Last year my word of the year was virtue.

Talk about an overwhelming word of the year!

In that post, I wrote:

  • Virtue is the goal of classical education, which is my “day job” as a homeschooling mother. The goal isn’t the math lesson, the goal is growing the person doing the math lesson.
  • Virtue is not only knowing Christ, but acting like it. If we know Christ, we must act in accordance with Him. Virtue is becoming Christlike.
  • Virtue is putting into practice what we know. So, say I know I need to exercise and eat right to be healthy and strong and energetic (and slimmer would be nice) – that doesn’t help unless I act on that knowledge. I know what I need to do to maintain a reasonably clean home, but I still have to do it for it to happen. I know where to put my keys so I won’t lose them, but unless I do put them there every time, I will still lose them.

I’ve got a lot of the knowing, and it’s time for doing. It’s not busy-work doing or nose-to-the-grindstone doing, though. It’s doing that is grounded in knowing. It’s intentional, directional, purposeful, decided doing: taking what I know and living it out more and more.

It was a good little reminder word to keep in the back of my mind, and it did help give direction and clarity at points. But it’s also not something one thinks about and tries for a year and then moves on.

CH056: The Reason for Education

I thought about making it my word of the year again, because, after all, it’s really a word to be the focus of a life, not a year.

Though I chose a different word for this year, virtue is still a key concept not only for me but for anyone interested in classical education.

The one thread that strings through all the classical educators from Perrin to Plato is that education’s aim is virtue – not a diploma, not a job, not a stack of accomplishments. Our children – and even ourselves – should be better people, inherently, because of the education we received, no matter what circumstances or results come afterward.

Education is for the soul.

So, in 2016 I’m weaving both virtue and consistency together and slowly reading & blogging through The Great Tradition all year. It’s been on my shelf for at least 5 years, maybe 7, and this is the year I dig in.

The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being is a collection of the writings about education from Plato to the modern era, the writings that have informed the development of western civilization and classical education.

Every Wednesday here in 2016 I will be sharing a quote and a musing. I’d love to get some discussion going about what it means to be carrying on this tradition.

Education makes humans more fully human.

As the subtitle suggests, the book begins with an introduction on what education is in the first place, summarizing that thread of virtue.

“The real essence of education is that it enables men to reach the true aim of their lives.” – Werner Jaeger, quoted in Great Tradition, page 3

And the true aim of our lives is not a particular kind of job or a particular kind of income level or a particular family size or any other circumstantial particular. The true aim is the chief end – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We will enjoy God more, the more we know of Him and of the world He has made. We will glorify Him more the more we learn, if our learning glorifies God instead of the economy or ourselves.

The glory of God is the man fully alive. – St. Irenaeus

What does this mean for us?

Education doesn’t end at graduation.

And if that’s true, that means it hasn’t ended even for us, mothers with diapers to change and dinner to make. We might not be able to enroll in courses or spend hours studying, but if learning is a lifelong pursuit, we have to show our kids that is true, not tell them it is true.

Education must be built on the bedrock of sound theology.

Christianity is absolute truth – it is true whether one believes it or not. God made the world, He made man, and He made both a certain way and for certain ends. To ignore that is to miss the point and mess up any application. To prepare a person for his true aim, we must prepare him to glorify God & enjoy Him forever. Anything that falls short of that sells us short.

Yes, this means that classical Christian education is a redundancy. A secular classical liberal arts education will be shallow and leave the student hunting for ultimate meaning – which is not a bad place to be if one doesn’t know truth. Secular liberal arts is a better preparation for the gospel than secular entertainment. However, education is not neutral, not by a long shot. It cuts to the very heart of what it means to be human, and we can’t answer that – nor educate – without knowing what humans are and what they are meant to be.

Education has to be about the person, not about the syllabus.

A classical education never has been about a particular book list nor a particular set of practices. It would be simpler if it were, but it wouldn’t be classical – that is, it wouldn’t be in keeping with the stream of western civilization.

We must look to the person or persons in front of us, not the checklist or book list. What does this person need to reach his or her true aim? Goodness, what do I need to reach my true aim? How can we all together, as fellows on this journey, better reach our true aim?

From this perspective education can be a joint activity of the student and the teacher, of the child and the parent. None of us have ever perfectly reached our true aim. We all continue down the path, looking up to those who have gone before us and reaching back to help those coming up behind us. With this model I am not the administrator lording my syllabus and checklist over my underlings who must put in their time until I declare them graduated at which time they will be free. No, this is a pursuit they are only beginning but which I am still undertaking. I must be leading the way, not cracking the whip. I must keep my eye on each one as a human being being equipped for life, rather than keeping an eye on college requirements. (Not that we shouldn’t know such things, but we must know they are merely bureaucratic hoops to jump through, not actual litmus tests of our success or failure).

There are many other truths we could extrapolate from this one little quote, but these are the three I’m pulling out today.

I’d love for you to share either another implication you draw from this quote or your thoughts on my own musings in the comments.

The glory of God is the man fully alive. True education makes us more human, more alive. It is about the state of our souls as well as our minds, and not about the state of our income bracket.

More on this topic:

Learning what classical education really means from primary sources.


  1. I love the weeks where there’s a theme to Wednesdays with Words and what better theme than education and it’s end. Yours, with the proper context applied is almost the same as mine … we love learning, purity, etc. because we hunger and thirst after the kingdom. When we’re seeking the king, the end of education is, not a straight line, but a joyful path of discovery. Or can be. I think.

  2. Thank you for saying that a classical Christian education is a redundant phrase! I’ve been thinking about that lately but hadn’t quite gotten those words to say what I felt yet.

    I’ve been contemplating what role the education of the mind plays in the bigger picture. For many it seems that the mind’s education is the only education – even amongst Christians, but there’s more to us than just the mind and its ideas.

    1. That’s true, Lisa. We’re whole beings, after all – minds and bodies and souls – and education should touch each aspect. I just finished reading the Plato selections in this book and he definitely addressed how all three aspects of ourselves needs to be part of a complete upbringing. I think ordo amoris – the ordering of our affections – also gets at all three at once, also. It’s not just what we know, but also what we do and even how we feel that matters.

  3. According to Amazon, The Great Tradition has been sitting on my shelf almost 5 years. I’d love to read it along with you – if I can with all the other books on my list, sigh. I did try a couple of years ago, but didn’t get past the first few pages of Plato. :P

  4. Looking forward to reading the Great Tradition with you, Mystie! I bought it when it came out, got pregnant (I have hyperemesis pregnancies) and it has been gathering dust on my shelf ever since……

    I have been reading Susan Wise Bauer’s history books for some time now, History of the Ancient World in 2014, History of the Medieval World in 2015 and this year I’m going to read History of the Renaissance World. Two chapters a week. The books are fascinating!! I’m sad there won’t be a fourth book in 2017.

  5. I am going to look forward to following along with your reading of the Great Tradition. I also have had it on my shelf for quite some time. Is there a specific schedule you are going to try to follow? Just so I can be up to speed with you ;)

    1. Hi Danielle! No, I’m not following a particular schedule, I’m just trying to read a little bit every day. I just finished the Plato section, but I’m going to blog through it behind where I’m reading. I filled in January with quotes from the introduction chapter and Plato that I copied in my commonplace. :) I’ll just be picking out one quote a week that stood out to me, but not necessarily writing about every section.

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