Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Suggested Readings for Public Schools
adopting a Classical Curriculum

What follows are my initial recommendations and rationale for a basic reading list of essential works for parents, administrators, faculty and students engaged in a Classical Education through a Public School.   As I do not claim to know the answers. my intentions are to pursue some sort of mutual understanding.  My hope is that you will gladly contribute your recommendations into the mix:

Why the need for a public school to have such a list?
While there exist many readily available accounts which praise and encourage a need for Classical Education, the difficulty for Public Schools wishing to adopt a Classical Curriculum lay in that the majority of these essays and books inadequate.  While they often raise good points, they rely heavily upon anecdotes rather than substantive evidence..  
In recent decades, the majority of published works on Classical Education are based neither in academic research in cognitive development, nor are they informed through rigorous academic scholarship which utilizes critical examination of Classical sources through historical methods and textual reception.   More often than not, these works limit the variety of Classical thought -- cutting away significant primary sources which challenge the convictions of the particular market to which they are trying to sell their product.(ironically this strategy alone --i.e. forgoing the pursuit of truth and holding customers in ignorance by marketing for the sake of personal profit -- seems quite contrary to the values of Classical Virtue Ethics)

When speaking to the benefits of Classical Education to the development of moral character, one is immediately drawn to the study of Philosophy.
As Philosophy is the Mother of All Disciplines and at the Heart of Education, I suggest at minimum the following four (4) works: Plato's Apology, Books II and III from Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy; Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance.
[With all of these (or any primary source text) look for a Critical Scholarly Edition in the original language (Brepols Publishers contains the best work replacing a number of the ambitious but faulty 19th century editions produced by Migne and Pitra).  If your Greek and Latin are rusty, look for an English translation based upon the Critical Edition (newer tends to be better as it is based upon much larger amount of primary source materials with large teams of scholars working on producing texts, rather than some of the older (esp, 19th century editions) which tend to be quite biased to a 19th century worldview - but if you are stuck with a 19th century text (like many of my links are), you can be on guard and hopefully find an original text to check their translation.] 

The Allegory of The Cave (Book VII of The Republic): This is the Heart of Education, here is an overview of what Plato wrote, (without the religious interpretation by later commentators).
The following Dialogues are among Plato's earliest and are fairly easy to digest.
     EuthyphroEnglish translation - Commentary & Analysis - Greek text
          (What is Piety?)
     * ApologyEnglish translation - Commentary & Analysis - Greek text
 - This is early work is what really set the stage for Education, Philosophy, Ethics
         "The un-examined Life is not worth living."
Incidentally, here is a fun 15-minute abbreviated Live action Video –
      MenoEnglish translation - Commentary & Analysis - Greek text 
            (What is Virtue?) -- This is the classic!
      The Republic - Started to become known in to the West in the 13th century.  Lots of differing opinions on its meaning - some have taken Socrates literally others as intentionally satirical to demonstrate some of the more ridiculous claims.
   Nicomachean Ethics
     Consolation of Philosophy - Commentary

Anicius Manlius Severinus Bo√ęthius  Last of the Romans - First of the Scholastics.  It is through Boethius that the bulk of Western (Latin language) Classical education was transmitted between the years 525-1200 CE.  Aristotle was largely unknown during this time and the only work of Plato known was his Timaeus, which was transmitted via commentaries.  Most all other authoritative learning came through basic encyclopedic works such as Isidore of Seville's Etymologies.

Before Boethius death, he planned on translating all of the works of Plato and Aristotle into Latin with hopes of integrating their Philosophical views.  The very brief but extremely influential Consolation of Philosophy, touches upon many of the themes expressed by both Plato and Aristotle – which is why I start students with it.  Some of the more famous Translations are by King Alfred (who translated it into Anglo-Saxon) and Chaucer, (Middle English), and Queen Elizabeth I into Modern English.  
While Boethius was a Christian, there are no overt Christian references in Boethius' Consolation (though many subsequent vernacular translations (including those mentioned above) have interpreted  it thus-as they have tended to do with many works, including those by Plato and Aristotle)   The Consolation is a short work comprised of 5 books.  For the sake of the current topics,  I highly recommend reading Books II, and III.   Here is a quick synopsis of the entire work with a link specifically to the issue of “Happiness”
Memorial and Remonstrance
A common theme running through every generation since the time of Socrates, has been that only a certain type of educational philosophy can restore virtue by delivering both academic rigor and moral character in students as contemporary times seem to be falling ever further into decadence .Such a heated conversation took place in the Virginia State Legislature in 1785 (two years before the US Constitution was ratified). 

One of the best arguments demonstrating that Virtue education extends beyond particular Faith traditions was penned by the classically educated, James Madison (4th President of the US and “Father of the Constitution."  The work is his 15 point argument entitled “Memorial and Remonstrance.”

A contextual history and rhetorical overview of James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance (1785) by Dr. Eva Brann of St. John's College.  In this essay, Dr. Brann demonstrates some of the best type of informative historical scholarship.

In most of these seminal works regarding moral philosophy, especially with regard to the branch known as "Virtue Ethics."  We come across terms like Happiness, Virtue, Truth, Beauty, Goodness.  These terms are not easily rendered into our modern sense as we tend to use them in ordinary casual every day speak.  For example, Jefferson's "Pursuit of Happiness" is not a license to base self serving behavior, but carries a much older and storied pedigree in Philosophical dialog.

Some recommended sources:
“Happiness” is what Aristotle refers to as Eudaimonia

The Ethics of Plato

* Here is a chapter from the book entitled, “Philosophy: The Basics” by Nigel Warburton The book is an absolutely accessible and easy to read intro to the basic issues of Philosophy, and this chapter “Right and Wrong” serves us as a good introduction into the topic of Virtue Ethics (and Ethics in general)

Overview of Virtue Ethics in Plato and Aristotle

On Classical Education: History and Methods
The Seven Liberal Arts and Classical Scholarship by David L. Wagner -- If you are serious about learning the history of Classical Education (the Trivium & the Quadrivium), START with this text.  It is intended as an overview for an academic audience (and its kind of old -published over 30 years ago) but it is still a recommended introductory source for scholars.

Socratic Method

Constructivism AND Instructivism

Logical Fallacies

(these works are not critically evaluated, but nonetheless have served to inspire.  For more on tips on how to analyze a source, please visit the quick guide
Works by Classical Scholars
  College is not a Commodity - By Dr. Hunter Rawlings, Classics Professor and 17th President of the Univeristy of Iowa
  Art of the Lecture (newspaper op-ed)
  Why Post Modernism Isn't New - A Classical op-ed rooted in source study

Works by English Literature Scholars and Enthusiasts
(see my critique of these influential but problematic works here)
  The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Bauer
  The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers
  The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America - Gene Edward Veith, Jr. PhD  and Andrew Kern


  1. Freedom - Liberty - Happiness

    In particular the loose interpretation of the meaning of "Freedom." In brief, When the Founders of our Nation were writing about Freedom, Liberty and Happiness, They were not speaking casually. They were speaking from a learned perspective; continuing the dialog which stems from Plato and Aristotle, though the likes of Cicero & Boethius all the way through the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Founders expected us to continue in this same dialog. And they expected us to be smarter, more diligent and NOT lazy in our discussions.
    For the Founders (and those aforementioned authors) Freedom and Liberty do not mean giving into ones desire to do and say whatever they want. Liberty, as used by the Founders, carries with it the understanding that Humans are social beings as part of a society. It is our reason which guards us against our instincts to "do what we want" This is what separates us from the "Brutes" or "Libertines" Literature from the mid-late 18th century abounds with this play on words distinguishing the Free from the Libertine (Mozart/daPontes "Don Giovanni" probably the most famous example)
    In the past 30 years those who exercise Liberty in this Classical sense are often derided in a pejorative as being "thin skinned" or "Politically Correct."
    Fortunately today we have more free access to source materials than generations past. We can easily read the Nicomachean Ethics, Consolation of Philosophy, the works of John Locke, David Hume et al. We can go to the online Library of Congress and even the John Adams library online and freely read not only the books he read, but also (what we historians love!) his handwritten notes in the margins so that we can know what he was thinking.
    But I will close with a quote from Henry Home, Lord Kames whose works inspired our own nations founders when drafting the Declaration:
    "It is probable, that in the following particular, man differs from the brute creation. Brutes are entirely governed by principles of action, which, in them, obtain the name of instincts. They blindly follow their instincts, and are led by that instinct which is strongest for the time. It is meet and fit they should act after this manner, because it is acting according to the whole of their nature. But for man to suffer himself to be led implicitly by instinct or by his principles of action, without check or control, is not acting according to the whole of his nature. He is endued with a moral sense or conscience, to check and control his principles of action, and to instruct him which of them he may indulge, and which of them he ought to restrain. This account of the brute creation is undoubtedly true in the main: whether so in every particular, is of no importance to the present subject, being suggested by way of contrast only, to illustrate the peculiar nature of man."
    Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion.

  2. A few points raised by James Madison (Father of the U.S. Constitution and 4th President of the United States) in 1785:
    "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man:..."
    "...Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation."
    "Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?"