Vol. 1, Issue 4
December 9, 2006
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) The Essence of Classical Education
2) De Astris: The Winter Triangle and Gomeisa
THE ESSENCE OF CLASSICAL EDUCATION
If you haven't read them yet, here are two books that contribute profoundly to the discussion of what "classical education" is all about: E. Christian Kopff's _The Devil Knows Latin_, and Tracy Simmons's _Climbing Parnassus_. Their argument is essentially that classics is a certain type of training for the mind, a training which nearly two millenia of western civilization has determined comes best from a very limited but rigorous course of study below the college level: Latin, Greek, and mathematics. Thus Simmons. Throw in history and you have Kopff. Both argue for the central and pivotal role of the classical languages in the curriculum, as do other voices in the classical Christian education movement, such as Cheryl Lowe of Memoria Press.
This vision of classical education is slightly different from the current ACCS vision, following Dorothy Sayers, which defines classical education by 1) its methodology (the Trivium) and 2) an inclusion of the study of the past (mostly from works in translation). But such a vision translates the "grammar" of the Trivium, which used to mean specifically Latin (and Greek)
grammar, into "the particulars of any subject", which then results in pressure to study all subjects. "Logic" likewise becomes not just the study of the principles of thinking correctly but the "interrelation of all subjects" and "rhetoric" becomes "the clear expression of the facts and interrelations of all subjects". These are perfectly legitimate *applications* of the medieval idea of the trivium, but they are not, strictly speaking, that idea. The medieval idea of classical education was simply this: 1) studying Latin and Greek, and 2) reading books in Latin and Greek. Everything else is ancillary (not unimportant, but "ancillary" in the best sense: a "handmaid").
This perspective is the one Kopff and Simmons speak from, and it's one that I've found by experience, both in our own family and in those who've put into practice these ideas after hearing me rant and rave about it in talks at conferences, to be wonderfully simplifying and burden-lifting for homeschoolers and schools. With Latin and Greek at the center of the curriculum, and mathematics next in order, any other important subjects find their proper role as they orbit around Latin, Greek, and math. History and literature can be naturally combined with the languages, and eventually the literature reading will be done in the original as well. Art, music, science, etc. are important but not *as* important in the curriculum, just as the superstructure of a house, the rooms where you live, is not as important as the foundation *when you're building the house*, which is what
we're doing at the pre-college stage of our kids' education. Later, the rooms we live in are much *more* important because they contain our life, but the current classical ed movement is not about that stage. That's upper high school and college.
This kind of curriculum - very limited (Latin, history, math), but very rigorous (great care about the details of grammar and syntax in the languages and about correct thinking in math) - causes panic among homeschoolers because they see their children knowing fewer facts about a host of subjects, while their childrens' friends seem to know a great deal more. But we are not educating for information, we're educating for understanding and wisdom. If we resist the temptation to panic and to throw
every subject we hear of into the hopper, we'll have far fewer subjects on our plates, and we'll discover (we ARE discovering already) that when our kids get to college, though they may not know as many facts about as many subjects as their peers, it won't be long (somewhere in the first year) till they completely blow the doors off the others - because we've taught them to
learn how to learn, how to think rigorously and carefully by training with a few important tools and well, and most importantly, how to gain understanding about what they learn.
(From Monday, September 20, 2004, post on the Scholegium blog)
DE ASTRIS: THE WINTER TRIANGLE AND GOMEISA
Around ten o'clock these evenings, you'll see Orion high in the southeast. Follow the imaginary line running through his belt down and to the left, and you'll strike Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the heavens. Above and to the left of Sirius you'll find Procyon, the Little Dog Star, forming a nearly equilateral triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse, the bright star in Orion's left shoulder.
Look closely just above Procyon and if your skies are dark enough you'll see a fainter star. That's Gomeisa. The name "Gomeisa" is an Arabic word (or a corruption thereof) meaning "Little Bleary-Eyed One With Filth in the Corner of the Eye." Or something like that. The reason for the name is that just barely above and to the right of Gomeisa is an even fainter star, barely
visible to the naked eye even in dark skies (perfectly visible in binoculars). That's the grit in Gomeisa's eye.