Smart, Humble, and Natural: And Our Last Best Hope

Andrew Pudewa invited me to address his Writer’s Symposium this week at Wake Forest University. The attendees were devoted users of the IEW materials, especially his Institute on Structure and Style.

People told me nice things about the sessions I delivered (which will be made available by IEW in their catalogue if I rightly understood the contract Julie Walker shoved under my face in a hurried moment on the first night. Just kidding on the second part.), but the real highlight for me was watching and interacting with the attendees.

I’ve been watching the private school and home school movements for about 20 years now, and I have to say, it’s an impressive lot of people. The home school moms I’ve interacted with are smart, humble, natural people.

It’s quite a contrast from the professional women with whom I’ve interacted over the same 20 years. This is a generalization, a statement about a sub-culture more than about any individuals – maybe a statement about a temptation the modern professional woman has to deal with. But here it is. The typical professional woman, in my limited experience, is also pretty smart, but she isn’t as humble, and she certainly isn’t natural.

I will probably be eaten alive for saying that, but I do have a point that a third group of women would do well to think about, so I’ll go ahead and risk my reputation for their sake.

I’m talking now about the private school teacher. A question for you: Do you want to be more like the professional woman or the home school mom? Which one more closely approximates the ideal toward which you are striving?

The reason I have a glimmer of hope for America is that when God told Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah had become so wicked that they were a threat to well-being of other nearby communities and had to be destroyed, Abraham was able to negotiate God down to saving Sodom if only ten just people lived there.

Maybe God will preserve this Gomorrah because of the just people among us. Maybe he’ll find a proportion equal to ten in Sodom. If so, it will be the achievement of the home school mom.

There are many pretty good private schools in America, but I would contend that the Industrial model of education is so unnatural and contrary to the human spirit that the very structure of our schools blinds us to the things we most need to see.

But the home is a natural, God-created structure. In the home the highest human faculties and potentials grow as though in their natural soil.

So now I have a question for the Christian school leaders. Where do you look for your models? Do you want to be more like the corporate institution or the home school? Which one more nearly approximates the ideal toward which you are striving?

The home grows naturally into the farm and then into the community. The corporate business is often, in our day at least, a parasite, living off the fruit of the community, redirecting its energies, and doing very little to sustain it. The bigger the business, the more true this is.

That very little is a sauve to its conscience and becomes increasingly less valuable. Which does the school seek to emulate?

Home schooling moms are the last best home for freedom within this last best hope for freedom which was once our nation. Our nation having formally abandoned concrete freedoms for abstract rights, it cannot be counted on any more to defend freedom.

And here’s the main reason I’m encouraged and somewhat hopeful, though I do believe the next couple decades will be the hell to pay. Home schooling moms, in general, are smart, humble, and natural.

Most of them are college educated, a much higher percentage than the general population. But spending four years getting your mind conditioned to think in a disorderly way is not what makes you smart.

The proof of their intelligence is their willingness to challenge the status quo they grew up in. They are not passively allowing the same folly they learned to be infused into their children. I don’t think the establishment either appreciates that or recognizes the intelligence required to do it.

Another proof of their intelligence is the vastly higher scores their children get on the tests designed by that establishment.

However, home schooling is not what it used to be. Publishing companies have discovered the market and flooded it with stultifying, cheesy, soul-denying crap, along with some very good materials.

I am counting on the home school mom to apply her intelligence and independence over the next few years.

But sometimes her humility becomes lack of confidence and fear. And that is her biggest enemy. The world we live in has rejected Christ, rejected the Image of God, rejected the gospel, and spent 150 years trying to build a system based on those rejections.

It has not worked – and nowhere less than in education.

It has not worked.

Please, Mrs. Home School Mom, do not lose your nerve.

Yes, continue to be humble and teachable and eager for wisdom. But don’t seek the easy way out and don’t sell your children short.

Follow, instead, the counsel of Solomon. Let it be your guiding principle. Let it be the fuel that drives your instruction.

Get Wisdom.

After all, there is nothing your child needs more and there is no better source for him to get it.

It’s natural, just like your incomparable love for your child. And that natural, God-given love that you bear for your children is the last hope for freedom in this country in which God is looking for ten just people.

A Bloody Mess

Christian classical education is, to our age, a new wine being poured into old wine skins.

Christian classical education is a different kind of thing than conventional, especially progressive, education. When Christian classical schools imitate the industrial model in their classrooms, pedagogy, curriculum, and governance, they undercut their potential.

Two examples come readily to mind. First, industrial education (i.e. the conventional school) has replaced an apprenticeship mindset with certification. In other words, education by its nature is personal, involves the handing on of a tradition, and focuses on mastery of an art.

However, conventional education functions like a factory or a laboratory. The work of the teacher is so impersonal that she could be fired for touching a student. The teacher is trained in “theories” that begin with the denial of human nature and is taught not to look backward to the vast expanse of real human action but to look forward into the vast emptiness of the educator’s fantasy.

The teacher’s college is torn between its desire to create a new world of denatured graduates who enact their social theories and its obligation to produce students who can score well on a standardized test.

The goal is a certificate for the teacher so the school can be accredited so the student can get a diploma.

In short, conventional education is the realm of illusion. And no wonder, since the philosophers who gave us conventional education don’t believe reality can be known any way.

Thus the truly anti-human ideas of the early 20th century educators have assumed extensive influence over the souls of our entire culture and they have been able to do so because they created wineskins intended to hold their wine. They restructured education, or, as they still say, they “reformed” it.

The one room school house, for example, was replaced with the centralized mega-school. The age-integrated school was so thoroughly replaced with the age-segregated school that few people now can imagine how a teacher could succeed in the one-room school house.

Teaching methods replaced teaching and teachers became obsessed with the latest “research based” techniques, all of which have been developed and justified on the assumption that industrial management approaches are suited to the school – above all, perhaps, the assumption that “what gets measured gets done.”

The school has become an assembly line in which specialists use the most efficient techniques to construct a student, piece by piece, 50 minutes at a time in the upper school, with bells telling the product when to move to the next station.

It is, in short, the form of modern education that destroys the child’s soul – even more than the content, little of which they remember anyway.

Any truly penetrating and lasting education reform must, therefore, reject the old wineskins that are the form of this disaster called American education.

We must not any longer sell our students souls to the factory model of assembly and management in which there is no room for the human spirit, much less for the Holy Spirit.

We must return to something approaching an apprenticeship model,

  • in which the Wise mentor and equip the young,
  • in which teaching is an art, not a set of specialized techniques and methodologies,
  • in which the mature hand on the tradition in which the wisdom of the ages is found (but only by those who soak their souls in it),
  • in which the goal is to cultivate wisdom instead of merely to produce experts,
  • in which each class is taught according to its nature (known according to the degree of precision with which it can be known) instead of with a text book that honors neither the nature of the science/art nor the nature of the student, nor the nature of the teacher,
  • in which the beginning, end, and sustaining energy of teaching is love,
  • in which the modes of assessment sustain the soul rather than distracting it with vanity or bitterness,
  • in which our Lord is honored in the way we treat His children,
  • and in which He is discovered to be truly the One in whom all things consist, the One in whom the Father really does “make all things one” (including the curriculum), the One in whom students really could find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I believe with all my aching heart that the American Christian school has sold its heritage, its very soul, out of fear. The result is three generations of increasing numbers of graduates of the Christian school who go to college to become unbelieving fornicators because they may have learned the content of the faith, but they never learned the form of godliness, not to speak of the power thereof.

We have an eternally new wine, but we continue to put it in old wineskins. Do we not notice the bloody mess?

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 2010 Lost Tools of Writing Essay Contest

High school students, don’t miss this opportunity to win a prize of up to $500!

Education and Liberty are themes as American as baseball and apple pie. Yet, much of American literature, and most of American pop culture see the two as antithetical. Some people seem to see school as a barrier to liberty. In the 2010 Lost Tools of Writing Essay Contest, students are asked to consider the relationship between education and liberty. Are they indeed opposites? Or can one fulfill the other? Can a person be free without being educated? Can a person be educated without being free?

You decide. Then persuade us.

MAY 1, 2010


MAY 10, 2010

Students, grades 8-12.

▪ Each essay must be between 900 and 1100 words(3-4 pp)
▪ Each essay should be double spaced
▪ Per the registration instructions below,
each essay is to be submitted via email.

1ST PLACE: $500
2ND PLACE: $250
3RD PLACE: $100

Send an Email to with
your name, address, grade, and phone number included in the body.

Please attach your essay to an Email and send it to


Email David Kern via


Susan Wise Bauer on Medieval History

Every class at school is dominated by either a skill set (the arts, liberal and fine) or ideas (history, theology, etc.). In either case, the content learned will serve the idea or the skill. To avoid confusion, ideas classses also develop skills and skills classes also think about ideas. They cannot be laid into air tight chambers.

The classes that are dominated by ideas were called sciences under the classical curriculum. The classes dominated by skills were called arts.

The arts were seen as foundational to the sciences because before you could contemplate ideas you had to learn how to think.

This changed in the nineteenth century when German philosophers like Kant, Fichte, Hegel and others (following the French revolutionaries) determined that either there were no ideas (classically understood) to know or that any ideas there were to know had no connection to the actual world around us.

Ideas set free from reality were what gave us the revolutions and radicalisms of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century.

They are also what unhinged the classical tradition and the focus on the seven liberal arts as  prerequisites to an educated mind.

In that context, knowing what to teach in a history class, for example, becomes problematic. The conventional school is lost, being dominated by text book publishers who take their cues from arguments at school board meetings in Texas. They don’t have a philosophy of history and if they did they would be shot down by the establishment for imposing it on their students.

Susan Wise Bauer has been writing history books into that context for the last decade or so, and on February 22 she will be releasing a new volume: A History of the Medieval World.

Over the next couple weeks I’ll be posting comments on this work from a number of different angles. For example, I’ll point out that I appreciate that she at least occasionally uses complex sentences, without which a child can never learn to read and think complex thoughts. I’ll also reflect on the question of what one ought to include in such a study; whether it is fitting, give what she includes, to call it medieval history; how to make use of the text in your school or home; and a few other things.

I’ll begin by giving the book a qualified thumbs up, while acknowledging that Susan Wise Bauer has produced a very useful artifact. If you are a teacher or parent seeking knowledge of the medieval era as a source of wisdom, you’ll want this book nearby.

For reasons we’ll explore later, I’m not sure if I would make it my primary text to teach the middle ages in a classical school. However, I would absolutely want my students to have it nearby as a resource.  

Over the next few days I’ll be with the apprentices close to 24/7 so I’m not likely to post much – maybe a great quotation here or there. But I’ll be back at it on Monday, reflecting on medieval history, the rise of Hitler in Germany, and whether there is a necessary relationship between education and freedom.

Let me remind you again that our conference on Liberty will be held in Dallas on July 14-17 and the early bird registration fee is available, though the conference is filling at a surprisingly rapid pace. You can register for 245 (225 in groups of three or more) and I’d love to see you there. We need to think hard about liberty if we expect to keep it.

The Power of Comparison and the Three Obstacles to the Healing of Our Country

It amazes me how much we learn by comparison, the second of the five topics of invention in LTW.

For example, I transitioned from PC to Apple in the last couple weeks because I’d given PC 22 years to figure out how to create a reliable computer and they failed – too driven to stay ahead of whatever they’re trying to stay ahead of.

So now I am learning to use the Apple operating system, keyboard, desktop and all that. And it’s not an easy transition.

Each approach does mostly the same stuff. But each does it differently. And I’m accustomed to the old way. I like the forward delete key on the PC keyboard, for example. I liked how easily I could move between windows on the PC.

Now I’m having to learn all the new tricks with Apple.

I’ll come round, I’m sure, but just by virtue of the act of comparison I recognize some virtues in the PC that I didn’t appreciate much in the past.

On the other hand, we have the two political parties in the US. Both do basically the same things, but they  do them differently.

The Republicans expand government and the Democrats expand government. Each offers the state as the resolution to all our problems.

In this, the Democrats are much more honest and that is why they make “better” politicians.

The Republicans fight wars without much common sense and the Democrats fight wars without much common sense. Each offers war as a way to spread the values of democracy throughout the uninterested world.

In this, neither party approaches honesty or wisdom, so neither does it very well.

The differences in the parties are on their fringes, which is where you can see the sources of their energy. This dynamic complicates our politics, because the fringes are apolitical in that they despise compromise and see the other side as the enemy.

Yet, without those fringes, neither party would have any energy. They would just administer the country without any disguises at all.

I have decided to rename the parties for my own convenience. The Democrats, who have stolen and perverted the word liberal, are in fact the Progressivist party, firmly rooted in a Utilitarian philosophy.

On the fringes, they believe that religion is the ultimate evil that needs to be eradicated from the world, that the State should reorder society based on their pragmatic moral commitments (a mixture of utility and libertinism), and that we should all be forced to get along in one big happy unified country

The Republicans are the Progressive-light party. Since they are the party of Hamilton and Lincoln, they are in favor of gigantic corporations, even when those gigantic corporations fund their enemies.

You can find conservative idealists among them, but they reside somewhere between the people in power and those on the fringes. Their conservatism is only slightly more closely allied with historical conservatism than the Democrats liberalism is allied with historical liberalism.

On the fringes, they believe that religion is the only source of good in the world, that the state has no legitimate role to play in the ordering of society except to defend the homeland, that the real reason for guns is to shoot the tank driver when the feds come to take your children away to their state indoctrination centers called schools, and that we should all be left alone to get along as we see fit.

The game is lost, for the conservative, on two fronts. First, the Progressives have such complete control over education that even in “conservative Christian schools” the Progressive model is followed and Progressive techniques are used to teach.

As a result, Christian schools don’t do a good job of producing Christian kids and they don’t understand why 12 years of A Beka science haven’t inoculated their kids against the Dorm Brothel of college morality.

Furthermore, the colleges are entirely devoted to the Progressive mentality, including and maybe especially in the business schools. I saw a book at the airport that was written by a Harvard MBA student.

I don’t remember the author or title, but he let’s you know how utterly Utilitarian the school is, particularly in matters of ethics.

The second front is financial. We simply love money more than anything else. The “conservative” tends to think highly of Milton Friedman. I like some of his ideas myself. But his statement that the only purpose of a business is to turn a profit for its investors reflects an aversion to ethics that I can’t accept.

The worst thing that can happen to a man or to a business is to do evil, not to fail or die.

And there’s the core agreement between our parties and the American people: no matter what, we must survive. We must be top dog.

There, in turn, we see why the true Christian faith will win in the end. We won’t set ourselves on fire, in the manner of the Buddhist monk. We do like it when we’re set on fire by the Eternal Flame.

But the saints have proven over the centuries that they’ll die before doing evil.

Which leads me to the real point and third front. The evangelical church in America is not the evangelical church I grew up in and the one I grew up in was not the one my father grew up in.

It has lost its way.

Evangelicalism has become party spirited, taking the tone of an Ann Coulter. It’s driven by the market, many churches measuring how they should do their work the same way any other business or government agency does.

If you asked 100 pastors what is the nature of the church, you’d get a diversity of answers, but most of them would, I am quite certain, revolve around some utilitarian definition. The church is what it does.

Sounds great.

But it’s false. In fact, it’s Progressive, just like the two political parties, the public schools, and the various branches of the government.

The Church is the fulness of Him who fills all things.

Market driven people don’t make good martyrs. People who measure their pastoral success by the size of their congregations and the professionalism of their operations don’t make good lovers.

So in the real world, our country continues a decline in some areas and an ascent in others. But neither political party can draw us out of our Progressive/Utilitarian worldview and neither can the Evangelical church, so pleased with itself for continuing to oppose gay rights and abortion, while, practically, accepting fornication and serial adultery.

Maybe in the next generation enough home schooled and classically educated kids will take leadership and have some idea what they are about and what they are up against.

Then maybe we’ll see a gradual weakening of the control of education by the state, of the obsession with giantism by the corporations, and of the parallel obsession with growth by the churches. Maybe people will remember that God gave things a nature and that we have to respect the nature of things.


My Greatest Fear Realized?

Reports and rumblings have been coming to me lately that have tempted me to sink into despair for our country again.

15 years ago, relatively few materials were available for home educators and those who educated at home were a rather radical bunch – though even then the folks from 25 years ago would have smiled down on them.

Everything has changed now. Home education is mainstream. The publishing companies have found it marvelously profitable. The home educators insecurities have driven them to the bottom of the heap for validation.

And now I’m hearing that a “rash” of home educated kids are unable to score high enough on the ACT to get into college.

That’s ridiculous. And it’s the fault of the text book publishers. And the fearful parents who buy them.

Do you know why home educated kids used to think better than their peers? Because there were so few professinal materials available to them. They had no option but to think.

Now, I’m told, home schooled (because now we have to say they’re home schooled instead of home educated) parents are putting their kids in front of the DVD and letting the DVD teach the child.

If this is the case, and if it is widespread in the home school movement, then our country is finished. The home educated child was our country’s last hope. But if that child isn’t having to think and adapt and come up with solutions, if he just has to sit in front of the DVD lecture, it’s game over.

Better to go in the backyard and throw sticks at birds. At least then you don’t know what might come next.

Nature and Practicality

The only thing more foolish than being impractical is being a Pragmatist (i.e. making practicality the ultimate thing).

The demand for practical applications is the most perfect way to avoid having to hear or think about what is inconvenient or undesirable. The demand for relevance is the ideal way to avoid what matters most.

And yet…

If it is not practical, it does not matter. The tension arises, not over the question of whether we ought to be practical, but over what we consider practical.

For example, in the comments on the health care post, the question arose over contemporary success literature, which, thanks to Norman Vincent Peale and his ilk, has become a rather dominant element of contemporary Christian media. But is it Biblical? And does it fit human nature?

I argue that the sermon on the mount is the ultimate statement of how to succeed if you are a human being. But is it practical to turn the other cheek? To go the extra mile? To be persecuted?

Only if there really is a Kingdom of God and if that God is righteous. Only if there is a resurrection.

But I’m not sure I can see how those factors affect the curriculum, modes of instruction, and means of assessment in our schools, all of which, I assume, would be somehow oriented toward the child succeeding in some domain (after all, the schools are the ultimate “success coaches”).  If anybody can explain that to me, I’d be grateful as the links are not obvious.

My fundamental point, to repeat, is that the demand for practical applications is a great way to avoid hearing what needs to be heard. Consider, for example, a steward on the Titanic after they hit the iceberg. If he is practical, he wants to know how to do his job better, how to deal with a particular problem that is troubling him right now.

The last thing he wants to hear is how to deal with something he hasn’t been trained for, for which there are no known techniques, like how to survive in the freezing waters of the north Atlantic.

Or consider the cancer patient (which may be more germane to my point). Cancer is, like Naturalism, a direct assault on the living nature of the person or animal that carries it. It is an excess, a cell gone out of control, eating up the things around it and draining the life of the “system” that it has glommed onto.

But how does the person who has cancer respond to it? My parents both died of cancer and it was, shall we say, interesting to watch how each responded. I know that many people choose to ignore it; to pretend they don’t have it, to live a normal life.

To some extent this is prudent. One needs to continue to do useful, productive things to maintain one’s sense of balance and dignity. Nature demands work of us.

But it can go too far. The person can pretend he doesn’t have cancer, deny the symptoms or explain them away, try to function as though everything is as it should be.

These people find themselves very unhappy.

It is not practical to deny reality. I believe that much of what happens in the American schools is the reality denying behavior of a fourth stage cancer patient.

Let me turn from the metaphor to an explanation and a practical application of my point, which, to repeat, is that the demand for practical applications is a great way to avoid thinking about inconvenient truths.

At the conference, I led a roundtable discussion about assessment in light of the nature of things. It was, necesssarily, much too short.

As an aside, I fully admit that the CiRCE conference is known for raising as many questions as it answers. I find that when you are in the early stages of a project (like recovering the Christian classical tradition) it is best to ask a lot of questions and not to rush forward doing things the old way.

In any case, this discussion was too short. Many things that need to be discussed could not be because of time. But afterward, somebody told me that it was more relevant to the home school parent than to the school teacher.

This comment can be taken a number of different ways, and I did not have the time to pursue it with the person who said it, so I don’t want to assume anything about what he meant.

However, I did take it a certain way, and I want to respond to the way I took it, not necessarily the way he meant it.

The way I took this comment was that the discussion about assessing students and their work according to the nature of the child, lesson, and “subject” can be done better at home because of the circumstances, but at school there are all sorts of obstacles and diversions, so assessing according to nature at school isn’t really a practical thing to do.

I am happy to report that I am quite confident that I have caricatured my interlocuters position. However, that is because he is more thoughtful than most people.

But I believe that my expression of the position is precisely what most people would mean if they brought their reactions to the level of conscious thought. I hope not, but on the assumption that it is so I want to reply to that formulation.

First, think about the implications of that position. The argument is, the school setting is not natural, so it is not practical to assess students and their work according to nature, i.e. with standards derived from the nature of the student, the lesson, the subject, etc. (i.e. from reality).

Since, then, we are teaching children in an unnatural way, when somebody suggests an assessment that arises from a natural way of teaching, we can’t be troubled to bother with it.

Let me reiterate that I know this is not what the person who commented to me meant.

But it is precisely the normal practice of most schools, public or private.

Let’s think about this. 

First, the school is not a natural setting. In its present formulation, it does not arise from the needs, desires, and aspirations of human nature. Martin Cothran presented a talk on “The agrarian nature of education” that I am very, very anxious to listen to.

For most of its history, education patterned itself on the agrarian household, which was an amazingly flexible structure, adaptable to circumstances, and submissive to the environment in which it grew.

But with the late 19th and early 20th century, schools increasingly patterned themselves on the inflexible, unadaptable, irrresponsible structures of industry. The fulness of this madness arrived with the so-called Gary Plan that John Dewey celebrated in his Schools of Tomorrow. That was where the 52 minute classroom with bells and five minute breaks was introduced – and soundly rejected by the parents.

In addition, schools came to be run by the principles of scientific management, then by the rather arbitrary standards established by the IRS for not for profits. The agrarian community’s patterns of leadership were replaced by those of the industrial capitalist and the socialist.

So the school as presently constituted is not “natural.”

Like the cancer patient, we can ignore this fact or we can recognize its awful implications. They are, after all, all around us.

If we use a structure that is not Divinely or naturally ordained, we are going to have just the sort of problems we do have.

Second, a question: If the modes of assessment that arise from the needs, desires, and aspirations of human nature work at cross purposes with the school setting, which should give in to the other?

I would appeal to every school that seeks to cultivate wisdom and virtue in its students simply to engage in the discussion. I know that you can’t change everything right now.

I know that discussion is anxiety producing.

I know that you have too much work to do while you and your parents are being accredited, certified, college admissioned and otherwise controlled and intimidated by the forces for chaos, anxiety, and despair.

Believe it or not, I am tremendously sensitive to those issues. I have three college age children. My wife teaches in a classical and Christian school. I have started three myself. I consult with dozens every year. I am in no way trying to be glib.

What I’m begging you to do is simply to start the conversation. Rise up and begin to assert your freedom to mentor free people.

I don’t know how far this cancer has advanced. Maybe you are part of the cure.

But only if you begin the discussion.

Third, an assertion: If we are to respect the nature of things (a position that seems self-evident to me), and if the home is the more natural setting for the child and for education, then our schools ought to do at least two things with regard to the home (I would be very interested in other things the school needs to do):

  1. Model itself more closely on the household than on the “Gary Plan” that brought the industrial model into the school
  2. Treat home schoolers with great respect. After all,the reason home schooling works so well is because it more closely aligns with human nature. So schools should honor home schooling parents instead of seeing them as a threat and instead of making them feel inferior because they have not learned the artificial techniques that enable a teacher to succeed in an unnatural setting.

Again, please start the discussion. Act only on what you discover. Implement only what you believe in. But start the discussion. And include the local home schoolers in that discussion.

You have to live in the world that you live in. That is where God will transform and sanctify you. But you don’t have to be ruled by it.


Recommended resources:

  • 2009 Conference CD’s; especially the roundtable on assessment and Martin Cothran’s Agrarian Nature of Education
  • CiRCE Next Step Teacher Training with James Daniels, Andrew Kern, or Debbie Harris
  • Charlotte Mason’s writings

15 ideas to contemplate

I mentioned in my previous post that if you want to train the mind you need to give it ideas to contemplate. I’ve been contemplating for about 15 years what might be the most powerful ideas to contemplate, and here’s a list of them. Happily, they come in triumvirates.

  • Truth, goodness, and beauty
  • Wisdom, virtue, and personhood
  • Freedom, justice, and community
  • Nature, purpose, and propriety
  • Being, mode, and change

Please don’t do classes on each or even seminars (except, maybe, for juniors and seniors). But get everybody in your school, especially the teachers, thinking about these things. These are the threads that hold your tapestry together, the coals that keep the fire burning.

In another post, I’ll discuss how we can contemplate them – even in the pre-school!


(recommended resources: CiRCE Apprenticeship, CiRCE teacher training, 2009 CiRCE Conference CD’s, Mortimer Adler: How to Think about the Great Ideas, The Syntopicon (volumes 2 and 3 in the great books set), casual conversations with friends about any book or event or experience keeping one or more of these ideas in mind as you think about it)

Our Education Platform

Anybody who cares about America’s future and about America’s children, both of which are causes of deep contemplation for thoughtful people and desperate action for active, knows that everything depends on education.

The stimulus bill famously set aside 100 billion dollars for America’s public schools. Plenty of people would argue that this is itself a desperate action by people with too much confidence in contemplation. But the present reality is that we have a public school system, that our children are compelled, under pain of law, to get something called an education, and that most of them attend these public schools.

What can be done for our schools? Purists say, shut them down. Save the $500 billion/year spent on them (equal to our federal deficit prior to this year, though not paid by the federal government) by entirely privatising schooling. The JS Mill side of me agrees. But it isn’t going to happen, so we have to look realistically at the world we actually live in rather than fuss and bother about one that will not exist for at least a century, if ever.

But what about the calls for reform. This Economist article about Arne Duncan reminds us that Bill Bennett once called the education bureaucracy “the blob” because it was so amorphous and ungovernable. Can Arne Duncan help? I’m watching anxiously.

Here’s what I want to see in the public schools, since they can’t be shut down:

  • Extensive provision of tax credits for school choice, such as that provided by Pennsylvania and a few other states on a small scale. Again, this article shows the flaw in vouchers: the government still maintains dictatorial power over the provision of the money and that leads to control of schools from impersonal government agents.
  • A great deal more support for charter schools, especially the classical charter schools that are doing so much good in, e.g. Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.
  • Breaking of the stranglehold on innovation by the teacher’s unions.
  • Breaking of the stranglehold on creativity by the accrediting agencies, especially the one that accredits the teachers colleges.
  • A deep reconsideration of the Pragmatic/Progressivist philosophy that has undercut every impulse toward discipline and creativity and knowledge. Actually, I’d prefer a rejection. This is a theme of our conference this summer.
  • Tremendous restoration of authority to the local communities. This is one area where I think the Economist article gets it completely wrong. They suggest that we have a problem because there are 16,000 local districts running schools.

In fact, this is one area that needs some extensive research. Education has centralized any number of functions that need to be decentralized and has decentralized some areas that might conceivably benefit from centralization.

But education has to turn from its military/industrial mentality, which is totally unsuited to its very nature, and return to more of an agrarian mentality, which is more consistent with its nature. Civilization has never been the product of armies and factories. It is the fruit of the always tenuous marriage of the farmer and the merchant. Education must restore this dynamic.

As with everything about the Obama presidency, there is reason for hope. Then let us hope with our eyes open.

Follow this link to read the Economist article: The Golden Boy and The Blob.

Three obstacles seem to hinder everything the schools do: the American history of racism, the unimaginably extensive Byzantine bureaucracy, and the fear and loathing of religion. Perhaps I’ll be able to develop each of these in later blogs.

What elements do we need to add to our platform?