Over the last half-dozen years, classical educators’ recovery of a more holistic practice of memory has permeated my own understanding of learning, pedagogy, and virtue. I have come to believe that what a student has learned is revealed in what she remembers, rather than what work she has done or what experiences she has collected over a school year. Accordingly, when I plan instruction, I strive for pedagogical practices that engage students in labor that forms their memories, rather than that which aims only to bring them to intellectual understanding.
This week, CiRCE podcasts contemplated fundamental literary skills and the book of Proverbs, Latin and the New Testament, prayer and study, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, tradition and the modern man, Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, technology in the classroom, and life and death during Queen Victoria's reign. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review, wherever you like to listen to podcasts!
The author of Hebrews writes, “the Lord disciplines the one He loves” (12:6). The word “discipline” in the Greek is paideuō, a verb whose primary meaning is to train up, or educate, a child. Its secondary meaning is to chastise or correct. Like a parent or a teacher, the Lord instructs and corrects the ones He loves.
As a young man, Benedict left his hometown of Nursia, journeying to Rome to continue his education. His time in Rome left him deeply troubled, the city apparently overcome by paganism and depravity. Eventually, Benedict simply tired of people. Seeking solitude and quite, he moved to a cave near Subiaco (about 30 miles east of Rome).
Joshua Gibbs recently wrote of the necessity of dogma to the right cultivation of wonder. He argues that wonder must happen within the bounds of orthodoxy; we must wonder not only about the truth but in the Truth. We must ultimately wonder in union with Jesus Christ, the subject (He is no object; He is a person, The Person), the source, and the end of all our seeking and striving.
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.