“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
As Christians recover classical Christian education, they are unearthing old treasures, once the possession of every educated man. Some of these treasures are words and descriptions–terms like “Trivium” and “Quadrivium,” “paideia,” and “liberal arts.” Of all these terms, “liberal arts” lays at the heart of what classical education is all about. So what did our forefathers mean by “liberal arts”?
The word liberal has nothing to do with our modern use of the word in politics and culture. Liberal means “free,” and historically described the kind of education expected of a freeman–especially one in a position of leadership, like nobility. Our culture has so alienated itself from a historic education that it’s very difficult for us to think of education without thinking of jobs and vocational training.
Christians of previous generations viewed education, and themselves, differently. The opening lines of the Westminster Shorter Catechism would have been familiar to nearly every child in early America: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That is who we are: worshiping beings, who delight in God. Or to use Dr. Atwood’s conclusion to the question “who are you?”, we are royalty, heirs of Christ. And we should educate our children in that light.
Some may object that this identity is a fine thing, but has nothing to do with education. “How does it help you get a job? How is it useful?” In 1646, the founders of Harvard College defined education in their “Rules and Precepts” in this way:
“Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning.”
Christ is both the source and the goal of education.
“Who are you?” We are liberal (free) Christians, pursuing wisdom and virtue through the interwoven arts of theology (study of the knowledge of God) and humanities (study of ourselves and of mankind). “Knowledge of God and knowledge of self” is how John Calvin sets the stage for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, and is also how Harvard and other universities in the United States prior to the 1900s set the foundation for education.
So the term “liberal” points to the purpose of education and our identity. But what precisely does this looks like.
If the foundation of education is knowledge of self and knowledge of God, how might the liberal arts help us in this endeavor? The Liberal Arts are an education in first principles–in the foundations of things. The Western heritage is the cultural soil into which Christ was made flesh, and the common inheritance of all God’s people. This specifically means recovering an education which includes Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Dante, Augustine and Boethius, Cicero and Plutarch, Homer and Vergil, Milton and Shakespeare. These and many others are so much woven into the fiber of ourselves and our culture that we cannot truly know ourselves without knowing them. It includes the classical study of logic, rhetoric, grammar, and language. These disciplines inform our understanding of the written and spoken word, the means God gave us for understanding Himself and ourselves.
We may have only recently re-discovered this birthright, but it is not presumptuous to receive this rich heritage as our own. Our culture is in full-blown identity crisis. The liberal arts educate our children in their identity, giving them the tools to understand the world around them in wisdom and virtue. And with this education in first principles–these freeing, liberal arts not defined by usefulness–our children will possess tools of learning that are surprisingly useful in a confused world.
This article is an adapted excerpt from chapter one of A Better Admissions Test: Raising the Standard for College Entrance Exams, published by the Classical Learning Initiative and Mudhouse Press.
“If a collection of good men and women speaking well is the most valuable commodity a culture can possess, then our school must establish eloquence as the goal for every student. As it is, rarely do we coordinate the way students learn and the ways in which they will perform as leaders. Rarely do we connect the things we teach them every day with their responsibilities to seek the greater good and to draw their friends and neighbors after them. How will our students use language to benefit their neighbors? Will words and the ideas embodied in them come easily, or will our students simply be good men and women, possessing discernment but without the capacity to benefit those around them through appropriate speech and noble deeds?”
— Dr. Robert Littlejohn, Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning
A friend ran into this argument:
“Can you give biblical reasons for not having someone watch your ONE YEAR and 2-month-old child while you’re in church? Come on man. 14-months-old?? Can you tell me exactly what you think you are accomplishing by having a 14-month-old in church?”
He responded simply with Bible references.
Have you not read?
“Call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.” -Joel 2:15-16
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” -Matthew 21:16
“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” -Luke 18:15-17
“There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.” -Joshua 8:35
“Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” -Deuteronomy 31:12-13
“Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” -2 Chronicles 20:13
“While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.” -Ezra 10:1
“When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another.” -Acts 21:5-6
Ephesians 6 assumes that children would be present at the reading of the letter to the congregation.
Children were present at Jesus’ preaching (Matt 14:21).
Keep your kids in Church! The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. The elements of a service are didactic even if they don’t have full comprehension. What they will quickly gain is the knowledge that “these are my people, this is where I belong, this is the Body of Christ where I worship God.” It may take years for them to put that into words, but they understand it as surely as they understand that they belong at your dinner table. Have you ever tried removing a one-year-old from a dinner table full of older siblings? They know to whom they belong. They have an incredible ability to discern the Body.
It was a real privilege to contribute to A Better Admissions Test: Raising the Standard for College Entrance Exams by Classic Learning Initiatives! It was especially delightful when my search for a primary source brought me to the University of Idaho special collections, and the inaugural address of Frederick Kelley, President of the University of Idaho in 1928. Kelley, the original creator of the standardized exam in 1915, changed his views with age and wisdom, and spent the latter part of his career advocating for classical liberal arts.
My chapter (Chapter 1) gives a brief history of entrance exams in the United States, starting with an overview of the classical liberal arts, a needed foundation to understand the change brought about by standardized testing.
Robert Bortins of Classical Conversations said it best about this book: “A must read for anyone in education or admissions who is brave enough to admit that things aren’t quite right in higher education any more.”
For those living in District 5 of Idaho (Latah and Benewah County), here is how I’m voting:
Print-friendly PDF: http://bit.ly/Voting_Guide_Print
“We are all—more or less deliberately—students of English; we all recognize the value of accurately expressing our ideas and of exactly understanding the ideas of other. Now, though the notion has never dawned upon the large, good-humored, unenlightened public opinion which indirectly shapes our educational policies, to the serious student of English some acquaintance with Latin is not merely convenient, not merely valuable, but quite literally indispensable. At every onward step towards the mastery of his own language and literature he must use his Latin lamp if he has one, or stumble and go astray in the darkness if he has not. In this position the value of Latin is unique.”
—The Classical Weekly, Vol. V, No. 26. May 1912. Full column HERE (highly recommended!)
“If the unhappy day ever comes when teachers point their students toward these newer examinations, and the present weak and restricted procedures get a grip on education, then we may look for the inevitable distortion of education in the terms of tests.”
—Carl Brigham, creator of the SAT recanting his invention, and arguing against its advancement.
From The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, by Nicholas Lemann
“It is probably simpler to teach cultured men testing than to give testers culture.”
—Carl Brigham, in an 1937 article opposing the SAT exam he earlier created, and now rejects as a failed experiment.
“Education is a lifelong process. How well any of us becomes educated does not depend essentially on how much he comes to know in his school and college years but rather upon how effectively he has come to be imbued with the spirit of study in school and college years so as to assure his remaining a student throughout life. It is amazing how general the notion seems to be that we study only when we have teachers who require it. Learning is the result of study! Teaching is not a substitute for learning but is only a stimulus to it. Teaching, then, should be confined to those fundamentals which serve best as a basis for subsequent learning. College days should not be wasted on those highly differentiated aspects of subjects, the mastery of which will naturally follow if genuine intellectual interests are created or stimulated during college years…College is a place to learn how to educate oneself rather than a place in which to be educated.”
—Frederick Kelly, The University in Prospect, Inaugural Address as President of the University of Idaho, 1928.
Hilary commandeered this quote during the #debate (2nd Presidential Debate – Town Hall), but in great irony, neglected the context. America is not good. America has ceased to be both good and great. Let’s make America great again: fill our churches.
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fiertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
—Alexis de Tocqueville, attributed
So the emptier you feel, the greater the need to come. There is fullness here, fullness for your emptiness. So the weight of your sin bears you down, but there is one here who will lift all of your burdens and will bear them away. So you feel sometimes as though your heart is black as hell, but here is edible light.
Humble yourself, and do not fear that adverb. Come.
So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.
— Douglas Wilson, inviting broken people to the broken bread.
“How does Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain echo the main theme of the Aeneid?
The Aeneid describes in an epic fashion the destiny of the Roman people to bring peace to the world through conquering the nations and bringing civilization. Geoffrey directly echoes this idea as Brutus receives a prophecy that his descendants will govern the earth. So Geoffrey depicts the British people as being the heirs of the Roman destiny.
If you’re familiar with N.D. Wilson’s children’s novels, you know you’re in for a treat with The River Thief, his first feature film.
This film breaks from the typical Christian film by telling a good story first and foremost. A lost, father-hungry boy discovering true love. Not the sappy, romantic love of your typical Hollywood flick (this girl wouldn’t have any of that), but rather the kind of love that creates a longing to live or die for someone else (something new for Diz).
A wonderful family film, although there are some rough scenes. My 7-year-old son was spellbound, and somewhat affected by the rough parts. Yet this is the kind of story that is healthy. The emotion, drama, and violence of this *good* story are like emotional boot camp; it allows a young boy or girl to experience these emotions of grief and fear along with the positive life lesson that a good story provides.
As a resident of the Northwest where this was shot, I also appreciated the cinematography, which was outstanding! Beautiful aerial views in particular.
I highly recommend The River Thief!
Christians need to learn the tools of Rhetoric both to persuade and to gain wisdom and understanding of our times.
“Since, then, the faculty of eloquence is available for both sides, and is of very great service in the enforcing either of wrong or right, why do not good men study to engage it on the side of truth, when bad men use it to obtain the triumph of wicked and worthless causes, and to further injustice and error?”
—Augustine, On Christian Teaching (quoted in Fitting Words: Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student by James B Nance).
I’m really enjoying seeing the illustrations for Fitting Words: Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student come together. Fitting Words will be a complete Rhetoric curriculum for the 10-12th grade (and above!).
Here are some of the original illustrations going into it, from illustrator George Harrell.