The Liberal Arts and the Fate of American Democracy

This article below is posted with grateful permission from Dr. Scott Samuelson and Rhodes Magazine in which the article appeared in November, 2014.

Scott_SamuelsonThe Atlantic
Traditionally, the liberal arts have been the privilege of an upper class. There are three big reasons for this. First, it befits the leisure time of an upper class to explore the higher goods of human life: to play Beethoven, to study botany, to read Aristotle, to go on an imagination-expanding tour of Italy. Second, because their birthright is to occupy leadership positions in politics and the marketplace, members of the aristocratic class require the skills to think for themselves. Whereas those in the lower classes are assessed exclusively on how well they meet various prescribed outcomes, those in the upper class must know how to evaluate outcomes and consider them against a horizon of values. Finally (and this reason generally goes unspoken), the goods of the liberal arts get coded as markers of privilege and prestige, so that the upper class can demarcate themselves clearly from those who must work in order to make their leisure and wealth possible.
“Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers:
Liberal Arts and the Humanities Aren’t Just for the Elite”
Scott Samuelson

In the democracy of ancient Athens and the republic of ancient Rome, freedom was only for the few. Slaves, servants, and women had to toil so that free men could cultivate their minds, participate in the government, and enjoy the highest goods of human life—in short, so they could learn and practice the liberal arts.

Our government takes inspiration from Athens and draws on the model of the Roman Republic, but we also inherit the Enlightenment ideal of freedom for all, even if our history has never quite lived up to it. My view—inspired by a long line of American thinkers going back to Thomas Jefferson—is that in a democratic republic the liberal arts should not be the exclusive privilege of the few. We should all have access to an education in thinking and judging for ourselves. The main goals of elementary and secondary education should center on cultivating the liberal arts, and citizens should have the opportunity to study the liberal arts in college without incurring onerous debt.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have opportunities for job training in our educational institutions. The reason that ancient Athenian and Roman citizens could devote themselves whole-heartedly to the liberal arts was precisely that the servile did the work necessary to sustain freedom. Part of the genius of the American educational system is that it mixes liberal and technical education. A just democracy requires that we all pitch in when it comes to the economy.

If anything, I’d like to see more real technical education in elementary and primary schools. There’s no reason that a person with a high school diploma shouldn’t be expected to know something and to do something. Furthermore, I’m grateful that our colleges and universities help their students get employable skills. But the dominant note of an education in a liberal democracy should be the cultivation of freedom, not of employability. We rightly want people to have gainful employment, but American citizens should do their work with a spirit of independence, creativity, and self-reliance.

The powerful trends in education right now are all about standardization, rubrics, passing tests, and compliance, which read as forms of servility rather than freedom. Insofar as the private goal of education is about jumping through the hoops necessary to get hired and the rationale for public education is about growing the economy, I worry that we’re striking a blasé Hobbesian bargain of giving up our freedom to big corporations and government agencies in return for the promise of security.

At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we’d reached “the end of history,” by which he meant that all peoples would eventually settle into liberal democracy. It’s not simply the authoritarian capitalism of China and the violent theocratic movements of the Middle East that challenge his thesis. It’s that we ourselves run the danger of becoming illiberal.

A century ago, when America was tilting toward inequality and empire, the great American philosopher William James said, “Nothing future is quite secure; states enough have inwardly rotted—and democracy as a whole may undergo self-poisoning. But, on the other hand, democracy is a kind of religion, and we are bound not to admit its failure. Faiths and utopias are the noblest exercise of human reason, and no one with a spark of reason in him will sit down fatalistically before the croaker’s picture. The best of us are filled with the contrary vision of a democracy stumbling through every error till its institutions glow with justice and its customs shine with beauty.”

In the decades following James’ stirring remarks, our country stumbled toward institutions and customs that glowed with a little more justice for workers, women, and black Americans. Twentieth-century America gave birth to a world-class public educational system that, for all its flaws, gave an astonishing number of people a distinctive liberal education. Unfortunately, for a few decades now we’ve been walking with misplaced confidence toward inequality and empire once again.

But we should refuse to “sit down fatalistically before the croaker’s picture.” As a new world order is taking shape, we have the opportunity to shine like never before as the country where, with the help of the liberal arts, citizens widely participate in the government, workers have a voice in an innovative economy, and the widest number of people enjoy the best of the human inheritance.

Scott Samuelson, the author of The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone (University of Chicago Press, 2014), is giving the lecture “Suffering and Soul-Making: On the Deep Value of the Liberal Arts” on January 15, 2015, as part of Rhodes’ Communities in Conversation series.

Lincoln and Liberal Education

We are delighted to present a blog post  by Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John’ s College in Annapolis, and a national spokesperson for the liberal arts.   http://www.sjc.edu/
St. John’s College, with campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an independent, four-year college that is devoted to liberal education. Its richly varied curriculum focuses on an integrated study of philosophy, literature, history, theology, political science, mathematics, music, and science. Students and faculty engage directly, through study and discussion, with original texts and ideas that are at the foundations of Western thought. You can find this article and many others at http://blogs.sjc.edu/christopher-nelson/          
This article is published with permission from St. John’s College.

Lincoln and Liberal Education

Christopher B. Nelson

Chris_Nelson_2014_01Abraham Lincoln remains alive to us these days, in part because of the extraordinary performance by Daniel Day Lewis in the film Lincoln. In one thoughtful scene, Lincoln sits in a teletype office and wrestles with the question of human and racial equality and the awful institution of slavery. He harkens back to one of the great foundational texts of western civilization, Euclid’s Elements, a beautiful book of elementary geometry written over 2,000 years ago.

In the film, Lincoln cites Euclid’s first common notion: “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” He calls it true “because it works, always has done and always will do.” And then he reminds us that Euclid called it “a self-evident truth”, putting us in mind of another great work of civilization, America’s own Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Lincoln, self-educated, a versatile and critical thinker, questioned prevailing assumptions of his day, and, in his search for truth, drew upon mathematical axioms as a storehouse of principles he might apply to his political philosophy. This is what liberally educated people do, people who are broadly and deeply educated in the great movements of history, in the foundational texts and fundamental insights of physics and philosophy, literature and biology, music and theology, sociology and yes, mathematics — people who have acquired a kind of worldly wisdom that allows them to rise above and see behind the barriers to understanding and action, and take the imaginative leap that is often necessary to solve a problem or find a solution. These are also the people who have developed the skills of listening attentively, speaking persuasively, arguing logically and working collaboratively to bring an idea to fruition.

Lincoln was a practical man, a worldly politician, not just a theoretical thinker. Was it true, he must have asked himself, that the truths proclaimed in the Declaration were self-evident? And if self-evident, then why were they not universally recognized and slavery abolished? So the practical man in Lincoln must have come to the conclusion that if they were not self-evident or their self-evidence not sufficient, they would have to be proved — some four score and seven years after the writing of the Declaration. Thus, his Gettysburg Address changed the terms of the question from “holding a self-evident truth” to “dedicating oneself to a proposition” that all men are created equal. No longer an axiom of mathematical logic accessible to reason, this would become a proposition requiring proof in action, following an act of will, in a great civil war, dedicating thousands and thousands of lives in the interest of securing freedom for those who had been denied the right to claim equality under the law. And still more, Lincoln asked “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…”

This rhetorical change in our founding document represented a momentous re-founding of our nation, from one resting on an axiom of reason to one requiring our dedication to realizing the dream of equality through an act of liberation.

This commitment to liberation, to the principles of liberty, to freedom of speech and action, is what undergirds our nation. And it is our national duty to assure that each generation of citizens is well educated in the arts of freedom to protect them from attack and from atrophy. It ought to be the first concern of our schools, from pre-kindergarten through college, that our young acquire the freedom to make intelligent choices concerning the ends and means of both their public and private lives. This requires the cultivation and practice of the art of reason and understanding and discipline in analysis, argument and interpretation so that they may be free from the tyrannies of unexamined opinions, current fashions and inherited prejudices.

Our nation was founded on the idea that good government is grounded in its citizens’ intellectual freedom; our strength depends upon this idea. Our economy is grounded in the notion of free enterprise; the freedom we have to test our ideas against the needs and demands of the community has helped build the prosperity we have enjoyed as a society. This too depends upon the intellectual freedom of our citizens. And so it is with our social order and moral character.

For the sake of our country, then, we need our citizens to have two kinds of education that are in a very healthy tension with one another: (1) an education in the political and intellectual foundations, including the economic, scientific and social traditions and principles that have shaped our nation, and (2) an education in the arts needed to question and examine those very foundations and traditions in the light of reason, so that we may keep them vibrant and alive, and so that we may redefine and improve on them when we discover we have good cause. These are called the arts of freedom because they are grounded in the kind of free inquiry that helps us understand our world better and inspires in us a sense of wonder and longing to learn more.

Our nation’s liberal arts colleges were established to help cultivate this freedom of intellect through examining the seminal texts that underlie and inform our understanding of the world, and through developing the arts of inquiry. These colleges are dedicated to cultivating the arts of freedom to develop the self-sufficiency that is fit for our republic—fit for a republic that champions the right of all of its citizens to pursue the happiness that belongs to them, for making a life worth living, one that brings opportunities for success in making a living too.

We who are responsible for our nation’s liberal arts colleges take this to be our public trust, one to which we give a full measure of devotion. We serve the common good, and this in turn serves our nation well, keeping it strong and vibrant, able to undertake the challenges of tomorrow because it has a citizenry that has some understanding of the intellectual and moral virtues required and the strength of will to use them well—a fitting legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

I confess to taking special delight in the response to the Lincoln movie by many members of the St. John’s College community to which I belong, celebrating that scene where Lincoln was shown to have read Euclid’s Elements, a seminal book read by every St. John’s student, just as every St. John’s student later reads this country’s founding documents and Lincoln’s speeches. The spotlight shown by the film on all of these texts rightly justifies our calling them great and transformative, words that we apply to the liberal education they make possible.

 

The Common Core and the Classical Tradition

comon coreWhen I first heard the Common Core discussed in a news report, I had a schizophrenic reaction. Being an ardent advocate for the classical tradition of education, I responded positively to its captivating name. Classical educators love and support the idea that there is a “core curriculum” –-a core (even a canon) of great books, great ideas and great arts that should be studied. We also support the notion that these great ideas should be the common study and treasure of the entire nation. Much of this thinking is embedded in E.D. Hirsh’s Core Knowledge curricula, for example.  But then I had another reaction: what I heard of this Common Core, turned out to be nothing like the classical tradition, but rather something quite uncommon to it. As I read and listened, it became clear that the Common Core Standards (CCS) were progressive education theory with a classical name. The name connotes or suggests something that it is not—at least to anyone familiar with traditional and classical education. Continue reading

What the Liberal Arts Give Inside and Out

In the classical tradition, the study of the liberal arts enabled one to most fully realize one’s humanity—to become the best version of oneself. Put another way, the arts helped a man to live well, to craft a life worth living. Living such a “good life” was regularly contrasted with merely earning a living. The liberal arts, therefore enabled free men (those with the time and means) to remain free and to acquire capacities and virtues that blessed the man and those he served. There was both an internal and external aspect to a liberal arts education: the study of the arts were an end in themselves (personally humanizing and enriching) but also capacitating and equipping one to serve with excellence and wisdom.

John Henry Newman describes the capacities and virtues imparted to one by a classical, liberal arts education. He summarizes these capacities and virtues as the “perfection of the intellect:”

 

That perfection of the intellect which is the result of education, and its beau ideal, to be imparted in their respective measures, is the clear, calm, accurate vision and comprehension of all things, as far as the fine mind can embrace them, each in its place, and with its own characteristics upon it. It is almost prophetic from its knowledge of history; it is almost heart-searching from its knowledge of human nature; it has almost supernatural charity from its freedom from littleness and prejudice; it has almost the repose of faith, because nothing can startle it; it has almost the beauty and harmony of heavenly contemplation, so intimate is it with the eternal order of things and the music of the spheres.

 

Newman wrote this describing how he would create an ideal university (from his book The Idea of a University). In another place Newman summarizes what he calls a liberal education: “A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation and wisdom.”

These are all attributes which are desirable for their own sake—but who can deny their practical value for anyone possessing them? Newman makes this very point, while stressing that “liberal knowledge” alone “stands on its own pretension, which is independent of sequel, expects no complement, refuses to be informed by any end, or absorbed into any art, in order duly to present itself to our contemplation.”

Thus we encounter a paradox of liberal learning: by not focusing on the practical, we become quite useful to others. This warrants some reflection. Of course there are many important “practical arts” (servile arts, manual arts, mechanical arts were older designations) worthy of study and mastery. Right now, there is quite an emphasis on the utility of students learning coding, for example.

The liberal arts, however, make a man practical by making him a master of language and mathematics and by enriching his mind with a storehouse of stories, poetry, history, geometry and physics—the best that has been thought and said. The trivium arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric enable men to make things out of words: poems, speeches, letters, essays and arguments. Doing these things really well—is good for what? Well Newman would say these things expect no compliment and refused to be informed by any end. They are a good unto themselves, “free” from any obligation to a particular use. And yet… and yet great speeches, poems, essays and arguments make anyone in any profession interesting, compelling and effective. A man with a perfected intellect—with calm, accurate vision, prophetic insight and supernatural charity—who would not want such a person as pastor, politician or plumber?

Classical Education: Christian and Secular

church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cut my teeth on classical education as a headmaster of a Protestant classical school for ten years here in central Pennsylvania.  Having studied history and classics in college, I knew at least the rough outline of the liberal arts tradition—at least enough to know that the Greeks and Romans studied a good bit of grammar, logic and rhetoric.   I read Plato’s Republic in which he describes his ideal education for the ideal guardian for his ideal society.

It is indisputable: classical education existed during the classical periods—before the coming of Christ. Yes, there is a lot of talk about Classical Christian education, and for two good reasons: 1) Historically, the Christian church assumed the mantle of classical education, modified it, calibrated it to serve the Christian gospel and then greatly extended it. Thus a great deal of what we know as “classical education” has been “Christian” as well. 2) The recent renewal (over the past 25 years or so) of classical education has been initiated and led by Christians, particularly Protestants.

Number 1) remains a historical fact, though there are numerous examples of classical, secular schools and institutions that have carried on successfully, especially since the Enlightenment. Many schools that started as classical and Christian schools, are now secular even if retaining some classical elements. Most of the Ivy League colleges for example (Harvard, Princeton, Yale) started as classical and Christian institutions, and are now certainly not Christian, and a mix of classical and progressive elements.

Number 2), the recent renewal of classical education, is changing and extending. While there are at least 240 Protestant classical schools (the number of schools that are part of the Association of Classical Christian Schools)  in the U.S. that have started since about 1990, there are many schools that have started outside of Protestantism and outside of the Christian church generally. A number of Catholic schools have returned to the classical approach and new ones are starting. The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education has started to support this effort. Several Orthodox schools have begun as classical schools too. Homeschooling continues its rapid growth in America and the classical approach to homeschooling is one very popular approach that is represented by Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics. Classical Conversations advocates for classical homeschooling and in my estimation attracts mainly Protestants, but also has Orthodox and Catholic participants. Aquinas Learning supports classical homeschool education for Catholics as does Laura Berquist’s Mother of Divine Grace School.

Those outside the Christian church are also rediscovering classical education, and finding it part of their heritage too, even if they sift out the religious elements almost always intertwined with classical education (see number 1). There are approximately 100 classical charter schools that have started around the U.S. in the last ten years—and more are on the way. The Great Hearts Academies association of Arizona has started 19 classical charter schools, with plans under way to start more in other states. Secular classical homeschooling is also on the rise—I note the rapid growth of Hip Homeschool Moms (not officially classical, but with many classical homeschoolers) and Sandbox to Socrates as examples.  The Well-Trained Mind Forum contains thousands of classical homeschooling parents and a separate group for secular parents.

I find this very encouraging, and I say this as a citizen and a Christian. Why? As a citizen, I support better education generally. I would rather see a classical public school (likely a charter school) in my neighborhood than a troubled, progressive public school. A secular classical education is superior to what we have today, and a secular, truly classical education, will be by nature friendly to religious tradition.  How is that? The ideals of a secular classical education hold forth the reality of truth, goodness and beauty and the life-long pursuit of these transcendentals. Virtue is regarded as real, paramount and attainable. The Great Hearts schools describe this as philosophical realism, rooted in teaching extending back to Plato.

However, I am a Christian and deeply love the Christian classical tradition that assumed, transformed and extended the liberal arts studied by the Greeks and Romans. This is part of a large story not worthy of this short essay, but we can note that large numbers of pagan Greeks and Romans became Christians, were the first Christians, and they adopted and transformed the classical curriculum, putting theology at the head as the queen or governess. Up until about 1900 education was “classical” and largely Christian as well.

I have labored (imperfectly) to give my children a Christian classical education. To my colleagues and friends outside the church, I say give your children a classical education. Study and seek after wisdom, eloquence and virtue, after truth, goodness and beauty. Like so many Greeks and Romans centuries ago you may find that the church (and her theology) the extension of your search, the fulfillment of all that you dream. If not, you will remain my esteemed colleagues laboring for the common-wealth of our children and nation.

 

Next blog article in this series: Why the Liberal Arts Are for Every Human

Then next after that: Do Classical Charter Schools Threaten Classical Christian Schools?

 

 

 

Is Grammar Universal and Eternal?

grammar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many classical educators claim that when you learn the grammar of say, Latin, you are learning the grammar of all language.  Isn’t this quite a stretch?  How can we be so sure that the eight parts of speech and how they function in Latin will describe how they function in all languages?  Do all languages have subjects, verbs and objects?  I think it is a large claim, and yes, a stretch.  I also believe it is true.

Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to the metaphysics of grammar, or just plain grammar for that matter.  This has  not always been the case.  Language is what sets us apart from all other creatures, as even dolphins and monkeys (as smart as they are) have not published any grammars yet.  Some may argue that monkeys do make use of subjects and verbs, with regular sounds that indicate “I hungry” and the like.  I will concede that monkeys communicate.  I will not agree that they know the subjunctive mood.

In the past, the ancients grammarians and philosophers discussed these matters.  Some thought that grammar was universal and tied to the reality of the universal Logos (to Christians, meaning Christ himself).  None other than Marshall McLuhan (the communication theorist who famously said “the medium is the message”) writes about this.  There were those who were analogists, who saw universal grammar as analogy of the universal Logos:

The analogists argued for the view that there is a universal grammar, since language is the effect of reason, which is the analogy of the universal Logos.  At the level of conjugations and declensions, this view tended to strengthen the notion of regularity.  The anomolists, one might suppose were Epicureans who denied the doctrine of the Logos… They asserted that in speech there is no order.  All is based on custom.

Then McLuhan quotes Socrates in the Cratylus.  Socrates appears to be an analogist, who thinks that names (words) are related to the inherent nature of things: “I should say that this giving of names can be no such light matter as you fancy, or the work of light or chance persons; and Cratylus is right in saying that things have names by nature, and that not every man is an artificer of names; but he who only looks to the name which each thing by nature has, and is, will be able to express the ideal forms of things in letters and syllables.”

Of course the debate between the analogists and the anomalists continues.  The evolutionary atheist will likely (I think must) see grammar as an anomaly, as a convention that has evolved but has no universal quality tied to some universal reason.  Whatever reason exists to such a person, can’t exist outside our brains, but must have evolved within them.  For the atheist, as Chesterton says, “it is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”  The theists among us, who believe in a divine and rational reality outside our brains, are likely to admit that grammar could very well be universal and even eternal.  To the theist (to the Christian certainly) language and grammar may not be mere convention or custom, but may be reflections of the divine order and even the image of God himself in humans beings. What do you think? What ever you think, you will think with words.

Well, who would have thought that the study of grammar could lead us to metaphysics and theology?  It does.  Grammar is magical, because language is magic.  We speak, other hear and understand.  And somehow, when I study grammar in Latin, it is my English that improves.

 

 

Docendo Discimus—By Teaching We Learn

student teaching student

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you come across this phrase before? It has intrigued me for years. I like the alliterative quality, I like the hints of other words (doctrine from docendo; discipline from discimus).   By teaching we learn—really? Surely, we have to learn first then, teach—we get degrees in college so we can teach—right?

Here we encounter an educational paradox. The way to become a great teacher is to remain a student; the way to become a great student is to teach.   This Latin motto has been around for centuries and is the motto of colleges and training centers in many places—just Google it (Central Washington College, University of Defense—Czech Republic). If this is a bit of perennial wisdom, why is it so rarely implemented in our schools? Why don’t the upper school students spend some time teaching the younger students? Why don’t students teach occasional sections in their own classes? Several good things can result: teachers get a small break (but then they should observe and assess the teaching of their students); other students will enjoy the change; the presenting student will be on her toes (for it will be a performance of sorts); the presenting student will apparently learn more by having to teach. This seems to me a win-win-win.

Of course, some schools and homeschools are engaged in docendo discimus. Schools that cycle through history, repeating the teaching of historical periods in later grades, can have older students come down to the younger grades to teach history. If the ninth graders and fourth graders are studying medieval history—you can imagine the opportunity. Certainly older students can teach younger students Latin, grammar and mathematics, under the supervision of the class teacher. Students can check homework, meet one-on-one to coach younger students, and occasionally present before an entire class. Older students can even help reinforce reading skills by reviewing letter, phonemes, and words; many schools have “reading buddies”—older students who pair off with younger students and read aloud to younger readers weekly.

This pedagogy harkens back to the traditional one-room schoolhouse on the prairie. With a diverse group of students of varying ages all in one room, the teachers naturally employed older students as junior teachers who would teach younger students, while the teacher would work with another group. As the younger students matured and aged, they naturally would begin to teach those students younger than they. By teaching, they learned.

Now what is a homeschool but a kind of one-room schoolhouse? Yet some homeschool parents (I think because of their own educations) find it hard to imagine that their older students should teach much or at all. Naturally, as parents and teachers, we should be focused on the quality of teaching to any student—and perhaps having a student teach a student diminishes quality. If so, which student loses quality? Certainly not the student teaching—not if the maxim holds true—for if he teaches he learns. If the younger student receiving the teaching of an older one is not taught so well, then we should have him teach another still younger, as soon as possible. Even the younger ones aspire to this, do they not? How often do the seven-year olds instruct the five-year olds at play or during recess? How often do young girls line up their dolls and teach?

Classical Education Online with Scholé Academy–Restful Learning Returns

Schole-Academy-Logo-small-clear

 
 

 

 

Many of you have followed my writing and teaching on the concept of scholé in education.  Scholé is a Greek word that means leisure, conversation, reflection–restful learning.  Yes, scholé is the root word for our word for school, though our schools are generally anything but restful. After a great deal of planning and gathering educators, CAP has launched a new online academy that we have named (no surprise) Scholé Academy.  Scholé Academy seeks to implement the principles of restful learning in an online environment.

We are pleased to report that Scholé Academy has some 20 teachers in place ready to teach  some 60 courses this summer and fall.  The line-up of classical educators who will be serving with Scholé Academy is impressive.  All of the teachers have experience teaching in classical schools (our veteran Latin teacher has taught Latin for 47 years!) and several of them are authors of classical curricula (Gaylan DuBose–Latin Alive!; Jolie Hodge–Art of Argument and Discovery of Deduction; Shelly Johnson–The Argument Builder).  Students can study with those who …. wrote the book.

So yes, Scholé Academy will seek to implement the classical tradition of restful or leisurely learning online.  This may seem oxymoronic, but we believe it can be done.  To read a short description of the “scholé approach” see this link:

Schole-Academy-Logo-small-clear

 

The scholé approach: restful learning

 

 

Readers can also review all of the Scholé Academy authors and their bios by clicking the image below:

schole teachers collage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My best to you on this Good Friday.

 

A Remarkable Review of Noah

You have likely heard that that movie Noah is controversial among many Christians–is it biblical or not?  Well, I have read many reviews of Noah, but this one has surpassed them all.  FilmFisher.com is not your typical review site, and this review of Noah proves it.  The analysis is deep, reflective and borne of a love for truth, artistry, the magic of film and Noah himself.  It is critical, it is charitable.  It is understands the director Aronofsky, it knows his films, his way.  The review also knows the Genesis narrative and the Christian tradition, which it apparently loves. It is a dialogue between two reviewers, a conversation.  It is remarkable.  Click the image below to read the review…

Noah review2

 

Good Colleges for Classically-Educated Students

pillar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From time to time I am asked what colleges I think make for a good fit for classically-educated students.  With my second child in college and my first already graduated, naturally I have thought about this a bit.  In my work with the Society for Classical Learning, I have also been working with my colleagues to partner with colleges around the nation.

The truth is that classically-educated high school graduates are going to a wide variety of colleges, both Christian and secular.  In my experience, these students are competitive and often gain entry into selective colleges, and often receive scholarships.  The word is out among many colleges that classical students are generally great students, well-prepared for high-level college work.  I know from talking to professors firsthand how this seems to have worked:  about ten years ago various colleges began to notice that classically-educated students were excelling at college.  K-12 schools (and homeschools) from which these students came where identified as small but rich sources of great students.  The colleges then began to recruit directly at many of these schools.  Happy students at college began to encourage their friends (still in high school) to apply.  More classical students began to flow into some of these colleges (like Grove City College here in PA).

Some of these colleges began to create programs especially for classically-educated students (like Hillsdale College and Grove City College).  Some colleges began to emphasize programs already established that appeal to classical students (like the Torrey Institute at Biola College, Great Texts Program at Baylor University and the Jerusalem & Athens Forum at Gordon College).  Some colleges have started graduate programs designed to equip students to teach at classical schools like New Saint Andrews College and Houston Baptist University.

Then there are those colleges that have traditionally already had aim at classical students (some new some older): The University of Dallas (Catholic), St. Johns College (secular), Thomas Aquinas College (Catholic), Patrick Henry College (Christian), New Saint Andrews College (Christian).  Traditionally academic Christian colleges like Wheaton College and Calvin College have also begun taking notice of classical students, and attracted them.  Calvin philosophy professor James K. A. Smith (author of Desiring the Kingdom) has been influential to leaders in the classical Christian education renewal, and become an advocate for it.  The Wheaton College graduate school dean (and professor of New Testament) Nicholas Perrin is also an advocate of the renewal and indeed helped found a classical school close to Wheaton (Covenant Classical School).

Other Christian colleges are also taking note of classical students.  Messiah College and Eastern College have attracted classical students, and professors in both colleges have expressed interest in recruiting more.  The same could be said for many other Christian colleges such as Covenant College, Geneva College, LeTourneau University, The Kings College and Belmont College, and several others.

Classical students are also going to secular colleges, most often the smaller liberal arts colleges, but also larger state universities and then often in honors programs.  Yes, there are some classical students who have gone to Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Stanford, MIT and the like, but these schools are statistically extremely hard to get into, even by those qualified (a perfect SAT score doesn’t mean you will gain admission).  Students are also going to established liberal arts colleges such as Middlebury College, Grinnell College, Furman University and Davidson College.  Regionally it is not uncommon for classical students to gain admission to the larger state universities such as the University of Virginia, Penn State or the University of Michigan.

All in all, classical students are getting into very good colleges, and are sought-after by colleges that recognize the excellent education they have received.

So what do I recommend?  I think that the college should fit the student and the student should fit the college.  Some students are ready for the experience of a secular college, others are not.  Some will thrive at a larger state university, but many classical students will want the smaller classes and discussion format more frequently offered at small liberal arts colleges, Christian or secular.  Classical students going to a large university will likely enjoy honors programs or finding more dynamic interaction among students and professors in their major.  Christian classical students will want to find fellowship in a Christian group.  There is wisdom in the notion that students must seek out the education they want at any college and not expect it will just come to them.  We should also note that factors such as proximity and cost are important factors when selecting a college.

Still, I have a list of favorites, based on my limited experience and knowledge.  This list is therefore short and no doubt leaves out many excellent colleges. Feel free to post your own favorites and list the reasons–I may then revise my list based on your feedback!  For a larger list of colleges that classical students are attending, see the list provided by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) here: List of colleges ACCS students attend

Christian Colleges

  • Grove City College: Very friendly to classical students, and actively recruiting them.  GCC has developed a classical studies minor that deepens classical learning and prepares students to teach in classical schools. Disclaimer: my daughter Zoe graduated from GCC.
  • Biola University: The Torrey Institute at Biola has been a great fit for many classical students and has sent many graduates into classical schools as teachers.
  • New Saint Andrews College: A small, dynamic and classical college in Moscow, Idaho. Their oral Latin program is notable and unusual.  One “major” for all students.
  • Baylor University: The Great Texts Program has done the same thing for classical students as has the Torrey Institute at Biola.
  • Gordon College: The Jerusalem & Athens Forum is excellent, so is the Gordon in Orvieto Program.
  • Houston Baptist University:  This college is rapidly growing to serve classical students and has been recruiting great professors to the campus (e.g. Louis Markos, John Mark Reynolds).
  • Wheaton College: Traditionally known for great academics, well-suited for classical students.
  • Calvin College: Very much like Wheaton, with a growing appreciation for classical students.
  • Messiah College: A warm, communal atmosphere with dedicated professors who love teaching.  The philosophy and English departments are particularly welcoming and strong.
  • Eastern College: Another warm campus (blue jeans atmosphere).  The honors program has attracted classical students.
  • Covenant College: A strong academic college in the reformed tradition.

 

Secular Colleges

  • Hillsdale College: A conservative liberal arts college in Michigan, friendly to the Judeo-Christian tradition in the U.S. It also features a program for training classical educators.
  • St. Johns College: The third oldest college in the country, this is a “great books” school with a common curriculum and small classes.
  • University of Virginia: Strong classical department; many classical students have gained admission to UVA.
  • University of Texas: I believe UT hosts the larges classics department in the world.  A fine choice for students wanting to pursue a classics major.
  • Furman University: Many classical students enjoy this school and recommend it to others.