Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute


Classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty.

We cultivate wisdom by interaction with the "real world" (gardens, pets, home business, etc.) and great ideas expressed in great works of art. I don't really care which great works of art (books, music, painting, etc.) you encounter (except that you have to include The Bible and Homer), just so you do it fully engaged. This is the tradition you hand on to your children.

We cultivate virtues by identifying and training them: the moral virtues, the intellectual virtues, and the physical virtues.

A virtue is an ability that has been refined to excellence.

A curriculum focuses on the intellectual virtues, so here you concentrate on language arts (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and mathematical arts (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), using those great books again.

You look continually for the true, the good, and the beautiful and you "gaze on them" when you find them. You discuss great books, historical events, etc. etc.

I'm not a big fan of subjects, as they are an application of 20th century mistakes to education and they tend to lead to shallow thinking about lots of things, which is a waste of a good mind's time.

I prefer the "tools of learning." So study Latin, Greek, Logic, Rhetoric, maths, music, fine arts, etc. so that your children learn to perceive reality from the soul.

You'll need subjects for the transcripts, but to that end I recommend you draw them out from what you teach in the 7 liberal arts and the fine arts. It's easier than it sounds.

Let's say you are teaching grammar (which includes reading at a high level). You read Julius Caesar and give your child credit for English, History, and whatever else your state or preferred college is looking for. It really isn't hard.

As for the natural sciences, I'd begin with gardening (biology, chemistry, and physics combined and alive) and pet care. Have them observe closely and learn everything they can about something they love. That will necessarily grow into something more technical at the right time and in the right way.

If there are other things you want your children to learn (and I don't know what would stand outside this), then just add it.

I'll bet this was perfectly useless, wasn't it?

I've been told it's idealistic, but what people often really mean by that is that they don't think it will get kids into college. I totally and vehemently disagree. I agree with Plautus who said:

Virtus praemium est optimum

"Virtue itself is the highest reward"

He then went on to enumerate how everything else depends on virtue. We can't have the everything else that we want without virtue, but we won't have virtue if we seek everything so hard that we don't nourish the goose that lays the golden egg.

And the goose is nothing other than virtue.

One last word (really): do not be intimidated by the fear that you might miss something. If you cultivate wisdom and virtue and stay focused on that, your purposefulness will transcend the details. You'll find what you need when you need it. It's not easy, but it's much, much simpler than we've made it.

Let me begin with this insistence: we must teach our children from rest, and not from anxiety.

The most important thing we must do as teachers/parents is to never let anxiety be our guide. It led Abraham into serious folly, and it kept Martha from hearing our Lord's words.

In James we read, "The wisdom from above is first pure..." The word for pure means simple. Pure water is simple. It is nothing but water.

Wisdom from above is nothing but wisdom. It drives away anxiety. We need this wisdom to inhabit our souls. That does not mean that we need to attain perfect wisdom before we start teaching, but that we need to "enter into" that wisdom before we teach. It's a relationship with Wisdom, not a memorization of His words.

In that relationship, He will give you words to memorize, but He'll also give you time to memorize them. Outside of that relationship, you might memorize lots of His words and never enter into His wisdom.

It's like Mary and Martha. Jesus didn't tell Martha it was OK to be busy, but Mary should also be left alone. He told her that "only one thing is needful and Mary has chosen that good part," which implies that Martha had not.

However, Jesus knew and loved Martha. I have a theory about what happened after the Biblical story ended (by the way, you can read this story in Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42. It's short.).

I think Jesus spoke peace into Martha's soul after she was willing to receive it, which required that she physically set aside her anxieties and cares and physically sit down and listen to Him. I think she eventually calmed down and was totally receptive to what He was saying. And then I think He turned to her and said, "Martha, would you please get me a cup of tea?"

He created her to serve and knew that it was the delight of her heart to serve. That was why He wanted to cleanse it (her impulse to serve) of anxiety. She'd lost the pleasure and was driven by cares and worries.

I've learned over the years that teachers and especially home schooling moms have a lot of anxiety to deal with. You have an awful lot to be worried about. But you can't let that anxiety become your guide. If you do, then you will teach anxiety to your children instead of the peace you so earnestly seek.

So when I envision a week of teaching, the first thing I envision is the personal commitment to stay in His rest. Get there at the beginning of the day and stay there. Each day.

Things are going to happen, so I'm not talking about legally binding yourself to 60 minutes of prayer and Bible Study before the kids are up. I would suggest something simpler. Have some simple prayer that you pray every morning and keep in your heart throughout the day. For me, I have to keep it very short because I am very prone to anxiety and egotism. This prayer works very well for me:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner."

It works especially well when I want to murder my 16 year old for not holding his pencil correctly or when I have those moments of insanity when I think I am somebody when I am nothing.

From that state of rest you will know what your children need to learn and you will be able to discuss things without worrying about passing tests and getting into college.

So here's an attempt to move closer to the week for a high school student.

He should learn Latin, ideally from someone who knows it like Wes Callihan or Fritz Hinrichs or John Van Fossen. If you know it and have time, teach it. If not, get someone else to do it. If you can't afford that, get him Henle's Latin and tell him you want him to use it and that it is hard and boring, but at least he'll know what's expected of him.

He should study Latin for 40-60 minutes/day, preferably in 20 minute chunks.

He should learn math on the same pattern (someone who knows it, etc.). 40-60 minutes/day would be a great amount of time. He should learn math by thinking about it and exercising it, not by learning processes for their own sake. If he can't hear numbers sing, find a teacher who can and get him to play for him.

He should read deeply, which means letters (history, literature, etc.). But you should focus on reading deeply, not doing the subject, which follows.

The way to plunge head first into the depths of a book is not to do a literary analysis, but to ask the question at the heart of every story: Should he have done that (or: what should he do)?

By answering that question, he'll learn how to read and how to think. It also makes it easier for you to discuss the book with him, because all you need to do is ask questions that help him dig more deeply.

Character arcs, plots, themes, settings, etc. will begin to matter when you approach stories this way. It applies to history as much as it does to literature.

He should write an essay every three weeks on what he is reading if you follow the LTW pattern. You can add other forms of writing if you like, but don't assign a lot of writing because you won't be able to keep up with assessing it, which is only slightly less important than his act of writing itself. Of course, he should be encouraged to keep a commonplace book or a journal, but not required, which rather defeats the point.

Science is a little trickier, because he's so close, agewise, to actually being able to do science, as opposed to just learning about it (which is really what he can do with history, literature, philosophy, etc.). If he has good background in logic and grammar and observation, etc. he should be encouraged to explore his own scientific questions.

However, he also needs to learn the history of science and the great scientific discoveries and theories. This should be taught, but not as a goal, as context. If he likes engines, let him study the history and development of the engine very closely. That will provide links and connections to the wider world of scientific discovery.

But what you want him to learn in science classes is how to think like a scientist, which includes background knowledge, ordering and cataloging information, and looking for truth by any means necessary, with an analytical/critical approach.

Prayer and time in the scriptures should probably be done separately, though the scriptures will permeate all his thoughts and your discussions, though I would encourage you not to force this. Boys, perhaps, especially seem to find that irritating. Pray when issues come up and at meals and to offer the day to the Lord. Teach them the disciplines and traditions you have learned.

I would like to think he is also drawing at least two or three times a week, so that he can learn to see. The arts are about training the senses, and drawing/painting/sculpture trains one to see like nothing else.

Music trains the ear to hear and should be taught for that reason, regardless of talen or ability. He might never be able to play well, but he'll always be able to hear better if he plays the piano or violin, for example.

I would also recommend he cook at least once a week. This will train the taste buds and the nose. Let him cook literally anything he wants as long as you can afford it. Hot dogs are fine, as are complex and fancy meals. Let him decide.

Other than that, let him study whatever he's interested in. If that is the Green Bay Packers, that's fine. Get four hours of Latin, math, letters, music, art, cooking, and science every day and it's amazing what you can cover. You might even find he's got so much time on his hands he starts reading Jane Austen.

No, that won't happen, but you never know.

This is, again, idealized. But that's because it isn't possible to be specific without a lot more knowledge that is none of my business. But I hope it's helpful.

-Edward Kern, Circe Institute

Lost Tools of Writing