COLORADO, November 20, 2012 – America is culturally, intellectually and morally adrift because most of its citizens are ignorant of our nation’s cultural, intellectual and moral heritage.
I have a new honor-student slogan. But it’s too long for a bumper sticker: My student can recite the principal pharaohs of Egypt, “Jabberwocky,” 10 Latin numbers, and the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
This is all true of my third-grader, who also rides horses, attends Sunday school, and plays piano. But this column isn’t about my family. It is about encouraging you and other Americans to restore liberty to our country by pursuing a basic classical education.
I’m proposing that the best way to restore our republic is for as many Americans as possible to classically educate themselves. I’m proposing that our very culture must be renewed, that our country must restore the foundations of western civilization in order for freedom to flourish.
Politicians and bureaucrats cannot reform society. But you can. So I challenge you and your children to pursue a classical education on your own, for America’s sake. Turn off the television and other distractions. Go to the library and restore America, one good book at a time. Renew your country by renewing your mind.
I homeschool my daughter using “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home,” an 800-page tome by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. But anyone can follow classical principles, which include reading excellent literature and history, memorizing important historical facts, and learning to write and think logically.
The intrepid Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in “Little Town on the Prairie” that at age 15, in 1882, she and her classmate Ida Brown publicly recited “the whole of American history, from memory.”
Those pioneer girls were classically educated. By this and other anecdotes, Wilder showed that she possessed the same mental tools that people throughout history, such as Alexander the Great, William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson, were given. (The philosopher Aristotle was Alexander’s tutor.)
Why learn memorization or logic or recitation? The British writer Dorothy Sayers, in her 1947 essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” explained that these practices train — and arm — the mind.
“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary,” she wrote. “By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.”
How would classically educated Americans behave today?
They would reason logically enough to fling back the lies of the politicians and the media. For instance, they would recognize personal attacks (ad hominem arguments) as fallacies and would reject them. Here’s a famous ad hominem argument: “Ron Paul is crazy because of his non-interventionist foreign policy.”
Citizens who have read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would not work for the TSA. They would refuse to accept taxpayer money for molesting their fellow passengers on life’s highway.
They would know the Declaration of Independence says they “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Knowing this, they would protest the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). They would refuse to vote for any politician who approves of those provisions, which allow for citizens to be detained indefinitely without trial, even on American soil.
They would understand that freedom of religion extends beyond church services. They would protest Obamacare and any other laws that force citizens to fund activities abhorrent to their conscience and moral code.
How do you begin to reclaim the foundations of western civilization for yourself and the next generation? One classic tale at a time, one historical fact at a time, one grammatical sentence at a time, one logical argument at a time.
Start in your local children’s library, and then branch out. Get all kinds of books, including audio books to play in the car.
- See memoriapress.com and peacehillpress.com for classical learning resources.
- Learn formal logic, and then read newspapers to see how many fallacies you find.
- To practice writing, send letters to the editor and to your local and federal representatives, protesting unconstitutional actions.
- Memorize and recite poetry.
- Read children’s Bibles, Aesop’s fables, tales from the “Arabian Nights,” and Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse myths.
- Read The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, David Catrow’s “We the Kids,” Fiona Macdonald, James Rumford, Kathleen Krull and David A. Adler.
- Download the Declaration of Independence copywork and handwrite the text.
- Read Lois Burdett’s “Shakespeare Can Be Fun!” series and retellings of classic literature by Rosemary Sutcliff, Margaret Hodges and Geraldine McCaughrean.
- Don’t miss: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Lewis Carroll, P.L. Travers, J.M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, E.B. White and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
- Listen to classical music, and read about composers.
- Write blogs, or find other ways to share what you learn.
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