Wisdom and Virtue are Best Learned at Home — A Response to Criticism, by Amy Rose

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We at Sandbox to Socrates are not in the habit of getting offended by strangers on the Internet. We don’t have time for it after our pressing responsibilities of rocking babies, singing nursery rhymes, going on nature walks, standing at kitchen chalkboards teaching sentence diagramming or long division, getting supper on the table, finishing tomorrow’s Hamlet lesson plan, driving our teens to work, washing dishes, spending a little time with our husbands before they fall asleep exhausted after their day, staying up a bit later to read Chesterton and nurse the baby, going to bed to do it all again tomorrow…no. We don’t have time to look for offense. Life is full.

Sometimes, however, offense finds us. As lifelong friends of the classical education revival and frequent readers and purchasers of CiRCE Institute’s work, we were astounded this week to see classical homeschooling attacked in a piece by CiRCE member Josh Gibbs, both in the article itself and in the subsequent discussion. As our staff discussed amongst ourselves the many fallacies in the author’s logic and information, we decided a response was required. The author seems to be whispering to potential homeschooling mothers that classical education is best left to the experts. “Don’t try this at home.” We refute this opinion with the best possible evidence: our own children, who have achieved their classical education at our own kitchen tables under our supervision. The veteran homeschooling mothers at StS are not sitting around wondering whether we will ruin our children if we homeschool. We’re looking at our grown children, knowing that we taught them well. We are here to encourage other parents who desire to do the same.

The following response is the reaction of just one of our contributors as she attempted to take in the dubious wisdom of CiRCE blogger Josh Gibbs’ A Regal Fantasy. While our website is committed to a secular-leaning inclusive perspective, this author is a Christian and is responding to the Christian language and references in Gibbs’ article. The original article, included in its entirety, is bolded and the responses are in normal typeface. All scripture quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. ~Editor

A Regal Fantasy

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return?
By Joshua Gibbs

Mr. Gibbs, when my son stands before the throne of God, he will come as a son returning to his Heavenly Father. As the child of the King, he will have gained some lofty titles: Joint-Heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), part of a holy priesthood (I Peter 2:5), a priest-king after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:21-25), a saint (Romans 1:7), and a pillar in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12) – but when he goes home, he will be going home as a son to his father. In all of scripture I can find nothing about earthly or spiritual monarchs as such greeting Jehovah in heaven on that footing. All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10)…as men. They will be sons of God or not. Nothing else will matter about their station during their earthly life as nothing material exists beyond death. So what does this imagery of an abandoned earthly monarch have to do with us?

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On a Friday night, a stranger knocks at your door and puts into your hands a newborn. The stranger says, “This child is fated to be president of this country in fifty years,” then the stranger runs away, vanishing into the night.

Over the coming weeks and months, you don’t regard the newborn any differently than your own children, who are nine and twelve respectively. As the years pass, though, you come to think of the child very differently than your own.

Not according to the history and literature of the West. Ask King Arthur.

Leader of the free world, you think. The things I put into the mind of this child will someday come to weigh heavily on the heart of the man who makes war. The sense of fairness and justice I grant to this child will someday sway the imagination of the man who considers nuclear war, abortion, the arts, taxation and slavery.

You might think that, or if you are Sir Kay, you might send him out to tend the pigs and sheep because he lives here and there is work to be done. If you are Akki, you might set him to picking apples in the garden. If you are a fisherman who rescued the infant boy and his mother in their wooden box in the sea, fleeing for their lives, you might just teach him to fish.

What is man? Rather, what is the purpose of man? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” according to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13). If the goal is for my child to know the Lord and make Him known, the manner in which I raise him will not vary, whether he is to be butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or king. Whether he is a manager on a construction job, a father in a home, a leader in a church, or governor of the state, his character will need to be of one kind if he is to be both righteous and effective.

If a stranger knocked at my door and placed into my hands a newborn with a prophecy, I would tell him that I only know how to raise children created in the image of God and their destiny is known only by Him. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). “He changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings and setteth up kings…” (Daniel 2:21). Shakespeare acknowledged as much: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” (Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 5).

The Messiah Himself was placed into a humble home, not into a cradle for kings. He wasn’t given to a Lord High Chancellor. He was given to a mother. He was given to a family, to be raised with humble children as one of them. Tell me more about the education of Mary and Joseph, and of their great wealth to be able to send their son to the best schools. Jehovah God knew He was sending the Messiah to poverty-stricken carpenters who would follow their faith while eking out survival in an uneducated community. Yet that is where He placed the King of Kings for His childhood.

As I alluded above, this is an extremely common literary trope in the canon of the West, this idea of an infant monarch being stashed with humble folk for the duration of his childhood. We see it from Holy Scripture to Greek mythology to the early modern era to the post-modern era. People love this idea because it is true to life: Simple and good people are best qualified to raise someone else’s future leaders of the free world because they will bring him up along with their own children and according to their own home values. You assumed the humble folk would begin to treat destiny’s child with more love and care than their own. According to our history and literature, they don’t. They treat him exactly the same or sometimes slightly worse than they treat their own biological offspring.

Mr. Gibbs, as you are a high school English teacher, I’m sure names are already springing to mind, but in case they are not, here are a few: Sargon, Perseus, Alfred the Great, Arthur, Aurora, The Prince and the Pauper, Superman, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. It’s 2014, and the world has largely forgotten Danae’s fisherman friend, Akki, and Sir Kay, but human nature is still quite ready to believe in the humble Kents from Kansas. Why? Because if baby Superman were dropped off on our doorstep we’d raise him the only way we knew how. We’d think in pity that even though he was special, the poor little thing deserved a proper Midwestern upbringing, the same as any child.

At the age of three, the child sees a “Looney Toons” show on television, though you have not shown him any such thing before. You wonder, “Is this the kind of thing I want forming the heart of the most powerful man in the world?” You turn off the television.

Mr. Gibbs, have you raised a man yet? I have. Of all the mistakes I made, a little exposure to Looney Tunes was not one of them. We first met Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and Corot through Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig. (In the hands of Blanc and Jones, Rossini’s Barber of Seville became The Rabbit of Seville, and everyone knows What’s Opera, Doc? Porky Pig frequently walked out in blue smock and black beret, easel and chair under his arm in the fashion of that forerunner of French plein air painting — Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.) Of course, our studies of composers and artists did not end with Looney Tunes, but the laughter and fun are very precious memories. As the mother of four sons I prefer to teach and share with joie de vivre, and I want my sons to be hale and hearty men who can laugh at harmless amusements within their culture. If they cannot, of what use will they be to this world? If they are so hot-housed and removed from those whom they are to serve, they will be useless.

Have you raised leaders yet? I have. I can claim the precious privilege of understanding for myself how George Washington could be better educated than his men, and far more apprising of the grave responsibility they all faced, yet able to joke with them according to their sense of humor. He wasn’t talking down to them either. He was laughing with them.

When the child cries for a toy which has been stripped from his hands, you hesitate a moment before giving the toy back. Yes, you can give the toy back and spare yourself a splitting headache, but years on, will the world receive a leader who cannot counter the difficulty of austerity and asceticism? You deal with the screaming. For the sake of the world, you deal with the screaming. For the sake of just tribunals, you deal with the screaming.

Good parents do not spoil their children, whether they are raising future kings or future ditch diggers, sir. Good parents do not go out of their way to put their children through trials, either – in the godly home, the family endures hardships together. We teach our children to be stoic and brave by being stoic and brave when the inevitable challenges of life come to us.

At the age of four, the child lusts for every sparkling and glittering thing he sees in a mall. You decide the mall is too much… for the child to deal with? No, the mall is too much for the world. You find it hard to see the child as anything other than a fifty year old man, a man with missiles and nuclear submarines and trillions of dollars at his disposal. The child is a child and the child is not a child. The child is but a child and must be treated like an angel. The child is a man and must be treated like a monk, like an abbot. When the child lies, you correct world currency markets. When the child strikes a playmate, you cut off preemptive strikes and encourage leniency—the kind of leniency which spares the lives of women and children who know nothing of political science and prudence.

No matter who our children will grow to be, we teach them self-denial by practicing self-denial. The child’s father works alongside him and in the sweat of their faces they eat their bread (Genesis 3:19), and A Man’s a Man for A’ That. Each knows that if any shall not work, neither shall he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10), and they sleep well because the sleep of a labouring man is sweet (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The child learns to speak the truth because he knows full well the difference between virtue and vice. He learned it at his mother’s knee. He learns not to strike others in anger because the Son of God, when reviled, reviled not again (I Peter 2:23), and no man who is a brawler is fit to be a pastor in the church (Titus 1:7). He learns to show mercy because he has been shown mercy. These are home lessons of the most basic kind.

At the age of five, you weigh your options. You might send the child to the best school in town and eat less for the next twelve years, or you might educate the child yourself and spoil everything in the child which could rise like a seraphim to please a strange teacher. You might send the child off to doctors and philosophers, and the leader of the free world might know Latin and Greek and read Plato and Ptolemy and Euclid and Athanasius, or the leader of the free world might get a discount education or a free education and you could trust yourself to read good books with the child on the weekends, when you’re not too busy.

Education in a good home begins at birth. Mr. Gibbs, have you made the sacrifices to live on one scanty income and teach your children at home, believing that you owe it to them to pass on the great traditions and heritage of the West? I have. It wasn’t a bit of reading on the weekend in my spare time either. Latin, Greek, Plato, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Athanasius are well known to my son through my own diligence over the course of his life. I have not spoiled what is best in him, and I care nothing for the strange teacher deprived of his seraphim. What does that even mean, that my son would rise like a seraphim in a classroom somewhere if I didn’t hole him up at home? If Christ Himself does not glorify and sanctify my son, the teacher will never be able to do it. Education is not the means to salvation. It never has been. Even though I give my life to teaching my child to know God and trust Christ, and though I love him far more than any schoolmaster ever could, even I cannot save his soul.

At the age of six, the child takes up an interest in ninjas and mutants which have crept in from well-meaning but undiscerning friends from church. What will you say to the leader of the free world about mutants? Will you say nothing? And what will saying nothing to the leader of the free world about mutants mean when all the aberrations of society are banging on his chamber door for pure discretion and unlimited rights three decades in the future?

The father, the foreman, the governor, and the president all need to know what is good. Ninjas and mutants are of no interest to my family, but those shows aren’t really about real-life ninjas or real-life mutants, you know. They are childish entertainment. With proper education and example, children will grow to put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11). As our future classically-educated President finds himself confronted with citizenship rights for cyborgs, he won’t think of childish ninja turtles even if he caught an episode or two at a friend’s house when he was six. He will think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He will consider the definition of man and the rights of man, two common themes of the Great Conversation, in light of the best and brightest thinking of the West.

And on and on.

But your own child was given to you with the same promise that the hypothetical child in the parable above was given to the hypothetical you. Your child is the leader of the free world, which is only to say the leader of their own self, their own family, their own society. You are raising kings and queens. Do you want kings and queens raised on cartoons or something better? Do you want the leader of the free world raised on Pop-tarts and pop culture, or something better?

I am not raising kings. I am raising men who will stand before kings and give testimony of the risen Christ (Matthew 10:18). I choose to raise them carefully through character training and classical home education as my duty, but I know that Christ does not need them to be so carefully prepared in order to save them. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians after listing their former sins and deprivations of character, “…and such were some of you. But ye were washed, ye were sanctified, ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (I Corinthians 6:11). Any missionary or minister will tell you that a person raised in pop culture and paganism can be saved and made new. The pride of the classical schoolmaster might bristle, but history tells us that the leaders of the free world don’t always need him, anymore than the Savior of the world needs him. Some of the world’s most important leaders have often been self-taught or trained out of school; it’s an American truism. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. God will use whom He chooses, and He will discipline and train His children, according to the Hebrew writer, with an education we could never preempt nor duplicate (Hebrews 12:6). Shakespeare again in Twelfth Night: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

I believe in teachers and in classical education. I have devoted my life to teaching my own children classically at home. But let’s not lose our sense of proportion about our own importance and worth.

Education becomes nothing more than an idol when we start to believe that, through it, we have the power to determine and control the spiritual destinies or future earthly course of our children.

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return? What kind of upbringing is appropriate to kings and queens? Why are kings and queens given special treatment while young? And why should your own children not receive the same? Rulers must be “habituated to self-respect,” as Edmund Burke says in his Reflections, or else they have no sense of what might be lost if they fritter away their years.Too glibly we speak of “a child of promise.” If you knew your child would someday rule a nation, would you raise them differently? However you would raise a child to rule… this is how you must raise them anyway.

The royal interest returned on an investment into the education of a king… it is yours for the taking. If you would not raise a queen on cartoons because you fear a zany crown, then neither raise your own child this way. If you would not raise a king who patronizes mediocre artists, then do not fill your home with mediocre art. What kind of table manners ought a queen have when dining with foreign dignitaries? Incline your own child to care about the polity of dinner.

You might think I’ve been agreeing with you all along without knowing it, that I have colossally missed the point because I am obviously also calling for equality in child rearing. But while we might generally agree on how to raise children in this culture (from good books to table manners) I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick as to the “why,” to an almost fatal degree.

You want the children of shepherds to be raised as if they were future monarchs. I want the future monarchs to be raised as if they were shepherds. History and, indeed, God Himself are on my side in that. Why was Jesus placed in a humble home? King David, Gideon the Judge, and Moses the Hebrew slave were all raised in the meekest of families and then called to take up their tremendous positions of leadership. Home is the seat of training in character, faith, philosophy, and leadership and is by no means in opposition to Burke’s call for that habituation to self-respect so necessary for future leaders.

In “Sin No More,” Rémi Brague suggests the universality of the command to keep the Sabbath points toward the aristocratic blood of all men. God commands that even strangers and foreigners and slaves be treated like gentry on the last day of the week. In the end, everyone is free. Everyone is folded into the leisure of the ruling class, because the privilege of the aristocracy is an icon of humanity, not an icon of wealth.

God claimed the Sabbath before He made kings and taught us to rest as He Himself rested after creating the world. We are not like kings when we take our Sabbath rest. Kings are like the humble and obedient people of God when they take theirs.

For this, no matter how poor and powerless we are, we must crown our children early.

I am not here to crown my child. I am here to crown my Lord with many crowns and to teach my child to do the same. Therefore, as a Christian classical educator, I cannot accept the imagery and metaphor of this article. I am repelled rather than inspired. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – that is glory enough to aspire to without seeing ourselves as keepers of children more special than average. We’re not here to raise hot-housed prigs who have been so preciously kept, unfit to live among the common man and enjoy simple pleasures of life with those whom they are sent to serve. We are here to raise humble, wise, brave, and faithful people who identify more with shepherds and prophets than with the kings of this age. Their heads may be full but so are their hearts, filled with love for God and for their fellow man whom they believe to be equally created in His image.

12211601494_8a0a5dcb15by Amy Rose–Amy Rose was a middle child growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest with talented parents who struggled financially. Her future life was easy to imagine until one magical day when she was thirteen her fairy godmother gave her a box of oil pastels and a vintage textbook titled, “England in Literature.” Suddenly the entire wealth of riches found in the history of the West became to her a Holy Grail.  So she grew up and learned how to classically educate her own children who all turned out to be geniuses or at least mostly teachable.

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19 thoughts on “Wisdom and Virtue are Best Learned at Home — A Response to Criticism, by Amy Rose

  1. Amy, this is absolutely amazing! You nailed it. I need to print out your words and read them over and over as I sit and plan next year.

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  2. Amy, I cannot love this response any more than I do. You are a brilliant woman.

    You know I approached this article from a non-religious perspective, but I came away with the same basic feeling as you. That feeling was that Mr. Gibbs, not only in his article, but in the commentary that followed, was denigrating homeschool mothers. I know that wasn’t the purpose of his article, and that while he is probably familiar with the idiom of a woman scorned, he certainly didn’t imagine the consequences of scorning a tribe of classical homeschooling women.

    I also came away from Mr. Gibbs’ article with the same indignation as you regarding the destiny of an imagined foster child. Were I to know that a child in my charge were to be the leader of the free world someday, I’m fairly certain I would not do anything other than I am doing with my own children. I, like you, have spent hours in thought, research, and planning to provide my children with a specific type of education that will pass down the knowledge and wisdom that humans have acquired over the centuries. I, like you, have tried to instill character and responsibility in my children through example. I, like you, am familiar with the stories of kings stashed with peasants in their childhood. And as a Harry Potter fanatic, I must admit that Harry’s humble beginnings is a big part of what makes the story so riveting.

    And as to pop culture, yes some of it is ridiculous. But it is a part of the world in which we live. I don’t try to shield my children from it. We can watch Phineas and Ferb or even (gasp!) Spongebob, and still enjoy reading Aesop’s Fables, The Count of Monte Cristo and Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    Thank you for your articulate response to this article that provoked an uncharitable reaction in me when I first read it. I am proud to call you friend.

    Lynne

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  3. In the event readers here don’t see the brief response I wrote in the comments thread at CiRCE, I would merely like your readers to know that I only have one child of school age, and that I am homeschooling her next year.

    Your article certainly put me in my place, though. Thanks for a humbling read.

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    • They’re far too small to be hothoused anything, yet. They are precious, and you are rightly proud.

      I don’t think our intent was to put anyone in their place, and I am sorry you feel like that, truly. What we set out to do was offer homeschooling mothers an alternative view from the other side of the mountain. One that was encouraging. This is a hard task, but they are able.

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    • Your children are adorable, and I agree wholeheartedly with Briana that the view from the other side of the mountain is what we were going for. I know that Amy is a formidable writer and spectacularly brilliant person, so if she wrote a rebuttal to anything I wrote, I’d feel the same way. She humbles me on a regular basis. I truly admire folks who can take criticism and learn and grow from it. It’s a trait I need to work on. Best wishes on all your future endeavors.

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  4. Amy,

    Your article encouraged and inspired me — thank you.

    When I read Josh’s article, I thought of three things: Matthew 22:36-40, 1 Corinthians 13:2 and a certain C.S. Lewis quote.

    Matthew 22:36-40
    King James Version (KJV)
    36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

    37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

    38 This is the first and great commandment.

    39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    1 Corinthians 13:2
    King James Version (KJV)
    2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

    “I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)

    When we enter this world, it is only the love of God and human beings that matter — surely this starts with a mother’s love. Within the the context of God’s plan for a family and a home, children are shown the love of our Heavenly Father, shown how to love Him and shown how to love others.

    When we leave this world, it is still and only the love of God and others that matters. And we will pass from our earthly home to our heavenly home where we will love and be loved by our Heavenly Father and family. What great hope and joy!

    1 Corinthians 13:13
    King James Version (KJV)
    13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

    For further reading on the value of love and home, I would highly recommend the book written by Francis Schaeffer’s daughter: “For the Family’s Sake: The Value of Home in Everyone’s Life” by Susan Schaeffer Macauley.

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