It seems like we often talk about how our lives are a rich tapestry where everything fits together, where even the tiny bits of our lives end up being useful and practical. We look at our future and think of all the significant things we’re going to do. We look at our past experiences, trials, and circumstances and we try to fit them into a nice narrative of what God was doing to prepare us for something. And when we’re in the midst of trial or pain, we try to find comfort in the fact that perhaps one day it will all fit together and be of some use.
“Like a musician who has tuned his lyre and, by an artistic blending of low, high and medium tones, produces a single melody, so the wisdom of God, holding the universe, adapting things heavenly to things earthly, and earthly things to heavenly, harmonizes them all and leads them by his will to make one world order in beauty and harmony.”
—St. Athanasius, Contra Gentes par. 42
The 2011 documentary Precious Knowledge, though featuring an ethnic studies program accused of Marxist indoctrination, sheds light on the power of classical education. It shows that our students need an identity rooted in a meaningful culture—which is precisely what we classical educators aim to recover from our past.
I recently delivered the following lecture to all the 7th and 8th grade students of Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia.
This is the third article in a series on how cognitive science provides empirical support to the methods of classical education. Having clarified some essential information about learning in the first and second articles, let us now shift into looking at specific principles that enhance learning. The first of these is that learning is most effective when a broad foundation is in place.
When studying the arts of argument and invention with my composition students, I like to show them an image of Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973) from the Tate Museum. It’s what appears to be a glass of water perched atop a shelf roughly eight feet off the ground, a simple installation accompanied by a printed interview with the artist himself. As a class, we read through the interview together—half puzzled, half amused. The text starts like this:
Money is the root of all evil and fame is hell.
Who would have thought that Ed Sheeran, one of the world’s most popular musicians, would proclaim such a dark truth on the first track of his latest album?
The comedian Bo Burnham, with his sarcastic tones hiding the underlying themes of depression, fear, exhaustion, suicide, and feeling out of place, forces crowds into fits of laughter over things that should never be laughed at, while he himself is standing on stage simply hoping that one person might hear what he is really saying: help.
Over the last several weeks, I have seen a great number of accusations fly that “the other side” is using shibboleths to rally the troops. It does not really matter which “other side” I am referring to, or what the sides even are, for modern men love to think themselves reasonable, analytical, and they tend to present detractors and antagonists as suckers for propaganda. All of which means that, in a pseudo-intellectual age, there really is no greater shibboleth than the word “shibboleth” itself, for no one likes to admit they use shibboleths.
In my first article in this series we explored benefits classical educators can derive from interacting with cognitive science. There we examined the first of six systematically constructed principles for learning: that learning takes time and reflection. So, what we are thinking about is the best barometer of what we have the potential to learn. However, that leads to a second, essential question: how much can we think about at any given time?
By the age of ten or eleven, most children understand that other families do things differently. By sophomore year, most teenagers have figured out that there is a knack to good parenting and that not all parents have it.