Connections: One Benefit of an Integrated Curriculum


There is a lot of conversation about the Liberal Arts these days.  This is a good thing.  In the midst of many reevaluating the Progressive model of men like Dewey, while still holding that the traditional L.A. model does not fit the 21st Century, many seem to be calling for something altogether new.  This article about Connecticut College is just one of many I have come by recently.  One great result of these discussions in a renewed interest in integrating the curriculum.

If all truth is one, and it is, then anything taught is connected to any other thing taught.  The Ancients had that much down pat.  As a faculty seeks to cultivate its graduate, it should carefully consider how each part of its program forms that graduate.  What unique and necessary aspects of the desired graduate come only or mostly by the study of language?  Or math?  Or the arts?  Given the full range of development best epitomized in the Liberal Arts degree, each course should its piece to the assembling puzzle.

I am not a big fan of the term efficiency.  All too often it only succeeds in sucking the humanity out of whatever endeavor it is applied to.  But in this case I can argue for the efficiency of a whole faculty working together for one end: its desired graduate.  I would accept the knock on this view that it removes diversity and individuality if I did not see that such an education best prepares each graduate to realize their own humanity, their own goals and dreams, by giving them as broad and human an education as is possible.  The most efficient education, in the end, does not seem to one of specialization, but one that prepares each student as fully as possible for as much as is possible.

May each faculty of each school enjoy the conversation about integration and the role each course plays in forming a complete person.  God bless the Liberal Arts and its efficient manner.


Truth and Imitation

I have written before on both these topics (see here, and here,  for blogs on Truth).  I can’t lay my hands on specific blogs about imitation, but in short we have discussed how the act of imitating great examples is central to good education.

But I want to focus on the connection between them here.  To the extent that Truth becomes relative, imitation becomes less possible.  If imitation is key to gaining the necessary arts (skills) that allow men to be free, then when such imitation becomes less possible, education becomes less liberal.


When I call a student to imitate a master, be it myself or some more masterly folk of yore, I am stating that the art to be imitated is truly exemplified in the sample being imitated and to that extent is therefore objectively true.  But when I don’t believe, or the student does not believe, or a society has chosen not to believe that truth can be objectively known, then my assertion of a master sample becomes less powerful, something more like a suggestion.

If we give up on the basic tenets that Socrates taught us (that truth exists, can be known, and can be communicated) and swallow instead the ancient and modern fallacies of the Sophist (which are the opposite of those tenets) then we disable the powerful teaching mode of imitation.

This is worthy of way more meditation than I am giving it here.  I think about this often when I am teaching students literature (what gives us the right to say these stories are worthy of study?) and composition (what makes the Greek notions of Rhetoric so worthy of modern imitation?) and the like.  I would love to discuss such with other educators as we are able.

Minding the Columns

Mortimer J. Adler and his collaborators in the Paideia Proposal, should be viewed from the current vantage point as an important but mostly failed attempt to recover the Liberal Arts in the early 1980’s.  That happens to be when I was beginning to consider the art of teaching for myself in college.  Many of the arguments that the Paideia Group made struck me as mandated by the system, the government school system, that they were seeking to reform.  In other words, they only suggested certain reforms or principles because those fit the public school system.  Fixing a broken thing is much different from trying not to become broken.

But a very useful and positive distinction was made by the group, one that I have written only briefly on in this blog, and that was several years ago.  So I am going to pump the volume a little on the great discussion in the Paideia Proposal of the Three Columns of learning.  I will briefly overview them here, then draw each out more in succeeding blogs.

So I’ll briefly overview them here, then draw each out more in succeeding blogs.t discussion in the Paideia Proposal of the Three me caveats are required up front.

  • The columns overlap. They are not cut and dried distinctions, but rather something like a continuum upon which all learning lies.
  • While practical things come from contemplating these columns, they are not themselves necessarily “practical” in the sense of directly applying to a lesson, but rather lie behind the lesson and the teacher’s understanding of what is happening in a lesson.
  • “Skills” is a very oily word these days in education. John Dewey is probably to blame for that.  He emphasized in his form of progressive education a much different meaning for “skills” development than what Adler and his bunch meant by the term.  Dewey was seeking to instill skills that brought one into societal awareness and becoming a part of the collective.  Adler is speaking of those skills necessary to pursue truth, or in other words, the Liberal Arts.  The corrolation of a “skill” with the ancient notion of “art” can be read about here.

Without further ado, here is a chart of the three columns as presented in the Paideia Proposal:

Columns Content Ideas Skills
Goals Acquiring organized knowledge Embodiment of Virtuous Ideas Development of the Skills needed for Learning
Means Questioning




Mimetic Sequence with Socratic Questioning Coaching



Supervised Practice

Classical Trivium Grammar Logic


More will be coming in the weeks to come.

This is a list of related posts that came after this introductory one:

  1. Contents Under Pressure – First column, Content
  2. What is the Big Idea? – major points on Second column, Ideas

The Slow Death of Liberal Thinking

I shock my US History students every year by stating that I am a Liberal Conservative.  This is because both of those terms have been hijacked.  I love people and wish to see them free in every good sense of that word.  That makes me a Liberal (in stark contrast to how it is often used today).  And I love mankind in a way that wants to conserve the best of our thought and conversation from the past in a way that makes our move toward the future wise and happy.  That makes me a Conservative (again in stark contrast to the way many would use that term today).


I was part of a discussion this morning that was discussing the contrast in means and ends between what was called a Liberal Arts Education and a Utilitarian Education.  The first seeks to bring a student into a place where they have acquired the arts necessary to aid them in a lifetime pursuit of wisdom and virtue.  The second simply seeks to produce a wealthy and satisfied person who is comfortably numb.  While much good was said and many points raised for pursuing both kinds of education, especially in college, there was a poignant moment when one young man brought me up short.

He stated something I have often guessed out but had never heard put into words before.  “Nothing against you teachers,” he stated, “but it seems like all these questions that concern a Liberal Arts person are questions only old people are really wanting to answer.  Young people just don’t care about these things.”  Another student responded by saying she did not know that it was apathy, but ignorance.  I chimed in that when given even a basic level of facility with thought and philosophy I have found most young people engaged by the great questions.  When I was young, restless, and seeking answers, I found people and places that provided me with some level of instruction in seeking truth.  Do my young charges any such places to turn to?  I think there are still places where the Liberal Arts are applauded, but not as much as prior times provided.

I hope I am helping to push back this loss of life, this loss of how to learn, this position of being chained in front of a cave wall.  God’s Spirit alone can fully unchain the human heart.  May He use me as He desires.  “Bunch of old people” in deed.  Eternally I am young in the pursuit of He Who is True, Good, and Beautiful.

A Deepening Contemplation

I have been spending a lot of time lately trying to think with others about how the seven liberal arts, the four sciences, a Christian idea of epistemology, and the modes of knowledge of all work together.  It is deep, demanding, and greatly rewarding.  If you have not seen it, here is a chart from James Taylor that has fed much of my thought.

It is from page 44 of his work, Poetic Knowledge, which I highly value and highly recommend.

Taylors Chart of Knowledge

What is Education, part 236?

I just can’t get past this basic question.  I don’t want to get past it.  Coming back to center and “base” is fundamental to maintaining a sane position in a world whirling out of control.  It is my attempt to overturn the notion that “the center cannot hold.”  And as I am back in the classroom at least part time, it is necessary to keep asking this one question over and over.  The “236” of the title is not literal, and both literally and figuratively is way too low a number.  I have asked the question perhaps thousands of times by now.


In my own thinking, here is the outline in short form:

Education is…

  1. Toward the objectives of wisdom and virtue (not to be distinguished so much as intertwined as really one objective = wisdom being shown by virtue, virtue informed by wisdom).
  2. As such then, it is the forming of proper appetites, or affections, or loves.
  3. The proper object of this love is God, found in all that is True, Good, and Beautiful.
  4. As love demands action (what the student does) as well as orientation (what his appetites lead to) I must distinguish and address what the student loves, knows, and is able to do.
  5. What a student is able to do is developed through the human “arts” (of which the Medieval educators were able to distinguish seven arts that lead to liberty, the seven liberal arts).  What the student knows is circumlocuted in the four sciences.
  6. Therefore, while I must and am always concerned about the content of what my students are learning (that is important, accurate, clear, memorable, etc.) I must also be equally (?) or even more concerned about what abilities are being enacted in their lives (are they becoming better at thinking, reading, listening, speaking, writing, etc.?).  And behind all this is the question of affection.  While they are becoming wiser and more virtuous, how is the ethos of my instruction bringing them to the right affections and then helping them order those affections rightly?
  7. And finally, how does one assess all this in any way even approaching wisdom and virtue itself?  At times it seems like all is going well until this last question is raised.  How can one human benchmark wisdom and virtue in another, or even more importantly, as I am standing in at the request of a parent who is ultimately responsible for assessing the wisdom and virtue of their child, how can I the teacher approximately assess the attainment of wisdom and virtue in my student and then communicate that to the parent in any manner that is loving, humane, and clear?  It is easier if we don’t insist upon it being “objective” or communicated through a “number.”

Whatever education is, it is not easy, quick, generalized, or for the faint of heart.

Arts and Sciences

I mentioned in my post on Assessment that one of the major issues we face in reforming education is unraveling the severe confusion over the arts and sciences.  I have said this before but it bears repeating.  Until we first form the Liberal Arts in our students and then lead them into the four sciences, all four of them, education will be misdirected and confused in our land.

In short, the Arts are seven:  three for dealing with words (Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric) and four for dealing with number or matter (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy [harmony]).  These encompass acts that one must perform with words and numbers.  They cannot be confused with the Sciences, which are the ideas and facts pertaining to the spheres of life.  The four sciences include, in ascending order, The Natural Sciences (that which is accessible to our senses), The Ethical Sciences, The Philosophic Sciences, and Theology.  There are all kinds of observations to be made about these lists, but the recovery of their reality, importance, hierarchical structure, and order is needed before education can really be understood.

And as we live in culture that is or already has actively sought to overthrow Theology (God is Dead), Philosophy (Truth is relative), and Ethics (Morals are man-made) is left with only one science, and has made that the entirety of authoritative truth (Natural Science).

One more thing I think adds to this reflection.  I have been reading in Richard Weaver and he is developing the idea that Form can become dangerous when it is worshiped.  His point is that whenever man finds a form that provides some delight or meets some desire, he runs the risk of idolizing that Form and thus devolving the delight into slavery or mindless slavery that in turn becomes a destroyer of the men who worship it.

I think this is the point I am finding in Salman Kahn’s book on his efforts at reforming education.  After examining the history of our modern classroom system (which he correctly attributes to the Prussian system of the later 19th century) he then asks if we have held onto this form past its time.  I am not sure the form ever was “right” or sound, but it rose to become the form of our system, and now may very well be the main barrier to real education occurring our day.  How I would love to gather a group of educators and discuss the form at length.  I think far too much has been set forth as educational reform that seeks to change dresses on the corpse.  We should be looking at the form more and the then once we have the right form, seeking to fill it correctly.

Is this not one of the joys of the small scale of home schooling?  Why do many try to structure their home school in the same patterns (forms) as that of the Prussian model?  Just think Weaver is on to something here.

arts and sciences