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Liberal Art #7—Music

Music is a liberal art far more powerful and mysterious than most would guess.

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain hasten to let us know that music is not all about singing and instruments. That is only a partial understanding of all that is contained in the discussion of music as a liberal art.

Traditionally, music had three aspects, only one of which corresponds to what we generally mean today when we speak of “music.” The other two categories are about proportionalities in the world and in human society. I think “proportionalities,” while it is a proper mathematical term, making it quite legitimate in the discussion of the quadrivium, could also be understood as “relationships.”

Think of the word “harmony.” It has a meaning in musical performance, vocal or instrumental. It involves a relationship between two different tones, but it is harmonious only if the relationship is pleasing—beautiful. The opposite word, unharmonious, certainly implies something chaotic, out of sync, displeasing. Harmonies—proportions, relations—can be expressed mathematically, and they can be found in many places.

It is from this history that we get the phrase “the music of the spheres.” This is also why Plato could say that in one sense music was the totality of education, both the beginning and the end.

Because of course, we have already discussed the way in which music—poetic understanding—is the proper mode of knowledge for young students, and as the final part of the quadrivium, it is the pinnacle of the classical curriculum, until you advance to philosophy and theology. Students come full circle, from delight in knowledge to understanding why knowledge is delightful, so to speak.

To be perfectly honest, much of the discussion in this section of the book goes right over my head. My education in mathematics was truncated at Algebra II, so when I read a sentence that says “or the differential and integral calclus, are in some way proper to Philolaus’s definition of the liberal art of music,” I just have to take it at face value, and I know I don’t fully comprehend.

But some ideas I do get. Clark and Jain make it clear that music, properly understood, is part of the pursuit of a “grand unified theory” of knowledge.

While the daunting volume of data and information today seem to dwarf the search for meaning and truth, there has never been a time when the hunger to make sense of the big picture was greater.

That, I understand. And I agree. This is the harmony that eludes us, but needs to be a part of our educational pursuits. I think I’ll do one more post to wrap up the liberal arts before moving on. I have enjoyed this book very much, and if you’re reading along, I hope you have, too!

For a much more thorough look at this section of The Liberal Arts Tradition, you will want to see what Brandy had to say about it on the Afterthoughts blog.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

 

Link to all the posts in the Liberal Arts Tradition discussion.

Liberal Art #6—Astronomy

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain tell us that

The liberal art of astronomy has exerted a profound influence throughout the entire world.

I think we can all agree on that! I really like their historical perspective of this art:

Astronomy was the centerpiece of ancient science as one of the oldest studies, having Egyptian records dating from 3500 BC. It was used for timekeeping and navigation and thus helped ancient cultures establish a sense of history and place.

Much of the discussion in this part of book is about the historical practice of astronomy, and how it changed shape and focus over the centuries as astronomy became more of a science and less of an art. Clark and Jain suggest that a study of this historical shift in focus should be a  feature of the way it is taught now. I do think the ideas of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and other giants of science would help to create interest in students.

But even more so, I think the classical approach to astronomy—the art of observing the sun, the moon, and the stars, and using those observations for practical purposes in the same way you use grammar, rhetoric, and arithmetic—gives astronomy its proper place in the seven liberal arts. It’s an art. It’s something you do, not a body of information or a historical phenomenon.

In our AmblesideOnline curriculum, we use Signs and Seasons by Jay Ryan which is subtitled “Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy”—because that’s what it’s all about. The book leads you through first-hand observations of what you can see and measure without special equipment. This might be difficult for schools who are expected to hold all classes during daylight hours, but it’s perfect for homeschoolers. And some observations are made during the daytime, too. We can learn to tell time and and direction from the position of the sun. And there are those days when the moon is visible during daylight hours.

Jay Ryan writes:

Essentially, Classical Astronomy is the visual observation of the motions of the celestial bodies—the simple act of studying the cycles of the Sun, Moon, and stars with our unaided eyes. In contrast, Modern Astronomy is largely an activity of professional scientists and is based on measurements taken from telescopes and other artificial instruments. With Classical Astronomy, we can learn useful and practical skills, such as how to tell time and navigate by the sky.

Basically, if you want to introduce astronomy as one of the classical liberal arts, this is your book. I don’t have much more to say than that. We tend to think we know so much more today because of all our scientific apparatus, and in some ways, we do. But it’s all second-hand knowledge (unless you are Neil Armstrong or the equivalent).  I think all the historical arguments surrounding astronomy will be more meaningful to students who have gathered a little humility because they have had to make their own observations and puzzle over the celestial wonders.

Brandy at Afterthoughts had a lot of the same thoughts on this art that I do, and recommends the same book.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

 

Link to all the posts in the Liberal Arts Tradition discussion.

 

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Parents are persons, too

I have written about this before—that parents are persons—but my current reading in Home Education recently underscored how strongly Charlotte Mason felt about this. Not only do  parents have the liberty to work out principles of child-rearing for themselves, but that liberty provides a healthier atmosphere than any adherence to a mechanical system.

If you want to read what I was reading, you’ll find these quotes between pages 185 and 192, or read the whole section that begins on page 178.

Miss Mason reminds us that

So far as education is a science, the truth of even ten—much more, a hundred—years ago is not the whole truth of today.

It’s important to keep this in mind. It’s not that the “truth of a hundred years ago” is no longer the truth, that it was wrong, but it was, perhaps, incomplete—not the “whole truth.” The science aspect of education means that we are constantly learning, or we should be, more about the way that the mind works and how children learn best. Some things never change, but some things do—and good educational practices do not neglect to take new findings into consideration.

The topic immediately at hand is Froebel’s kindergarten, and Miss Mason tells us that

Froebel gathered diffused thought and practice into a system.

His was quite a complete system, with prescribed games and activities that made use of all the senses to teach properties—big and small, hard and soft. Color, number, rhythm, imagination—nothing is really left to chance in a Froebelian kindergarten. Miss Mason tries not to be too critical—she has a high regard for Froebel in many ways—but she does say:

And yet I enter a caveat.

And that caveat is this: “It is a doubtful boon to a person to have conditions too carefully adapted to his needs.” Miss Mason goes on to deprecate the hot-house environment a kindergarten might be.

Everything is directed, expected, suggested. No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no, not even that of Nature herself, can get at the children without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part.

Her argument is that a healthier environment will happen at home, with a mother who allows everyday life to be her child’s teacher, under her own watchful eye. And that, even if it is a little more chaotic:

The home-nursery is by no means such a scene of peace, but I venture to think it a better growing-place.

Now, Charlotte Mason has been talking here about the education of very young children, but the central point around which all her arguments turn is the first principle: Children are born persons. All the good things that might be said about the kindergarten and its games are not enough to excuse it for violating personhood.

I am inclined to question whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergartnerin [kindergarten teacher] is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children.

And so I go back to my spin-off principle—parents are persons, too. What does that imply for us as we seek out ways and means of educating our children? If Charlotte Mason were among us today, I think she would proffer the same warning regarding her own educational methods as she did for Froebel:

There is always the danger that a method, a bona fide method, should degenerate into a mere system. The Kindergarten Method, for instance, deserves the name, as having been conceived and perfected by large-hearted educators to aid the many sided evolution of the living, growing, most complex human being; but what a miserable wooden system does it become in the hands of ignorant practitioners! (Home Education, p. 9)

We ought to take this as a warning to ourselves regarding Charlotte Mason and her own methods. These, too, were conceived and perfected by a large-hearted educator. These, too, serve to aid the living growth of a complex human being. But. These, too, are at risk of degenerating into “a miserable wooden system,” especially if we try to “do all the things” without a solid understanding of the principles that underlie the practices.

Even with Charlotte Mason’s lovely methods, this is sadly possible. Living books and nature study and picture study and handicrafts and music and drill and all the things that go into a “Charlotte Mason” education are not magically exempt from deteriorating into a mechanical exercise of going through the motions. I have heard many a dedicated-but-weary CM mama lament, “we’ve just been checking off the boxes.” (Come to think of it, I have been that mama myself on occasion.) They knew the principles well enough to know that when the living joy and wonder weren’t present, the mechanical exercise of  going through the motions wasn’t satisfying.

Parents are persons, too. We need to adapt, to take some initiative and correct this danger when we see it. First, we have to make sure we understand a few basic principles well—and all twenty of Charlotte Mason’s principles do not carry equal weight, so it’s important to grasp those two or three that are really central to the methods. And then we need to remember that “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” There must be balance.

I don’t know what you need to do to restore your atmosphere if you’ve lost your joy, but I know you need to do something. Maybe you don’t have the grasp of the principles that you need, and some time to refresh your thoughts about educational principles will restore balance. You might look for a local community or conference to attend, or you can invest in one of the books from this list, or this one, to give you a boost.) Brandy Vencel at Afterthoughts runs a “Charlotte Mason Boot Camp” periodically. (It fills up quickly, so if you’re interested, you’ll want to be on the interest list.)

On the other hand, maybe study’s the last thing you need. Maybe you just need a break—sunshine, the pool, hiking for the joy of it without calling it “nature study.” Maybe you need to work on habits unrelated to school that are causing friction in your days. Messy rooms and heaps of unwashed laundry can steal our joy. Maybe a day—or a week—for a “cleaning vacation” will scour out the gritty corners of the soul as well as the windows, and you and the kids can plan a treat to celebrate a shiny, clean house when it’s all done. Maybe you need more time at the park, a designated quite hour every day, or a nap after too many sleepless nights. Parents are persons, too. Take time to restore your soul.

Charlotte Mason objected to the overly-structured kindergarten because “no room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on [the children’s] part.” Don’t let Charlotte Mason’s methods become that rigid. There is room for spontaneity and personal initiative in your homeschool. Never mind what the time table or curriculum says if you know that a different book or a different schedule would be best in your home. If you know the principles well, you can adapt them to your own circumstances.

Charlotte Mason says of the children:

The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer’s day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons.

And I extend that concept to the homeschooling parent. That resourcefulness that develops from making adaptations, perhaps with a bit of trial and error, will be of more value in the years to come than perfect adherence to a timetable or a book list.  In fact, those personal adaptations—because parents are persons, too—will keep Charlotte Mason’s method effective and fresh, with no danger of degenerating into a “miserable wooden system.”

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

 

Liberal Art #5—Geometry

Next up in the discussion is Geometry. I think this art should feel more comfortable than some others because it shows up on almost every one’s high school transcript. We all did geometry, right? Unfortunately, we didn’t necessarily do geometry in the the classical tradition.

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain give us a hint about why geometry is ubiquitous in our syllabus:

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries geometry became synonymous with clear and certain knowledge, the obsession of the modern era.

But classical geometry is and always has been all about Euclid. His Elements was the standard text for centuries, and why shouldn’t we still use it? It’s not like geometry is something today that it wasn’t before, and that tradition alone seems as if it would make classical education come alive for the modern student. Clark and Jain come to the same easy conclusion:

So, for those searching for a classical liberal arts paradigm for the study and teaching of geometry, the answer is found in a return to Euclid.

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to know that Charlotte Mason felt the same way about geometry and Euclid. The Elements appears on the PNEU programmes for the upper forms as part of the work in mathematics. (You’ll want to read what Brandy says about all this at Afterthoughts.) Miss Mason appreciated Euclid for the ideas conveyed in geometry. She wanted the wonder to be a part of the process.

How living would Geometry become in the light of the discoveries of Euclid as he made them! (Philosophy of Education, p. 233)

I feel myself more in need of learning this way than being in a position to suggest how you might teach this way. Clark and Jain urge the practice of drawing the constructions that illustrate the theorems.

Besides Euclid’s focus on deductive proof from first principles, his lessons also contain an element of visual artistry and delight: constructions. Constructions are drawings of the theorems in order to visualize or create them….The constructions aid the reason to conceive the abstract proofs and help connect the wisdom to the wonder.

Timing prevented my being a part of the discussion, but a group discussed this visual presentation of Euclid and did exactly what they are suggesting here—they drew the constructions and shared their work on the AmblesideOnline forum (membership needed to view—easy and free). They used this book, which I still plan to purchase and use with my last high schooler at home.

When so much of recovering the liberal arts tradition is open to doubt and discussion, and educators often find themselves casting about for whys and wherefores as well as ways and means, it’s nice to have something so fixed and accessible among the various liberal arts. Geometry for the win!

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

 

Link to all the posts in the Liberal Arts Tradition discussion.

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Liberal Art #4—Arithmetic

When Clark and Jain get to the quadrivium in The Liberal Arts Tradition, they make a case for the manner in which the mathematical arts of the quadrivium shape the heart and soul of man just as the arts of the trivium do.

Christian classical schools must uphold a high standard for mathematical education precisely for its special role in human formation and developing the virtue of the mind.

They don’t condemn the practice, but they do point out that rote memorization of math facts isn’t the point of arithmetic. Its classical purpose was different, as demonstrated by Nicomachus in the first century AD.

For Nicomachus, deeply understanding the necessary connections and relationships among the numbers would have been an essential element of the liberal art of arithmetic.

If you know Charlotte Mason well, you are probably nodding, and thinking, “Oh, right, education is the science of relations.” Math is so often a stumbling-block for students, and we tend to prize computation and right answers above this intuitive sense of the relationships that exist in numbers. I really love that Clark and Jain introduce the idea of wonder into arithmetic—something I suspect few of us ever experienced. Besides the personal delight in math that this affords for each student who experiences it, wonder actually has a practical side as well.

Students who encounter mathematics in wonder are far more likely to commit to the rigors of the work.

Maybe not all of them, but you are definitely increasing the likelihood of a student progressing well in math if has learned to enjoy it. I’m reminded of Charlotte Mason’s justification for mathematics in the curriculum:

We take strong ground when we appeal to the beauty and truth of Mathematics; that, as Ruskin points out, two and two make four and cannot conceivably make five, is an inevitable law. It is a great thing to be brought into the presence of a law, of a whole system of laws, that exist without our concurrence,—that two straight lines cannot enclose a space is a fact which we can perceive, state, and act upon but cannot in any wise alter, should give to children the sense of limitation which is wholesome for all of us, and inspire that sursum corda [a call to lift your heart in worship and praise] which we should hear in all natural law. (Philosophy of Education, p. 230-31)

This is one of those things that a trained math teacher probably finds it easier to do than a homeschooling parent who may have had a bad experience with math. Miquon Math, which I used with most of my early elementary students, went a long way toward giving me some joy and wonder and sense of relationship in arithmetic. I have also discovered that simply slowing down the process of arithmetic so that a child has time to enjoy success and feel competent at one level before moving on creates a better relationship-building environment.

But wonder in arithmetic is only the beginning—it can take you further.

Wonder was not the only end of arithmetic. The ancients also believed that arithmetic led the soul from wonder to wisdom.

The discussion in The Liberal Arts Tradition gets a little heady at this point, and I really encourage reading the book and tackling the ideas for yourself.  Read the footnotes, too. Even if math isn’t your forte (it isn’t mine), you might hear the sursum corda and catch a glimpse of wonder, or at least hear a whisper that might help you understand why others love math so much. That’s worth something.

You’ll want to read what Brandy thought about this section, too. I think she heard the sursum corda.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

 

Link to all the posts in the Liberal Arts Tradition discussion.

Liberal Art #3—Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the final art of the trivium—the intersection of three roads to excellence in language. In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain treat us to a brief historical view of rhetoric with references to Plato, Quintilian, Aristotle, Augustine, Cicero and Boethius. If you haven’t  read these authors, I’m afraid it might just feel like a list of names, but it really isn’t—it’s a reminder that this tradition is partly an ongoing conversation, part of “The Great Conversation.”

In short, the role of rhetoric in the classical tradition is not static—it has been approached in different ways at different times in history. However, at its heart we find this:

Despite its varied implementations through the ages, rhetoric is not to be understood as an abstract concept. Students studied rhetoric to learn how to be persuasive in their use of language….

Their conclusion to this need to make rhetoric concrete is this:

We believe this discussion has two major implications for schools in the Christian classical renewal. First of all, the three liberal arts of the Trivium must retain their integrity if we are to find the true integration afforded by the classical model.

I confess to being a bit confused by their using the word “integrity” to mean separate things. Grammar is grammar. Dialectic is reasoning. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. But the integration—the intersection—is why these are called the “trivium.” I confess to feeling that it is more in keeping with the classical tradition and more needful in light of our cultural tendency to fragment knowledge, to place the emphasis on the integration of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, rather than their separate arts.

Which is why I wrote, in Consider This:

Fully understood, the trivium becomes a three-fold approach to wisdom via words and language. Because language is the matter to be dealt with, reading books, thinking about them, and talking or writing on what has been been read is the practice of the grammar, logic, and rhetoric in a nutshell, and all these arts may be practiced until they are mastered.

Which begs the question “what language?” because Clark and Jain take this moment to segue into a plea for Greek and Latin.

The second implication for schools in the Christian classical renewal is that the study of the classical languages plays a central role in the acquisition of the liberal arts of the Trivium.

And I can’t bring myself to concede that point. A noun is a noun in any language, remember? Grammar, dialectic, and persuasive rhetoric may be practiced in any language. Every language. In fact, when we remember that these are arts that involve doing something, we must see that the language in which they will be perfected is the language in which we are proficient. If you became proficient (not to say fluent) in Latin or Greek, you could potentially practice those arts in that language, although only other proficients would be able to understand you.

And that brings us to the pivot upon which classical education was brought to its knees in the not-too-distant past (mixing my metaphors—sorry). If a liberal arts or classical education can only be achieved through Greek and Latin, it can only ever be an education for the elite, for the few, and not for the general population. You might make a case for that, but in 21st century America, I come down on the side of a “liberal education for all,” and while that should include ancient languages, it cannot be dependent upon them. And maybe that’s all that Clark and Jain mean, too. We do not want to conflate a liberal education with classical scholarship, though they may overlap.

I don’t want to be misunderstood as suggesting that Latin (and even Greek!) are not important. I do adhere to Charlotte Mason’s principle that “education is the science of relations,” and I think children ought to have the opportunity to form a relationship with the past through the ancient languages. That’s where I think the emphasis should be in the elementary years—on forming a relationship with Latin so that the opportunity to develop a taste for it and a desire to pursue it more fully can be created. But the majority of students are going to need to practice grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric in their native tongue, and there is nothing unclassical about that.

The Greeks believed that a training in the use and power of words was the chief part of education, recognising that if the thought fathers the word, so does the word in turn father the thought. They concerned themselves with no language, ancient or modern, save their own, but of that they acquired a consummate appreciation. With the words came the great thoughts, expressed in whatever way the emergencies of the State called for—in wise laws, victorious battles, glorious temples, sculpture, drama. For great thoughts anticipate great works; and these come only to a people conversant with the great thoughts that have been written and said. (Philosophy of Education, p. 316)

I really want to carry this discussion a little further, but I fear this will get too long, and I don’t want to be distracted too far from the main topic, which is still rhetoric.

One of my favorite discussions of rhetoric is Augustine’s. He says that both grammar and rhetoric may well be learned at the feet of those who use them well rather than by studying rules, and that, I think helps to keep grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric arts without reducing them to subjects.

We know numbers who, without acquaintance with rhetorical rules, are more eloquent than many who have learnt these; but we know no one who is eloquent without having read and listened to the speeches of eloquent men. For even the art of grammar, which teaches correctness of speech, need not be learnt by boys, if they have the advantage of growing up and living among men who speak correctly. (From On Christian Doctrine)

If you remember that grammar is literature (the ability to read and comprehend), dialectic asks good questions, and rhetoric is the expression of what you want someone else to understand and accept, it becomes easier to see how the trivium is an integrated use of language arts that will sharpen the mind that engages in their practice.

For years, Aristotle’s Rhetoric was the classic text used to teach it—at the university level, which might well be brought into our high schools. But, like the ancient Greeks, I think the most effective rhetoric we can give is a consummate appreciation of the English language that we speak and love and need to wield effectively.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

 

Links to all the Liberal Arts Tradition posts.

Liberal Art #2—Dialectic

I really like what Clark and Jain have to say about dialectic in The Liberal Arts Tradition.  I really hope you’ll read this book for yourself and read it all.  Dialectic encompasses the formalities of logic and reasoning, but it is much more than that.

“Dialectic” shares an obvious root with the word “dialogue.” That is a hint that dialectic involves some kind of back-and-forth, a conversation of some sort, which involves more than one person or more than one point of view. Plato’s Socratic dialogues are the first example of dialectic in the classical tradition, and the authors distill the idea into this:

Reading Plato’s dialogues we find that the key to success in reasoning is the ability to ask the right questions.

And there, I think lies the crux of this art. I think dialectic is the art of asking good questions, which makes it incomplete by itself, of course. Asking a good question is vital, but one hopes that good questions will lead to good answers. I never think about dialectic without being reminded of something Charlotte Mason shared.

Long ago, I was in the habit of hearing this axiom quoted by a philosophical old friend: “The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself.” I have failed to trace the saying to its source, but a conviction of its importance has been growing upon me during the last forty years. It tacitly prohibits questioning from without; (this does not, of course, affect the Socratic use of questioning for purposes of moral conviction); and it is necessary to intellectual certainty, to the act of knowing. (Philosophy of Education, p. 16-17)

Learning to ask yourself the right kind of questions becomes a kind of internal dialectic, but the key point remains the same. You have to ask the right kind of questions, good questions, and as I have shared elsewhere, narration is a great method for building that skill gradually and effectively.

In the early stages of education, Clark and Jain tell us, students are absorbing a great deal of material—they use the word “voluminous”—and when they have a store of knowledge they are ready to do something with it, intellectually.

Having received, and hopefully, imbibed the deposit of the [classical] tradition, students then must learn to weigh, to sort out, and to synthesize the nuanced, paradoxical, and at times contradictory ideas and arguments contained in that tradition.

And I’m reminded again that, whether they know it or not, these authors are walking the paths that Charlotte Mason walked before them.

It is in this second stage that the value of the classical and mathematical grind comes in. It produces a certain sanity of judgment, and therefore a certain capacity for affairs, an ability for the examination of questions, which are rather the distinguishing marks of the public schoolman. (Formation of Character, p. 381, emphasis added).

(What Miss Mason means by a “public schoolman” is a man who was educated at classical school like Eton or Harrow.)

This liberal art of dialectic is probably most valuable to us if we view it as learning to ask the right questions instead of a formal process, although examining the formal process might well help us to do that. One might view the whole classical tradition of education as a long conversation that is ongoing, and perhaps went astray when we began to ask the wrong questions. One of the marks of a good question, I think, is that it provokes further questions rather than shutting down discussion. What do you think?

Liberal Art #1—Grammar

I can hardly begin talking about grammar without being reminded of the epiphany I had long ago, from Quintilian, of all people. I was reading an English translation, of course, but he would have been writing in Latin, and he explained to his audience that the Greek word “grammar” was based on the root “gram,” which means “letter. Quintilian then casually explains that the Latin equivalent is “lit,” which also means “letter, and therefore grammar is essentially the same thing as literature. I can only imagine how amused Quintilian would have been by the reaction of a woman at the turn of the millennium, nearly 2,000 years later. It was a shocking revelation to me at the time, though I’ve encountered the idea elsewhere since then. But lots of people still haven’t, so I include it here. If you want a full understanding of grammar in the liberal arts tradition, remember where it comes from. “Grammar” is “literature,” with all that implies.

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain introduce their discussion of grammar with this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche:

I fear we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in Grammar.

It would be so, so easy to gloss over that while reading this book, but you shouldn’t. You really shouldn’t. Without reading a word further, you should stop right there and think for a while about why that would be so. Why would “believing” in grammar support a belief in God—make it difficult to “get rid” of God? Just working out a hypothesis for that yourself will alter your perspective of grammar forever, I think.

Consider, for example, what a reader should know in order properly to interpret the Aeneid, and one will intuitively grasp the nature of grammar in its classical sense.

The authors remind us gently that the historical place of grammar in the liberal arts was not about learning the “rudiments of all subjects,” but about exploring language and the way it was used to convey meaning. Greek and Latin were studied, not for their own sake but for the sake of reading texts in those languages.

The notion that the primary goal of studying classical languages is something other than the reading of the classical texts would have been foreign to earlier generations.

I couldn’t agree more.

Speaking of grammar, Charlotte Mason wrote:

It requires some effort of abstraction for a child to perceive that when we speak, we speak about something and say something about it; and he has learned nearly all the grammar that is necessary when he knows that when we speak we use sentences and that a sentence makes sense; that we can put words together so as to make utter nonsense, as,— “Tom immediately candlestick uproarious nevertheless”—a string of words making perfect nonsense and therefore not a sentence. If we use words in such a way as to make sense we get a sentence; “John goes to school” is a sentence. (Philosophy of Education, p. 209)

Why do you suppose Charlotte Mason says that is “nearly all the grammar that is necessary”? (In practice, her students learned more detail than that!) I think it is because it cuts to the heart of language and reveals the inherent structure of language, without which there could be no communication at all, no sense. It is the very logos of language, not of English alone, but all language. And that is why Nietzsche fretted about grammar making it difficult to dispense with God, who alone could create such an order, such a law, like the law of gravity, which no one can break. There are different types of grammar, but they share certain inherent properties, for which I refer you to Augustine. A noun is a noun in any language, and it may be that the contemplation of noun-ness rather than memorizing  a definition and identifying random nouns is what makes grammar a university-level art.

Clark and Jain ask “What does all this mean for schools in the Christian classical renewal?”

That is a really good question, and the only answer I have to suggest is that we keep on asking it. Because I don’t think a fully satisfactory answer for 21st century America has yet been found.

Seven Liberal Arts

After discussing piety, gymnastic, and music, Clark and Jain finally get to the topic of the liberal arts. They acknowledge what anyone wanting to discuss classical education or the The Liberal Arts Tradition really has to acknowledge: “Today people use the term liberal arts with a great variety of meanings.”

Yep.

So you have to define your terms, and they do, focusing at first on the distinction between an art and a science. The seven liberal arts are arts and not sciences because

An art could only be attained from an extensive foundation in action and imitation forming cultivated habits.

Basically, an art is something that you do—that must be practiced—while a science is a body of knowledge that produces nothing on its own. The liberal arts do produce something!

This leaves the question, “What is it then that the liberal arts are producing?” Aquinas gives us the answer: the liberal arts are used to produce the works of reason.

I think that bears mulling over for a good long while, and I have been doing that. It seems to me very, very easy to either embrace the idea of the Trivium and Quadrivium and leap into action to implement the liberal arts as “subjects” (which they are not), or else to dismiss them if you have decided classical education is irrelevant or undesirable.

Clark and Jain remind us that the trivium and quadrivium are paths (that’s what “vium” means) that are meant to lead somewhere. In formal medieval studies, that was to philosophy and theology. But, as I learned, “trivium” doesn’t just mean “three paths”—it is the word the Romans used to refer to an intersection of three roads, and a “quadrivium” was a four-way intersection. The trivium is the intersection of grammar, logic, and rhetoric—language—and the quadrivium is the intersection of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy—mathematics.

What makes these seven arts the most vital? What will mastering them give us that will prepare us for the higher contemplation that is to follow? I feel that those questions have to be asked before we get to “how do I teach these things?”

Clark and Jain take a fair amount of time with each of the seven arts, and I think that’s what I’ll do, too. One thing to bear in mind is that these arts are not intended for six-year-olds, not historically. This was a university education. I visited the museum portion of a medieval university in my home town (the Jagiellonian University in Krakow—over 750 years old), and the tour guide told us that the original course of study was…grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. And the next words out of his mouth were, “Copernicus came here when he was 18 years old and was introduced to astronomy for the first time.”

I don’t think we need wait until university today, but I do think that a full recognition of what it means to practice the liberal arts means acknowledging that it is meant to come after a lovely poetic foundation of music and gymnastics, underpinned with piety which will place a learner in the best frame of mind for true learning.

I have a feeling Charlotte Mason would appreciate the way that Jain and Clark place the liberal arts into a larger picture. She saw them that way, too—literally—as they appear in the fresco that she was so fond of.

She considered that the liberal arts were knowledge given to the world directly from the Holy Spirit. That was what she called “the medieval view” and that is the understanding that Clark and Jain have as well. And so, if this is right—if the liberal arts are part of a grand scheme of knowledge that belongs to the world and are a gift from God—they merit our attention and consideration.

If you want some bonus content from one of the authors, Kevin Clark, about what you do with the liberal arts, check out his guest post at Afterthoughts.

A Generous Curriculum

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain suggest that early education should be founded upon music and gymnastic, in accordance with the  education described by Plato and others who followed him. The words are not defined narrowly, but broadly. Music refers to everything inspired by the “muses.” This is how the authors envision such an education:

This aspect of education includes what we now call music, but also poetry, drama, the fine arts, and literature. As the Muses Clio and Urania suggest, history, geography, and even astronomy are “musical” subjects as well.… In classical antiquity a major portion of the education of children (throughout many of the years we devote to our pre-K through 12th grade programs) consisted of physical training, singing, memorizing poetry, acting/imitating, drawing, sculpting, learning of the deeds of the great men of the past, reading great literary works, and experiencing and observing the natural world. This, we think should cause us to consider these oft-forgotten elements of classical education.

If you compared that description to what is encompassed by a Charlotte Mason education, I think you would find that her proposed curriculum hits every mark, and even exceeds some of them. This sounds very much like the “generous curriculum” that Miss Mason urged as the right of every child.

Like Charlotte Mason, Clark and Jain emphasize that children have innate abilities. Education need not be focused on trying to give them what they already possess, but on refining what they can do with their assets.

The whole vision for education in the classical tradition can be summarized in the proposition that education is directed at perfecting inherent human abilities. Human beings are able to do things simply because they are human. Education trains and directs these things; it does not produce them.

Children are born persons, right?

That quote reminds me of this one:

If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind. (Philosophy of Education, p. 36.)

I want to pause and make sure to notice the connection between the music-and-gymnastic education and what might be called “poetic knowledge,” such as James Taylor writes about. I’ve mentioned before how “CM” this approach to learning is. I love this:

Musical education is soul-craft: carried out properly it tunes the soul, and makes one receptive to truth and goodness.

What does that look like in practice? Well, it is made up of the songs we sing, the stories we hear, the art we admire. These things are not intellectual exercises alone—they also touch our hearts. We learn to appreciate art and artists because we have a favorite picture. We have favorite stories and songs that bring us joy, and pleasure, and we learn to perceive goodness because we have learned to love. Our “moral imagination” is stocked with examples to which can compare new things and ideas that we encounter. I think another way of viewing this would be Charlotte Mason’s idea of “educating the conscience.” She discusses it at length in Ourselves, devoting many chapters to the way poetry and history, among other things, give us stability of mind.

Clark and Jain refer often to The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. If you are familiar with that book, you will understand what is meant by “men with chests”—that is, men who have developed heart as well as intellect, who feel as well as think. This, they tell us, is the business of education in the early years.

On page 28 of The Liberal Arts Tradition, they envision what such an education might look like.

History would not be so many facts to memorize, however creatively we do it, but an opportunity to use stories from the past to build up a child’s moral imagination—a possibility that, if followed, instantly unlocks the significance of ancient historians. Literature as musical education would resist the modern encroachment of critical reading in order to awaken the same imagination. Science as musical education has perhaps the greatest potential of all, especially in our context. Imagine if the foundations for all future science were a wonder and awe of God’s creation and sympathetic love of the created world.

I told you that Clark and Jain never mention Charlotte Mason—possibly weren’t aware of her educational contributions at all. They merely imagine this approach to education, but I hope you have gone further.

Charlotte Mason developed these very ideas and lived them out, and if you’ve been following a “CM” education in your homeschool, so have you!

If this idea intrigues you, I highly recommend reading what Brandy of Afterthoughts wrote about this topic.