The following article was originally published in FORMA Journal.
Fiction, memoir, biography, history, essay-collections, reportage, science, philosophy, theology, writing that takes off from movies and music and art and more: which branch is most inadequately assessed in our public book-talk, in reviews and podcasts, on Twitter and elsewhere? I would say history, hands down. But what do you get when you read a typical review of a work of history? Mostly a summary of the subject at hand.
The following is a review of How to Innovate, translated by Armand D’Angour.
We’ve got Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Jennifer Doudna. Why do we need Aristotle and a few more dusty throwbacks telling us how to innovate? What could they possibly teach us? By themselves, perhaps less than we might notice, let alone appreciate. But through the efforts of editor and translator Armand D’Angour, much indeed.
In 1180 John of Salisbury published The Metalogicon, a treatise written in defense of the Trivium. In it, he answers those who objected to the need for educators to cultivate eloquence in speech. The two most important objections reject first the possibility and then the value of becoming more adept in the art of eloquent expression. John’s defense of eloquence is important today because most non-classical schools pay little to no attention to the acquisition of eloquence.
Recently, I stumbled upon some helpful pedagogical advice. I was making my way through a collection of Early Church writings when I came to the Letters of Saint Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. Around the year 110, Ignatius composed several letters to churches and to Saint Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In this epistle, Ignatius offers his fellow overseer the following guidance: “It is no credit to you if you are fond of good pupils. Rather by your gentleness subdue those who are annoying.” I have been contemplating these words for weeks.
I won’t assume that you’ve ever met someone who thinks education's sole purpose is usefulness, but I have—me. Although I did not have a classical education in high school – it was closer to liberal arts – I grew to love literature, the Western Tradition, and ancient languages. My appetite to read widely became constant, and I began to pursue literary works out of a hunger for knowledge and an appreciation for the delight of the great books. Alongside a love of old literature, another hunger began to grow: knowledge for knowledge's sake.
Paul instructs the fathers in Ephesus not to “provoke [their] children to anger.” Rather, he says, they should “bring them up in the discipline and instruction [paideia] of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). “Paideia” is a Greek concept contingent upon what we might think of as a “culture.” To form one in the true faith, we need a good and beautiful culture.
“Any school, we might conclude, with more than four or five subjects doesn’t know what it wants to be.”
Those words were written by Tracy Lee Simmons in Climbing Parnassus – but our Lord himself said that a man cannot serve two masters. Likewise, a school cannot be committed to half a dozen subjects or more. If it tries to be, it will be devoted to none of them but will despise them all. Commitment is the key to accomplishing anything great, and commitment in education, as in marriage, is necessarily exclusive. Simmons goes on to say:
Dear Mrs. Norris,
My son is driving me crazy. He won’t do his school work. He talks back and tells me to leave him alone, but when I do leave him alone, nothing gets done, nothing gets turned in, and somehow he’s still mad at me. As his mom, I just want to help him. Is there anything to do?
Dear Crazy Concerned,