What Shakespeare finally understands is that in the ethical moment of disposing means to end, the rhetor is only imperfectly in command of a fallen world, and if this limitation can lead a woman of Portia’s moral and intellectual virtue to error in her sacrificing a tragic usurer to secure comic marriages, we ought not be overly confident in either the virtue of our own rhetoric or the exactitude of our own generic terms.
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Augustine’s narrative forms a master pattern for the Commedia, mapping the progression in Dante pilgrim from education through a flawed text, which limited and even malformed him as a reader, author, and lover, to reformation through the transformative and holy words of Beatrice. Within this perspective, the Commedia itself becomes a testament to the power of divine, “reformative” speech to convert the soul, reform its loves, and make it an agent of further transformation.
By developing his readers’ moral and political acumen in his account of the wars with Catiline and Jugurtha, Sallust hopes to educate a new generation of leaders capable of preventing such wars in the future. For Sallust, peace is the primary goal of government, and thus the main goal of his education as well.
In effect, we encounter two Augustines. First, there is the Augustine narrated, the boy and young man whose actions and thoughts and feelings are brought forth out of memory. Second, there is Augustine who is the mature, teaching bishop writing his confessiones and situating the biographical parts within the larger “speech act” of the whole of his work. It is the overarching intent of the text as a whole that carries implications for understanding the meaning and practice of education.
Quite independent of political theory, his thoughts on education, whether reflected in or drawn from his own educational experience, appear to be worth gathering and exploring in the light of our own need for models or for the elements that would allow us to construct principles and directions for models appropriate for our time. Cicero is, in many respects, a model as well as a conveyor of models.
What place should the study of mathematics have in classical education? Most classical schools rightly emphasize the linguistic arts of the trivium—grammar, logic, and rhetoric—but few have thought through (much less implemented) the mathematical arts of the quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy—in a meaningful way.
Why engage in Socratic conversation? Certainly, one seeks through Socratic conversation to encounter truth, goodness, and beauty. Beyond this encounter, however, effective Socratic conversation also brings about changes in the souls of those who practice it. Among its other advantages, engaging in Socratic conversation is an excellent way to encourage the cultivation of what may be called “dialogical virtues.”
Put in simplest terms, classical education is an education for freedom. That is why for most of the Western tradition from its origins to the present day, the majority of authors have used the term liberal education to denote what is often called classical education in our time. In this brief article, when I use the term liberal education I do not intend to make a distinction between it and classical education. Instead, I employ the term in order to bring to light the essential nature of what commonly goes by the name classical education among K-12 educators in the United States today.
It is a little known secret—though it should be no secret at all—that classical education has been making a comeback of late. In some circles, classical education needed no revival, for its life was never really in danger; for instance, at the undergraduate level, schools like St. John’s College, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Dallas have quietly continued, to greater or lesser degrees, to carry the torch of classical learning. The revival I speak of began in the 1980s, and it has been taking place chiefly at the primary and secondary levels.