aesthetic, and philological disciplines of the liberal arts curriculum, however, are especially well fitted to the more robust understanding of what it means to be rational in our current intellectual situation.

Beyond the “well-rounded” student

Understanding this historical context also helps us to perceive the problem with the commonplace notion mentioned above that a liberal arts education produces well-rounded people. For it was precisely as an unquestioning response to Enlightenment rationality that the liberal arts were first defended as the means of making well-rounded persons. The rational and scientific disciplines, so the thinking went at the time, set the standards for what it meant to be well educated. The liberal arts are important for making one refined, cultured, humane. Thus, taste, common sense, and judgment were understood to be important subjective or intuitive qualities one should develop while acquiring an otherwise objective and scientific education. However laudable the intention, this notion is tragically mistaken for at least two important reasons. In the first place, rather than maintaining the liberal arts in something of a separate-but-equal status with the sciences, emphasizing their cultural or refining qualities actually served to relegate the liberal arts to educational window-dressing. In the age of science, urbanization, and industrialization, such accoutrement was superfluous—indeed, when it comes to making the automobile, not only history, but art and literature too, are bunk. In this brave new world of progress, the very notion of refinement was seen to smack of elitism and old-world aristocracy. Moreover, in light of the discussion above, it ought to be clear that the relegation of the liberal arts to
the periphery of the curriculum was philosophically naive. It was not apparent in the nineteenth century, but we see now that the qualities the liberal arts cultivate, much more than rounding out a practical, scientific education, actually play a fundamental role in the acquisition of human understanding as such. The liberal arts are thus essential to and not just an accidental element of education.

In The Abolition of Man C. S. Lewis writes: “And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation— we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self- sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity
we remove the organ and demand the function.” He is lamenting the failure of modern education to cultivate
the very qualities we have addressed all too briefly in this essay—moral judgement, common sense, and taste—not, we should note, critical thinking or academic rigor. Modern education rendered the cultivation of these humanizing qualities impossible because it displaced the liberal arts curriculum with what was imagined to be a more practical or more relevant curriculum. Chesterton once remarked that thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world. Perhaps we could adapt his words here and apply them to our discussion: thoroughly practical people never understand what is truly practical. So in its departure from modern education, the Christian classical renewal has come to understand that it is precisely the liberal arts curriculum—that seemingly impractical detour among the literary and imaginative works of humanity— that cultivates the qualities necessary for meaningful human action, and indeed true human flourishing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Though the Battlefield May Constitute the Stuff of Legends…”

What a pleasure it is to be here today. It is a great honor to be invited to talk at an institution I cherish so much and esteem so highly. Though I never had the chance to walk the halls of this building as a student, the spirit of the school has not changed and it is ever so refreshing to be back among you again.

And being among you as I am and being fresh home from Iraq, I have some words that God has placed heavily on my heart to share with you today. To the students especially, but to the faculty as well, and to anyone else who may be here, this is meant for everyone when I say: this endeavor in which you are engaged is no different than the military one in which I have participated for these past months; and in my eyes, in fact, it is infinitely more important. In these classrooms and amongst these fellows, you are laying within yourselves the foundations of character and gaining an intimacy with those principles of moral and civic virtue that give rise to the culture uniquely suited to support and defend liberty in America.

Let me assure you that though the battlefield may constitute the stuff of legends, the seeds of victory were sown first in the classroom. For this is where knowledge and experience are synthesized and explored in the lessons of history, where wisdom is cultivated from study and integrity is forged through rigor. Lest you think, that what you are a part of is merely middle or high school, let me remind you that this—all of this we see before us—is the validation of a great sacrifice and the continued hope of a 235 year endeavor for the sake of liberty. Now you might struggle to see the link between the preservation of freedom and third period Algebra. I know I did. So if I may, let me paint a clearer picture.

The character of a country or its national identity is often summed up in grandiose generalizations that get thrown about in all sorts of ways. Words like liberty are o repeated in different situations to different audiences, and they are used to define a broad spectrum of generally related but not necessarily congruent ideas. So when I say liberty or freedom, let me be clear: I mean to describe the situation which uniquely exists within this country, in which, a person may exist in the absence of a tyrannical force. Freedom in the United States is not, contrary to popular opinion, the ability to do whatever you want, for we do have laws. But it is the assurance that when and where governing rules are necessary, they will be made in accordance to the consent of the governed.

The “absence of tyranny” and the “consent of the governed”— these are statements that broadly describe the political ideology of the United States, an ideology that is the direct product of a unique culture which fosters its creation. While the typical explanation may stop there, permit me to extend it further in order to explore, to its fullest depth, the nature of liberty within our country. The danger here is that liberty might become, like so many concepts, a subjective mess of personal opinion changing over time. Politics often enjoys the ambiguous uses of words creating different meanings in different settings. Yet here, in this place, it is taught that liberty holds a permanent meaning that relies on the only source of absolute truth this world has ever known. This teaching has given liberty its lasting meaning and its permanent definition in the heritage of our nation. For though man might love liberty, man is fickle, and the long term benefits of liberty take on a dull sheen when compared to the mesmerizing glitter of power. Without Christ as the foundation, liberty is just a hopeful ash in the darkness; and, though reason may be an able guardian, it is nally defeated by the forgetfulness of time. Manifested in those who face the apparent horrors of future darkness without the hope of Christ’s promises, liberty is quickly downplayed, quickly redefined, quickly discarded for the naïveté of man’s self-assured desire to control his destiny.

And with that statement, we meet head- on with the crux: the link between your education and the preservation of liberty. These classrooms where a boy and a girl might first learn the tradition of Fides, Veritas, and Ministerium are the proving grounds of
the most responsible member of society, the common citizen. Responsibility derives from the implications embodied in: “consent of the governed.” Consent implies involvement in the governing of the nation. Out of the people come the leaders who must, at their very core understand that the nature of this responsibility is built upon the ideals of personal sacrifice and service. Year-after-year, generation-after- generation, the common citizens are responsible for the protection of the heritage of liberty through the development of a society that encourages the growth of servant leaders. Each successive generation learning from those preceding it— first of the moral principles that stand as its foundation and then of the knowledge that stands as its defense—carries on a tradition that one generation, long ago, lived, fought, and died for.

Here, students, you are engaged in the endeavor of holding together the great defense of liberty against the tremendous onslaught of forces—both without and, more importantly, within—that conspire every day to overrun its great bulwarks. Liberty rests on this precarious balance held up by a culture that understands the foundations of liberty are laid in Christ and the defense of liberty is laid in the traditions of Western society. On all sides are enemies, foreign and domestic, persons and causes, immorality, and foolishness. Christ Jesus, through the Bible, provides the perspective through which reason can be applied effectively and thus gives, in the words of John Adams, “the only system that ever did or ever will preserve a republic in this world.”

Coming home from a war, you might think I would want to speak of external enemies. We have faced quite a few and continue to face them today. When it comes to sheer force, the American Revolution provides an excellent picture of a war in which we faced an overwhelming enemy and overcame insurmountable odds. Communism was an insidious complication to the hopes of American liberty and an ideological attack designed specifically to bring our country to its knees. Today, radical Islam and its followers pose an overwhelmingly significant threat that few people fully appreciate and that our nation is struggling to confront. And while all these foes give cause for concern, they pale in comparison to the task in which you are now engaged. Although these foes caused great concern in their time and continue to do so today, the cause for liberty at home is the primary concern and the great cause of the American people for all time. Enemies will always lurk on the horizon, and we will need to deal with them. But as the old proverb says—to know your enemy, you must first know yourself.

As early as 1630, John Winthrop noted, “We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” And with the world watching, we the people have taken a great risk and embarked on a great experiment, to see if the citizens of a country might be capable of governing themselves. Tyranny, while unfamiliar to us today, is always as near as one man’s ambition for power is to overwhelming the construct that we the people have erected against it: The Constitution. Against those who would abuse power, who would distort liberty for their own purposes, and who would pay it only lip service in an effort to gain influence, we are defended by our Constitution: a construct of laws which relies on a foundation of culture to preserve it against the steady erosion of ambition’s rising tides. That culture, a very particular one as I noted before, defends by doing just what you do here: endeavoring to learn, disciplining your mind, and building your character to be one who cries out at the very mention of tyranny or injustice, “NEVER!”

I want to remind you of the genuine wonder that is our country because, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently predicted to another school-age crowd in 1838, “what the invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done.”

Liberty, which once stood as, “the last best hope of earth,” now rolls o the tongue with an ease that belies the troubling indifference of familiarity’s creation. The concept of liberty once held such a lofty position as to compel the founders—who within their group controlled a significant portion of the power existing within the country at the time—to impose and enforce upon themselves the restrictions of law, thus preventing tyranny and ensuring liberty to all their countrymen. This is not the commonplace; this is the stuff of legends. It was the classroom that created the culture which brought these men to the forefront. It was the principles instilled in the years of youth that ensured that they would choose the harder right over the easier wrong.

So I say to you, Press On! Press ON! Never wonder whether what you are doing matters. On those long nights and interminable days, do not forget: you are not merely students but fellows with wily Odysseus and Pallas Athena in the epic of our time.

Classical Education and the Arts of the Beautiful

The Arts and the Liberal Arts

The traditional seven liberal arts are part of the wealth we have inherited from the classical world. The divisions of our school—Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric—bear the name of the first three of these liberal arts, which are often called the Trivium (from the Latin, meaning “the three paths”). The latter four—Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy—do not get as much press, but are nonetheless part of our core curriculum. The Ancients believed that these “arts” were not merely subjects to be mastered but sure and certain ways of forming in the soul those intellectual virtues that were necessary for acquiring true wisdom. Necessary, that is, but not sufficient. In order to acquire wisdom, one needs more than mere intellectual formation. This leads us to the fine arts, poetry, music, and drama—but not quite yet.

Knowing Truth, Doing Good

This year, our school community has been thinking and talking a lot about piety. Indeed, we are thankfully not merely thinking and talking, but praying and reading the Scriptures. This is not mere accoutrement, however; it is part of the day’s education. For, in the classical Christian tradition, faith and learning go together. But the interesting thing is that this is an inheritance from both our Christian and our classical forebears.

Educators in classical antiquity saw too that wisdom required not only the formation of the intellectual virtues but also the formation of the moral virtues: the practice of piety. While it is true that, being ignorant of the scriptural revelation of God that we enjoy as Christians, these men worshipped pagan gods, they nevertheless saw that the piety a person owed to the gods, to his family, and to his city or community is essential to and inseparable from true education. So much is this the case that such famous teachers as Plato and Aristotle express their doubts as to whether a man lacking moral formation is truly capable of reasoning. For them, the man who thinks rationally must act piously; that is, in some profound way, the moral and the intellectual are connected intimately together. This notion is also thoroughly biblical, I think. Consider the Proverbs, for example, where one finds that mere knowledge without piety (the fear of the Lord) is condemned as folly.

So, in the classical and Christian tradition, faith and learning, reason and piety, are integrated. But where and how does this integration take place? Our answer to this question is twofold and brings us finally to the role of the Arts of the Beautiful— music, drama, poetry, drawing, painting and sculpting—in the classical curriculum.

The Natural Location of Integration

In order to appreciate fully the answer to this question, we must keep in mind an important distinction: whereas the liberal arts are theoretical in nature and piety is practical, the Arts of the Beautiful are poetic and aesthetic. That is to say, while the liberal arts are primarily concerned with thinking and piety, with being and doing, the fine and performing arts are directed towards creating and adoring. Without delving too deeply into philosophy or theology, I should point out that this list—being, thinking, doing, making and adoring— are a human being’s principal acts. We exist, we think, we do, we create, and we love because we are human beings made in God’s image, and it is as united human beings that we do each of these things. The same man who loves is the one who thinks; the same one who creates acts ethically; and, of course, one has to exist to do any of these things. All this to say that human beings are themselves naturally integrated: One is variously employed in each of these acts, but is yet one person.

Integration, then, is not simply or even primarily a matter of thinking through our curriculum; it is a matter of our anthropology, our understanding of what makes human beings human. The children we are seeking to educate are integrated beings themselves and they need to be given an integrated education because this respects their nature as human beings made in the image of God. I would maintain that the Arts of the Beautiful are essential to our curriculum because they appeal to, develop, and resonate with our natural human capacity to create, to love, and to adore beauty. Failure to cultivate these arts is failure to recognize the nature of the children we are educating and, as such, is failure to achieve education in anything but a truncated sense.

Where then does the integration of faith and learning, reason and piety take place in our curriculum? The most basic answer to this question is that it takes place in the student, the integral human being made in God’s image. That is to say our curriculum is integrated because it flows from and is governed by our anthropology. But this is only the first part of our answer. As I indicated above, the full answer is twofold and is bound up with the Arts of the Beautiful. For, as we will see, these arts play an essential role in tuning the heart and nourishing the moral imagination.

A Surprising Discovery

When I first became interested in classical education as a teacher, I began to search everywhere to see how the great pedagogues of the past ordered their curricula. As I searched, I was amazed at what I found: the great teachers of the past had almost completely inverted the curriculum I expected to find. If classical education is anything, I thought, it is primarily an academically rigorous intellectual formation. It certainly is at least that, but as I read the early masters—Plato in his Republic and Aristotle in his Ethics—I found that they placed primary importance not upon intellectual formation but upon music and gymnastic, the tuning of the heart and the training of the body.

Interestingly, for Plato and Aristotle, gymnastic and music formed the entire curriculum until about age twenty! Now I should explain that these two subjects were not as specific as they are today. Gymnastic was apparently devoted to the entire physical conditioning of a child, and music dealt with everything the ancients believed to be inspired by the Muses (hence “music”): what we now call music, poetry, drama, and the fine arts, but also history and literature. In classical antiquity almost the entire education of children (who, mind you, would be in our Pre-K–12th grade program) was directed to physical training, discipline, singing, memorizing poetry, acting/imitating, drawing, sculpting, learning of the deeds of the great men of the past, and reading great literary works.

Training the Body, Tuning the Soul

But why? Why spend so much time in these two areas? The answer is simple: they saw that the disciplined physical training of gymnastic and the aesthetic, affective and emotional training of music are foundational to the acquisition of both the moral and the intellectual virtues. Consider what Plato writes in the Republic:

And, as we were saying, the united influence of music and gymnastic will bring [the reason and the passions] into accord, nerving and sustaining the reason with noble words and lessons, and moderating and soothing and civilizing the wildness of passion by harmony and rhythm (4.442a)

Plato did not have a doctrine of original sin, but he did see apparent in his students some sort of disorder that needed to be addressed before intellectual and moral reasoning could be pursued. He found that music and gymnastic were especially well suited for this. Plato writes, Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony nd their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful… he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar (3.402a, italics mine)

Of course, as Christians, we must reject Plato’s idea that aesthetic experience alone imparts grace—that is the special work of the Holy Spirit. His more general point, however, is compelling: the songs we sing, the stories we read, and the art we make and admire form our souls. If Plato is right, our musical education disposes us toward (or away from) truth and goodness.

I proposed above that the Arts of the Beautiful are essential to our curriculum because they appeal to, develop, and resonate with our natural human capacity to create, to love, and to adore beauty. A second reason that they are essential to our curriculum, however, is that they attune our souls to goodness and truth. Failure to cultivate these arts, then, is failure not merely to have certain aesthetic experiences, but it will also result in a failure to recognize goodness and truth when we find them.

The aesthetic and poetic training of the Arts of the Beautiful, therefore, forms and attunes the heart. This I submit is the location where moral and intellectual reasoning are held together. We will now turn finally to at least one of the ways how they are held together.

The Arts and the Moral Imagination

In his famous book, The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis considers the effects of an education that neglects formation of the heart and the sentiment. As the title suggests, the effects are not salutary. His argument unfolds something like this: 1) judgments about the good (ethics) and the beautiful (aesthetics) are not merely descriptions of one’s personal feelings, but objective responses to reality; 2) these judgments are a function of intuition and imagination and, therefore, developed differently than the way we learn, say, math or science; 3) these judgments are nevertheless reasonable because value judgments and even reason itself are upheld by this intuition or imagination; 4) the imagination and intuition are enculturated, that is, formed through the process Plato referred to above as music and gymnastic.

For Lewis, then, the arts are not just decorations for our educational program, rather they are essential, even foundational. Without a well-stocked moral imagination, without trained sentiment, without a heart, there is no human flourishing. “It may even be said,” he writes, “that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.” The last reason I will offer in this discussion as to why the Arts of the Beautiful are essential to our curriculum, therefore, is that they more than anything else we do at the school are directed toward forming this “middle element” of the moral imagination. It is with this notion of the “middle element” that we complete our answer as to how faith and learning, reason and piety, are integrated. For, it is in the unified human being made in God’s image, whose heart has been tuned and whose moral imagination has been nourished, that moral and intellectual reasoning are held together.

In years past, my school has expressed its educational goal in the phrase, “Education for Life.” I would like to submit that this phrase is perhaps more true than those who coined it may have imagined. For as we have just seen, our lives as human beings made in God’s image are intellectual, moral and aesthetic. That is to say our lives are concerned with goodness, truth and beauty. The education we provide and the curriculum we embrace reflect this multifaceted and integrated life God has given us. The goal of education is of course to form whole, fully integrated people; people who think and do, but who also love and create. This means that our curriculum must flow from and be governed by our anthropology, that it must tune the heart, and that it must nourish the moral imagination. In other words, a classical school curriculum must include the Arts of the Beautiful.