The Arts of Freedom

A community can be free only to the extent that it remains committed to being free and defending their freedom.

When they choose prosperity, security, or even peace over freedom (i.e. when they renounce Patrick Henry’s declamation), they have inevitably forfeited the right to be free.

But commitment to freedom has more to do with education than with economics and the military. The extent of a people’s liberty is the extent to which its people have been trained in the arts of freedom.

The arts of freedom are what used to be called “the liberal arts” before the term was watered down to an anemic notion of some vague and watery “general education.”

The liberal arts – the arts of freedom – come in two basic categories: first, the verbal arts that enable one to express himself honestly, simply, and appropriately and to judge the accuracy, viability, and propriety of another person’s expression.

Second, the arts of harmony that enable one to perceive the form of things – both physical and intellectual.

The only communities in the history of human civilization that attained to any degree of freedom are those that trained their citizens in those arts or disciplines.

The first group used to be called grammar, logic, and rhetoric, but when we use those terms today I’m not sure we associate them to anything that would adequately correspond to the disciplines they referred to when they were rightly understood. So we have a work of recovery ahead of us.

The second group of disciplines goes by the names arithmetic, geometry, harmonics, and astronomy, but the same thing has happened. The first two haven’t completely escaped their origins, but they are commonly taught now in a manner that would stun the ancients with dismay and disbelief. Harmonics is taught aslant in classes like algebra, but in ways that place production over perception, so it fails there too. Astronomy is a different entity today than what we need if we want to be free.

I don’t know if a democracy can remain free, as history doesn’t provide any examples of it happening. However, if ever one does, it will be because the democracy honored the verbal disciplines and the rational disciplines so highly that they built their whole civilization on the functional mastery of these arts.

That dream of recovery is what motivated us to call a conference to contemplate liberty. I hope you’ll be there.

teaching logos

Every created thing has its own logos. So do man made things. The teachers goal is to discover that logos and then enable the student to see it. The most important preparation for every lesson, then, is to identify the logos of the lesson. The second most improtant part is to embody it so the student can perceive it.

Modern thought is a crazed effort to build a world without a logos.

Which Comes First?

The point for the liberal arts teacher to keep in mind is that the trivium and quadrivium were established before the pragmatic advantages of those disciplines appeared, developed out of the natural desire of man to know, not because they were immediately practical.

Marion Montgomery The Truth of Things: Liberal Arts and the Recovery of Reality, P. 62

A Prayer for Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan, about whom I know virtually nothing, deserves our prayers. I try to imagine how much pain a life like the one implied in this article (which is not very developed) must include and I can”t do it. So I pray that she will be rescued and find peace.

The article also implies a unique defense of home schooling. I can’t help but think that maybe there was a time when our nation could have had a successful public school system, but that, if ever there was such a time, it lingers only in the nostalgia of a fading snapshot.

The Leap of Faith

The leap of faith is a leap into consciousness – a leap into what we already know, not a blind leap into the irrational.

The materialist (the aesthetic, as Kierkegaard used the term) is a sadly unconscious person.

The ethical person becomes conscious by his engagement in the finite and its realities, but, like finitude, his consciousness is limited.

Only when the humble acknowledgement that there are things of which we know but that we cannot grasp, only the acceptance of these realities, only this “leap of faith” makes it possible for us to be fully (though certainly not infinitely) conscious.

Until we take this leap we are denying what is most distinctly ourselves, what makes self-awareness possible, what rightly places us in the cosmos, and what enables sound judgment.

Until by faith we leap into ourselves we are incapable of wisdom, justice, freedom, or real love.

This is why great art is always deeply mystical and why in it we are always conscious of a wound.

We know that we and things have meaning.

We know that we are conscious.

We know that something orders all things and we know we ought to be sensitive and sensible to the Image of glory.

We know we are missing something. We express that knowledge in our pursuits, each of which demonstrates a lack.

We need to see all things as temple and to see all acts as liturgy and eucharist. Then we can leap, by faith, not into the unknown, but into the necessary and the transcendent.

The Round Pen

Yesterday morning I exchanged replies with a parent who was concerned that my assignment translated into a form of punishment.  The assignment required the students to correct a wrong answer by rewriting it 10 times.  In the next week or so I will ask the questions again to repeat the assessment.  Is this appropriate, and is it classical – which is really the same question?

Some may ask,

  1. did the students fully understand what they were asked to do on the original assessment?
  2. why use repetition, and why 10 times?

How many times will a good writer review and edit a document before submission?  How many times will a good speaker work over and re-read a speech before delivering it?  How many times will a musician play a song before a performance?  How many times will a ball player work through batting practice?

An intimate knowledge of something and a mastered skill never come in single servings.  Repetition labors towards the potential moments of discovery.  It draws the eyes and ears to detail, and allows the mind to rest upon the securities of form, constancy, and being.  Repetition does not constrict the possible; it forms the ground out of which the possible may break.  Chesterton referred once to God saying to the sun, “Do it again!” at the dawn of each new day.

The danger in any classroom and with any subject amounts to “priming the pump.”  Dumping the information in that you expect the students to pour back out.

I try to teach and work from the round pen.  The round pen is the initial and primary training ground for every fundamental skill a horse will ever use.  If the horse demonstrates he is not yet ready, it is back to the round pen.

In a similar way, if students demonstrate they are not yet ready to exercise fundamental concepts we have previously worked on, then we stop and go back to the round pen, and review.  It is senseless to attempt moving forward.

I am increasingly dissatisfied with the common, practically routine classroom practice of delivering a lesson, test, score, and move on regardless of how well the student grasped the material.  I think the main reason for this type of teaching boils down to time and number.  What can a teacher do with this many students in this amount of time?  Breaking this debilitating cycle will cause frustration for the students and work for the teacher.

For the teacher, it will simply require more work because not every student will move at the same pace.  For students, it will force them to paddle upstream.  It will demand them to slow down, to focus on one thing long enough to discover its beauty and not dispense of it because it does not immediately gratify the senses.  This will be difficult in a culture dictated by sound bites.

Trying to Thank

Renee Mathis is completing her second year as a CiRCE Institute apprentice and is one year away from achieving the status of a CiRCE certified master teacher of classical Rhetoric.

For two years she has been teaching The Lost Tools of Writing, but that doesn’t begin to describe her work for and on Level II. Before joining the apprenticeship, Renee had become a veteran teacher and she had been doing a very good job of it. So when she started contributing to The Lost Tools of Writing project, I knew we’d all derive benefits. I couldn’t foresee the extent of those benefits.

First one thing, Renee was always willing to do more. I can’t figure out how she was able to do all she did, especially given how much of it was last minute or close to it. Her work on the narrative worksheets and module guides over the past month is why we were able to finish it.

It was also the difference between level II being excellent and just really good. When you complete level I and continue to level II, you will make gains in your understanding of writing that you need never lose – because Renee worked so hard to understand, to read, to prepare, to write, and to edit worksheets and module guides.

Saying thank you can be hard because I’ve never been able to come up with a way to express the appreciation, indebtedness, and gratitude that thankfulness implies. It strains the verbal resources.Sometimes simplicity is best. Renee, will this do?

Thank you.