Brandy: You’re listening to Scholé Sisters episode number 62.
Welcome to Scholé Sisters, the podcast for the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow. Scholé Sisters is a casual conversation about topics that matter to those of us in the trenches of classical homeschooling who yearn for something more than just checking boxes and getting it all done. I’m your host, Brandy Vencel. You can find me at Afterthoughts—that’s where you’ll find my blog posts on educational philosophy and such, as well as my Charlotte Mason study guides and workshops. You can hear more from me on my other podcast, AfterCast. My co-hosts today are Pam Barnhill and Mystie Winckler. Pam is a speaker, podcaster, blogger at PamBarnhill.com, and author of two fabulous books, Better Together and the newly released Plan Your Year.Mystie is a second-generation homeschooler with five kids and too many projects. With her blog, podcast, and membership, she helps you organize your attitude so you can organize your life. Find her over at SimplyConvivial.com. We are thrilled to have Ravi Jain back on the show today. Obviously, Ravi is co-author of the fabulous book, The Liberal Arts Tradition but let me tell you a little more about him. Ravi graduated from Davidson College, received an M.A. from Reformed Theological Seminary, and later earned a Graduate Certificate in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He began teaching Calculus and Physics at the Geneva School in 2003 where he has developed an integrated double period class called, “The Scientific Revolution.” In this class the students read primary sources like Galileo and Newton in order to recapitulate the narrative of discovery while preserving the mathematical and scientific rigor expected of a college level treatment. He has given over one hundred talks and workshops throughout the country and overseas on topics related to education, theology, mathematics, and science. He has two boys, Judah and Xavier, and is married to Kelley Anne, whom he met in Japan. A quick reminder, there is, as always, a Scholé Sheet designed to help you engage with this episode’s content and apply the new ideas right away. Go to today’s show notes at ScholeSisters.com/ss62 to get your copy. In today’s episode we get some of the background on the new edition of The Liberal Arts Tradition. After this, we dive deeply into the curriculum section from the new edition and talk about the fine arts, the servile arts, and of course, the liberal arts. You’re going to love hearing Ravi’s thoughts. And so, without further ado, let’s get to it.
[00:02:55] Scholé Every Day
Brandy: Let’s start off with our Scholé Every Day. Pam, I like your title so I’m going to have you start us off, if you don’t mind.
Pam: Oh, okay. I will do that. So, I am reading for the very first time …
Pam: … I know, right?
Brandy: How are we your friend?
Pam: You know, somebody has to come along and be the every man in this group and that is me. I’m reading The Hobbit. So, Ravi, there you go. I read your book before I read The Hobbit.
Ravi: That’s funny.
Pam: Those are bragging rights, right there. I’m reading it for my class with Angelina and I am enjoying it way more than I thought I would.
Brandy: I’m so glad you like it.
Pam: I’ve heard in the past from other people that they didn’t care for The Hobbit. I’m like, ‘Well, maybe I won’t like The Hobbit.’ I don’t know. I’ve seen all the Lord of the Rings movies with my husband because he was a huge fan and then Olivia has actually read more than I have of Tolkien. And, so anyway, I had to read it for class and fantasies just not my genre and so I picked it up and I’m actually really enjoying it. So, there you go.
Brandy: I feel like The Hobbit has more of a fairytale feel. So, I feel like for some people who don’t really like fantasy but will do fairy tales, they’re willing to read The Hobbit in a way they’re not willing to read The Lord of the Rings. I don’t know if that’s true for you. But …
Ravi: Yeah, makes sense.
Brandy: It’s just an observation.
Pam: I found it very enjoyable and I may go on to Fellowship after this one. So, I mean I have only five books going right now that have to be read by certain dates. But I’m enjoying myself.
Brandy: Alright, how far are you?
Pam: Chapter five or six.
Brandy: Okay, it’s so good. I’m excited for you.
Mystie: There’s an audio version too of the whole trilogy.
Pam: We have a couple of different audio versions because Olivia loves to consume audio. I think we have two audio versions. We have a dramatized which is abridged and then we have just a regular audio version. So, I may actually do that. We’re going on a trip this weekend and I may actually throw my earbuds in at some point and listen to some of it to.
Brandy: Wow. Alright. Well, Mystie, what do you got?
Mystie: I realize that I think we need to start a resource document or something. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this one, but I am reading The Matthew Henry Commentary on the entire Bible.
Brandy: Oh wow.
Mystie: I mentioned it last year the Retreat so I don’t think I mentioned it on the podcast that I was starting it because we were sharing things that we read just in tiny bits and The Matthew Henry Commentary I have it in one volume. And so it’s one of those really gigantic books that has microscopic print …
Pam: Oh, I hate those.
Brandy: Read with magnifying glass.
Mystie: I actually do. It makes me feel really old. [Laughter] So I started this a year ago in the summer and I had a plan. I was going to read like half a page or so every day and I would alternate Old Testament and New Testament books was my plan, but I’m still in the Old Testament book that I started. I picked Job to start with and I think I’ve read twenty pages in a year of Matthew Henry and so it’s a tale of perseverance. I’m still sticking with that plan and my goal is to read the whole thing before I’m 50. So that gives me like thirteen years, so I think I can do it but needless to say hasn’t been every day.
Brandy: What’s amazing is that somebody wrote that much.
Mystie: I know. It’s true.
Brandy: Because it’s hard to read that much but somebody wrote that much that just is amazing to me.
Mystie: It’s really good. I like it because it’s really solid but also very pastoral. It’s not super academic or getting into the Greek or the Hebrew or the anything, it’s very pastoral. So it’s a great read along with morning devotion type reading.
Brandy: Ravi, would you like to go?
Ravi: Sure. I’m reading a book that I stole from a co-worker and it’s called The Flame Imperishable: The Metaphysics of Faerie.
Brandy: Oh wow.
Ravi: Which is really cool. My friend Robbie Andreasen is another science teacher at Geneva was reading it. “Where’d you get this book, Robbie?” It tells you something about how fun some of my colleagues are that the biology teacher is reading about the metaphysics where he just found it on Amazon, but it really digs in deep. It’s just released I think in the past year about Tolkien’s understanding of Christian metaphysics, and it’s profound. It’s really really good. And part of it is understanding the way Tolkien thinks of creatures like elves and dwarves and what they’re up to and how they fit in with kind of his Christian imagination. And part of the argument of the author is that that he actually (Tolkien) really has a fairly Orthodox Christian metaphysics that he borrows from Thomas Aquinas. So it’s fascinating, I think. And really profound. You learn a lot about both Aquinas, metaphysics, as well as Tolkien by reading it. This is kind of fun and crazy.
Brandy: So I love the title alone. Goodness, wow. Okay, I got to ask you though. Have you ever read Peter Kreeft’s book on Tolkien? He has The Philosophy of Tolkien.
Ravi: No, I haven’t. Is that on the shoulders of Hobbits?
Brandy: I mean, he might have written other things, he probably has because he’s a big Tolkien fan, but that is his metaphysics of Tolkien book, but of course, I looked it up on Amazon. So it looks like your book is three hundred pages and Kreeft’s book is one hundred—it’s pretty small.
Ravi: You can say everything in a third of the space.
Ravi: Master of concision.
Brandy: It’s super good, but I’m trying to figure out, so if you haven’t read them both, you wouldn’t be able to tell me …
Ravi: That’s great though. I do need to get Kreeft’s book. He’s written so many things and I haven’t got to go through as much of his corpus as I’d like. It’s a great idea.
Brandy: I like it because he has it organized more like an academic philosophy book. So, it has easily referenced numbers. Like you read 2.1, 2.2, kind of almost reminds me of the suma, like it’s very logically organized and follows a little—He’s got a very particular outline he’s going through and everything, but he didn’t name it The Flame Imperishable. Quite the title. So, fun. So, you’re telling me there’s two people named Ravi at your school?
Ravi: No, but you know, we often still get confused. His name is actually Robbie with b.
Brandy: Oh Robbie. Okay. So I was like how did that happen? I know it’s not that uncommon of a name but still.
Brandy: Alright. Well, mine, actually I debated over whether to put this here because I’m kind of struggling with this book, but I’m reading with my high school senior The Fatal Conceit by F.A. Hayek.
Mystie: Fun, huh? And I love economics books, I really do, but Hayek is a struggle for me because he is so—even though I tend to agree with him most of the time—he is so secular evolutionist that it drives me a bit batty at times because it’s sort of like reading one of those diet books where they’re like, “Paleo man was like this” for everything. It kind of feels like that. Like everything comes back to evolution and it’s a little bit—like, he doesn’t have another angle on this. But it’s interesting because (and I actually think he has a point) he’s defending tradition because at the time that he’s writing against people like Cannes or well, that group of people were trying to throw out tradition…
Brandy: And so he’s trying to defend tradition and his argument for tradition is very interesting because he sees tradition (and I don’t necessarily disagree with this) as basically the survival of the fittest, right? These are the things that help us survive. And so what we have left in culture is what remains after everything else that doesn’t work has been sifted out. So the idea that we’re going to dispense with all of this doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think of it from that perspective because these would be the time-tested things. So, I don’t know what I expected from this book, for some reason I had read the first chapter, I was probably pregnant because this is what I did when I was pregnant years ago, I would start a book and then realize that my brain wasn’t capable while pregnant and put it down and forget about it. So I have lots of underlining in the first chapter, but I know I never read the rest of the book. So, I’m not exactly sure what happened. There’re books like that all of our house though, and they’re all from the same era. [Laughter] Anyway, so we’re reading it now and I did not remember that it was an argument for tradition. Maybe I just hadn’t read enough of it. But it really is very interesting. And I think it’s been good for my high schooler to read someone who is coming to similar conclusions that he probably has reached on his own but from a secular perspective and kind of getting his mind around the secular line of reasoning. So, I think it’s been good for him.
Ravi: That’s interesting. Have you guys read Peiper’s book on tradition.
Brandy: No, what is it called?
Ravi: I forget. I think I’ve got it over there in the corner there, let me see. And there’s the other one Yaroslav Pelikan wrote a book on tradition, but I’ve been trying to go through both of them. I haven’t got too far. The book by Josef Pieper is Tradition. That’s all. [Laughter]
Brandy: What an amazing name.
Ravi: I think Pelikan’s is the same actually, or something similar. But yeah, that’s cool. I didn’t know that Hayek had written a book about tradition.
Brandy: Well, and the thing is I’m trying to figure out is the book really about tradition or is he just kind of mired in this for a few chapters? Like I don’t know if we’ve read enough of it for me to know because I thought I had read Thomas Sowell quoting extensively from Hayek and I thought The Fatal Conceit was actually the idea that we know enough that we could have central planning be successful. I thought that that was what The Fatal Conceit was supposed to be and that is the title of the book but maybe it’s just that central planning involves throwing out all of tradition because we know better so maybe it’s wrapped up in that and I just am not seeing the connection yet. So, I don’t know that the whole book is about tradition, but we’re definitely on at least our third chapter or half chapter of talking about tradition.
Ravi: It makes sense. I can see your interpretation where it might be going.
Brandy: Well, we’ll see where it goes but it’s been really fun to have a senior this year and be reading the kinds of books with him that I read with my dad when I was his age. So not all of them are exactly the same but my dad was a stockbroker and didn’t like the quality of economics education at the local high school. So, first he threw a fit and then he bought a bunch of books and maybe read them. [Laughter] So I didn’t throw any fits because I’m a homeschooler and I have only myself to blame but we definitely have been reading the same kinds of things that I had to read way back when so it’s been fun.
Ravi: Have you come across the book The End of Economic Man?
Brandy: No, I’m writing this on down too and just typing it all up.
Ravi: Well, it’s been a while but I’m pretty sure that’s Peter Drucker and the reason why I brought it up, so I think it’s not too long after Hayek’s writing. So, I mean Drucker’s he’s so interesting for many reasons, but I was wondering if that might have been a book that your dad had passed along. You know, now that I think about it he is maybe twenty or thirty years after, probably from the fifties.
Brandy: He made me read Hayek, but he made me read Road to Serfdom not Fatal Conceit. So I hadn’t read that as a kid and biographies of famous business people. Anyway, not to go back not to rehash the trauma of my senior year of high school. [Laughter]
Mystie: Or the one you’re inflicting.
Ravi: It’s very unusual, that’s great though.
[00:17:03] Topical Discussion
Brandy: I always say I was homeschooled at the dinner table after school. Alright. So, let’s transition to our topical discussion which is, we really want to dig into your curriculum section, Ravi, but first we want to ask you about the new book because we’re so excited about it. It’s out now, right?
Ravi: I think it’s out for pre-order. I don’t think they’re shipping yet.
Brandy: Okay, they’re not.
Mystie: It probably will (maybe) by the time this airs.
Brandy: By the time it airs you can probably get it.
Brandy: So you’ve got edition two of The Liberal Arts Tradition coming out in November and we’ve got to know how did you end up doing a second edition? Did you get complaints?
Ravi: There was this one complaint from this Vencel woman about [Laughter]
Brandy: Oh no, I’m never going to live that down. For the record, I loved your first edition.
Ravi: Oh Brandy, that was unfair. No, everything you said was very generous. And, I’ve learned a lot from your reading of the book. Even that article I could understand your point of view. I concluded, I hate to admit it, Brandy, but I couldn’t address your concerns in the rewrite for astronomy but that doesn’t mean that I don’t seek to address the notes—we’re working on something else that I think you’ll really like, eventually…
Ravi: … when it comes out that will address those. But it wasn’t actually so much complaints as it was things that we knew that were left undone from the first edition. It’s kind of hard also to do a co-authorship because there’s all kinds of reasons about that are just who’s going to write what and you know, how do you balance ideas how our ideas growing, and so one thing for example, that happened is Kevin he was in the middle of his doctoral program where he was doing his doctrine of liberal studies, and I don’t think that when we had first penned the articles he was kind of at the final place that he ended up after he finished his studies regarding the liberal arts of language. You know, I think he wanted to go back and he wanted to make me be robust. That was good. I think that really helps the book. And then a couple other things that became important for us. One is we were really confronted by our time of the Chinese church and the Christian classical schools that have been started in China which are just numerous now and you know hundreds of educators in China are pursuing or following Christian classical education.
Brandy: Oh, wow. I did not know this.
Ravi: Oh, yeah, and they’re probably at least twenty to fifty schools around the country. It’s really quite extraordinary. Some very influential pastors got behind it, but I wrote a book about Christian classical education and really had convinced large (I mean thousands of people) so that was I think before I had met any of these guys, it was not due to anything, any of my influence or our influence. It was something they came to you on their own for in some ways some very reasons very internal to the theological maturity [inaudible]. But the point is that once we started to interact with them, I think we are really puzzled by why they would be so interested in classical education as a lot of times Christian classical education is expressed as Western Christian education and so why are they interested in a kind of education that’s Western. Shouldn’t they be interested in the Chinese kind of education. Once we started to speak with them at length we realized they’re deeply Christian, these people, and a lot of them have seminary education, some of them have been professors at universities of law and philosophy. One of them has written on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and how important they are for moral formation. These are bright people, you know, and they get a lot of things that we don’t get in the west and they understand that a lot of education is propaganda, you know, and they experience it in their public school system, education as propaganda. So they recognize the power of education for formation and when they are saying where do you find that, they say well, there was a time when the church really had a way of doing education for a little formation. And I think that the people that are closest to what are doing that are the Christian classical educators.
Ravi: So that’s why they’re interested in it and the same reasons why we’re interested in it. And it doesn’t really have so much to do with the west, what it has to do with is the church. And they understand themselves as being grafted in to the Abraham, after Christ, like we are. So if I named my son Judah and one of them names their son’s, you know, Asa or something like that because they have as much right to this Christian tradition as we do. And so, they appreciate Western culture in as much as Western culture has been the locus of a lot of God’s redemptive work in culture. Even so, all of England is not Greece. Or England is not Jerusalem. And so Germany is not Roman. Why is it that the Germans decided to have this continuity? A lot of it has to do with kind of receiving the cultural inheritance of the church. So that’s why they’re interested in it. And so, Kevin and I personally felt the lack that the church was missing in our first edition. When we got confronted with how central the church concept was in the Chinese educators’ conception of education it all snapped for me and Kevin. We realized we really have to address the role of the church. So, you can say that was the second thing if there’s, you know, liberal arts of language needed some expansion and then there was the role of the church in our confrontation that we’re not talking so much about Western culture, but the culture of the church. I think the third thing was for me a recognition that we didn’t do a very good job talking about virtue in the first edition and part of that, to be frank, was I felt a little bit of ambivalence when I first came into Christian classical education seventeen years ago when I heard people talk about virtue because they tended to talk about it as something other than growth in Christ and as though there was, you know, kind of Christian maturity on one hand and then there’s also these things called the virtues that we needed to attend to that we get from Greece and Rome. And I didn’t feel really clear about what the relationship of these two things, how they related to each other, so I needed to spend a good bit more time thinking through that and working that out and kind of looking back through Christian history. And what I did, you know, I became very impressed by the fact that the way Christians talk about virtue is very biblical. And we’re not talking here about works righteousness or working your way to God or anything like that. What we’re talking about is working out your salvation as God works in you; it’s sanctification with what went on with this, and seeing the development of how the Christian’s mean of the word tradition was very important for me and I felt like we needed to re-evaluate how we talked about. Those are the big three things, I think, that I felt like that needed to be addressed in the second edition.
[00:25:06] If I own the first edition, do I need to purchase the second?
Brandy: That’s huge. And I know that Classical Academic Press is saying that you guys increased the volume of the book by about, what’d they say, forty percent? So the question that we’ve been asked by some of our listeners is if they already own the previous version, you know, should they go buy the new one? And I mean I pretty much already have been saying yes just because you, this summer, had sent me the section on virtue and I had read that and amazing! Ravi, truly.
Ravi: Thanks Brandy.
Brandy: I mean I just told them you’re going to miss out on some really good stuff if you’re only reading the first edition, but how are you answering that question when people come to you and say but I already own the other one? I’m not quite sure. There was one criticism of the first book that I do think we tried to address and that was that some people felt like it wasn’t clear. It was hard to understand. I’m not positive whether this will be easier or harder to understand. I’m not actually totally sure but one thing that made the first edition hard to understand is we equivocated at some things and in the second edition we just decided that we were going to say what we really think on some of the stuff.
Brandy: I knew it. [Laughter]
Ravi: So because of that I think sometimes it is a little more clear. And some things that we didn’t put a stake in the ground we did in the second edition. So some people may not like the second edition as much but I think there’s some people that were like, ‘I like the first edition but I felt like there’s something that didn’t make sense.’ They might find that questions that were left unanswered in the first edition are now answered in the second edition. I don’t know if that will happen for everybody or not. But that might be one reason. There are other people that I think really liked the book primarily because it talked about poetic knowledge and moral formation in the younger years through wonder, piety, gymnastics, and music. Well, there’s not a lot added on to that section at the beginning there is a little bit added on to the end about the relationship between the Common Arts, wonder, festival, embodied life that I think does relate to that stuff about gymnastic and music. So I don’t know, I think there’s probably some of the things that were added may be on the more, I don’t know, I was going to say intense side but maybe there’s something for everybody. I’m not quite sure.
Pam: Can I give an opinion?
Ravi: Yes, love it. Love to hear it.
Pam: Well, I will say that the very first time I read this book and then I’ve dipped back into it a couple of times since then for various projects, I read it with Dr. Perrin in a class, actually Mystie, you were in that class too.
Mystie: Yeah, yeah.
Pam: I found it not a hard read but a challenging read. And so, I’m the every man here, and it was a little bit of a challenging read for me. This time I was sitting there the other day reading through the manuscript that they had sent us and I was like, ‘This just seems easier. So, it’s either easier to read or I’ve gotten better as a reader.’
Brandy: You’ve been taking your fish oil. [Laughter]
Pam: So, I would like to think that I’ve better as a reader in the past three years, I think it’s been like three years since we took that class, right, Mystie?
Brandy: I think so.
Pam: Because of all the hard stuff the girls make me read, but I found it easier to read.
Mystie: This is bad news, Pam. It’s them not you.
Pam: It’s them, not me. Oh, darn it.
Ravi: Oh, thank you. That is a good report. Thank you, Pamela, I’m so glad you said that. I think we did strive for a little bit greater clarity in the second edition.
Pam: I think you succeeded, I really do.
Mystie: Yeah, I do too.
Brandy: think so.
Mystie: And there were sections where I thought, ‘Ooh, that was brave. I love it.’
Ravi: I hope other people do but it’s okay if they don’t. I’m glad you like it.
Pam: Well, you know, if people aren’t criticizing then you’re just not doing your job, right.
Mystie: It’s going to provoke interesting conversations, right? Dialogue.
Ravi: Think so.
Brandy: That’s right.
Ravi: I’d be curious, where do you feel like it might provoke an interesting conversation?
Brandy: Mmm, Mystie?
Mystie: Oh, the part? I was reading the footnotes tying Paideia and all of that to baptismal vows and infant baptism. So, I thought that was fascinating and a great, valid connection, but just one that not everyone’s going to relate to or agree with.
Ravi: Yeah, I can see that too. And I think there is actually a little bit more interaction with different traditions in this book, different Christian traditions but in a way that I think I’ve learned something from doing so. And I think kind of respects this general trunk of historic Christian Orthodoxy. So that’s a very good point, Mystie. I think you’re right.
Brandy: This is not what this episode is about, but I was excited to see you tie Paideia to the Hebrew tradition in the Shema because we’ve encountered so many people drawing that false distinction between Greek education and Hebrew education …
Brandy: Hebrew good, Greek bad.
Brandy: Which, you know, we completely agree that Paideia is evoking Deuteronomy in every way when Paul …
Brandy: … in Ephesians when Paul’s using the word Paideia with regard to childhood education, but we were so excited to see YOU say that because now we have a source we can quote. [Laughter]
Mystie: It’s not just us.
Brandy: It’s not just us.
Ravi: I know exactly what you mean.
Brandy: Well, we were hoping that for today, and I already told you this before we really started recording, and we want to have you back on like just all the time because there’s so much good stuff …
Pam: I think Ravi would make a great Scholé Sister, don’t you? [Laughter]
[00:31:25] Curriculum Section
Brandy: We’d have to buy him a wig. Yes, but we wanted to dig in today to more of the curriculum section. So, I thought before we really dug in, though, we would have you briefly define liberal arts, servile arts, and fine arts, just as we start using those words people who are listening that haven’t read the book aren’t lost on what we’re talking about.
Ravi: Sure. I suppose the easiest one to define is the servile arts. I like to talk about them as the arts of service. And another way they’re often sometimes called the common arts, and I think about that is the arts that build up the community or that serves the community. So, he was saying about the common arts, or the mechanical art as he also calls them, as things like architecture, medicine, agriculture, defense, commerce, even I think says theater is one of the phenomena taken. So, he has seven common arts which accompany the seven liberal arts and they seem to be the kinds of arts that are ordained to the needs of the body. So, one of the things that I like about thinking about the common arts is that it is in a way technology. If you thought about how much of the American economy is devoted to things like agriculture and food preparation, commerce, defense industry, entertainment. You basically got seventy/eighty percent of American GDP after all this but when you start looking at the way the medieval thought about the common arts it was different than the way we think about modern technology, much more along the working group of nature. So that’s the common arts. And then the liberal arts, Josef Peiper says form the articulation of a joint with the common arts. And I think what he means by that, kind of like we’re both body and soul. They’re needs the body has but there’s also the faculties of the soul and ways that the soul can grow. So, the liberal arts are devoted to this kind of growth in the soul, growth in the understanding, and oriented towards wisdom. If both common arts or liberal arts are oriented towards the production of something, liberal arts are weighted towards production of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. And while the common arts are ordered towards the production of goods and services. So, the liberal arts, the arts of language, and the arts mathematics, help people learn how to think and to see things more clearly, but they’re both necessary—the common arts and liberal arts. You know, I think Kevin has been the real champion of the fine arts throughout our time of writing together and he likes to talk about them as the arts of the beautiful. The arts of the beautiful perfect the common arts and the liberal arts informed the common arts as well thinking about if you’re going to do architecture how you need geometry to do architecture. And yet on the other hand when you’re building a building it’s not just geometry that you want you also want the beautiful and your attention to detail will come through in fine arts. So, there’s a way that all of these kind of mutually influence under the common arts, the fine arts, the arts of the beautiful, and liberal arts. And I think even though the liberal arts—it’s proper for them to be the focus of a lot of education in the years that we’re talking about with the students, we want to give them a trajectory for the common arts and fine arts as well.
Mystie: I was just curious as I was reading that section on fine arts if that distinction as a third category of arts has always been considered a separate thing because I’ve heard, you know liberal arts before and servile arts before, but drawing the fine arts out as a separate category was new to me.
Ravi: That’s a good point. No, I don’t know that it’s always been there. When I was working on (I think I’ve told you before that I’ve been working out a book called Do Natural Philosophy) and I started to track down the common arts pretty seriously for this book, but around that time I was very curious about the fine arts as well and so I think it’s around three hundred to five hundred AD when there are some arguments about the relationship of the fine arts to the common arts and liberal arts that I thought were really quite interesting. Okay, listen to this. The guy that I found he seems to be a big deal in art history. The guy’s name is Tatarkiewicz and he’s got some big magnum opus, but in a journal article in Classification of Arts in Antiquity, he said the ancient divisions of arts they’ve all been different. So, for one, the sophists had the useful versus the pleasurable arts. Plato had the productive versus imitative arts. Aristotle completing versus imitating nature. Galen and Seneca are the liberal versus the common arts. Quintillion theoretical versus practical or poetic. Cicero as major versus mean or minor arts. Cicero B speaking versus mute arts. And, oh my goodness it’s kind of embarrassing now that I get to the end of this, I realize that this isn’t actually the guy that talks about the fine arts. All of those were different ways of thinking about the arts. So I mean, I guess the sophists are the ones with the useful versus the pleasurable arts. But, it’s right around here that there is a kind of controversy about whether the fine arts fall under philosophy or whether the fine arts are kind of something in and of themselves. It’s around three to five hundred AD and I forget the thinker’s name, but it starts with the P. And I’m not an expert on the role of fine arts. I usually leave that to Kevin but there you go that’s what I know about it.
Brandy: That’s interesting though. I mean, just even seeing how different people were trying to pin down these divisions and that wasn’t just one set thing throughout all of history. I remember when we did a couple episodes on Sayers’ essay on the Trivium, her Lost Tools of Learning thing, and one of the things we were talking about was going back to how up until a certain point there weren’t even just seven liberal arts. There were other things that some people thought maybe were liberal arts or whatever and so it’s interesting to see how we think of things as being the way they are now as having maybe always been that way but that’s not really how it went down.
Ravi: That’s exactly right. Okay, so I found, by the way the fellow’s name was Philostratus. At the end of Classical Antiquity Philostratus appreciated the relationship between the fine arts and philosophy when he classified sculpture and painting not nearly as arts but as a kind of wisdom. So, I thought this was very interesting to me. That’s from our new Natural Philosophy book, but, I think the other thing that you saw is in the 1800’s a renewed interest in art and how art kind of functions of way of insight and I think for at least for Kevin he’s been influenced by Etienne Gilson who wrote a book called The Arts of the Beautiful. And so, I think he’s kind of taking Gilson’s approach when he writes, when Kevin thinks about this.
Mystie: Well, I’m not sure if this is a real parallel or not, but it was interesting to me how if there are three in a way they almost seem to go along with, you know, true, good, and beautiful.
Ravi: Right. They do seem to do that. And I think that’s actually part of what’s happening in the 1800’s. So, I don’t know if you guys have ever come across this but have you heard of Alister McGrath? Alister McGrath’s a real smart guy. He’s one of Britain’s leading Evangelical theologians, teaches at Oxford, he has a PhD in theology from, I think, Cambridge. He has a PhD in biophysics from Oxford.
Ravi: He’s a very, very smart guy and he writes on all kinds of stuff but among them science and Christianity. So, he had a big project which in some ways the parallel of Christian classical education from the University system and he wrote a book called The Open Secret. In that book one of the things he said is that goodness, truth, and beauty hadn’t been really talked about as triad until the 1800’s and it was the romantics that identified this triad as the platonic triad, goodness, truth, and beauty. Alister McGrath is not a scholar. I probably even disagree. He’s one of those like mega scholars, like a Charles Taylor. I’m sure what he’s saying is accurate but if you track down Gilson, Gilson (this is the controversy about the transcendentals), I think is quite interesting, Thomas only talks about being unity, goodness, and truth as the four transcendentals. So where is it that we get beauty as a transcendental from? Again, Alister McGrath’s argument is the 1800’s, but Gilson says that actually it’s still implicit in Thomas’s argument and Gilson’s also one of those great scholars. So, part of the question is is beauty a neglected transcendental that was always kind of latent within the tradition? And I think exactly what you’re saying is what Kevin and I are trying to appropriate that the answer is yes, that goodness, truth, and beauty even though they don’t really come to the fore until the romantic period that what these scholars are doing is recognizing something that was kind of lying latent within the tradition. That’s a very good point. I mean, I think that’s the reason why we’ve heard about the liberal arts and the common arts, but we haven’t necessarily heard about the fine arts as part of this triad. So I think this is something that I guess you could say borrowing somewhat from Gilson. And I think Pieper is doing this too. I don’t know if you guys have read Only the Lover Sings…
Brandy: I have that sitting on my stack.
Pam: I have not read that one.
Mystie: On my shelf.
Brandy: I bought it because you mentioned it last time, Ravi.
Ravi: Oh really. How about that? So, next time we talk you’ll have The Flame Imperishable. Well, Only the Love Sings is also talking about how the liberal arts are perfected in the fine arts. Really, really neat book but it’s all about the insights of the fine arts. So, beauty you can say.
Brandy: That’s exciting.
Ravi: So, next time if you want to get a real good answer to your question you’ve got to have Kevin on the show.
Brandy: Okay, we actually have that on our list. I mean having Kevin on the show. On our list of things to do. So, in your Liberal Arts section you start talking about festival which was fun for us because we’re actually (all three of us) reading In Tune with the World right now …
Ravi: Oh Great.
Brandy: … because we’re going to frame our annual Christmas episode around that book this year. So that’s coming up a couple of weeks after this episode, I guess. So, my question to you about that is … so on page 248 you said,
Leisure or the true scholé required for the liberal arts depends upon one’s capacity for the celebration of a festival
and then you add a Nietzsche quote (which I love) which he said,
the trick is not to arrange a festival but to find people who can enjoy it.
Mystie: Is it okay to like a Nietzsche quote?
Brandy: I thought it was great. So, first of all, but before we really get into talking about this, I wanted to ask do you have a brief way of describing what Pieper means by festival because I know not everybody who’s listening has read that book.
Ravi: Wow. I think in some ways it’s kind of an affirmation of a cosmic reality. So, one that involves our whole person, our whole selves in community with other people, and kind of instantiating what we’ve just been talking about goodness, truth, and beauty by producing it, you know, kind of an expression of the common arts, fine arts, liberal arts coming together.
Brandy: Okay. I know he ties it to worship, but he doesn’t use the words interchangeably, Peiper, I mean ties festival to worship but maybe it resolves itself in worship. But one of the reasons why I asked was personal because I feel like as I’m reading it I’m still trying to wrap my mind around because I mean, you know, for me, I think festival and I think it’s a thing you go to and there’s like people dressed up as they’re in Shakespeare’s time or something. I really was trying to extract myself from things I’ve gone to that are called festivals and figure out what Peiper’s really talking about. And that was hard for me when reading this book.
Ravi: Yeah, I agree. I do think it’s related to worship, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. I don’t think it reduces to worship in the way we think of it like in terms of liturgy or the worship service. For me the approach is very helpful to think about a rock concert or to think about a football game because I think these are probably closer to what festival felt like in the ancient world. As soon as you do that though, you recognize how compromised these festivals, these modern festivals are. That’s where I think the question lies is maybe if at a school or a church community that you participated in you felt like there was some kind of extraordinary performance or pageant there that gets at a direction of redemption for the experience that somebody might feel at a rock concert or a football game. What if these things were elevated in a different sense? You know, one thing that we’ve done at our school is we’ve brought back field day. I don’t know if you ever you guys ever had field day growing up in high school or middle school or elementary school, but you know the day you just say, let’s go outside and play games all day. One of the things that we do on that day is we have a parade and we’ve got a house system at our school and in the parade, each of the houses walks by, and I have to admit, I get kind of excited when the house of Wittenberg walks by and they had a picture of Luther and the house of Alexandra walks by and they have a picture of Athanasius, I think—I can’t remember who they had a portrait of. And then they had all kinds of, you know, kind of fun decorations and costumes and things, and it’s like they had turned—I think parades are generally pretty boring—but this parade wasn’t for me because it actually was taking things that I care about and I’m interested in and the kids had kind of expressed enough interest in Artistry in the whole thing to make it cool. Then we had chariot races and things like that. I think for me it actually, kind of, captures a vision of people having fun in community in a way that honors the right things which is holistic—maybe what a parade might have been fifty or a hundred years ago, but probably isn’t today anymore.
Mystie: It’s like the ability to play with the knowledge and the loves that they’re growing.
Brandy: Actually listening, even just that little description, I’m thinking of how far we have to go in our capacity because you were talking about capacity for festival, and I mean, that’s an interesting thing. I actually wrote down in my questions for you, one of them was how do you increase your capacity for festivals?
Ravi: Oh my.
Brandy: I know, I’m sorry, we saved all these hard questions, one after another. Or how do you help a child increase their capacity? I mean, lots of times I feel like we actually ruin children. They’re probably born with the capacity for festival in many ways that we just kind of stomped on, but I don’t know because something about the way that you phrased it actually made me think about one time when I realized that I was so busy and stressed out I couldn’t read poetry because …
Brandy: … there was just this quietness of heart that was required for me to even have the patience to read it that was not existent in that moment. When reading some of the stuff about festival I was feeling kind of the same way that there’s so much busyness and there’s so much that how could we have room for a festival? Nobody has time for festival, you know, which is really sad, but I did think that.
Ravi: Right. It’s why you guys exist, the Scholé Sisters to develop, how do you calm the heart? How do you develop leisure where leisure isn’t merely free time? It’s the capacity to enjoy something beyond us. So, I think all of these things—part of it is just stopping the frenetic culture that we have. As a real help for me, funny enough, I don’t actually teach history in a real particular way I try to do some things with the students but [**inaudible**] lake or something like that, there’s a way that it allows me, it reorders my soul.
Brandy: I can see that. So, what’s the connection between the liberal arts and festivity? I feel like you’re drawing a connection in that passage.
Ravi: Well, I think the idea is contemplation, you know? The liberal arts are the seeds in addition to tools, not merely tools, but seeds allowing reality to break through to us in a way that actually inspires us or captivates us. That’s what I think the relationship is. You don’t get wonder without some kind of transcendence, something beyond us. And that’s what I think festival is trying to [**inaudible**]. If my rock concert is always unsatisfying because there’s nothing really mysterious at the end of those things—you know it’s all rigged. It’s all just smoke and mirrors, but when you’re actually involved in something mysterious that you really believe is true and mysterious as captivating, you know, and you’ll think about that for days—when you start to see ordinary reality like that, for example, something as simple as triangular numbers, when you start to ask the question, where did the order in this fallen body come from? Why is it that birds migrate? And you start to actually experience that as mysterious, I think that’s where it becomes a liberal art and not merely kind of a technology. When words become powerful and they evoke layers of insight to you that’s when I think grammar becomes a liberal art. When you can see that poetry moves you and why is it that some words have the power to move and other’s don’t? That’s mysterious. I think that’s when things move to festival or to leisure to liberal art, not merely the usual thing.
Brandy: Pam, are you still here?
Pam: I’m still here.
Pam: I have thoughts. I’m just not sure if they’re appropriate here for our other episode.
Brandy: You can be inappropriate. [Laughter]
Pam: Well, I have an answer to the festival question.
Brandy: Oh, okay. Go for it.
Pam: It comes from feast. So, you think about the idea of a feast and within the church calendar we have feast days. There are feast days and then there’s ordinary time. And so the whole idea of festival is, and you tie this to worship, is celebrating all of these feasts—it’s feasting. And not just necessarily, you know, gorging yourself on food, but the idea, you know, where do we find these festivals? We find them in in the feast days of the church.
Ravi: I think absolutely that’s part of what I think has been lost and that becomes a difficult thing. That becomes something that I think some Christians don’t get to appreciate if their church tradition doesn’t participate in feast days and festival days, but I think it’s at least important that we recognize this is what they were after, this is what was great about some of that stuff. We celebrate Christians that have gone before us, you know, what’s wrong with that. I think so, absolutely, the festivals of the church are certainly the pattern for this, I think in Pieper’s mind. But, of course, he’s a philosopher. He doesn’t want to act as a theologian. He doesn’t want to get into the controversy of this. But that’s absolutely right, Pam.
Pam: And I mean we do still celebrate these church festivals as part of this process. If you look at Christmas, it’s been secularized and it’s been removed in a lot of ways by a lot of people from the great Christian festival that it is, but we as Christians still celebrate it as a Christian festival.
Ravi: Yeah, that’s absolutely right.
Pam: I mean, even for us coming up next week (we’re recording this in October) looking at Halloween, for us, it is All Hallow’s Eve. It’s All Saint’s Day. We will have bottoms in the church on November first. That’s why we get to play and collect candy and do things like that on October 31st.
Brandy: So, you have trouble sitting down on November first?
Pam: No, just because we’re celebrating. It’s our Festival.
Brandy: I was just kidding.
Pam: And yes, it’s been taken and secularized.
Pam: But that’s where it came from. And so, you know, my kids know that you don’t get one without the other.
Ravi: Yeah. I love All Hallow’s Eve. You know, I think it’s a neat thing to think about—the All Saints Day and the night before All Saints Day. Different people have different opinions on this and so I don’t try to be too dogmatic about it. But, you know, we trick-or-treat but when my kids go around I try to get them to say, “Happy All Hallow’s Eve.” [Laughter]
Brandy: There’s nothing weird about that at all. [Laughter]
Pam: You’re not standing out, not one little bit.
Ravi: It’s just clunky enough that nobody really knows what’s going on. [Laughter]
Ravi: Because I think you’re absolutely right, the easiest festivals for us to regain are Christmas, Easter, and All Hallow’s Eve. And here’s the thing that’s really scary to me though is that it’s hard for me to have festivity on Christmas, or Easter—especially Easter, for example. I really have to prepare, I think, to celebrate, to have a festive heart. What I don’t mean by that is it’s not hard to necessarily have fun, it’s hard to be an affirmation of the cosmic reality of the Risen Christ on Easter and to just kind of think about how all of the aspects of the day are participating in this cosmic reality. How does the rest of our year, how do other things in our lives eminate from this affirmation of that reality? That Festival? But even for me I’m condemned by nature, in that sense, for me to celebrate festival of Easter, to keep the feast, if you will, in my heart.
[00:56:39] Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Brandy: That kind of reminded me of Dickens when he talks about keeping Christmas [Laughter], Mystie loves this book so much, but anyway, (even though some people don’t like Victorian novels) in A Christmas Carol where he says, I will keep Christmas in my heart.
Brandy: Anyway, it just sounded like a quote.
Ravi: You’re right. I mean, in fact, that was something that we did with the Chinese educators because they don’t celebrate Christmas. They don’t exactly know what to do with Christmas and so watched A Christmas Carol with them just to kind of give them a sense of what are some ways that will help prepare you to celebrate the festival of Christmas? And that’s, again, part of the liberal art, you know, a liberal art of literature and grammar is, in that sense, how it ties to festival.
Brandy: So you’re saying that Charles Dickens … I just need to quote you on this … so, Charles Dickens’ book, A Christmas Carol (well, you watched it, but anyway) could prepare you to celebrate Christmas … Mystie, are you listening to this?
Mystie: Well, Angelina’s doing three days on it, so I fully expect to be beaten over the head.
Brandy: Ravi, there’s a long-standing axe I have to grind here.
Pam: Well, and I was just sitting here thinking that you know, maybe Ravi should have shown Charlie Brown Christmas.
Mystie: Yeah, they’re you go!
Pam: That may have done a better job.
Ravi: We actually showed Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Brandy: Did you really?!
Mystie: I think this can easily tie back to, then, the servile or the common arts because if there is a thing that keeps moms from having festivity it’s the fact that when you say “festivity” we just think of the food and the dishes and the mess.
Ravi: Exactly. You’re so right.
Brandy: That is true.
[00:58:30] The Servile Arts
Pam: But, this is one of the things I loved about this book was he talks about St. Benedict’s Rule (work and pray) and so I’m like this is where the moms need to realize that the work they’re doing in preparing for these festivals, this is part of it, this is just as valid as—you know, it’s not like we’re doing all this work to lead up to do this big festival and so therefore the festival is the important part. That’s the end. Right? But really, this work that we’re doing leading up to it is part of the whole. It’s part of it.
Pam: It’s part of it.
Brandy: You know, I wasn’t even thinking, Pam, that part of what I perceive in myself to be a lack of capacity for festival is actually my desire to get out of that work, I think. I’m like, ‘Why can’t I afford a caterer? [Laughter]
Pam: But you’re offering it all up together, the festivity and the work leading up to the festival. I loved it, you were talking about the Christian monastic tradition, work was never eschewed as it was by the Greek philosophers and nobility, and so, I think it’s Cindy Rollins who often says, homeschool moms are the new leisure class in that we’re the ones the means to reclaim this whole idea of scholé, except for the dishes. But, if we stop looking to the Greeks as the model and maybe start looking to the monasteries, then it all kind of comes together.
Pam: And we still have to do the dishes. Sorry.
Mystie: I loved that connection in this section where it really is the Christian redemption of the servile arts where it’s not, ‘Okay, minimize those as much as possible or offload them on to other people who are less important than you so that you can have time to do the liberal arts.’
Mystie: And that in reclaiming the liberal arts or scholé we don’t have to minimize or downplay or scorn the servile arts that they can go together hand in hand. And I thought that the section really brought that out.
Ravi: That’s a great point, and I think it’s something that I need to be confronted with constantly because I think my own nature I tend to live in my head and deny embodiment and importance of daily activities. But, I think we’re going to be resurrected bodies, so why is it that we so easily get caught up in our heads? I do think that is part of Cartesian dualism inheritance that we get where academia is just focused on the head, that that’s doing the real thing.
Pam: Maybe you should read your gymnastics chapter again. [Laughter]
Ravi: I know, I know.
Brandy: So, I wanted to ask a question about classical schools, just out of curiosity, because I think for a lot of our listeners, we don’t really have experience with schools, we’re home schoolers and that’s what we do, so I’m wondering as homeschoolers the servile Arts are kind of woven into the day, you know, like kids get jobs, they start businesses, they do chores, they help out, whatever, it’s just kind of embedded in living life together as a family but do classical schools somehow incorporate servile arts, or is that just considered something that happens outside of school time?
Ravi: That’s a good question. Part of what I realized in working on that book that I mentioned, A New Natural Philosophy with Robbie Andreasen and Chris Hall, is that a science teacher is actually expected to do two things, at least. I always thought that what I was doing as a science teacher was giving proof and maybe if I put it move it towards natural philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom, your understanding of nature, something like that. But over the past five or seven years I have started to realize that, actually, it’s not even so much truth and wisdom that people expect me to be helping their kids learn but it’s more like how to build rocket ships and how CD players work and stuff like that, that it’s really technology that they’re interested, that they expect me to be teaching. And once I started to recognize these are two separate tasks, that one task is kind of the pursuit of wisdom, the other tasks is actually, in base form of the common arts. And what could be a good thing but is often just understood as an imperial control. Based on these two different trajectories then it was very helpful for me to say, “Okay. Well, what we need to do then in the part of the class, the physics/biology/chemistry class that we teach that are expected to be technologically oriented, how do we re-situate those within the common arts? So, for example, our science faculty a couple weeks ago, we made lye. So, you know, it’s very easy to do. I don’t know if anybody, if any of you ladies have done it, but we went over to somebody’s house and we took a bunch of wood ash that had been burned in their fire and we followed the process for making lye, for thousands of years, how people make soap out of lye. Now, we’re not quite sure yet how to use this in a chemistry class, but we know that kids would probably get into this it’s basically how to make your own chemicals. So, I think one of the things that we’re trying to do is to ask a question: how can we re-situate the common arts part of our natural science classes within the historical trajectory of the common arts? So, one of the things that I’ve been trying to do in my physics class is build a pendulum clock. Now, I’ve got the plan, that kind of thing would fall perfectly within what I teach my eleventh graders. So, something that you guys are doing I could be jealous of, just the fact that the kids get to be around the parents all day as the parents kind of pass along the arts of the household, that is that you have a little bit more time with the kids at home. I guess what we’re doing now is how to on a curriculum level integrate that. I think we see it as having a very large role kindergarten through sixth grade, that whole pursuit of wisdom among the knowledge of causes probably isn’t going to happen for kids until ninth through twelfth grade
Brandy: That’s interesting. I had never made the connection between the servile arts and science before, but especially your connection with physics, I thought, oh, that makes perfect sense. I just had never considered that before. So, this book that you’re working on then, we get to read this sometime, right?
Ravi: Yeah. Actually, the first chapter is an appendix in The Liberal Arts Tradition so, in the appendix it’s called A New Natural Philosophy. It kind of lays out the logic of the book. The book is supposed to come out in December of next year. CAPS [Classical Academic Press] is going to do it, and I’m supposed to give them the final draft in a couple of weeks. It’s co-authored with me, a kindergarten through sixth grade teacher that was up in Virginia who’s really a specialist in the common arts and trying to bring those ideas into embody them into the classroom at his school he was teaching at. The other teacher is Robbie—Robbie Andreasen, the biology teacher that’s reading The Flame Imperishable.
Brandy: So we really are going to have you on the show again because we’ll have to talk to you about that book when it comes out. That’s exciting. Well, we had all of these amazing plans to talk to you about the faculty of friends portion, but we are totally running out of time.
Ravi: I’m so long-winded. I’m sorry.
Brandy: No, don’t apologize this has been wonderful, but ladies, I wanted to give you a last chance to ask a final question if you have anything on your mind.
Mystie: No, this was a great conversation.
Brandy: Speak now or forever hold your peace.
Pam: Well, since you won’t let us open up that last whole section I guess we’re just not going to say anything.
Brandy: Yeah really. You’re punishing me. I really do want to have you back on to talk about this, but I feel like that actually could turn into a whole separate episode because it totally could be.
Pam: It totally could be.
Ravi: That’s been a part that has had implications for, not just us in our school, and me, but other schools, it’s a game changer when they start to think about that stuff.
Brandy: Ravi, we really would like to have you back on because there’s so much to talk to you about. We’re so excited about your book …
Ravi: Thank you.
Brandy: … and we thank you for coming on today.
Ravi: I’ll be delighted to come back on. So whenever you guys are ready.
Ravi: Let me know.
Brandy: Thank you.
Mystie: Thanks so much.
Ravi: Thank you. Thank you guys for always casting vision and sharing good words.
Brandy: That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of the Sisterhood of the podcast. As always, we’d appreciate it if you’d subscribe to the podcast and share the episodes with your friends. Want to help support the podcast? Becoming a paid Sistership member is the best way to do this. And it comes with a variety of benefits. The basic plan is only $3.00 a month and gives you access to tons of extra recordings, including the eight minutes I cut from today’s conversation with Ravi. Go to scholesisters.com/sistership to sign up. Don’t forget to download your free Scholé Sheet from our show notes at scholesisters.com/ss62. Next episode, Mystie and I discuss the four different kind of reading. This comes from Sertillanges’ book, The Intellectual Life and expands a bit on some of what we talked about in episode 61 which was The Humble Pie episode. Until then, we want to remind you once again, that homeschooling is a marathon you needn’t run alone, so open up your eyes and look around you, find your sisters.