Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Things Above

(Now that I think about it, that would be a killer blog title. I'll sell it to you for a tenner.)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:1-2

Surely these verses say more about theology than they do about good writing, but let us push on a little bit.

I recently bought a used copy of God In the Dock by C.S. Lewis, and it showed up yesterday. I've been loving it so far, especially since I have not had the pleasure to read much of Lewis's nonfiction. I've also been working my way through Heretics by G.K. Chesterton, and I can certainly see the influence that Chesterton had on Lewis. The same razor's edge is there, the same ability to cut to the heart of an issue, and divide into logical categories things which, on first examination, might seem more muddled. So in "Miracles," when Lewis discusses different objections to the idea of miracles, he gives a definite and brilliant proof that all of natural life is a miracle, albeit in a slower cycle than those which Christ performed:

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn the water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah's time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see.

Brilliant. I love this guy. Of course, I've loved all the Narnia books since I was a kid and my parents read them to me, but now I can see more clearly the incredible mind behind the incredible creativity.

(I just finished "Myth Become Fact" and it is great. This is lines up with what I've been thinking through lately with archetypes and antetypes, and also makes me really excited for the 7th grade mythology class next year.)

The book's forward ended with a quote from The Four Loves: "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date."

Now, I haven't read the book from which this is excerpted, and so I'm not sure to what he is directly referring, and I'm sure it has a higher initial purpose - much like the verses above - but it made me think about literature. And it specifically made me think about William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. In it, he says:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

This is what we get when we apply the Colossians verse to writing. Not that everything needs to be explicitly about Christ, or other "things above," but that the eternal themes that are contained in the grand narrative of Scripture should permeate our writing. So The Lord of the Rings is not a story of how Jesus Christ takes the "Sin" of the world (the Ring) upon himself, to destroy it (Frodo), travels and preaches "the good news" (Gandalf), and, through humility, becomes the reigning King (Aragorn). But each of these characters bears a mythical and mystical connection to the person and work of Christ. Because The Lord of the Rings contains many eternal things connected with Christ (humility, service, duty, sacrifice, honor, etc.), it is an eternal book. And because it is an eternal book, it will last the test of time. There's a reason that we still read The Illiad and The Odyssey, thousands of years later, and it's the same reason why we probably won't be reading something like White Noise thousands of years from now.

As a bit of an aside, and something that I'll talk about later (maybe over the summer, after I've read the last book), this is the reason why I don't think G.R.R. Martian and the Song of Ice and Fire series comes even close to Tolkien's work. (for background, someone at Time called GRRM "the American Tolkien")

GRRM is a great writer. There should be no doubt about that for anyone who has seriously read his books. The man knows how to craft a story, how to make (and name!) characters, and keep interest through some very long books.

But what he doesn't write are eternal themes. There is no pity in these books. There is no (or precious little) honor. There is no sacrifice, except in the sense that the strong sacrifice the weak for their own ends. In this way, it might be a more accurate picture of reality (people with power taking advantage of people without), and it might be a more accurate picture of fallen and unredeemed man, but that is exactly why I think it will fail the test of time.

The world has enough examples of wanton destruction, and cruelty for it's own sake, and battles fought for nothing, and greed to the extreme. We (I) don't want to see more of that. We (I) don't want our (my) fantasy worlds populated by the same filth and offal that swallows up the evening news.

I want a hero that will forsake his comfortable home for the sake of all people, even if it means his life.

I want a hero that is tireless in encouragement, in compassion, in Righteous anger.

I want a hero that will lay aside his claim to Kingship to help the least of these.

That's why I do and will keep re-reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. And that is why I doubt I will re-read any of ASOIAF.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Doug Wilson/Heavy Metal: Formidable Children

I read a great article by Douglas Wilson yesterday, on raising children that are formidable spiritual warfare. I haven't thought much about this, and it is something I do struggle with. I mean, come on. Right now we only have a daughter, and she is unanimously the cutest ever. People who have kids her age tell us she's the cutest baby they've ever seen.

But when I think of Ciahna in the future, as a young woman, with all of the competing ideologies in the world, many of which I have fallen for in the past, I strongly desire to see her become formidable. Not just in knowledge, though certainly in that. But also in fighting for the oppressed, for the widows and orphans, for those who need the hope of Christ.

When I read the article, I couldn't help but think of the Project 86 song "Fall, Goliath, Fall" (which I have taken as both spiritual and political statement). I can't imagine Mr. Wilson would be flattered by the comparison of one of his articles to heavy metal, but it works for me.



Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:3–5).


Thanks to Reforming Fatherhood for the tip on the article.



Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Nice Pair



This is a great matching pair. My wife bought the journal for me as a graduation present (along with some really nice books - a combined Homer volume and the complete Chronicles of Narnia, in cool blue hardbacks), and it hasn't gotten the love and use it needs. I'm almost done with my current medium sized Moleskine (which I use for taking notes in church and writing down little fragments of poetry), and I think I'll use this instead. It's just a hair taller and skinnier than the Bible (the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, which is excellent), and they fit together well.

I've linked to both on Amazon below, but the notebook is much much cheaper at Barnes and Nobel. Good leather (at least to my unschooled eyes and hands), and a smyth sewn, refillable journal insert. I haven't used it enough to get it to lay open of itself, but I think with some time, abuse, and a little oiling, I think it'll do the trick nicely. I also need to put a ribbon in there, as well as add a third ribbon to my Bible.





Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adoption

Here are some links related to adoption that you might be interested in.

My wife and I are adopting through the state, and our homestudy was approved a few days ago! Praise the Lord!

I wrote a little article on the theology (or doctrine) of adoption on my Hubpages account (another venue for writing to get a little extra cash - emphasis on little).

The orphan ministry at our church is also in the process of starting a closet to help those families who are adopting or fostering. We are very excited about this as we are a young ministry, and look forward to having something tangible to do. Please pray for this ministry to raise awareness in Clemson Presbyterian Church about the call on Christians to care for orphans.

Enjoy. The Great Tradition posts will return later on this week, I promise.

Conor

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Used Bookstore

I love McClure's bookstore, Clemson's used book shop. It is only a few minutes from our house, and I always find something awesome to bring home.

Even better, they have a great kid's section. My daughter and I go there all the time (on our dates). She gets a book or two, and daddy gets a book or two. I've been blessed with a daughter who loves to read. How could it get any better?

The last trip was last week. I think we'll probably go this Friday, too (I have that day off!). Here was the haul from last week.


This week, who knows? They had some volumes of the Great Books series, but I don't want to piece it out. I daresay I could find something in the poetry section (Eliot, perhaps?), or some new Tolkien? But what I'd really like is Lewis's space trilogy (they only have the second) and Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative.

I'll let you know what we come away with.

Conor

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wordle

Wordle is a pretty cool program. If you've never used it before, you can copy and paste text into a box, and the site will arrange the text into word clouds based on frequency.

Here is an example, with the first sixteen verses of John:


I think that's pretty cool.

But a really cool thing you can do is enter a blog address/feed, and it will analyze all the text. So here is the word-cloud for this blog:

Well, it kind of makes me feel good that "good" and "things" are two of the biggest. Anyways, I like it.

Try it out. I did one with "The Allegory of the Cave" that turned out really well too, but I didn't save it. I have it up in my classroom, though.

Conor

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Great Tradition: Aristotle on Music

This will be a quick post, because this has been a very busy week.

I don't necessarily agree with Aristotle on the way he views music, particularly the moral judgements that he imposes on aspects of music that I don't think merit such judgements. For instance, he says of the flute (one of the instruments that I use to play Irish Traditional Music), that "the flute is not an instrument which has a good moral effect; it is too exciting." (64-65 in The Great Tradition)

But I do agree that music has a number of benefits, the most important being the appreciation of beautiful things. While Aristotle and I don't agree on what constitutes beautiful music, we do agree that early education in music will help children in a transfer of criteria to other things. For instance, if they know a song is beautiful because it fulfills the criteria, they can know how to judge a poem for beauty. Certainly the criteria will be different, but learning to use criteria is important.

Another benefit is the relaxation that Aristotle mentions. And here is where I'll drop a quick plug. If you find yourself in need of rest and relaxation this weekend, come to McGee's Pub in Anderson, South Carolina to see my play with Emerald Road, a traditional Irish group.

I will also say that I was able to rest and relax while watching Danu this past Thursday. They are real deal, born in Ireland musicians, and they did a really great job. If you would like to check them out, they are on iTunes.

P.S. - Emerald Road is also on iTunes

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GK Chesterton on Heresy

I started going through GK Chesterton's Heretics last night, and found it hilarious and brilliant. My first real exposure to Chesterton was reading about his debate with a prominent atheist, in which he claimed that the shadows of Christ throughout the ages not only do not prove the falsity of the Christian claim, but that they definitively do prove the truth. Great stuff.

Anyways, here are a few passages that jumped out at me.

"...but will any one say that there are any men stronger than those men of old who were dominated by their philosophy and steeped in their religion? Whether bondage be better than freedom may be discussed. But that their bondage came to more than our freedom it will be difficult for any one to deny."
And

"Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion."

I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Socratic Method

I read an interesting article last week about Socrates and his influence on the modern academic institution. Or perhaps I should say, his lack of influence, at least at the present time. It was a commentary on the news that several professors had been fired or denied tenure based on the fact that they used a Socratic method of teaching.

Perhaps the reason there is push-back against this style of teaching is that there are fewer tangibles, both in preparation and in evaluation. The teacher isn't going to give the student a study guide that has the answers to all the test questions, mostly because the evaluation isn't going to be a multiple choice or short answer test. I know that in high school I felt most comfortable with a test (AP Psych, eg) when there was a sheet that listed everything I had to remember. I felt very uncomfortable with my AP Lit exam, when I would have to write an extemporaneous essay on a text that I might never have read. I had to analyze a passage from The Onion for my exam. I had never even heard of it before that (though I return often, now).

For my high school classes, where most of the evaluations are based on analysis, I give them some questions they might want to ask, and what they might want to answer, but it is up to them to find the answers. I think this is a good method for those who possess the abilities to gather and assess information (the Rhetoric stage, for example).

I try to do the same when analyzing texts as a class. I know what I think the poem or story means, and so I ask questions to lead them to that (or their own) interpretation. I am no longer a postmodernist when it comes to literature, and I believe there is such a thing as authorial intent (and that it deserves consideration), but I'm not such a formalist to think that there is only one right meaning. Everyone has their own schemata or framework through which they understand the things they experience. I try to get the students to come to their own understanding of a poem.

I have a long way to go to get to a good understanding and application of the Socratic method in my teaching. I don't abide long pauses well, for example, and that gets me into trouble, specifically the giving-them-the-answer kind.

But it is heartening that I work in a place, and under an administrator that cherishes the Socratic method. The first time he observed me he advised me to let the pauses sit for even longer.



I tried to come up with an appropriately Socratic question with which to end this post, but could not. Like I say, a long way to go.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Great Tradition: Isocrates, Part I

I'v decided to try and make this a once or twice a week post, since it takes up a good amount of time. I am reading from the book every day, however, and am now going through Aristotle's Politics.

As I stated in an earlier post, I'm intending to break up the Isocrates into at least two parts, as I greatly enjoyed his selections, and have quite a bit to say.

This post will be on the selection from the Panathenaicus, which deals with the proper things to study for 1) young men, and 2) older men. He discusses different things - geometry, astronomy, eristic dialogues (debating for the sake of argument), and other arts (such as painting or music), why it is proper that young men should study those things, and how much they should study them.

It seems like these things were disparaged in this time, as inferior to dialogue. Isocrates says that these things are good to study for a time, if for no other reason than to keep the young people from other things (idle hands, and all that). He says "...that even if this learning can accomplish no other good, at any rate it keeps the young out of many other things which are harmful." Socrates says much the same thing in the selection from Xenophon, though he commended study of astronomy for the useful end of being able to find your position by heavenly bodies, and geometry for the useful end of being able to measure out a plot of property. So it seems that utility is to be reserved for the lesser arts, whereas dialogue should be pursued for its own end.

But back to Isocrates. He goes on to say that it is improper for study of these arts and sciences to continue past a certain point, for the reason that those who attain a mastery in those subjects do so to the detriment of their ability to speak, reason, and behave well.

This brings to my mind a quote from Edward Newhouse's short story "Debut Recital," in which the piano teacher is describing the performer's temperament, and what it takes to be a great performer. She says "Most performing musicians are not nice at all. They are, if you like, brats." I'm sure we have all known the type: a virtuoso from childhood, who not only is able to perform difficult pieces, but to compose them as well, and yet, take them away from their instrument, and you can't be sure they know how to tie their own shoes. They have been so absorbed in music (or whatever it is they are geniuses at) that they have forgotten - or were never taught - the basic skills in life. I can certainly see the appeal in desiring your child to be one of the "great ones" in something, but if it harms them intellectually and socially, is it worth it? I suppose every parent must answer that for themselves.

In opposition to this extremity (or eccentricity), Isocrates gives a brilliant four point description of the truly educated (or well rounded, if you like) man.

Whom, then, do I call educated, since I exclude the arts and sciences and specialties? First, those who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgement which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient course of action; next, those who are decent and honorable in their intercourse with all with whom they associate, tolerating easily and good-naturedly what is unpleasant or offensive in others and being themselves as agreeable and reasonable to their associates as it is possible to be; furthermore, those who hold their pleasures always under control and are not unduly overcome by their misfortunes, bearing up under them bravely and in a manner worthy of our common nature; finally, and most important of all, those who are not spoiled by successes and do not desert their true selves and become arrogant, but hold their ground steadfastly as intelligent men, not rejoicing in the good things which have come to them through chance rather than in those which through their own nature and intelligence are theirs from their birth. Those who have a character which is in accord, not with one of these things, but with all of them—these, I contend, are wise and complete men, possessed of all the virtues.
Brilliant and impossible, as I'm sure you can see. I was reading through this passage while giving my daughter a bath one weekday evening, and could remember a thousand ways I had transgressed against these points. And this is only the law of a man!

I summed these points up as such in the margin:

1. Do the right thing at the right time.
2. Be good natured to all, and bear one another (their burdens and their annoying tendencies)
3. Experience your emotions, but in a controlled manner.
4. Do not be over proud of things that God as given to you as a good gift, as it did not originate in yourself.

Strict rule for anyone, especially a middle and high school teacher, and especially the second point.

Next up is the selection from the Antidosis, which was awesome.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Great Tradition: Xenophon


Today's post is my thoughts on the entry on Xenophon, in The Great Tradition. The excerpt is from The Memorabilia, and is taken from Book IV.

I greatly enjoyed Xenophon's account of how Socrates interacted with those he thought of as inferior in intellect, or, more likely, those who thought themselves superior in intellect but who were actually much less so, like poor young Euthydemus. 

But the part that most stuck with me, even after looking through the text again, and reading my marked passages and the notes that accompanied them, was this passage, where Socrates is deploring the thought of some that true knowledge is an easy thing to come by.

Soc. Is it not surprising that people anxious to learn to play the harp or the flute, or to ride, or to become proficient in any like accomplishment, are not content to work unremittingly in private by themselves at whatever it is in which they desire to excel, but they must sit at the feet of the best-esteemed teachers, doing all things and enduring all things for the sake of following the judgment of those teachers in everything, as though they themselves could not otherwise become famous; whereas, among those who aspire to become eminent politically as orators and statesmen, there are some who cannot see why they should not be able to do all that politics demand, at a moment's notice, by inspiration as it were, without any preliminary pains or preparations whatever? And yet it would appear that the latter concerns must be more difficult of achievement than the former, in proportion as there are more competitors in the field but fewer who reach the goal of their ambition, which is as much as to say that a more sustained effort of attention is needed on the part of those who embark upon the sea of politics than is elsewhere called for. (page 31 in The Great Tradition)
There are two main things that this makes me think of, and as it often is with me these days, one deals with the temporal, and one with the eternal. 

To the temporal first, then. This reminds me of the underlying attitudes of some of my students. They think that school should be easier. They think that the essay I've asked them to write is too hard. And they are hard essays. Even the middle schoolers write analyses of texts (my eighth graders analyzed a Psalm from both literary and spiritual perspectives). But that is how proficiency is achieved: practice. And just as an Olympic weightlifter doesn't dink around with the puny weights that I struggle against, because he has mastered them, but takes more, and still more, they have to be always challenging their abilities. 

Now, one thing I am not saying here is that I am one of the "best-esteemed teachers," or even that my methods are the best that they could be. Even in seven months of teaching I have learned more about which methods work and which do not than in my four year teaching track. And God willing, I will be able to continue learning such for the rest of my career. 

*

The eternal view that this quote brings me to is this: It recalls to me the times my heart rebells against the leading of the Holy Spirit, who is the ultimate teacher (or counsellor, John 14:16). And how much more difficult is it to be holy, the way that God is holy (1 Peter 1:16), than to succeed in politics, or speaking well, or anything else? The same way that Euthydemus sought to rely on his books to bring him wisdom, I seek to rely on my own works to bring me into holiness, when only the sanctifying work of the Spirit will do.

Yes, sanctification will be painful at times, and hard. But we are called to be like Jesus in "doing all things and enduring all things for the sake of following the judgment of those teachers in everything." Jesus followed His teacher even unto death, shame, and separation from His eternal Father. And do I balk at having to give up some hobby or material possession that has become an idol in my heart? As the writer of Hebrews says, of me as much as of anyone, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4)

*

I very much enjoyed Xenophon, and am glad to have made his acquaintance. It does make me chuckle that such a rebel would be revered by (political) conservatives. I suppose he seceded himself from Athens to Sparta.

Next is Isocrates, who is turning out to be an enjoyable handful. I might have two posts on him. One on the first two excerpts, and one on his Antidosis.

Adoption

If you haven't yet read through my family's adoption blog, it might interest you to know that my wife and I are in the process of adopting through the state (DSS). We are waiting to be approved, and then will have to wait to be placed. So unfortunately, the flurry of activity is over, and now it is on to the slow wait.

We have also been involved in starting an Orphan Ministry at our church (Clemson Presbyterian Church). The ministry is having its first meeting to raise awareness in our congregation and the surrounding community about the plight of orphans in the United States and around the world, and what we as Christians can do about it.

If you are going to be in the Upstate South Carolina area tomorrow, please consider joining us. We will have a panel of speakers giving their personal experiences with adoption and fostering, and time for discussion and questions as well (details below).

Here is a little thing I wrote detailing the meeting, and why people should consider coming. I gave this as an announcement in church a few weeks ago, but I will post it here.





In his book Reclaiming Adoption, Dan Cruver, the co-founder and president of Together for Adoption, quotes John Piper as saying “Adoption is bigger than the universe.” 

How’s that for a lead in? He goes on to explain that the reason for this is “Because the eternal communion of our triune God is behind, beneath, beside, and above the universe and is the ultimate reason and cause for our adoption.” Adoption was before the universe was, and adoption is part of the purpose for the universe - to bring God the most glory.

Ephesians 5:1 says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” and caring for orphans is no exception. Dr. David Garner, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, in speaking of this, says “Imitating our Father is truly a form of worship, and the decision to adopt a child is a crisp Xerox of our Father’s love for us.”

We can see our call as Christians to care for orphans in James 1:27, which says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Now, we understand that not everyone will be called upon personally to adopt or foster a child, but there are many other ways that you personally, and that we as a church can be involved in caring for orphans and fulfilling our call from God. 

If you are curious about ways that you can help in caring for orphans, whether it be through adoption, fostering, or supporting the families who are adopting and fostering, or finding other ways to support orphan care, please consider coming to the Orphan Ministry’s Awareness meeting, which will be held on March 2nd, from 9 AM to 11 AM. We will have a panel of speakers who will give their personal experiences with fostering and adoption. We will also have a discussion on the theology of adoption, and the philosophy and purpose of the Orphan ministry. Anyone who attends will be able to ask questions of the panel of speakers, as well as give suggestions on how you would like this young ministry to serve you. So this meeting is not just for those considering orphan care, or those currently in the process. It is also for those who have adopted or fostered. We need your experience and expertise to help us help you and others like you. 

We will have child care for children up to 5th grade, but please please let Carling know soon, so she can be prepared with sitters. We will have snacks and coffee as well, and resources for you to take home and pray over.

We would be honored if you would join us for this meeting, to come alongside us in helping Clemson Presbyterian Church and its members fulfill the call from God to care for the fatherless, as He has cared for us.

If you have any questions about the ministry, or the meeting, please come talk to Carling or me, or to Carolyn and Ralph Bolding, or Dena Rapp. Thank you very much.


Thanks for reading. Please consider praying for us as a ministry, as we seek to answer this call.

Conor

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Great Tradition: Plato

The first section in The Great Tradition is a collection of excerpts from several of Plato's works: The Republic, and Laws.

I would like to respond to the excerpt from "Laws," and particularly to the excerpt from Book VII.

This excerpt discusses education. More specifically, it deals with what is appropriate to teach to young men, in order for them to be complete and well rounded. There is some good discussion about the harmful influences of new things on the minds of young people, and I agree with it in a sense.

I do not think that students should not be taught new things (here, I'm speaking because of my intimate experience with English of things like postmodernism and new literary critical theories), but rather that they should be taught those new things, but only after having been armed with the tools of a critical thinker and learner. So, for instance, students, and especially those interested in literature, should read Derrida, and understand him, for Differance is a seminal work on literary theory. But they should only read Derrida after they have had their compasses correctly attuned by significant time spent with the Bible (in particular), and the "great works" (in general). Why? Because then they will have the tools to look at any text or philosophy or worldview, and "...by testing [they] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

However, in setting up intensive Bible and great works study as a prerequisite to other ideas, I am still agreeing with Plato. Children should not be sent to the postmodern wolves without being armed by the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:16-17). This sets limits upon what they learn until a certain age. While I plan to mention different ideas of literary theory in the final month of my junior and senior class (Philosophy and Literature), I will not burden the minds of the seventh grade students with the idea that every truth reflects only a degree of a truth behind it, and so on, so that "Truth" is not, but is eternally referential. They do not yet posses the skills to separate those thoughts as literary theories from those thoughts as a worldview.

Something that I take issue with is the emphasis that Plato places on the role of the government in education. Unless I am mistaken, which is a much greater possibility than I would like to think, Plato seems to think that the "director of education" should be the same person as the "guardian of the law," (page 28 in TGT) which seems to me to be a position of government. Unless by that phrase he means that these men are only the "keepers of the flame," so to speak, and that they are the safeguards of tradition.

The disquieting thing about this position is that this person (the director of education) not only decides what is taught, but also who teaches, and based on his interpretation of how well they know the things to be taught. A quote is in order.



He cannot do better than advise the teachers to teach the young these words and any which are of a like nature, if he should happen to find them, either in poetry or prose, or if he come across unwritten discourses akin to ours, he should certainly preserve them, and commit them to writing. And, first of all, he shall constrain the teachers themselves to learn and approve them, and any of them who will not, shall not be employed by him, but those whom he finds agreeing in his judgment, he shall make use of and shall commit to them the instruction and education of youth. (page 28 in TGT)



Now, I am a recovering libertarian/Christian anarchist, but I fail to see how this fits in with a conservative philosophy of education. I am aware that the times were different, and the structure of Athenian government and it's interaction with religion is different than American government. But even if America were a Christian theocracy, I would have serious issues with the government establishing what is to be taught, and who is to teach it. Would any conservative thinkers disagree with that? Or is this a case of a too-different milieu to transfer it to today's world?

In any case, I enjoyed these readings. I had read the selections from Republic before, but Laws was new to me.

The next post will be on Xenophon, who was completely new to me. I greatly enjoyed his depiction of Socrates and his method of discourse.

The Great Tradition

I have a new plan for this long unattended blog. If you have read any of my other blogs, you know that I have a habit of making grand plans for blogs, and subsequently for failing to follow through. I have no doubt that this plan will turn out in the same way, but hopefully I will get further into it this time.

If you don't know, I am now in my first year of teaching middle and high school English at a private Christian school. This is a school that honors the Trivium, and is seeking to turn back more fully to the classical, Christian way of educating young people.

I had been educated about education in a much more progressive and much less conservative (or truly liberal, if you would like) atmosphere - the public university. So this year has been as much of a learning experience for me as my students. In fact, I would say that my education in the last seven months has been vastly greater, since the students have been exposed to the trivium before, while I had not.

In my effort to become a better teacher, and to become more a more faithful teacher of the good, the true, and the beautiful, I have become more interested in, and have begun to read the "great works of the western world." I did actually take a class at Clemson by that name, but the emphasis was not on reading and appreciating what they had to say for our lives now, but on what they said then, and how we have changed.

One book I have bought and begun to go through is The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on what it Means to be an Educated Human Being (affiliate link below), which is edited by Richard M. Gamble. I have so far only made it through the introduction and Plato sections (both of which are excellent).

However, I am going to seek to be more faithful in constant readings, and I need your help. Each time I finish a section (or an author), I will try to post my reactions and interactions with that text here. If you are a stalwart of classical education or a longtime practitioner of conservative thought (not necessarily just politically), please help me in my understanding of the texts. If you are a hardcore progressive and do nothing but study Derrida and other modern theory (which I still find interesting, maybe to my harm), please give me your thoughts as well.

One thing I would hope, though it seems like a fool's hope on the internet, is that you would first read the original texts first, then respond to my response. I think most of these texts will be in the public domain, and I will try to post links to what I can.

My first post will hopefully be soon on Plato. I have some interesting thoughts on how he seems to contradict modern conservative political philosophy, considering his thoughts on the intrusion of the government into matters such as education, the arts, and even habits.

But more on that later. I hope that God will give me the diligence to keep up with my commitment.