“You are the curriculum.” Last week, my esteemed colleague Andrew Smith offered this proverb while addressing the secondary faculty of Veritas School on the subject of rhetoric. As I plan my first week of classes, the proverb has taken seat in my heart. Christ claims that “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Christ does not claim that everyone who is fully trained will be “like the authors of the books his teacher passed out.”
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.
For the last nine years, I have asked my students to make Christmas wish lists which I post around the classroom during the first two weeks of December. I make a Christmas wish list, as well, and I always put the same three things on it: Bill Evans vinyl, imported cheeses, and peace on earth. Depending on the year, I will get one or two of the three things I ask for, but I have not yet received all three. Rest assured you will know when I do.
To practice memorization without cultivating a culture of memory is like planting a rosebush in sand. All the water in the world will not bring it to flourishing, for the soil in which it’s planted simply cannot sustain it.
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.
Can food be beautiful? I do not refer to the arrangement of food on a table, but the taste of food. Two glasses of wine, side by side, might appear nearly identical, but can one be beautiful and the other ugly? Taste has not traditionally been associated with beauty because it cannot be judged according to harmony or proportion. So, too, a smell can be pleasing but not beautiful for it cannot be halved or observed.
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.
“Memory is the cabinet of imagination, the treasury of reason, the registry of conscience, the counsel-chamber of thought”: these words, quoted at last month’s CiRCE conference, have continued to percolate in my reflections on what I heard there, helping to rehabilitate the very word “memory” from its eroded modern definition—the mere storing of information, accomplished as efficiently by an external hard drive as by a human mind. Running straight through the conference was the insistence that human memory is so much more.
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.
The following passage from 1 Corinthians 3 sits on a plaque over the door in my family room at home.
Omnia enim vestra sunt
Vos autem Christi
Christus autem Dei
My friend Marc Hays had it specially burned for me to thank me for my role in the CiRCE apprenticeship, from which I was resigning when he gave it to me last summer.
The words are from when Paul is summarizing his argument against division with the infantile Corinthian church.
I have long revered this passage as a cure for Christian stoicism.