If you attended my workshop at the Association of Classical Christian School’s national conference, Repairing the Ruins, I want to thank you again and offer you some extra notes.
If you did not attend the conference, but stumbled upon this post, here’s my synopsis for the workshop: Modern teachers are often plagued with trivial matters that obscure the goal of classical Christian education: soul formation. It is easy to lose sight of the vision and wonder, “What is a master classical Christian teacher like, and how can I be one?” As teachers refine their craft, they should contemplate the great teachers found in the great works. By examining the works of Plato, Augustine, Boethius, and Dante, teachers will find inspiration for their classrooms and consolation in their trials.
In my talk, I walked the audience through several reflective questions and listed some resources for each work at the end. In case you missed those, I decided to include them here. Below I have listed the passages that inspired my conclusions outlined in the talk as well as some resources and the reflective questions for each work.
While I recommend you read all of the works I have listed in full, I drew inspiration for my talk from the following passages: The Republic, Books 2-4; The Last Days of Socrates, Euthyphro and Apology. These sections and shorter dialogues are worth reading (and re-reading) and discussing in community.
I also recommend the Great Courses series, Masters of Greek Thought, by Robert C. Bartlett. These lectures help me understand the wider context and affirm for me that, yes, even I can understand Greek philosophy.
As you read and research these works, I ask you to also consider for yourself: “What are my questions about life? Am I seeking truth?” These questions are especially pertinent when you hit an impasse with your teaching; this experience is aporia, and while it is not necessarily comfortable, it is also not bad. Write down your questions and find others who want to seek the answers with you. You can even look back at past podcast episodes from Aporia and see if some of the titles (which are always questions) actually apply to you. Maybe give them a listen.
If you haven’t, read all of Augustine’s Confessions. Read it slowly and take in the beauty of his images; I really enjoy the Sheed translation and find the prose easier to read. The sections that I most referenced in my talk were Books 1-3, which tell of his early life.
I also recommend James K. A. Smith’s work On the Road with Saint Augustine. It can be a bit philosophically deep, but I love the helpful modern connections Smith makes. What an excellent work.
Reading Confessions always makes me think: “What motivates my teaching?” When answering this question, I challenge you to think honestly and practically about your daily encounters with students – both those who are excellent and those who are challenging.
Boethius’s work The Consolation of Philosophy is the easiest of the four works from my talk to pick up and read in its entirety if you are looking for a manageable new read. I drew inspiration from Books 1-3 heavily in my talk, but I would encourage you to read Books 4 and 5 as well.
I also recommend Josh Gibbs’s book How to Be Unlucky. It is not so philosophically complex as Smith’s work on Augustine; it follows more as a personal narrative in parts, which results in some fantastic connections and juxtapositions to the contemporary world. I have been thankful for the insight Gibbs offers in this work to help me compose questions for students to discuss.
When I re-read this work, I consider practical ways to answer the question: “How can I be both authoritative and kind?” Each year, I am also reconsidering the question: “What are some misguided beliefs that my students (and I) fall prey to?” It seems like the errors spring up like weeds, yet as I consider the questions, I am asking for discernment from the Spirit to see the errors, especially in my own mind.
I recommend reading all of the Divine Comedy, at least at some point in your life. We too often stop with Inferno, the sewer system of the Dante’s Cosmology (as Dorothy Sayers would say). If you were looking, though, to review or discover the passages that inspired my talk, I would direct you to the following locations: Inferno cantos 1, 5, 11, and 34; Purgatorio cantos 17, 21, 22, 30, and 33; Paradiso cantos 1-2, 10-12, 21, 24, and 33. I love to teach the Musa translation, with all three canticles compiled in the work The Portable Dante, but there are other great translations available.
I also recommend a few different resources for this massive work. There’s the Great Courses series of lectures, Dante’s Divine Comedy, by Ronald B. Herzman and William R. Cook. Likewise, 100 Days of Dante has a video on each canto. The website and the videos are immensely helpful, and I can only sing their praises. The website has even more extensive resources, but my main recommendation: read this work over, and over, and over.
As I re-read the Divine Comedy, I am inspired to consider anew: “How can I, with my own particular interactions and talents, show my students Christ?” God works through particular, humble people. May he open our eyes to help us see how.
There are a few other works that linger in the background of my talk that have, in some way, inspired or affirmed my ideas. If you are looking for a some more reading to extend the conversation that my workshop may have inspired, here are some more general resources on teaching: Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith, Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs, Bible Project’s podcast series on The Tree of Life, The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, Grit by Angela Duckworth, and Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning edited by David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith.
Ultimately, I hope you find life by interacting with all of these great works. May you find yourself planted amongst a long-standing tradition of teaching and root yourself in Christ. If you ever feel lost or at an impasse, I would encourage you to check out our podcast, Aporia, where Tim Dernlan and I discuss the practical questions of classical Christian education with philosophical depth. We have new episodes released every Tuesday. Check out our homepage, explore the website, or contact us with questions to learn more.