In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis writes a stinging critique of the modern mind. The academic elites or, as Lewis calls them, ‘the conditioners,’ produce habits of living and learning derived from seemingly settled philosophical and theological conclusions. Of course, many of the conditioners’ settled conclusions are, in fact, quite unsettled and painfully unsettling upon further scrutiny.
During the six years I taught ninth grade poetry, my students continually reminded me of two specific needs of high schoolers: the hunger to be led and the hunger to be heard. It can be easy to view these two needs as competing goods. After all, shouldn’t students be listening to other, older voices before attempting to “find their own?” Perhaps formal poetry provides an answer. To assign students to write poetry with meter and verse is to give them a glorious little playground. Forms make good fences. Inside these fences, students can be led and heard at the same time.
On January 8, Joshua Gibbs published a piece on this website titled “Can We Talk About What Happened In D.C. The Other Day?” What follows is a response to and critique of Mr. Gibbs’ post. I begin with a summary of his article.
As Classical educators, we direct great time and energy toward selecting and discussing the right books. Every year we reevaluate our curriculums and reading lists; we listen to podcasts and read articles and talk with friends, trying to discern which books our children and students should be reading and discussing. We also spend time cultivating the right conversations about these books, asking the right questions, and helping our students learn the right conversational habits.
“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” A classical Christian education dares to say quite a lot. But what does Hogwarts have to do with a classical Christian education? I dare to say more than you think, which is why I say send your child to Hogwarts. The book series contains a myriad of classical allusions and its positive (and in some ways practically Biblical) portrayal of love is astonishing to find in something so fervently revered by pop culture.
Over the course of the last few weeks we decided we should go on a bit of a Tom Hanks binge. You know, the classics: Sleepless in Seattle, Forest Gump, You’ve Got Mail, and Cast Away. Hanks is an incredibly gifted actor who has portrayed some of the greatest characters in cinematic history. His ability to communicate depth and complexity with the utterance of a single word is quite profound.
Coming from Northern California, where my beloved Pacific Ocean is often a murky green or fathomless purple-gray, I always found the “wine-dark” seas of Homer resonant, fitting; until I remembered that Homer was writing about the sparkling blue gemstone that is the Mediterranean, set within its circlet of land. Wine-dark? Simple scansion cannot account for this description, as it does for so many Homeric epithets. Rather, it appears that Homer called the ocean “wine-dark” not only because of scansion, but because the very word “blue” did not exist yet in Greek.
Socratic teaching methods are a cornerstone of classical education, for good reason. Plato’s Socratic dialogues are foundational for presenting the big ideas behind “great conversation,” like, truth, justice, and rhetoric. But Socratic pedagogy is not merely classical; it is deeply Christan, as Jesus engaged with listeners through questions, riddles, and parables often more than direct lecture. We believe it is the pedagogy best-suited to the Bible classroom.
Socratic Conversations in Bible
Formation of Imagination
As Classical educators we believe that literature forms the imagination of students, and this conviction is at its truest in the Bible classroom. Through Scripture students imaginatively enter into the reality of the Biblical characters: the pain of loneliness and of long journeys, the loss of family and betrayal of friends, but also the joy of ascending to Zion, smelling the incense in the temple, and receiving manna from heaven.
The Greatest Literary Work
Classical schools are known to be preservers of the great literature of the Western tradition. Homer, Milton, Dante, Shakespeare, and Donne - these authors and their fellows are commonly elevated as those that Classical schools commit to passing on to the next generation. But do we remember Moses, Isaiah, and Paul on our list of great authors?