The Classical Curriculum

I don’t think I’ve posted this on this blog before, but if I have please pardon me. I wrote this over at the wonderful WTM board when someone asked about whether CiRCE has a curriculum. Here’s my cheeky and useless answer:

Our curriculum is the seven liberal arts plus drawing, painting, and sculpture. Does that completely and totally answer your question? OK, I’ll make my answer even worse. We believe that classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty.

That being the case, 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.

Thanks for enduring to the end!

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