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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?

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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

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.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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

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.”


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.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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

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.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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

What do I owe?

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain have chosen the word “piety” to represent the beginning of their classical paradigm. They know this isn’t a popular choice (“Piety is a word nearly lost on our contemporary culture.”), but it represents a vital aspect of the liberal arts tradition that truly underpins all the rest. This is how they define it:

Piety signifies the duty, love, and respect owed to God, parents, and communal authorities past and present.

I know I sound like a broken record (if you remember what that sounded like), but doesn’t that remind you of Charlotte Mason?

Have we then no rights ourselves, and have other people no duties towards us? We have indeed rights, precisely the same rights as other people, and when we learn to think of ourselves as one of the rest, with just the same rights as other people and no more, to whom others owe just such duties as we owe to them and no more, we shall, as it were, get our lives in focus and see things as they are. (Ourselves, Book I, p. 139)

The motto of the PNEU was “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” That word “ought” is the same as the word “owe”— we owe something—duty, respect, obedience, reverence—to our family, friends, country, and God. Charlotte Mason didn’t use the word “piety” often, but never doubt that it was foundational to all that she hoped her educational methods would accomplish. Without it, life becomes a cramped and selfish business.

Why do we not all honour one another? Because our vision is blinded by a graven image of ourselves. We are so taken up with thinking about ourselves that we cannot see the beauty in those about us, though we may be able to admire people removed from us. Conceit and self-absorption are the Dæmons which hinder us from giving that honour to all men which is their due. (Ourselves, p. 147)

When I see that Charlotte Mason criticized her own culture for conceit and self-absorption (which hinder piety/respect toward others) I positively quail. What would she think about ours? Clark and Jain discuss piety at length, and link it to love, which I find very interesting. Linking duty and love reminds me of the way that Charlotte Mason links justice and love, which I believe is a distinctly Augustinian point of view (at least, that’s where I remember encountering that particular pairing—there might be another source).

They write:

If piety shapes who we are and orders our loves, then it clearly affects one’s relationships and actions.

This takes the form of good manners, among other things. Jain and Clark suggest that the “culture” of a school educates a child in these things, as much as any curriculum, which puts me in mind of “education is an atmosphere.” Some things are better “caught” than “taught,” and piety is probably one of them.

Very few educators begin the approach to education with anything like piety. This is a bold and brave thing to put forth in the 21st century. The authors lament that, “Modern civilization, having lost all sense of obligation, is brought up against the fact that it does not know what is due to anything.”

If you’re a Charlotte Mason educator or if the classical tradition is important to you, you won’t be letting your students continue in that ignorance. Piety. Duty. Reverence. We have to walk in that path ourselves if we expect our students to find the way.

Charlotte Mason said that man who knows his duty and does it has integrity—that is, he is integrated—he is a whole man. A man with piety?

He has said to himself, ‘I owe it to my parents’—or my teachers, or my employers—‘to do this thing as well and as quickly as I can; what is more, I owe it to myself.’ (Ourselves, p. 170)

If you want to know more about piety in The Liberal Arts Tradition, you won’t want to miss Brandy’s thoughts about it at Afterthoughts.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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

Clark, Jain, Mason and the science of relations.

One of the things I really like about The Liberal Arts Tradition is the open acknowledgement that they are seeking a broad, full understanding of what classical education is and all that it encompasses. (You remember that it isn’t easy to define.) Their perspective is unabashedly Christian. And they aren’t trying to make any connections to Charlotte Mason (they never mention her at all). But because they, like Charlotte Mason, are seeking universal truths they land in more or less the same place. Clark and Jain write:

This full-orbed education aims at cultivating fully integrated human beings, whose bodies, hearts, and minds are formed respectively by gymnastic, music, and the liberal arts; whose relationships with God, neighbor, community are marked by piety; whose knowledge of the world, man, and God fit harmoniously within a distinctly Christian philosophy; and whose lives are informed and governed by a theology forged from the revelation of God in Christ Jesus as it has been handed down in historic Christianity.

Is there anything in there you imagine Charlotte Mason would object to?

On the contrary, it recognizes the full nature of man, focuses on relationships, places knowledge in the same three categories she uses, and gives Christianity—specifically Jesus Christ— the governing position that informs everything else.

I really like the authors’ contention that education is “grounded in piety.” Their definition of piety is something I’ll discuss in another post, but this is a key understanding:

The foundational distinction between traditional education and modern education is that the ancients believed that education was fundamentally about shaping loves.

For many years, I have considered Charlotte Mason’s principle that “education is the science of relations” one of the key things that ties her philosophy to classical traditions, and this is why.

According to Clark and Jain, the education that is rooted in piety bears fruit in philosophy and theology. The liberal arts have a place in this paradigm, but they do not define it, and particularly, classical education is not fully defined by the seven liberal arts, let alone the trivium by itself.

It was only when I began to understand this fuller appreciation for the classical tradition that I saw how Charlotte Mason fitted into it. Clark and Jain speak of philosophy as “the unity of knowledge which covered all subjects.”

It reminds me of Charlotte Mason’s call to action:

Let us set ourselves to labour with purpose and passion to restore to the world, enriched by the additions of later knowledge, that great scheme of unity of life which produced great men and great work in the past. (School Education, p. 156)

I am really enjoying this book. I think it brings a much-needed perspective into the discussion of classical education, and I look forward to the rest.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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

Treasure for the taking

The Preface! I’m up to the preface. (In blogging. I’m beyond that in reading.)

Here are few tidbits:

Authors Clark and Jain write:

“In our view, the whole of education ought to proceed from the love of God and neighbor.”

I invite you to consider that view and compare it to Charlotte Mason’s “captain idea” that “Education is the science of relations.”

Rather than the fragmented approach to subjects, the authors tell us:

“In a word, this paradigm allows for a high degree of integration.”

Integrated is a Latin derivative that means the same thing as the Greek derivative synthetic, so I’m taking notice.

And I appreciate this so very much:

“We offer this paradigm not, we pray, as innovators, but as those who have discovered a great lost gem.”

It echoes something Charlotte Mason said near the end of her life, too:

“If you picked up a bracelet lying by the way it would be no credit you. It is precisely the case with us. These principles are picked up, found, a find which is no one’s property; they belong to all who have wit enough to take them.” (L’Umile Pianta, June 1922)

The vital principles that underlie a liberal arts education are always there, within arm’s reach of anyone who is fortunate enough to spot the gleam and take the time to investigate. I hope that this book will play a role in in helping others find these gems for themselves.

A few years ago, Brandy at Afterthoughts blogged through this book, too. As I go through, I’ll link to some of her posts, especially if she has said some of the same things I would say. No sense repeating! I’m amused that she got caught up at first in the preliminary material as well.

This is a book that bears reading with an open mind, because the authors are trying on purpose to broaden the common modern conception of classical education into a view that encompasses some vital aspects of education that are not inherently “academic.”

I really appreciate their use of the word “tradition.” I subtitled Consider This “Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition,” and of course this book is titled The Liberal Arts Tradition. The use of the word “tradition” is a recognition that we are dealing with a long history of thought and practice, which is not always perfectly consistent, but that the differences are of less importance than the tradition—the common elements that have been planted, sprouted, borne fruit, and further seeded the thinking of generations to come.

The preface concludes:

“We hope that our exploration of the tradition may provide others with resources that will inform and inspire their teaching.”

Because teachers should always be learners, right? Yet another thing I enjoy about this book, very much, is that the authors are so clearly learners themselves. One way that they show this is by the extensive use of footnotes, which, I must say, are making my “to read” list longer and longer as I go through the book.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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

Are you still planning your summer reading?

I shared a list of reading suggestions about Charlotte Mason, and I wanted to do the same for books that focus more particularly on classical education. I found it a more difficult list to make. If you are interested in classical education, there’s always—ahem—Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition which will help you see how Charlotte Mason’s methods fit into the classical ideal.

But classical education has many faces, and it can be perplexing to decide which voices to listen to. I can only share the books that have been most important to me.

The modern book that I value most highly on the topic is Norms and Nobility by David Hicks. It is expensive, and it is not easy to read, but if you want to ponder the questions that shape classical education, this is the book to read. I have a series of study posts, written across an entire year, which might make it more accessible if you decide to dive in. (Requires registration at the AmblesideOnline forum, but it’s easy and free.)

If you read no other modern books on classical education, I highly recommend reading The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain. Their search for a workable modern pedagogy is broader and stronger than most, very much in line with Charlotte Mason’s views.

And although it isn’t explicitly about classical education, I highly recommend Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James W. Sire, if you are interested in deepening your own classical education. His insight into thinking and reading, linked to John Henry Newman, really provides a framework for the intellectual habits we want to inculcate in ourselves and in our students. (Hint: synthetic thinking at its very best.)

And you can pretty much pick up anything by Jacques Barzun and learn at the feet of a mighty teacher, but a good choice is Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning simply because each chapter is a stand-alone article and you can take your time and dip into it when you have the chance.

But if classical education is a topic of interest to you, I deeply believe that you must read beyond the writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. As Charlotte Mason said, “who feels that he has mastered a book if he is familiar with only the last page of it?” If you want to know classical education, you must read what has been written about education a long time ago.

If you’re just getting started, I think you cannot do better than to read Plutarch’s short piece, The Education of Children. His advice to parents was inspiring to Charlotte Mason and the PNEU, and it is so relevant for parents in the 21st century that from this one piece alone you will begin to see the timeless nature of classical education and to perceive the things that make it vital in every age.

Another short, readable piece to tackle is Of Education by John Milton. This “tractate” or essay gave Charlotte Mason a few key hints, too. It is also funny if you read it correctly. At least, I always laugh at “And either now, or before this, they may have easily learnt at any odd hour the Italian Tongue” and “ere this time the Hebrew Tongue at a set hour might have been gain’d, that the Scriptures may be now read in their own original; whereto it would be no impossibility to add the Chaldey, and the Syrian Dialect.” But, when you are reading on this topic (classical education), you have to learn to separate what is vital and necessary from what is incidental.

If you really want to dig into primary sources, you can tackle Book II of Plato’s Republic or dabble in Quintilian.

If you are extremely ambitious, you might purchase a copy of The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being and begin reading through it slowly, like the ladies at The Classical Homeschool Podcast. Or you could just listen to a few of those podcasts (I chatted with them about Plutarch!) while you sip iced tea in the backyard and watch the kids splash in the sprinkler.

If you’re like me, you’ll overload your “to read” list for the summer ambitiously, and if you’re like me, you’ll be lucky to get through half of it. But that’s okay. Read a little bit every day, and week after week, it adds up. And if you don’t finish it all this summer, that’s really, really okay. Next summer will be here before you know it.

My suggestion is to pick one contemporary book and one older book and do the best that you can. What you read and digest slowly and well is what will feed and nourish your mind during the busy-ness of the next school year. I suspect quality matters more than quantity in this case. If you do decide to read anything from this list, let me know!

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass

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Do you ever wonder?

I’ll eventually get to the part of the book actually written by Clark and Jain, no worries. But the preceding material is good, too. This statement jumped out at me from the “Publisher’s Note,” written by Christopher Perrin:

‘Wonder’ is a condition for all future study.

You could just ponder that for a week to good effect, I think. The idea of wonder has been under-appreciated in educational realms. Those who have taken hold of it and recognized its vital role in learning have found the key that will unlock many doors. Little children have a natural inclination to wonder, and school often destroys it. What educational practices contribute to that? What should we not be doing? And is there anything we can do to cultivate and preserve that sense of wonder? Those are the kinds of questions that could occupy us for a week!

This sentence caught my eye because I always focus on this word when I see it. I learned about wonder and its role in education in the first place from Charlotte Mason.

They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this—that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder—and grow. (Home Education, p. 44)

…One of the secrets of the educator is to present nothing as stale knowledge, but to put himself in the position of the child, and wonder and admire with him; for every common miracle which the child sees with his own eyes makes of him for the moment another Newton. (Home Education, p. 54)

But she is not the only one who perceived this truth.

Philosophy and poetry have more in common than is usually thought: both begin in wonder. (Habits of the Mind by James Sire, p. 79)

Aristotle concludes this point clearly near the beginning of the Metaphysics when he recognizes that there is a poetic impulse to know in all men, an experience he calls “wonder,” that initiates all learning. (Poetic Knowledge by James Taylor, p. 24, emphasis added)

I could easily be wrong, but I think the reason that wonder is a condition for all future study, as Dr. Perrin says, is that it keeps us in that humble and hungry frame of mind that is uncritical.

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength. (The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, p. 42-43)

Rachel Carson’s wish is my wish, too. I wish that sense of wonder could be preserved for my children, your children, all children. But I am jealous for the grown-up children, too, who have already suffered its loss. I think we can recover it. I know we can, because I did. Just wonder a bit about wonder this week, and that will be a very good start.

Next time, I’ll definitely get into the actual chapters of the book.

Copyright Karen Glass 2018


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