To the classical thinker, vice lies at the opposite ends of a corresponding virtue (Aristotle's golden mean). A vice can be the manifestation of a virtue in extreme exaggeration or deprivation. Courage is an example of virtue. Its corresponding vices are impetuousness (the exaggeration), and pusillanimity (the deprivation). In post-Christian Christianity, doubt has unfortunately been elevated into a virtue and any type of certainty has been made a vice, a problem which can be traced back to Descartes.
Forty-five years ago, Madeleine L'Engle wrote about the problem and implications of declining linguistic standards:
When words are used in a way that is going to weaken language, it has nothing to do with the beautiful way that they can wriggle and wiggle and develop and enrich our speech, but instead it is impoverishing, diminishing. If our language is watered down, then mankind becomes less human and less free. (A Circle of Quiet, 1972)
Do you ever have those conversations that rankle in your memory? Several months ago a fellow homeschool mom inquired about my writing. I told her how much I enjoyed writing and that I was looking forward to some projects approaching. She replied, “Well, that sounds nice. Maybe you will soon have time to develop into a more practical writer that can actually help people. I just want somebody to tell me what to do.”
Known best for his odes, Quintus Horatius Flaccus cuts one of the best odd-luck stories for the son of a former slave in first century Rome (B.C.E.). Though he was likely of mixed heritage, Horace met surprising fortune. His father worked as an auction agent and had bettered himself, so well in fact that he owned his own farm. With steady income, he wisely had Horace educated in Rome rather than in his native village with the sons of centurions.
The strain of a classical Christian education can be arduous. It is not the easy route. It cannot be faked. Classical Christian education when done well is not Pollyanna; it’s not as “19th century English” as we sometimes imagine it to be.
This is one of the concerns I receive from prospective parents, and it’s one of the ongoing concerns on the tips of parents’ tongues: “How hard will this be? What if it’s too hard for my student?” But these are often the wrong questions to ask.
As the school year begins, many high school students will soon encounter To Kill a Mockingbird in their English classes. Those who have read the book will remember that a good bit of the action takes place in and around the Finch children’s school–their walks past Boo Radley’s house, the fight Scout gets into over the work Atticus does for Tom Robinson, the school play with Scout dressed as a ham.
Most people don’t enjoy poetry. In my Ancient to Medieval Literature class, my students celebrate when they get to the last book of the semester, an anthology of Arthurian legends, because it’s the first prose reading of the year. But it’s not just students who don’t enjoy poetry—few adults find themselves craving an evening with Shelley or Tennyson, much less Homer or Virgil. Most people complain that poetry is too difficult to understand or not accessible enough. But I think it’s deeper than that.
It is jolly good fun to always be talking about truth, goodness, and beauty. In fact, the more we talk about it--the more metaphors we use--the more romantic it becomes. Warm blackberries, babies' breath, raindrops on roses, and all that. This is fine and dandy on the Internet, but when you sit down with young moms in your own home you begin to blush.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I have been a Safe Teacher.