At CHA, and indeed in Classical Education generally, it is often said that we seek the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. These sometimes seem like nebulous terms, but there are moments when a glimpse can be seen of that which we seek. For Aristotle, the “telos” or “end” was that for the sake of which something is done. This summer a group of CHA graduates met to reread and discuss Plato’s Republic, a book which is read by CHA high school freshmen. It is a difficult book, full of challenging questions and sometimes disquieting proposals; however, the questions it raises are timeless and often fully appreciated only after years of consideration. After four years of Great Books classes, seven CHA graduates (classes of 2017 and 2019) recognized the pivotal position this text holds in the program and in the Western Tradition and desired to read it again with their four years of Great Books experience behind them. During the discussions that ensued, “that for the sake of which” began to emerge.
The graduates had vague recollections of reading the Republic, and fond memories of fruitful discussions under the skilled tutelage of Mr. Jenkins in ninth grade, at a time when they were first being introduced to the greatest thinkers of Western Civilization. This time they recalled and further reflected upon key episodes, such as the divided line and the allegory of the cave; they considered the proposal that justice in a city and in a man requires the rule of reason over spiritedness and passion and that proper balance results in a just city and a just soul. Ultimately, they proposed that the perfectly just city and soul can only be realized in heaven. They also “entertained without accepting” (the mark of an educated person, according to Aristotle) Plato’s more challenging proposals such as the comingling of men and women in training for guardianship; the dissolution of the family; the noble lie, in which children are told that their souls are made of a particular metal which corresponds to their role in the city; and the elevation of the philosopher to king. These proposals were first considered in order to be understood and then challenged based on consideration of other authors such as St. Augustine, John Locke, Rene Descartes, and Holy Scripture. In the end each participant was able to fully contemplate what is Just and how it relates to what is Good.
The ability and humility before a great text that the graduates exhibited does not emerge in a vacuum. Before reading the Great Books, many good books must be read, and literature is at the heart of the CHA program. While learning history, CHA students encounter good literature, stories which exercise the imagination and give life to the story of Western Civilization…in other words, their story. Main idea sentences, challenging though they may be, give rise to the ability to determine an author’s message. Presentations in front of the class, with all of the nerves which accompany them, prepare the student to express his or her thoughts articulately to others. The study of rhetoric solidifies this skill. Every essay written, for all of the blood, sweat, and even tears, sharpens the students’ skills of understanding an author and assimilating his views into the student’s own. In short, the CHA liberal arts program, every piece of it, prepares the student for the kind of humbling and challenging reading the graduates not only are able to tackle but choose to tackle because they know that it is Good.
It’s hard to homeschool, and even harder to homeschool classically. For parents there is blood, sweat, and tears as well. Along the way, however, there is wonder and joy as we encounter the education most of us never had. And the telos, that for the sake of which, is humble, articulate, godly adult children who seek for themselves the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Seven such young adults who stayed the course have shown what is possible when the classical, liberal arts program is embraced. They engaged together in dialectic, or reasoned discussion, the heart of the Great Books program. And together we had a glimpse of “the idea of the good…the cause of all that is right and fair in everything” (The Republic of Plato Book 7 517a). And this glimpse is available to anyone who chooses to seek it.
- Amy Bittner, Senior Seminar Tutor and former Great Books Tutor