Yesterday my Modern European Humanities class began with their catechism, but not a full recitation. I asked my students to stand, but asked them to not have their catechisms in hand. “Let’s see how much you have memorized already. I will read the longer answers in the catechism and occasionally pause. When I pause, you supply the next word.” Most of the catechism is longer excerpts from the curriculum, including some ornate passages from Burke and St. Paul.
Earlier today, I walked into a beer joint looking for a little refreshment. The place was having a slow afternoon. A bartender, myself, and one other customer made three. I had my choice of sixty beers on draught and another sixty in bottles from a cooler. I began talking through the possibilities with the bartender, accepting samples of beers I inquired about. Something from Perennial, something from Dogfish Head, something imported from Munich I had never heard before. The other patron offered helpful and critical comments as we talked through highlights from the menu.
Generally speaking, teenagers are a selfish and spoiled lot. When they do not like the rules, they complain, and when complaining does not work, they simply break the rules. Teenagers have a hard time comprehending the rather simple idea that they are not yet ultimately responsible for how things turn out, and that this means they don’t get to write the rules. Power and accountability go hand in hand, and the man who is not yet legally accountable for his actions has no place determining the law.
Living in a consumerist society, Americans very rarely have to choose between what is good and what is bad. Truly awful things rarely survive in a free market. However, we do have to choose between the good and the mediocre.
Markus performed a forty day fast and then castrated himself, despite discouraging words from his teachers. This was to be the crowning laurel of his Stoic education, and yet only a week later, before he was physically recovered, word came his parents were dead—a sudden fever— and all his learning was as for nothing. Like a crown of hair grown out for a lifetime— as long as the body itself (licking the floor)— suddenly lopped off with a pair of shears. Like it was never there. Like it never happened.
What follows is the catechism my Modern European Humanities students are reciting at the start of class every day. I am grateful for the help of my colleague John Alley is putting it together, and I would like to acknowledge my friend Jonathan Councell, whose ideas and conversation inspired the first two (and perhaps the most important) questions below.
Editor's Note: Earlier this summer noted filmmaker Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige) released Dunkirk, the highly acclaimed—and quite moving—story of the miraculous 1940 rescue of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops. Surrounded by German forces, these soldiers helplessly wait on the beaches of Dunkirk, in northern France, safety visible from across the English channel.
“You are the curriculum.” Last week, my esteemed colleague Andrew Smith offered this proverb while addressing the secondary faculty of Veritas School on the subject of rhetoric. As I plan my first week of classes, the proverb has taken seat in my heart. Christ claims that “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Christ does not claim that everyone who is fully trained will be “like the authors of the books his teacher passed out.”
For the last nine years, I have asked my students to make Christmas wish lists which I post around the classroom during the first two weeks of December. I make a Christmas wish list, as well, and I always put the same three things on it: Bill Evans vinyl, imported cheeses, and peace on earth. Depending on the year, I will get one or two of the three things I ask for, but I have not yet received all three. Rest assured you will know when I do.
Can food be beautiful? I do not refer to the arrangement of food on a table, but the taste of food. Two glasses of wine, side by side, might appear nearly identical, but can one be beautiful and the other ugly? Taste has not traditionally been associated with beauty because it cannot be judged according to harmony or proportion. So, too, a smell can be pleasing but not beautiful for it cannot be halved or observed.