The Sack of Truth: A Fairytale at the Heart of Redemption and Classical Education

Ruth Sawyer’s classic fairytale “A Sack of Truth” saved the lives of my sophomores and redeemed mine. Not only is the title brilliant and amped for discussion, but the tale smacks paradigmatic for classical education. It contains that which is really real and true.

I am now even more convinced of the power of fables and fairy tales to shape one into a right human being—and to truly educate by cultivating wisdom and virtue in the heart.

If you haven’t read the tale, I’ll briefly summarize:  There lives a king in Spain. His daughter is ill. A doctor says only the finest pears in Spain will cure her. The king asks for the finest pears from all over to be brought and the one whose pears heal his daughter will be richly rewarded.

A poor peasant with three sons has a pear tree that produces other-worldly golden pears. He sends his oldest son to the king with a basket of pears. On the road he meets a sad-faced woman carrying a little child who asks him what he has in the basket. Rather than offering the sad woman and child a pear to eat, he snubs her. It is a kind of test. The woman turns his pears into horns. When he arrives to the king with horns, the king throws him into a dungeon.

The second son is sent with a basket. He responds to the needy woman in the same way and fails the test. He is also thrown into the dungeon.

Importantly, when the third son is introduced, this is what is said of him: “No one had ever thought him very clever, only kind and willing and cheerful.” When he meets the sad-faced woman he thinks to himself, “I must not be greedy with those pears. There is the old saying—‘He who plays the fox for a day, pays for a year.’” He uncovers the basket and gives a pear to the child.

He shows compassion and therefore passes the test and gets to the king. His pears heal the king’s daughter. The king offers him anything he wants. Again the story says, “he thought of the old saying: ‘gratitude is better scattered than kept in one’s pocket.’ He asks for the release of his brothers.

The rest of the story involves the sack of truth, but I won’t retell that part here. Essentially, things work out well for the youngest son.

In my class, we discussed much concerning this. Here are some of the questions I raised:

I asked if they were admitted to our very-hard-to-get-into high school because they were clever or because they were kind, willing, and cheerful.  Clever was the obvious answer. I responded that as a result they have been admitted into an institution that desires to create the two older brothers.

Standard education is very interested in what a child can do or how much he or she knows (cleverness), not in who the child is.

I asked if the students’ very full and heavy backpacks were sacks of truth, sacks of knowledge, or sacks of BS :). We concurred that, unfortunately, they were not sacks of truth. And if they decided to call them sacks of knowledge, then through discussion we realized that it would have been better to call them sacks of BS because at least BS knows that it’s BS.

In other words, there’s a big difference between truth and knowledge. And there’s a big difference between knowing and knowledge. Notice that Aristotle said, “All men desire by nature to know.”  He did not say “all men desire by nature, knowledge.”

Why are our schools founded upon gaining knowledge and not on desiring to know?

I asked what the youngest son did when he faced his crises, his moments of temptation.

The students said that he recalled two old sayings: “He who plays the fox for a day, pays for a year” and “gratitude is better scattered than kept in one’s pocket.”

I asked if he looked the sayings up on the internet.

Students: No

I asked if a nearby animal shouted them out.

Students: No

I asked how he knew the old sayings.

Students:  he remembered them.

I asked where he got them:

Students:  in fables and fairy tales.

I asked them what lines will come to them when they find themselves in their moments of high temptation.

Will they be lines from the latest blockbuster movie or video game?

Or maybe, just maybe…

If we read enough of them in the next nine months…

Classic fables and fairy tales.

By which we will fill our sacks of truth.

And save our souls.  And a needy mother and child on the way… and maybe even the king’s daughter.

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Rallying the Really Human Things: Excerpt Now Available!

Now available as part of our Further Up & Further In fund raising campaign is part I of Dr. Vigen Guroian’s wonderful book Rallying The Really Human Things.

This fascinating first section is called “The Three Voices of Christian Humanism” and examines the work of GK Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and Russell Kirk.

The PDF version of this book can be yours for whatever price you feel it’s worth. As part of our campaign it – and several other downloads – are yours when you make a donation to CiRCE of any amount. Yes, it can be yours for just $1.00.

Click here to donate and download now.

Here is some more information on the book:

General Description:

For Vigen Guroian, contemporary culture is distinguished by its relentless assault on the moral imagination. In the stories it tells us, in the way it has degraded courtship and sexualized our institutions of higher education, in the ever-more-radical doctrines of human rights it propounds, and in the way it threatens to remake human nature via biotechnology, contemporary culture conspires to deprive men and women of the kind of imagination that Edmund Burke claimed allowed us to raise our perception of our own human dignity, or to “cover the defects of our own naked shivering nature.”

In Rallying the Really Human Things, Guroian combines a theologian’s keen sensitivity to the things of the spirit with his immersion in the works of Burke, Russell Kirk, G. K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, St. John Chrysostom, and other exemplars of the religious humanist tradition to diagnose our cultural crisis. But he also points the way towards a culture more solicitous of the “really human things,” the Chesterton phrase from which he takes his title. Guroian’s wide-ranging analysis of these times provides a fresh and inimitable perspective on the practices and mores of contemporary life.

About the Author:
Vigen Guroian is Professor of Theology at Loyola College in Maryland. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Ethics after Christendom: Toward an Ecclesial Christian Ethic and Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Imagination.

What’s Being Said:

“In this eloquent and substantive book, Guroian uses the light of the past to point the way to a more human and civilized future.”
Michael Medved, radio host and author of Right Turns

“Guroian is a rare and precious bird these days: a scholar of the Real. Here he focuses his moral passion and theologian’s mind on some of today’s most smoldering issues.”
Kevin Ryan, Professor Emeritus, Boston University

“Vigen Gurorian’s courageous and discerning vision illuminates both current issues of burning importance (campus promiscuity, nationalism, and gay marriage, for example), and major Christian thinkers of the recent past (Chesterton, O’Connor, and Kirk). This compendium is a resource that will help us all see more clearly.”
Frederica Mathewes-Green, columnist for Beliefnet.com and author of The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation

“These eloquent and wide-ranging essays in the moral imagination establish Vigen Guroian as our own Chesterton. For with fine Chestertonian wit, he demonstrates that the modern West is not heinously wicked so much as it is wildly virtuous, as the old Christian virtues, uprooted from their native theological soil, continue to produce mad sprouts. Responding astringently to the cultural and religious vexations of our age, Guroian restores these saving virtues to the deep loam of Christian tradition.”
Ralph Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature, Baylor University

“Rallying the Really Human Things does not so much inform as remind. Vigen Guroian has busied himself with one of the most pressing tasks in our intellectual life, which is to rescue the dignified word “humanism” from the damage wrought upon it by both the secularly self-sufficient and the piously ignorant.”
Tracy Lee Simmons, author of Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin

“Professor Guroian’s book is both a powerful and provocative defense of traditional Christian humanism in its conflict with secularism.”
Bob Cheeks, intellectualconservative.com

“Of course, this review hasn’t even mentioned excellent essays on ‘gay marriage’ and why businessmen ‘should read great literture.’ There are myriad positions in his pages I would like to sound with trumpets on one hand and anathematize on the other. Like Chesterton, Guroian can write infuriating passages, but never dull ones.”
David Paul Deavel, Gilbert Magazine

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