Sunday, March 8, 2009

On the Shoulders of Giants

I'm still in the thick of midterms but my brain needs to stretch a little bit outside of the corrals of schoolwork...

My first semester at Franciscan, my Honors professor was Dr. S. Dr. S had a rather unique view of eduation--he thought that people should learn things. Novel, isn't it? He didn't really care at all about your ability to memorize and regurgitate facts. The only test was an oral final, and conversations with my classmates indicate that he gave each student a question based on a point he or she had made in class. Basically, you are expected to think if you take a class with Dr. S, but he does not rigidly compartmentalize you into a "right" way of thinking.

It was in Dr. S's class that I gained my love for the Classics--Homer and Sophocles and Plato and even dear silly Aristophanes. (Don't read him if you can't wade through locker-room humor in order to get to profundity.) None of these authors were Christian (especially not Mr. They Acted This in Respectable Theaters?), and so I had no exposure to them in my uber-Catholic highschool homeschool program. I had never heard of the playwrights, Plato was only a name (strung together with Socrates and Aristotle as if the three were simply extensions of each other, a horrible mischaracterization), and I had read The Iliad only because I have a best friend who calls herself the Greek Geek.

The point of this somewhat rambling post is that I don't at all like the idea first that children should be given textbooks for things like literature and history--bland, dead things, those textbooks. Second, I don't like the idea that they should be given only books that agree with a particular ideology, whether secular or Christian. I have it on good authority that it is almost impossible to read Aquinas unless you have first read Aristotle; the same probably goes for Augustine and the Platonists. We get our religious heritage from the Jews, and so we read the Old Testament (a book which is quite scandalous in its own right in many places...). We get our intellectual heritage from the Greeks and Romans, yet how many people these days have actually read The Odyssey rather than simply reading an oversimplified children's version of the story. How many people have even heard of The Orestia? I don't have the statistics that would answer that question. I just know that my kids are going to know all of those titles before they leave home for college.


Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, but will your children -- OK, would most normal children -- be able to comprehend The Oresteia in high school? And there is something to be said for distilling the key points of the classics into one consolidated textbook rather than having to read each one of them--why, you'd never finish school.


Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Mweheheh, _I_ understood the Oresteia in high school. She just wants her kids to be like her dad.

(I will grant you, I'd only have understood half as much without the wonderful literature tutor I had, but... she is so un-textbook-like, on so many levels.)

The Sojourner said...


Well, that depends. Have they been fed intellectual gruel their entire lives? I think a person of average intelligence could easily comphrehend the basics of classical works at 14 or 15 provided their minds were nutured properly. (Back in the days when most kids didn't go to school past 12, that's about the age when upper-class [not necessarily above-average in intelligence] boys were translating Classical works.)

You don't have to read all the Classics--but I don't think it would really take that long to get a good overview. I got a good portion of Greek lit in 1 semester. Most of the plays are quite short; The Orestia (a trilogy) makes a fairly thin book, and that's including copious explanatory material.

Galadriel said...

I read and comprehended the Orestia my first year in high school (with the help of my best teacher ever).

I didn't enjoy the real Odyssey as much as I think I would have if I had not read the children's version first. As it was, I guess I didn't appreciate it as much. I definitely liked the Iliad better. Gore! (=0

I mostly got compelled to post because something you said seemed a little wrong: "We get our religious heritage from the Jews, and so we read the Old Testament (a book which is quite scandalous in its own right in many places...)."
Are you saying that the Old Testament is on the same level as Plato and Aristotle?

Em said...

I fear that I stand as living proof that one can not only comprehend (at least on a basic level) such works as the Orestia in 9th grade, but also that one can finish school after reading non-consolidated works in addition. :)

But, I would offer you a bit of caution, Megan: you might end up with weird kids who want to be Classics majors, haha.

Becky D. said...

What Dad was trying to do in the first comment is defend your past education and teacher for me? I was a bit hurt by your post. I don't think you can say you were ill prepared for college work by your homeschooling days and you are getting the opportunity to study the all those classics now in honors.


The Sojourner said...


Are you saying that the Old Testament is on the same level as Plato and Aristotle?

In a certain sense, no. One is the inspired word of God, the others are the writings of some Greek dudes who got some things right and some things very wrong. But in another sense, I think a lot of us read our Bible stories and don't go much deeper than that. Maybe it's different in Protestant churches, but Catholics generally don't study the Bible in a scholarly way--we have Bible studies, but from what I've seen they're mainly just reading the Bible and reflecting on what it means for you personally. That's a good thing and necessary but I do think Bible scholarship is lacking somewhat. According to my Bible professor, most Biblical scholars these days are atheists. (He used to be a Dutch Reformed pastor, too, so I'd hope he's not just offering a biased Catholic perspective.) I apologize for speaking carelessly in my post; one of my worst writing habits is referring to things that exist only in my mind and expecting my readers to understand.


I'm sorry my post hurt you.

I don't think you can say you were ill prepared for college work by your homeschooling days

I never said that. And I never said you were a bad teacher, either. I just think there is room for improvement in programs like Seton. I can think I got a good education and still say I'd do differently with my own kids, can't I?