Forward: The Liberal Arts Tradition

Paideia July 27, 2015

1. It’s “divisive.” It’s not what everyone else is doing. It marches to the beat of a different drummer. It cultivates excellence rather than conformity. Yes it does. And this is actually sometimes used as an objection rather than a selling point!

2. It’s old, outdated, unfashionable. Yes it is, like honor, courage, integrity, and honesty. It doesn’t try to tell the truth with a clock; it doesn’t practice chronological snobbery. In an age which has embraced every novelty, the true rebel is the traditionalist.

3. It’s not in line with modern philosophies: skepticism, cynicism, subjectivism, relativism, naturalism, positivism, scientism, socialism. That’s exactly right. It’s not. It’s counterculture. It harnesses teenagers’ natural proclivity to rebel and turns that force against “the bad guys” who are now the “establishment” instead of against “the good guys.”

4. It’s “judgmental.” It believes there really is good and bad, true and false. The typical modern education is judgmental only against being judgmental, and skeptical of everything except skepticism.

5. It’s small. It’s private. It’s grassroots. It’s implemented mainly in small schools, not big ones. This is true, and it’s another plus rather than a minus. “Small is beautiful.” The bigger the school, the more the person tends to get lost in the system and get identified with his or her race, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, or political party.

6. It seeks truth for its own sake, not primarily for pragmatic uses. It aims at wisdom, not wealth. It makes its graduates philosophers instead of millionaires. This is also true. But it’s not a fault. As Chesterton says, “Man’s most practical need is to be more than a pragmatist.”

7. It’s not specialized. It doesn’t teach underwater basket weaving or pickling and fermentation, so to speak. It doesn’t teach you clever ways to outguess the government, or lawyers, or your teacher, or the standardized tests. It just teaches you how to think and how to live. But businesses, law schools, and government agencies don’t want specialist drones; they want people who can read read and write and think logically and creatively.

8. It’s religious. It’s Christian. And, just like the other seven silly objections to it, this one too is really an advertisement for it. Yes, it doesn’t pretend that the most important man who ever lived never lived, as our public education now does. It assumes that the supernatural is not the enemy to the natural, that grace prefects nature rather than demeaning it, as light perfects color.

If this gives you pause, ask yourself, “Have I been indoctrinated in the public school system.” Believe it or not, the public school is the established church of secular society. It neglects the whole person. For a life that is free and not slavish, we need something else.

It is The Liberal Arts Tradition.


Today I whipped up french toast soldiers, read a collection of stories about a curious monkey, built a space ship, battled neighboring pirates, consoled, corrected, and encouraged, all before lunch.

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