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.

Thanks.

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.

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4 Responses

  1. Sure, visit our web site at http://www.circeinstitute.org. You can find contact information easily there.

    Thanks!

    ajk

  2. May I have a contact reference? I would like to send you our brochure for our distinctively Christian Latin course, which is well suited for 6th grade and up, but is also accredited by the Univ. of Cal. as high school level.

    Thank you.

  3. Thank you so much for stating the unifying principle as Christ. I used the metaphor of our solar system to help explain Christian Classical education to some parents who had questions. Now I see the parallels in that same metaphor applying to curriculum in the Christian Classical school. Each planet (subject) orbits around the sun, yet each planet orbits in its own speed, rotation, etc. Some are closer to the sun than others (reflect more light) but all are held in their orbit by the sun. In order to understand each planet you need to accept as it was designed. Mars will never be earth, earth will never be Mars. Better yet ,Venus will never be Mars, and Mars will never be Venus. Ooops, that is a subject for another day.

    Ms. Frizzle’s quote is good, especially the get messy part. This is the hardest part to accept in our culture of instant gratification and quick solutions. Our culture does not to seem to have any patience or forgiveness when it comes to messiness. I do fear that has infected our whole approach to education in America and still infects us even in the Christian Classical school.

  4. You make an important distinction between the body of facts in a subject and the logic of that subject. I remember my freshman physics professor saying that physics was the SEARCH FOR the fundamental laws of the universe, and that he wasn’t really going to teach us physics but rather some of the results of physics.

    Schools hardly ever teach the logic of science. I love the motto of Ms. Frizzle from Magic Schoolbus cartoon: Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. That teaches children more about what science is really all about than they’re likely to learn from years in a typical classroom.

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