My Greatest Fear

I’m a tough guy. I’m from the hard-wrought cotton fields of Arkansas, and I have been in more backwoods fights than I can remember. My mom used to buy us (my brothers and me) boxing gloves for Christmas. I can’t really remember being afraid of anyone – except maybe my dad and my (now-huge) younger brothers.

But I have a fear. A fear that I think should set any educational heart a-trembling. Here it is: I’m afraid of missing the simple things.

I’m afraid of missing the simple things in general, like sunsets (they happen every day!), blooming flowers, and the mannerisms of my wife or daughter. But also the simple things that are plenteous within and without the walls of a classroom.

As an educator, I should seek to investigate the souls of my students: their passions, their will, their emotions and mannerisms that I might not miss the simple things and the divine opportunities of teaching. I should set it as a goal to survey creation for things to show my students in order to display the wonderment of the world as a theater of glory.

My greatest fear is that I won’t do these things as a teacher.

Oh, yeah…and I’m afraid of snakes.

Immanuel Kant and the “Aim” of Education

I’m sitting in the library at Hiram College visiting my daughter and checking out the books. I came across this by Immanuel Kant, from his book Education. It made me laugh.

1. Man is the only being who needs education….

2. Animals use their powers… according to a regular plan–that is, in a way not harmful to themselves….

3. Discipline changes animal nature into human nature…. Having no instinct, he has to work out a plan of conduct for himself. Since, however, he is not able to do this all at once, but comes into the world undeveloped, others have to do it for him. 

4. It is discipline, which prevents man from being turned aside by his animal impulses from humanity, his appointed end…. By discipline men are placed in subjection to the laws of mankind, and brought to feel their constraint. This, however, must be accomplished early. Children, for instance, are first sent to school, not so much with the object of their learning something, but rather that they may become used to sitting still and doing exactly as they are told. 

5. … discipline must be brought into play very early; for when this has not been done, it is difficult to alter character later in life. 

 At which point I visited the men’s room, where I came across this computer generated sign:


Ah, yes, the groves of Academe, where men learn not to pee on the trees.

An Obviousness

It is imperative that young children experience repeatedly the joy of solving puzzles and problems of increasing complexity and difficulty. Without the self-confidence this cultivates, thinking is destroyed by apprehension.

Such puzzles will also help them discover and live with the limits to their abilities and authority. Success in life rests on understanding and relating properly to such limits.

The Christ-Centered Curriculum and the Idea of Nature

I lifted my head from conference preparation to find myself on the brink of an ecstacy, so I figured I’d better write something to get my spirit under control. It happened when I was talking with Vigen Guroian about our theme: a contemplation of nature, and we got talking about what to read during the poetic knowledge panel. We were running through some ideas when he slipped in an innocent comment about Christ possessing two natures and the sun came out and the angels of heaven let out a cry of “HOLY!” and all the saints gathered round the throne and threw down their crowns at His feet and I got just a little carried away with the excitement of the moment.

Two natures; Joined together; United in one Person; Human Nature brought into the Godhead; The Divine Nature brought into Humanity;  Man Deified; God humanized.

Is Human Nature fallen? Things have changed!

I get excited about the CiRCE conference every year because of the ideas we discuss, but I had a feeling that, regardless of excitement, this might be the most important conference we have had. I’m beginning to see why more clearly.

I spoke with Andrew Pudewa and he’s going to do a workshop about teaching students whose nature would drive them to playing in forts instead of sitting at a desk.

I spoke with James Daniels and he’s going to talk about the implications of the Incarnation on the way we teach.

I spoke with Martin Cothran and he, being Martin Cothran, is going to do a talk about the nature of nature, which sounds highly theoretical, but is as practical a discussion as you can possibly engage.

I spoke with John Hodges and he’s going to talk about the nature of music and the arts and their centrality in the classical curriculum.

I spoke with others too, but I have to run. And I also came to see very clearly what I need to say in my opening, table setting talk. Let me say right now that it will give meaning to the term Christ-centered curriculum in a way you may have never realized before.

We’re a bit behind on posting conference news on our web site because we’ve had some trouble with formatting so we’re getting that fixed. But please don’t hesitate to sign up for this conference. We’re going to see Christ glorified, I promise you that!

President Obama, Stem Cells, Science, and Ideology

We all sympathized with our President the other night during his press conference when that mean man from the Washington Times asked him about the morality of stem cell research adn he described the agony of the decision he was compelled to make.

Of course, I don’t mean that we sympathized with his agony, which, I’m sure, he got over pretty quickly when the accolades from his sycophants and users started pouring in (or even when the certainty that they would entered his soul).

No, it wasn’t that false sympathy we felt for him, but the much deeper sympathy one feels for another when that other is trapped in a moral position from which he cannot escape so he uses it to his advantage. The escape, of course, is always available, but it involves what Socrates called “metanoia,” turning around, repentance.

Yet President Obama, for all his brilliance, was led into this trap by a very simple ploy. He went to school where his teachers reinforced the inclinations toward self-indulgence that his culture sees as a super-high value by performing a metaphysical lobotomy.

Let me explain, because this is not meant to be a slam on President Obama for whom I feel great respect and even more pity. He used the right term to describe his position: it’s “above my pay grade.” And he demonstrated that very clearly on Tuesday night.

The issue was whether embryo’s that would otherwise be disposed of should be used for stem cell research. President Bush disallowed it by executive order and now President Obama has allowed it by the same executive order.

The contention seems to be, based on what he said, that this should be permitted because the stem cells are just going to be disposed of anyway, so why not use them to find cures for Parkinson’s and other diseases. Now, if science were to find a better answer to this issue, that would change the discussion, but he can’t make this decision based on ideology.

I have no great problem with the formal logic of his argument.

I have serious problems with the material logic of his argument. In other words, his categories are altogether inadequate to the task he has given them.

And what are the categories he used to make this decision, or at least that he used to defend it before the nation he leads?

Science and ideology.

I’ll have a great deal more to say about this in future posts, but I have to run right now. Between now and then, think about the categories he’s using. Do you think they’re adequate? Do you know what he means by them? Has he framed the argument in a manner that corresponds to reality? (remember that the primary function of a politician in our democracy is to frame the argument)

Honor Roller

This is an exchange on a question some of you probably have to deal with that I was given permission to post. I’m doing so to get your input and ideas on this subject as well. 

Here’s the E-mail I received:

Dear Mr. Kern,

 We are reviewing our policy on having an Honor Roll at [our school].   Right now, we have an “A/B”  grade list and an “All A’s” grade list .  The Honor Roll is posted every quarter.

 We (the Academic Affairs Committee) have begun to have doubts that an Honor Roll is a classical concept..   We are trying to come to grips with the reasons for having an Honor Roll in the first place. And of course our parents place so much emphasis on it! 

 Would you be so kind as to give me your thoughts on this issue?

And here’s my reply:

 Technically an honor roll can’t be a “classical concept” because they didn’t give grades in the classical world so there was nothing to build it on. 

 However, they made a huge deal out of honoring what was worthy of honor (they never would have considered honoring students who didn’t demonstrate virtue in their work just to make them feel good) knowing that “what is honored in nourished and that which has no honor is neglected.”

The ideal would be to honor students for their virtues and to diminish the importance of things that create distractions. That would be the ideal. Ideals are for approximating and moving toward. 

That’s a bit of a hasty thought, but I hope it has some value at least. It’s a big question with a lot to think about.


God bless your decision making!

As you can see, I didn’t say a whole lot. Do you have any ideas that can help this Academic Affairs Committee as they wrestle with this issue? Please reply if you do!

What I’d like to see schools assess

Rates among their graduates of the following:

  • Cheating at work or school
  • Suicide
  • Divorce
  • Drug use
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Violent crimes
  • White collar crimes
  • Preservation of the tradition

I would want a low rate of all but the last of those, just to be clear.