Blog Status

An update: I have been travelling a lot the past few weeks so have had few opportunities to write. I’ll be away again from Wednesday to Friday this week, so I don’t know if I’ll have an opportunity to blog until next week. You might want to check back on Monday, March 3.

Furthermore, I purchased an HP Vivera printer/scanner and ever since then this blog has been giving me problems. Hopefully I can resolve them without any major changes, but it could lead to trouble posting over the next couple weeks.

 Don’t stop stopping by and commenting, though. Between the conference, apprenticeship, teacher training, and Lost Tools there’s a lot going on here at CiRCE, so there won’t be any shortage of news and comments.

Enlightenment and the Goals of the Science Curriculum

As the Academic Dean of the Regent Schools of the Carolinas, I have been assigned the task of developing a curriculum for a pre-school on the notoriously disadvantaged west side of Charlotte.

In discussion, my associate and friend, Nick Gennett proposed a wonderful phrase to describe the driving force behind the science program. We want our graduates to be, “Enlightened stewards of the earth and its resources.”

Enlightenment. What does it mean? The term enlightened self-interest has been thrown around as an ethical guide for a few centuries now. The Enlightenment was the name arrogated by a movement peculiar to western Europe whose core idea seems to have been that the scientific method – a varying combination of Rationalism and Empiricism – will usher in an age of prosperity and wisdom such as the world had never seen before.

As an editorial aside, I can’t determine what is more astonishing, the amazing immaturity of the proclamations made by Enlightenment thinkers (cf. Kant’s “What is Englightenment?” addresss, in which he argues that the human race has now reached its maturity and age of responsibility. Yeah, sure.) or the gullibility of a world eager to believe them.

So what is Englightenment? It seems to me that when people use the term now, they are either referring to the 17th and 18th century philosophy that ushered in the secular modernist world we now inhabit or they are referring to a state of enlightenment. If it is the latter, there are two common alternatives. One is the condition of being properly informed about a matter. The other is the condition of the Buddha, for example, who has attained an inner awareness of a more abiding reality separate from our deluding world.

Believe it or not, I’m more sympathetic to the latter option. The first is somewhat valid, but, while practical, it is ultimately trivial. Gaining information is not the same as being enlightened. To be enlightened, and this is the point, is to be able to perceive reality. To perceive requires that your faculties of perception be awakened.

That is why the Enlightenment is derisively considered by some to be the EnDarkenment. Their philosophy was that through scientific research alone they would usher in an age of knowing and living that was impossible as long as religious people were allowed any say in public life.

They argued that anything that could not be discerned by their methods simply did not exist and certainly should not be part of the public discussion. David Hicks famously compared them to the man who uses a geiger counter and argues that whatever is not detected by the geiger counter does not exist.

They were radical extremists, closing their eyes and covering their ears, and demanding the right to rule in such a posture. They still are and they still do.

Look, for example, at Dewey’s writings on what he called intelligence. He wants it to replace “reason,” which for him is unprofitable because it is inadequately bound to the scientific method. But the application of the scientific method (which for him is, so far as I can tell, what he means by intelligence) in the classroom would lead to endless growth and social development. Tradition is the enemy.

Dewey first poked out his own eyes, then proceeded to poke out the eyes of three or four generations of American children. He undercut every other faculty of perception that could not be contained under his version of the scientific method.

Until American educators can see that, they will be bound to his philosophy of endless experimentation socially driven and statistically measured. Virtue and wisdom will remain outside the purview of education and we will continue to produce adults who cannot sustain our economy, cannot vote or rule wisely, cannot manage their money, cannot love their neighbors or their spouses, believe that freedom is self-indulgence, and have parents who are willing for their children to be lab rats in the great laboratory of the School sytem.

Instead, we need students who become, as my friend Nick expressed it, “englightened stewards of the earth and its resources.” If ever we have needed true enlightenment, now is the time. But how can we get it?

One of the first steps is to realize that the scientific method is not adequate to the task. But if we align the natural sciences with the higher humane sciences, then they can serve their purpose. They can produce students who will use the scientific method rightly. They will be able to be enlightened stewards because their faculties of perception will be awakened through their awareness that they are stewards, that the creation is good and wondrous, that they are the Image of God. Their teachers will cultivate the faculties of perception that must be cultivated to be enlightened, faculties like poetic knowledge, knowledge of beauty, geometric awareness, verbal skills, musical perception, etc.

Enlightenment is not the acquisition of information, it is the ability to perceive reality. This does require information, but it also requires the ability to gather, interpret, and steward information. It goes beyond information to wisdom.

Now how do we bring that into the preschool curriculum!?

How dead is England?

So far as I can tell, this article is entirely serious. The use of the acronym NICE is somewhere between hilarious and terrifying. The story of Leslie Burke is what made the article worth posting.

I am opposed to health care as it is presently structured for one basic reason: it puts too much power in the hands of people who bear no responsibility for what they do with it (except financial). I am opposed to solving that problem by putting even more hands in even less responsible people’s hands. This long miserable life the baby boomers have experienced is destined, in my opinion, to be a one or two generation phenomenon. Apres moi, le deluge.

Can Everyone Be a Writer

The art of writing is a great mystery. Does the story come from some external source, like the muses or the Holy Spirit? Or does it come from discipline and experience and reflection? The Times of India ran this article, which is worth holding on to as a collocation of different (sometimes contradictory) views on what “creative writing” (by which they mean fiction) requires and whence it arises.

Let’s All Be the Same

This article, posted in Teacher Magazine, movingly shows how standardization undercuts what matters most in education. Our Lord warned us against causing little ones to stumble. It seems we need to spend more time thinking about what causes them to do so in this Age of Procrustus.

The modern school seems to be inherently hostile, systemically, to human nature.

The Simplified Curriculum

When we think of curricula, we tend to think of classes or subjects and materials to read or study in those subjects. That’s a very fine thing to do and we should keep doing it. I want to suggest that there might be more to think about and it’s one of those “mores” that make things over all “less” – that is, less confusing, less work, less anxious.

The more that I’m referring to is logic.

But wait! Don’t go so fast. Let me explain myself.


Look at it this way. A lot of subjects, especially in the sciences, end with “logy.” Why is that? Because “logy” comes from logos, which means word, or reason, or idea (or quite a few other things). If the Greek word logos has a core meaning (and I’m not sure it does), it would be something like “a unifying principle or reason.” Thus, the unifying principle of “biology” is “bios” or life. The unifying principle of physiology is “physio” but I’m not sure what that is. It’s obviously got something to do with the physical body.

In other words, each subject has a unifying principle that makes it the subject that it is. Strictly speaking, classical educators used to call these subjects “sciences,” which meant, to them, a domain of knowledge or inquiry. To us, science usually refers only to what they called the natural sciences or even natural philosophy. So, with your permission, I am going to use the old language, and refer to subjects that are ordered around a unifying principle “sciences” instead of subjects. You’ll see why in just a moment.

The main point I’ve made so far is that each science has a unifying principle or idea that makes it what it is. (life for biology, God for theology, etc.)

I should point out that this is true even for those sciences that don’t end in logy. For example, some subjects end with “nomy,” such as “economy,” “astronomy,” etc. In this case, the ending comes from “nomos” which means laws or customs, the main point being that something happens regularly. “Economy” comes from a funny Greek word: oikonomos, and I would argue that it literally means “household customs.”

You can see how words can lose their attachment to their heritage! Astronomy is already a Greek word. It means the laws of the stars. Some sciences are very precise, like astronomy, which strictly follows the laws of physics. Others are much less precise, like economics, which strictly follow only one law: “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

At this point, you may have noticed something very interesting. Given all these “logies” and “nomies” and other endingies (the accent goes on the second syllable in that very subtle AGreek word), and given that some are known more precisely than others, it seems that each of them needs to be studied differently! I will not study the customs of the household the same way I study the movement of the stars. I will not study literature and history the same way I study chemistry and physics. Each science asks a different set of questions. Each gets answers to its questions in a different way. Each has its own logic.

Bang! That’s it! I told you it would be worth it if you stayed.

At the beginning I pointed out that when we think about the curriculum, we need to think about the subjects we study and the materials we use to study them. Now I hope we can see that we also need to think about the logic of the subject (or science) that we are studying. Until we get the logic of a science we don’t get the science, no matter how well we know the content of the science. That’s why when you teach, no matter what you are teaching, you always want to teach your students how to think in the given science you are teaching.

Now here’s where it gets especially exciting. I said above that this “more” would make things “less” confusing, less work, and less anxiety. But at this point you might be thinking, “What!? Now I have to teach logic too!? Augghh!!!!”

Be still, oh restless heart!

Above I pointed out that the “logy” ending comes from logos, and that logos, at least in that context, means a unifying principle or what we can now call “the logic of a science.”

Think about this: what would you have if you dropped all the particular sciences and started studying the “logies” themselves? That’s right, you’d have logic. As every particular science has its own logic, so all the logics combined make up Logic itself. In the same way, as every particular science has its own unifying principle, so every science combined has one common unifying principle or Logos. And that is Christ. He truly is the one in whom all things are held together, not only physically but in their very essence.

There are a number of ways we can apply these facts to our thinking, teaching, and curriculum development, most of which I haven’t thought of. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them, either here or in the CiRCE forum.

Here are some thoughts on relating this to our curriculum, and this is where I’ll keep my promise up above, when I assured you that you would see why I call subjects “sciences” in this essay. Subjects has become a bit of a lazy word. We throw everything we study into that category. So art is a subject, music is a subject, gymn is a subject, as are math, science, literature, history, etc. By calling everything a subject, we are enabled to not think about important distinctions between types of subjects.

That doesn’t mean we should never call anything a subject, it just means we also need to learn ways to distinguish types of subjects. And the way we distinguish them is by, one, their purpose, and two, the logic each employs.

To bring this into the classroom, the classical theorists distinguished first of all between arts and sciences. An art is a way of doing something. A science is a domain of knowing. This is an amazingly important distinction if only for this somewhat obvious reason: to know something you have to do something: you have to study it. May I add that you have to study it correctly, according to its nature, using the sort of logic that is native to that subject.

So if I’m going to learn physics, I first need to learn math. If I’m going to learn biology, I need to become skilled at inductive logic. If I’m going to learn literature, I need to learn grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

In this sense, math and the trivium are not merely subjects; they are arts. They are the arts that enable us to gain the knowledge that makes up the science. Historically, they have been recognized as the arts that are universally necessary for study of every science, for leadership, and for human excellence. They have been called the humanities (Cicero’s term) and the liberal arts. They are the necessary foundation for civilized society and culture.

The fulness of this idea can be seen when we look at it at its highest level of abstraction and its most immediate level of concrete application. At the highest level of abstraction, we see that every object of study (every science) is united by a common unifying principle that we call the logos and that the scriptures and experience identify as Christ. At the most immediate level, we can see that the foundation of all learning is mastery of the tools of thinking. These can be divided into the seven liberal arts. I would suggest that those seven are then bound together by the central art of the trivium and the art that links the trivium with the quadrivium, then binds the seven into a unified package, and, in turn, bridges learning with experience and with the development of the soul. That unifying art is, just as the unifying science is, logos, which in its concrete unifying activity, we call logic.

Perhaps you can see that the only way to really integrate a curriculum is through the trivium, understood not only as psychological stages, but also as the tools of learning that Dorothy Sayers wanted us to restore. The arts of the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Every subject has its object, the thing you are thinking about when you study it. Every subject also has its logic, the way you think about the subject. And the object of every study and the logic of every study is contained in the unifying study of logic itself.

If I’m able to, I will describe how logic needs to be taught if this potential is to be fulfilled. Let me add that it is an awesome, transforming potential.

The right use of humor

This summer, we’ll be contemplating humor at the CiRCE conference. It’s easy to struggle with the use of humor because it’s so easy to abuse it, to substitute sarcasm for irony, abuse for satire, cruel pranks for slapstick. Consequently, we can sometimes wonder if maybe humor isn’t destructive. Or maybe it’s even the result of fallenness. We’re going to try to figure out if maybe humor is in fact related to our sense of justice. Maybe humor is a key apologetic for the natural law.

Certainly one use of humor is to bring down the high and mighty and to reveal con men. I never saw the show, but I read the following quote about a South Park episode and how it explosed the folly of one of America’s most embarrassing realities.

American popular culture makes a running joke of Smith’s 1827 claim to have discovered golden tablets containing the history of an Israelite migration to North America including a cameo appearance by Jesus Christ. Thanks to the animated satire “South Park”, Americans know that Smith “translated” golden tablets that no-one else could see by looking at “seer stones” inside his hat. That is the power of mass media; one half-hour cartoon can undo the work of a million missionaries.

So humor, handled properly, can serve justice. But it’s easy to see how false analogies can apply to other spheres, so one has to be careful.

If you are going to be funny, you are going to live dangerously. The main virtue of the comedian is, I’m certain, courage.