I am sometimes asked by my extended family members or friends, “so why are you doing this?” referring to the Apprenticeship program through the Circe Institute. As I approach my graduation from the three-year program, I thought I’d put down why I did join the Apprenticeship program, what I have gained from it.
It is a mark of education to abhor the cliché. The educated person, the cultured person, feels repulsed by the outworn attempts at expression that pervade kitschy art, radio hits, social exchanges, and campaign-trail patriotism. These all bear witness to George Orwell’s claim in “Politics and the English Language” that “Modern writing at its worst . . .
Amongst the greatest gifts a classical school can bestow upon its students is the opportunity to become skilled in the use of words.
Any essay has three most-important sentences, I tell my students—and nearly always, as I help them revise their papers, I suggest those three sentences be rewritten. Though good prose throughout an essay bolsters its ability to communicate and persuade, I’d wager many an essay stands or falls on these three sentences alone, for they are the ones that shape the reader’s experience of the essay and lodge in his memory of it; they are the ones by which he will decide whether what he has read matters to him or not.
I vividly remember sitting in a dim school auditorium my junior year of high school, pencil positioned to take the PSAT when all test-takers were required to copy out a pledge promising that no cheating would take place. The requirement? The pledge had to be written in cursive. One by one, students’ hands went up as they asked, “How do you write in cursive?” “How do you make a capital ‘i’?” and “Are all the letters supposed to be connected?”
It has been said, mostly in old westerns, “don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.” However, that does not rule out going all the way across and deciding you’re riding the wrong horse, or that you crossed the wrong river, or that you’re going in the wrong direction, or that something screwy is going on. Anyway, I have such a story to tell.
Freedom is a great practical thing, not an ideological idea.
When people rule you on the basis of their own authority, you are not a free person. This is just as true in the classroom, the office, or the shop as it is in Washington, DC or London.
But how can that be prevented?
True freedom has everything to do with how behavior, work, and thought are measured. Where do the criteria arise? This is not as obscure a thought as it might seem. Whoever assesses you is your boss. So where do the standards of assessment come from?
I have a very specific process when I approach a writing project. Using the first three canons of Classical Rhetoric, I first write down every idea I have. This is the Invention stage and includes my research stage. Anything that generates an idea—something I read, a conversation I had, a thought that I contemplate, I dream I have—gets written down however it comes to me. I don’t worry about assessing the quality of the idea or figuring out how I will use it at that point. Often one idea leads to another, and I keep writing them down.
Historically, education has been the means to cultivate the human-ness of the student. People believed that there were distinctly human abilities and potentials that were good because they were human, and it was the duty of a community to see to it that those talents and abilities were developed.
Those abilities include music, the fine arts, logical reasoning, rhetoric, mathematical skills, language skills, the sciences, etc.
In Psalm 45 the poet pulls back the curtain on how godly poetry is composed and provides a model for us to imitate.
Consider the words of the first verse:
My heart overflows with a good theme
I will recite my verses to the king
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
Here, listed unpoetically, are some principles exemplified in this verse: