Editor’s Note: Classical Education is at the core of Torrey Academy’s pedagogy and a rising trend for homeschool families and charter schools across the United States. But what is it? In this blog, Torrey Academy director, Catherine Hood, examines the history and philosophy of Classical Education at each stage of learning.
“How will I use this information?”
This has become an all-too common question asked by students today. I certainly asked it often, much to the frustration of my high school teachers. This expectation that education must be “useful” is a relatively new development in Western civilization. Particularly now, in this age of rising college tuition and cost of living, parents and students alike are single-minded in their educational priorities. Students must get the best grades and test scores, so they can go to the best colleges, so they can get the best jobs, so they can make enough money to live a comfortable life. While these pursuits aren’t necessarily wrong, is this really the fullness of the way God created us to live? Read more
Editor’s Note: On the blog this week, we are featuring the top essay in the Torrey Academy course, Faith of Our Fathers, written by Abby Borne. In this essay, Abby explores the presence of knightly vows in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, exposing them as verbal promises and declarations of truth deeply tied to a Knight’s honor and integrity. She clearly researches and argues for the danger that comes in making vows, as the refusal to stay true to one’s word may result in civil and social death, and highlights the connection to Christ’s words of warning around vow-making for Christians. We’re proud of our accomplished Torrey Academy scholars, like Abby, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to share the fine work they produce with you. Enroll your student in a Torrey Academy course today.
Vow of Death: The Importance of the Knightly Vow in The Canterbury Tales
by Abby Borne
“A promise is a comfort for a fool.” — Traditional Proverb
The modern attitude on vows is relatively relaxed. Some cynics are justifiably skeptical about the worth of promises due to the lack of importance placed on them. Promises are often only kept when the breaking of an oath poses a threat. Elementary school best friends make “pinky promises” between each other, couples make wedding vows, and written contracts keep people bound to their word, with legal and financial consequences for those who do not keep it. Medieval oaths, however, were taken more seriously. Vows are seen throughout The Canterbury Tales, whether between a husband and wife, a lover and the magician who will help him, or two knights and cousins who swear brotherhood to each other. The free giving of vows is portrayed as honorable, but often these promises are broken or put in danger. In no case is the breaking of a vow so dishonorable and tragic as in the breaking of a knight’s oath, as knightly chivalry includes a focus on the keeping of vows. The breaking of such a vow would even result in a loss of a knight’s identity. Although knightly vows are often seen as a way to obtain honor and show integrity, they can lead to dishonor because if the giver of the vow breaks their vow, this leads to a loss of identity and a form of civil and social death. Through an investigation of medieval and chivalric society and a closer look at two specific examples of knightly oaths, this paper seeks to explore honor, integrity, and the reason Christ exhorted his church to be careful in its vow-making—a lesson which is applicable even today.
Every Christmas, the Torrey Academy tutors get together for a Christmas party, and the main event at this party is reading aloud G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. It’s not a particularly Christmasy tale (it’s about King Alfred’s defeat of Guthram and his Danes at Ethandune) but it is beautifully written and both heart-wrenching and hopeful. It’s always wonderful to be able to read a book of your own choosing during Christmas break, but it’s even more delightful to read a book aloud with your friends, and that is why we chose a poetry reading to begin our Christmas celebrations. You all, unfortunately, won’t fit into the Torrey office to join us for our reading, but I can offer suggestions for texts you will enjoy reading at home. The following list consists of books particularly conducive to an evening spent together with family or friends around a fire at home, or, since we’re in Southern California, perhaps around a bonfire ring at the beach.
- Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. This book is a collection of letters from Father Christmas that Tolkien wrote for his own children over twenty years, which were delivered to them each Christmas. They contain tales of the various adventures and travails of Father Christmas and his helpers, including one particularly unlucky North Pole Bear. Some editions contain Tolkien’s own delightful illustrations.
- Dorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to Be King. This series of twelve short plays on the life of Jesus were originally broadcast as radio plays on the BBC from 1941–1942. The plays begin with the birth of Jesus, and continue through his death and resurrection. Though only the first few are properly about the Christmas story, it is good to be reminded of the entire story of Jesus’ incarnation that began with his birth in Bethlehem.
- Plato’s Meno. This might seem like an odd suggestion for Christmas reading. However, it is an excellent dialogue to spark discussions about virtue and education, which I think is great for any time of year. Additionally, Platonic dialogues are delightfully written, and their dialectic form make them particularly suited for reading aloud.
- John Greenleaf Whittier’s epic poem Snowbound. This poem is particularly fitting since Biola’s neighboring city, Whittier, is named after him, but most residents I’ve asked haven’t read anything by him. Whittier was one of the Fireside Poets, along with Longfellow and others, so named for their works’ suitability to be read by families together by the fireside. Snowbound is perhaps not quite as good as Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha or Evangeline, but it does raise interesting questions about the pull of nostalgia in a time of change, as the poem was written about a dying way of life at the end of the Civil War. This pull of nostalgia is often particularly felt at Christmas, and Whittier’s poem gives voice to some of those deeply held feelings.
- Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, this story is familiar to everyone, and perhaps even feels a little cliché to some. However, reading Dickens’ actual words is a different experience from watching a movie adaptation, and movies are how most of us are familiar with the story. Dickens is a great story-teller, and since this is a shorter novella, it’s perfect for reading out loud.
We were all told as children that we “knew better than that” if we persisted in acting upon a belief that ran contrary to reality. Children learn about gravity and know better than to try to fly by jumping off the roof. Children learn that monsters aren’t real, and they should know better than to be afraid of what might be under the bed. Many keep using the phrase as a way to explain how much they think they know about the world, often with a derisive connotation. Indeed, some who do not profess the Christian faith use this language when describing why they do not believe in Jesus; they “know better” than to think a man born in the Middle East two thousand years ago is actually God. Read more
A question that is often addressed in Torrey Academy staff meetings is, “what’s the best way to teach our students?” What is the business, if you will, of education? How we answer this question determines what we do with our students in our classrooms. On this point, Dorothy Sayers, in The Mind of the Maker, declares that “It is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost.”1 We at Torrey Academy agree with this wholeheartedly, but it sounds a bit strange; are we really waiting for tongues of flame to descend upon our heads in a Torrey class? Of course not. (At least, this hasn’t happened yet.) Sayers does not use “Pentecost” as the historical descent of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension, but the idea of Pentecost does paint a picture of what we are waiting for.
So what is Pentecost? At the historical Pentecost, it was the descent of the Holy Spirit and subsequent illumination of the disciples. Sayers uses the term to mean an epiphany, a revelation of an idea that illuminates students’ minds. If the business of education is waiting for Pentecost, educators must wait for the ideas presented in texts and discussion to work upon students’ minds until they have such an epiphany. Read more