The word hierarchy has become offensive to our modern ears. American society has dethroned kings, popes, aristocrats and now takes aim at billionaires. Our culture loves the egalitarian turn — the general who dines with the common soldiers and fights on the frontlines; the girl who can shotgun beers, curse like a sailor, and fight just like “one of the guys;” the torn-down statue because “he was no better than us.” Superior is a four-syllable curse.
“Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Enjoyment certainly makes the job easier. This is why many trades have work songs that can be sung by laborers as they work in the shop or field. Work invites levity and joy, and difficult labor does not prohibit cheerfulness. So, while education is difficult work, we should also encourage delight in studies. But what is important about this proverb is that the joy comes from the work itself, not from outside.
Most children would prefer to skip a meal to get dessert. Dessert is sweeter and tastier, although less nutritious than a balanced course. Yet, if they love their children, parents will usually insist that the child eats all his dinner first. Sweets are the highlight and culmination of supper, but they cannot be had without real food. The meal prepares for dessert.
Have you ever wished to get into someone else’s head? How does Tom Brady survey the football field or Elon Musk process business decisions? What was Octavian thinking after the battle of Actium? Each person has their own unique way of approaching the world, yet we may also speak of distinct “minds” of history. W. Harry Jellema identifies at least three such minds: the classical Greco-Roman, the Christian-Medieval, and the Renaissance-Enlightenment-Contemporary—each its own objective entity with its own voice. As C.S.
Perhaps you’ve seen the famous optical illusion with the rabbit. Or is it a duck? In any case, the image involves double-sight. Most people will see one animal without effort but can also force their mind to see the other image. Which one does the drawing truly represent? both. The image allows us to see two pictures, one atop the other.
Before building a tower or engaging in battle, one must count the cost. If one lacks the resources or motivation to complete a project, it would be better not to begin. The same is true of arts. Every art has an end which governs its practice. While there is certainly value in amateur attempts, the art exists to achieve the end. The art of poetry aims to create poems; the art of rhetoric, orations; music, harmony. The art which fails to reach its goal has not been mastered.
The butterfly effect proposes that small actions can cause large effects. It suggests that a butterfly launching off a mountain peak in Asia determines if a hurricane will strike Texas. Thus, one of the lightest, most insignificant creatures unleashes a terrifying, destructive power. The principle can be observed by throwing a stone into a pond and watching the waves ripple outward growing larger. History records monumental turning points hinging on small details. How would the Persian War have ended if Xerxes didn’t accept Themistocles’s invitation to Salamis Bay?
Many parents have offered rewards to their child in order to form a habit. If the child makes his bed every day for a month, he gets ice cream. The goal is that he will continue to make his bed even after devouring the prize. But how often does the child take the reward and then fall back into the same undisciplined lifestyle? He had no interest in forming a habit; he just wanted ice cream and would jump through any hoops to get it. Because the child only valued ice cream, the reward short-circuited genuine habit formation.
Is teaching an art or a science? Such a question seeks to determine if there is a repeatable method to be followed in teaching—a formula to be applied—or if teaching is a matter of intuition, judgment, and inspiration. If a science governed by rigid rules, then anyone could be a teacher so long as he could learn and apply the technique. If an art, then every teacher must dedicate himself to his subject, audience, and craft in order to cultivate mastery. Teaching is a challenging profession requiring long study and practice.
Previously, I developed the idea of the latent tension between the active and contemplative life. We must live in the world and work for our bread, but there are higher things than food and clothing. This is how Jesus directs his hearers in the sermon on the mount. “Do not lay up treasures on earth… but in heaven.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Classical education prizes the goods of the soul above goods of the body and rightly orders loves by placing them in their proper hierarchy.