Why Read the Classics?

Four Reasons Why We Should Read and Discuss the Classics:

1. Reading and discussing the classics make us better human beings.

Classical educators have always touted liberal learning as inherently humanizing. The ultimate purpose of education is to make us better people, to cultivate wisdom and virtue, not simply provide career preparation.  The ancients referred to classical education as liberal and humane, emphasizing virtuous participation in a free society. By living a wise and virtuous life, one is able to fulfill the purpose of his humanity (thus the term, humane).  As H.I. Marrou said, “Classical education aimed at developing men as men, not as cogs in a political machine or bees in a hive.”  Similarly, John Stuart Mill said, “Men are men before they are lawyers, or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians.” The goal of education is not utilitarian; it is humane.

The content, the means by which this humanizing occurs, is the liberal arts, rooted in the classics.  The classic texts “not only exhibit distinguished style, fine artistry, and keen intellect but create whole universes of imagination and thought.”  They portray life as complex and multi-faceted, illustrating human glory and tragedy, beautifully depicting the drama of man’s most significant struggles.  The classics uproot our assumptions and display epic human struggles. They compel us to examine our own lives and contemplate what is good, true, and beautiful.  The impact on the reader is transformative.

In Werner Jaeger’s summary of Socrates’ teaching, he states, “Education is not the cultivation of certain branches of knowledge… The real essence of education is that it enables men to reach the true aim of their lives.”  The classics provide an education that indeed requires us to struggle with the true aim of our lives. By doing so, they make us better men. 

2. Reading the classics keeps us from acting as Cyclops. 

Immanuel Kant, the dense and controversial 18th century German philosopher, railed his students for being Cyclops.  “What constitutes them as Cyclops is not their strength,” as Fredeirich Paulsen points out, “but the fact that they only have one eye; they see things only from a single standpoint, that of their own specialty.”  The task of philosophy and learning, according to Kant, is to furnish us a second eye.  According to Kant, “The second eye is the self-knowledge of human reason, without which we can have no proper estimate of the extent of our knowledge.” While we may argue with Kant concerning the identity of the second eye, or what it should be, his point that education broadens one’s perspective is indisputable. 

The classics “lift the readers out of narrowness and provincialism into a wider vision of humanity.”  They help us see our lives, our vocations, and our culture through a broad lens.  Polymaths such as Plato, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Milton, and Jefferson were able to draw from a sea of ideas found in the ancients.  They studied math, science, history, economics, theology, philosophy, literature, and virtually everything else.  From their broadly informed perspectives, the great thinkers of the West were able to make incredible contributions to society and move from one subject to another with ease and enjoyment.  Their immersion in and facility with the classics provided a liberating, expansive, two-eyed vision that enriched their understanding and mitigated the narrow short-sightedness of specialization. 

3. Reading the classics compels us to ask the most important questions of life.

Hegel referred to a classic as “a question, an address to the responsive breast, a call to the mind and the spirit.” Think of the enduring questions that have emerged from the great texts of Western civilization: Is man free? Does God exist? What is the nature of the universe? How do we know truth? Does man have a soul? What type of government is best? 

The classics provide enduring questions of a transcendent quality.  That is, they ask questions that continue to be asked again and again, despite ages and sages.  The classics present questions that are profound, or even very simple, that exceed human comprehension, yet if not asked, detract from our humanity.  Enduring questions are ones that challenge the greatest minds and intrigue the simplest ones (i.e., children). They make life engaging and interesting.  Enduring questions lead to more questions and to thoughtful, soul-searching reflection about great ideas. The classics ask these questions like no other texts we encounter.

The classics compel us to ask who we are, why we are here, what is true, and what is good.  We are obliged to struggle with Hamlet’s gut-wrenching turmoil over whether to seek retribution and justice.  We are faced with Achilles’ dilemma, when he proclaims:

I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death.

Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,

My return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;

But if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,

The excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me

And my end in death will not come to me quickly. (Iliad)

These kinds of texts prompt weighty questions.  How do we respond to feelings of retribution?  What do we value as our legacy? For what are we willing to die? Thus, the classics ask us the most penetrating and humanizing questions in ways that capture our imaginations and emotions.  Andrew Kern, President of the CiRCE Institute, once asserted, “The quality of your life depends upon the quality of the questions you ask.” If he is right, we ought to read the classics.

4. Why Christians should read and discuss the classics.

Robert Lundin claimed, “The Christian student of culture would never wish to confuse the power of the classic with the authority of the Scriptures. The Bible is the Word of God while the greatest classics are only supreme embodiments of human insight.” Nevertheless, we would be wrong to dismiss them simply because they are not authoritative in the same way as Scripture. The most influential Christian thinkers in church history read and engaged the classics. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, and many others understood classical languages and literature, having been educated in the liberal arts tradition.

They recognized the value of conversing with the great ideas of the West even while “taking every thought captive for Christ.”  They grasped the controversies with which the church struggled and were able to both think carefully and speak persuasively about truth in their own age.  These men of God possessed the ability to think biblically, and in Pauline fashion, could plunder the pagans.  They could employ apologetic skill by thinking thoroughly and carefully about the opposing philosophies of their time. These scholars could empathize with their detractors and yet speak boldly from an informed understanding. While there have certainly been those, like Tertullian, who would condemn any association between Athens and Jerusalem, there are many more, such as Basil, who saw the value of young Christians stimulated to exercise their discernment through a wise engagement with pagan literature.

Ultimately, if classical education (reading the classics) is about who we are as human beings and not what we do for a living (our vocation); if it is about who we become and not what skill we can perform, we must have an ideal for what, or rather whom, we should be like. Jesus is the full expression of what it means to be human and thus is the ultimate aim of education. He is Truth and Wisdom incarnate. In Christ, the apostle Paul declares, are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:8). He embodies truth and virtue. Therefore, we must seek to conform our lives to knowing Him and being like Him. In our pursuit toward becoming better human beings, we must keep the Incarnate Christ, the perfect human being, as our standard. Understanding this truth provides a rich and unique approach to the humanities by examining the enduring questions of man in light of God’s revelation through His Son.

Musing on G.K. Chesterton

In his famous article, All Things Considered, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” Chesterton’s life was an adventure, rightly considered. He did not see life as an accident or an inconvenience, but an immeasurable gift. Because he lived his life with a profound gratitude, Chesterton knew how to laugh and engage the world with a humility and grace.

Ian Ker wrote, “The unfailing humor that was so significant an aspect of Chesterton’s personal life has its parallels in the enormous importance he attached in his writings to humor as a medium for comprehending and interpreting life… One can, without exaggeration, find in Chesterton a mini-philosophy, not to say a mini-theology, of laughter.” If you have read him at all, you know that his humor is a natural and winsome part of his personality. Our world is in desperate need of those who can imitate his example. We need to be able to take ideas seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.

A few insights and quips…
Chesterton said, “An art school is a place where about three people work with feverish energy and everybody else idles to a degree that I should have conceived unattainable by human nature.”

In regards to his size (6’4, 320 lbs.)
“I suppose I enjoy myself more than most other people, because there’s such a lot of me having a good time.”

Once, when walking down the street during WWI, Chesterton was confronted by a patriot who inquired as to why he was not out at the front. He wittily replied, “ma’m, if you will come around this way, you will see that I am.”

Question at a lecture:
“What are your thoughts on hell?” He quipped, “I regard it as a thing to be avoided.”

Other funny quotes:
“The modern world is a crowd of very rapid-racing cars all brought to a standstill and stuck in a block of traffic.”

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

“A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.”

“Education is the period during which you are being instructed by somebody you do not know, about something you do not want to know.”

Labor Omnia Vicit: Cultivating Vines and Minds In An Online Great Conversation Course

Assume the role of an online student as Joanna Hensley leads you through a discussion of Virgil’s First Georgic (have your copy of Virgil’s Georgics with you, theνDavid Ferry bilingual edition, if possible). In this presentation, you will see a demonstration of online tools such as chat box, webcam, and microphone used to facilitate deeply meaningful classroom discussion. During the Q&A, you can finetune best practices for teaching literature in an online classroom in a way that builds classroom culture and makes the most of distance learning.

Joanna Hensley

Joanna Hensley has been teaching Latin and literature online since 2007. Active in classical education for over a decade as a teacher, writer, and conference speaker, Joanna has published several chapters in the Veritas Press Omnibus series, which forms the backbone of WHA’s The Great Conversation courses. Inspired by her own high school Latin teacher, Joanna studied classics and art history at the University of Minnesota, double-majoring in Latin and Classical Civilizations and graduating with honors. A pastor’s wife and a homeschooling mom, Joanna lives in Adelaide, Australia, with her husband Adam, who is a professor of Hebrew and Old Testament theology, and their five children. Joanna enjoys reading, road trips, and finding ways to make difficult subjects a pleasure to learn.

Heroes and Villains: Civic Virtue Through Inquiry and Primary Sources

Participants will work through three Bill of Rights Institute lessons to develop skills for providing students with primary sources, content-rich narratives and critical thinking as part of integrated civic learning and character development.

Rachel Davison Humphries

Rachel Davison Humphries has worked as an educator for almost a decade, most recently as a mentor teacher in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She has presented at conferences and led professional development workshops in a variety of subjects, including economics, literature, adolescence, Socratic teaching, project-based learning and the pedagogy of freedom. Rachel has worked to help students grow and learn in a variety of environments, including charter schools, private schools and summer programs for college students. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the Great Books Program at St. John’s College, and a teaching certificate in adolescent education from the Association Montessori Internationale. She started at the Bill of Rights Institute in 2015 and now leads its teacher programs team.

More Than Just Facts: Liturgy, Logic and Literature in Middle School Science Curriculum

Our national culture is conflicted when it comes to science. Many see science as the final arbiter of truth, a discipline elevated almost to the level of deity. Others see science as the great deceiver and enemy of the Christian faith. Still others see science as too difficult to understand. How can we offer students a broader vision of the sciences as one – but not the only – valid and useful way of pursuing knowledge about general revelation? What are the logical implications of Newton’s Laws of Motion? How does plate tectonics tell students about the righteousness of God? What can The Rime of the Ancient Mariner show students about ocean currents? Or what can The Hobbit teach about forest biomes or volcanoes? How can we build a curriculum that engages not only the students’ minds, but also their imaginations and wills? Join us for a conversation on interdisciplinary integration in the middle school science curriculum.

James Dolas

Jim is in his fourth year of teaching Middle School at Heritage Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to falling into teaching science and logic, he spent a decade working at a variety of soft ware engineering jobs before taking a few years “off ” as a full-time dad. He holds computer and electrical engineering degrees from Purdue University and Georgia Tech, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying a rich reading diet of Tolkien, Lewis and the frequent epic poem. Jim started his teaching career with a class in earth science, but, because nature abhors a vacuum, he has branched out to cover life science, physical science and logic, as well.

The Church, the School, and the Political Economy of Virtue

The final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, paints a provocative political scenario. A talking ape dresses up a talking donkey in a lion skin to impersonate Aslan. The ape hopes to rule Narnia by using the lion-donkey as his puppet mouthpiece. When the donkey, named Puzzle, objects that he does not want to rule Narnia, the ape, named Shift, tries to convince him of the benefits.

“Everyone would do whatever you tell them.”

“But I don’t want to tell them anything.”

“But think of the good we could do!” said Shift. “You’d have me to advise you, you know. I’d think of sensible orders for you to give. And everyone would have to obey us, even the King himself. We would set everything right in Narnia.”

“But isn’t everything right already?” said Puzzle.

“What!” cried Shift. “Everything right? When there are no oranges or bananas?”

“Well, you know,” said Puzzle, “there aren’t many people – in fact, I don’t think there’s anyone but yourself – who wants those sort of things.”

“There’s sugar, too,” said Shift.

“H’m, yes,” said the Ass. “It would be nice if there was more sugar.”

“Well then, that’s settled,” said the Ape. “You will pretend to be Aslan, and I’ll tell you what to say.”

In The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis brings Narnia to anend. Father Time rolls up the sky, and the stars are eachsummoned to Aslan’s side. But this occurs only after Narnia falls to the bizarre and tyrannical rule of the ape, aligned with the Calormenes who worship the evil god Tash. At first, the true king of Narnia, Tirian, does not know that Aslan has not appeared and is only being impersonated. The talking beasts all report to Tirian that Aslan has come and that indeed he is “not a tame lion.” The beasts did not perceive the ape and donkey’s lie. But Tirian and his steed, Jewel the Unicorn, conclude by the disgusting behavior and vicious commands of the false Aslan that something was dreadfully amiss. Tirian begins:

“Horrible thoughts arise in my heart. If we had died before today we should have been happy.”

“Yes,” said Jewel. “The worst thing in the world has come upon us.”

What is this worst thing in the world? It is to conclude that the lord whom one has worshiped and placed hope in is in fact an unjust and cruel tyrant. It is to conclude that
the foundation of justice is itself unjust. The reported deeds of this false Aslan nearly convince Jewel and Tirian that he is an impostor. But it is finally the words of the Ape that ring as blatant heresy and spring Tirian into action. The Ape says:

“Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now …. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”

To this Tirian finally objects:

“Ape,” he cried with a great voice, “you lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.”

Slowly the plot thickens and the differences between the two sorts of government emerge. Both the traditional Narnian rule and the government of the ape have habits, causal explanations and theological foundations. But one ruling culture believes in a transcendent source of divine goodness, and the other says good and evil are the same.

The statements of the Ape and the Calormenes feel familiar even to a child – familiar but disingenuous. They have the recognizable tinge of hypocrisy. At the bottom of that system lie the arbitrary wants and desires of the Ape and the king of the Calormenes, the Tisroc. While they claim to serve everyone, they serve only themselves. Nonetheless a whole government emerges around these motivations. How? In contrast to the Narnians, the Calormenes are ruled not by their own consciences or by alignment with what is right. The Calormenes are full of trickery and deceit and are compelled by force. The Narnians who defect to their side are willing to affirm their deplorable practices grounded in Realpolitik.

The true and faithful Narnians, on the other hand, are ruled by a transcendent code of conduct, the pursuit of virtue. At one point King Tirian and Jewel strike down two Calormenes without first warning them of attack and calling them to arms. After some reflection, the two Narnians feel disgraced. While the Calormenes were indeed part of an evil plot, the Narnians conclude that the way they themselves attacked the Calormenes was outside the bounds of proper combat. The end did not justify the means.

Lewis, a master of history, in Narnia and elsewhere often contrasts the ideologies of the present with the ideals of the past. In his Funeral for a Great Myth, he criticizes the myth
of progress, the notion that things are inevitably getting better all the time. And nowhere else in The Chronicles of Narnia besides The Last Battle does he more vividly depict the differences between the ancient and modern visions of political economy.

While readers of the Chronicles feel the contrast, they may still wonder, “What would a political economy founded in Christian virtue look like?” This is a good question because the term “political economy” did not enter into the Western lexicon until after politics itself had departed from upholding the primacy of virtue for public life. The word “economics” is an old one, used by Aristotle and meaning “the law of the household” or “household management.” In ancient Greece, households were also small businesses, often specializing in a craft such as the production of cloth or another trade. But the word “economics” did not come to have its contemporary meaning until after the days of Adam Smith. Adam Smith wrote about political economy, “the household management of nations.” He extended Aristotle’s meaning to ask about the relations not merely within the city but between cities and nations – between polities. For both Aristotle and Adam Smith, economics and politics were within the discourse of moral philosophy, the mother of contemporary social science. As Gladys Bryson explains in The Emergence of the Social Sciences from Moral Philosophy, “From the time of Socrates until the emergence of the social sciences in the 19th century, moral philosophy consistently offered the most comprehensive discussion of human relations and institutions.”

Aristotle wrote two key books on moral philosophy – what he called practical philosophy – Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. In Aristotle’s point of view, human bonds are natural, and one cannot learn to be ethical in a social vacuum. Rather, one learns virtue in the context of the community, the city, the polis. “Man is by nature a political animal,” he wrote in Politics. Virtue was historically a central concern of moral philosophy and, therefore, of both politics and economics. To grow in virtue was a lifelong pursuit that began in childhood and was not finished until death. Aristotle writes Nicomachean Ethics that, “Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethike) is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit).” He goes on to explain that, “It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.” Moreover, the majority of moral philosophers throughout the ancient and medieval world believed that one could not live a happy or blessed life without growing in virtue. Virtue was essential to the purpose of life.

While there are key differences between the ancient pagan notions of virtue and Christian notions, they do share similarities that are now rejected by the modern moral order. Both the pagans and the Christians believed that there is a transcendent order and that to grow in virtue is to grow more aligned with that order. As C. S. Lewis writes in The Abolition of Man, “For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious.”

In the modern moral order, there are no given goals or ends for human beings. Machiavelli and Hobbes stand at the headwaters of the modern political tradition. Both are less interested in the development of virtue among the citizens of the polis than they are interested in the means to accomplish the purposes of the ruler. How can The Prince
(or the state) accomplish his goals, whatever they may be? The questions ignore ends and ask only of means. Only in this post-Hobbesian context could Adam Smith advance in his Theory of Moral Sentiments the centrality of self-interest or “self-love” for accomplishing desirable ends without falling afoul of historic Christian thought. Nonetheless, Adam Smith sounds more balanced than his immediate predecessor, Bernard Mandeville, who in 1705 wrote a book titled The Fable of the Bees: or Private Lives, Public Benefits. Just four centuries earlier at the time of Dante, the Augustinian notion of virtue as “ordered loves” was still axiomatic. While Augustine conceded that the “City of Man” is indeed ordered around self-love, the “City of God” is ordered around the love of God. Christians are called to a political economy of ordered loves, a political economy of virtue.

In a telling passage from The Last Battle, the Ape explains the goals of his rule. What does it mean to “set everything right in Narnia” and what does a well-governed productive society look like?

“Everybody who can work is going to be made to work in the future. Aslan has it all settled with the King of Calormen…”

“No, no, no,” howled the Beasts. “It can’t be true. Aslan would never sell us into slavery to the King of Calormen.”

 “None of that! Hold your noise!” said the Ape with a snarl. “Who said anything about slavery? You won’t be slaves. You’ll be paid – very good wages, too. That is to say, your pay will be paid in to Aslan’s treasury and he will use it all for everybody’s good … There, you see!” said the Ape. “It’s all arranged. And all for your own good. We’ll be able, with the money you earn, to make Narnia a country worth living in. There’ll be oranges and bananas pouring in – and roads and big cities and schools and offices and whips and muzzles and saddles and cages and kennels and prisons. Oh, everything.” 

“But we don’t want all those things,” said an old Bear. “We want to be free. And we want to hear Aslan speak himself.”

“Now don’t you start arguing,” said the Ape, “for it’s a thing I won’t stand. I’m a Man: you’re only a fat, stupid old Bear. What do you know about freedom? You think freedom means doing what you like. Well, you’re wrong. That isn’t true freedom. True freedom means doing what I tell you.”

No arguing, says the Ape. More pointedly, no moral discourse. In the modern moral order the foundation for applying moral reasoning has been eroded. (See Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue.) The traditional notion of the liberal arts supported exactly the polity that was founded upon the freedom of conscience. Though in Cicero’s Orator he uses the Latin words probare, delectare and flectere (to test, to delight and to persuade) in describing the duties of the orator, by the Renaissance the Ciceronian duties of the
orator are commonly listed as movere, docere and delectare (to move, to teach and to delight). The goals of dialectic are to discover and demonstrate arguments through reasoned dialogue. Aquinas writes in Summa Theologica that they are called liberal arts “in order to distinguish them from those arts which are ordained to works done by the body, which arts are, in a fashion, servile, inasmuch as the body is in servile subjection to the soul, and man as regards his soul is free.” The church fathers recognized in the liberal arts those studies that support the freedom of conscience. Regarding this freedom, Christ said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Aquinas similarly wrote that, “Man as regards his soul is free.” One can say that 2+2=37 all day long and threaten another’s life and limb if he does not accept this as true. While the mathematically persecuted man may repeat any phrase that is demanded, when the threat is removed he will again acknowledge that 2+2=4. You cannot make somebody believe something against his will. He must be persuaded. This is the job of the liberal arts. The opposite is when states of affairs are enacted by force not by reason and conscience. This kind of dogmatic bureaucracy is too often a marker of contemporary social ideology. Nonetheless, it can be detected. The behavior and commands of the Ape, despite all his platitudes, brought slavery, not freedom.

Surely Lewis was aware of the political philosophy of Jean Jacque Rousseau who describes the role of the state thus:

He who dares to undertake the making of a people’s institutions ought to feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human nature, of transforming each individual who is by himself a complete and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from which he in a manner receives his life and being … He must, in a word, take away from man his own resources and give him instead new ones alien to him, and incapable of being made use of without the help of other men.

The 20th-century UC Berkeley and Columbia University professor, Robert Nisbet, says this of the modern state in Twilight of Authority:

The word bureaucracy has come to symbolize, above all others in our time, the transfer of government from the people, as organized in their natural communities in the social order, as equipped with the tastes, desires and aspirations which are the natural elements of their nurture, to a class of professional technicians whose principal job is that of substituting their organizations their tastes, desires and aspirations, for those of the people. It is this seemingly ineradicable aspect of bureaucracy that makes for the relentless, unending conflict between bureaucracy and freedom that more and more people in the present age have come to regard as very nearly central. And it is this same aspect that has led so many persons in the present age to despair of restoring to political government those foundations in popular will which are utterly vital to the political community.

Or in other words, “You think freedom means doing what you like. Well, you’re wrong. That isn’t true freedom. True freedom means doing what I tell you.”

Interestingly, these words themselves are not altogether wrong. Consider this prayer of St. Augustine which informs an Anglican liturgy that C. S. Lewis would have known: “Grant us so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom, in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

There is one whom to serve is perfect freedom. It is the one who is himself the way, the truth and the life. It is the one who is the foundation of all virtue. Hans Boersma, the J. I. Packer Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent College, speaks of the way the church fathers thought about virtue. He writes this of the 4th-century Christian
thinker Gregory of Nyssa in Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa:

First, for Gregory, virtue is primarily identified with God or Christ. Virtue, insists
Gregory, is identical to divine characteristics such as blamelessness, holiness, purity, and
incorruptibility. The reason, therefore, that Gregory expounds on virtue . . . is [because] by
expounding on virtue one discusses the goodness and beauty of God himself. Second, human virtue is participatory in character. It is by putting on the “garb of Christ” that we become virtuous, and it is through our eating of the body of Christ in the Eucharist that we ourselves are transformed. The metaphor of Christ as the head and the Church as his body points to the participatory character of human virtue. The bride’s beauty is, in a real
sense, the Bridegroom’s beauty, because the former is derived from and participates in the latter.

Thus, to grow in Christ is to grow in virtue. And to grow in virtue is to experience true freedom. Here we encounter the centrality of the church for the fostering of true freedom. As it was for the ancient Greeks, virtue is something that is nurtured in community. But for Christians that community is not the Greek city state; it is the Church. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (2 Corinthians 12:27). It is within the context of the Church that parents are to raise their children. As it says in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers do not exasperate your children, but raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

It is precisely this older vision of raising up children within the context of the Church for growth in virtue and growth in Christ that is today threatened. Harvard historian, Christopher Dawson explains in Crisis:

In the new America the socialization and secularization of education has created an
immense professionalized organ for the creation of moral and intellectual uniformity. In this way the constitutional principle of the separateness of Church and State which was intended to secure religious freedom has become the means of secularizing the American mind so that the churches have lost all control over the religious formation of the people. This was not so in the earlier phase of American history when the churches were the chief, and often the only, organs of education and culture. The American way of life was built on a threefold tradition of freedom – political, economic, and religious – and if the new secularist forces were to subjugate these freedoms to a monolithic technological order, it would destroy the foundations on which American culture was based. The American way of life can only maintain its character within the general framework of Western Christian culture. If this relation is lost, something essential to the life of the nation will be lost and American democracy itself will become subordinated to the technological order.

This is why The Last Battle feels so familiar. It describes the order of the Ape, a bureaucratic order in which the natural organizations of the Narnians have been replaced with the artificially imposed order of the Calormenes and the Ape. It is an order in which the Narnians’ desires for virtue and freedom have been replaced with intemperance and an inordinate lust for goods and progress – goods detached from natural desires and progress detached from reasonable human purposes. It is an order in which there is no basis for moral discourse and public reasoning, only various thinly veiled coercive techniques. What is instead needed is a political economy of virtue. And the only polis that can support this economy of virtue is the city of God, that city ordered around the love of God and not the love of self.

Loving God With Our Minds in Milton’s Paradise Lost

Perhaps there is no work of imaginative literature in all the Western canon more preeminently about loving God with our minds than John Milton’s Paradise Lost. This session will highlight three ways that Milton’s poem invites its reader to consider what it means to love God with our minds. Practically, the poem presents several vivid episodes which ask whether and when a mental act is a sin. Philosophically, the poem has a deeply Christian epistemology that challenges our enlightened liberal notions about intellectual freedom with the idea that our reasoning is limited by foundational assumptions we make about the world. In other words, “Believing is seeing.” Poetically, Paradise Lost invites us to identify with Satan to find his bitterness tragic and his unconquerable will heroic. This imaginatively leads us to the inevitable result of this rebellion — vileness must be embraced if we will continue in sin. That’s heady stuff, but students love it when presented in the right way. This session will focus on how to bring this famously difficult poem to life for our students so that it can become relevant to their spiritual and mental lives.

Jeremiah Forshey

Jeremiah Forshey has been with classical Christian schools since 2004, teaching literature, logic and rhetoric classes for Redeemer Classical School in Harrisonburg, Virginia, The Geneva School in Winter Park, Florida, and now at New Covenant Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia. He currently teaches American literature, British literature and senior thesis, and serves as lead teacher in the School of Rhetoric. He holds a master’s degree in English literature and languages from James Madison University. Jeremiah lives with his wife, Elisa, and their three children in the “Seven Hills” of Lynchburg, Virginia, which can be found in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. They live in a house that was finished the same year as The Great Gatsby.

Everyday Themes in Literature: Using Narrative to Develop the Whole Person

Quality literature opens the door for discovery and discussion into developing the whole person. As grammar and logic teachers, we often design novel studies to fulfill curricular goals; this workshop will guide participants to think about designing novel studies that incorporate a holistic, everyday view of persons. Using The Hobbit and To Kill a Mockingbird as anchor texts, participants will examine how themes of hospitality, ritual, work, and play ll the pages of these novels, creating opportunity for growth and reflection in our students as well as in our own lives. In addition, participants will receive practical tools and teaching strategies for their own novel studies.

Alicia Brummeier

Alicia is passionate about middle-school students and teaching them to become be er readers and writers. In addition to teaching, Alicia coaches cross-country and serves as a dorm mom at The Stony Brook School. She was the 2016 recipient of the D. Bruce Lockerbie Faculty Award for Excellence. Prior to coming to Stony Brook, she taught literature and composition for ve years in the grammar school at Live Oak Classical School in Waco. Her rst book, Everywhere God: Exploring the Ordinary Places, was recently published by Kalos Press. She and her husband, Brad, have two young-adult children.

How to Read a Book: Teaching Reading Comprehension in the Grammar School Years

Many would summarize a classical education by the pithy phrase “Read and Discuss.” Reading quality literature is at the heart of what we do as classical schools. Journey with us as we walk through the various sources that we have turned to for guidance on teaching students how to read well, and learn how we have married what we nd to be the best of these different approaches. Gleaning from Aristotle’s Four Causes, How to Read a Book, Spalding’s Attributes of Quality Literature, and more contemporary approaches such as Mosaic of Thought and Notice and Note, we’ll share a cohesive approach to helping children learn to drink deeply from the well of the literary arts. We’ll also share some pitfalls to be aware of when borrowing from contemporary sources that are infused with a philosophy of moral relativism. We will leave time for you to make recommendations of sources that have been fruitful in your own journey.

Allison Buras

Founding Live Oak alongside Alison Mo a and Carolyn Still marked the ful llment of a dream that began more than 20 years ago around a Dallas dinner table. Mrs. Buras a ended Baylor University for her undergraduate degree, which is in English with a minor in History. A er college she earned a lifetime teaching certi cate for grades pre-K through 8. Mrs. Buras has worked in education for 18 years, teaching K, 1, 2, and high school English as well as serving in various administrative positions. She earned a Master’s of Theological Studies at True Seminary, where she was able to also study Christian Education at Baylor’s School of Education and at Regent College. She is married to Todd Buras, a professor in the Philosophy department at Baylor, and together they have three boys who a end Live Oak: Benjamin (R1), Jonathan (L1), and Michael (G4).

Alisha Barker

During her seven years at Live Oak Classical School, Mrs. Barker has taught Grammar 1, Grammar 4, and now teaches Grammar 5. Prior to moving to Waco she and her husband taught English in Taiwan for three years. Mrs. Barker holds a BA in English Literature with a minor in Philosophy and Biblical Studies from Dallas Baptist University and earned an MA in English at Baylor University. She and her husband have four children: Justin (Grammar 6), Karis (Grammar 4), Macrina (JK), and Juliana (7 months).

Falling in Love with Words: Or, How to Read a Poem

To really fall in love with words, a Christian teacher of poetry must first be in love with the Word, that is to say, Jesus Christ – the poet par excellence. Right belief (orthodoxy) about the Word precedes and pervades a right practice (orthopraxy) of studying words. For an exercise in slow reading, we will surrender ourselves to Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” paying loving attention to its form and content.

Christopher Benson

Christopher Benson is an English Instructor and Faculty Coordinator at The Cambridge School of Dallas. He has studied at Wheaton College, Missouri School of Journalism, Oxford University, and St. John’s College and written for a variety of publications, including Christianity Today, Books & Culture, The Weekly Standard, and First Things. His blog is bensonian.wordpress.com.