Given how many classical educators attended public school when young, most classical schools have progressive “hangovers” as Dr. Christopher Perrin sometimes puts it. A progressive hangover is simply a body of assumptions about education which is uncritically and unknowingly derived from modernist philosophy, as opposed to classical or Christian philosophy. Renewing classical education necessitates slowly overcoming this hangover and rooting out all the false beliefs about education which we don’t even know we have.
This morning I begin teaching the first several weeks of our Cosmology course at New College Franklin. In preparation for the class, I developed a partial list of cosmological ideas that I plan on covering over the next weeks. My goal was to situate the discussion of cosmology within a greater medieval and theological context while providing enough handles that future connections and ideas can be made by students. The rest of the course will cover more concrete aspects of astronomy and cosmology.
What other concepts would you have included?
Myth: The trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) corresponds to stages in child development.
The origin of this fantastic claim, a nearly ubiquitous presupposition of classical education literature and the central organizing tenet of many a school’s curriculum, can be traced back to Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” So foundational (dare I say creedal) is the significance of this text for the Classical School Movement, that many schools require applicants for teaching positions to submit an essay on it.
Around ten years ago, David Bentley Hart maintained a column at First Things wherein every Friday, he wrote about some issue which had little to do with his more well-known interests (patristics, philosophy) and more or less constituted a diversion, a flight of fancy, wherein some relatively trivial or mundane matter was discussed with a good deal of sophistication, but also with a very light touch. The typical Hart essay made known his thoughts on Origen or St. Gregory of Nyssa, but on Fridays, Hart commented on The Little Prince, The Matrix, or Renee Fleming.
Student: I wanted to talk about my grade in your class.
Gibbs: It’s too high, am I right? You want to protest grade inflation?
Student: Very funny. Actually, I just wanted to point out that I have an 89.2 in your class, but this is only because you counted the Modernism quiz we took last week as a quiz. Based on my calculations, if you counted the Modernism quiz as a test, I’d have a 92 in this class.
Gibbs: And if I weighted that quiz as classwork, you would probably have an 85.
Student: But that quiz was really hard.
Is Shakespeare a moral enigma? Many critics have thought so. Take the late Anthony Nuttall, who contended that “we have no idea what Shakespeare thought, finally, about any major question”—or Harold Bloom, who has argued that the Bard was “too wise to believe anything.” Such remarks challenge Shakespeare enthusiasts: When a play like Twelfth Night contains such a diverse cast of characters, such a motley crew of moral viewpoints, how can we know which characters represent the playwright? How can we know what Shakespeare thinks?
A curious number of students at classical schools believe that history is “names and dates,” and this sad fact will be obvious to any teacher who has tried to teach history without using an 800-page McGraw-Hill textbook. Having taken a few standardized tests, classical students know that “the plain of Shinar” and “The Dutch West India Company” are the answers to “history questions,” and thus they get nervous when information about terms like these is not referenced during history class. When most students think of history, they think of a survey course, not a deep dive.
It is pivotal that we read the right stories to our children when they are young so they will learn three things. The first is to never get involved in a land war in Asia. The second is to never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And the third is to never—never—accept and eat any food that is offered to you by a witch.
The English language is a minefield of buried metaphors. Take “buried metaphor,” for instance. Standard dictionary definitions treat the phrase as an abstract term, defining “buried metaphor” as a word or phrase that, though originally intended as a figure of speech, has been used so frequently that it now represents a specific concept without the figurative connotation.
The evening of March 25th found me and six others in the home of my associate pastor, celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation around a long and laden banqueting table. However, like good hobbits, we were also celebrating the destruction of the Ring of Power and hailing the Gondorian New Year—that day when Sauron the Great met his doom and when Frodo and Sam were “brought out of the fire to the King.” The food was rich, but the conversation was sublime.