Conservatives and progressives tend to have predictable opinions on gun control, marriage, and taxes, but why? What philosophical principles and theological convictions underwrite modern political opinions? A lamentable number of modern Christians assume the fundamental break between conservatives and progressives occurred over the issue of personal freedom. However, great books of the 18th and 19th century show us the break was far more complex and involved rival philosophies of time, nature, beauty, and human fulfillment.
Parent: Can we talk about Jeff’s literature grade?
Gibbs: Of course.
Parent: He’s been putting so much time into your class. He works so long and so hard on these essays for you and he’s discouraged by the fact his grade on this upcoming report card is probably going to be a B.
Gibbs: Why is he discouraged?
Parent: He just doesn’t know what he needs to do to get an A.
Gibbs: I’ve given him feedback on the essays he’s written thus far. Was the feedback not clear?
Friendship is needed by all men in whatsoever occupations they engage. … It is what brings with it the greatest delight, to such an extent that all that pleases is changed to weariness when friends are absent, and all difficult things are made easy and as nothing by love.
—Aquinas, On Kingship
The first time a young teacher fields a complaint from an angry parent about their child’s grades is a formative experience. Actually, “formative” doesn’t begin to cover it. It is more like the moment Zeus had to choose between two different piles of meat— bones overlaid in fat, or choice cuts wrapped in offal— and the pile he chose became the divine portion forever, while the other pile became mankind’s eternal lot in the sacrificial system.
Previously, I developed the idea of the latent tension between the active and contemplative life. We must live in the world and work for our bread, but there are higher things than food and clothing. This is how Jesus directs his hearers in the sermon on the mount. “Do not lay up treasures on earth… but in heaven.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Classical education prizes the goods of the soul above goods of the body and rightly orders loves by placing them in their proper hierarchy.
Several weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked people to name a book they know they should have read but are ashamed to admit they haven’t. Answers ranged from To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, and A Tale of Two Cities (I salute this last person) to whole genres in general. Russian literature got a huge shoutout as a major gap for many people.
Teacher: I have heard that you sometimes use the saying, “Fake it till you make it,” when teaching your students about the pursuit of virtue.
Gibbs: That is true.
Teacher: In a time when the church has such remarkable problems with hypocrisy, I find it rather disturbing you would exhort your students to fake virtue.
Gibbs: Would you say that hypocrisy is the church’s biggest problem today?
Gibbs: Would you say it’s a problem you have?
Teacher: I’m very aware of my temptations to hypocrisy and I’m working on it.
“When am I ever going to use this?” This question has plagued educators for generations. Students constantly demand a justification for the utility of their studies. No subject is immune from this assault. Technocrats would rather replace Algebra II with Microsoft Excel. Grammar can be shortened or eliminated because we learn to speak before learning grammar. The fine arts are especially vulnerable to the “starving artist” trope; you can’t eat art. Yet a true education will resist this creeping pragmatism and reach for higher ends.
I am often plagued with nightmares. They are vivid, violent, and visceral.
The other night, I dreamed that I was in a public plaza full of people: Some were milling around, some were protesting, and some were rioting. It was chaotic and loud. I was trying to leave with a group of people, and something made me turn around and head back. When I did, a man with a gun came after me. I grabbed a chair and held it up between us, but he knocked me to the ground, put his gun to my neck, pulled the trigger, and then walked away.
“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?