Posts in Essays
There's Generative Power in Form: Further Thoughts on a Name

"Forma” is a Latin word with a range of meanings. Because it is Latin, it sounds good. Because it has a range of meanings, it makes for a good journal name. In our previous issue, David briefly explained some of the reasons we chose this name. I’d like to to use this opportunity to explain it a little more. 

Ideas are spiritual, the food that the soul feeds on, without which it starves, on which its health depends. We are fascinated by the complex relationship between the words “idea” and “form.” At CiRCE, we are concerned that the modern man undervalues ideas and forms because he does not see how they link the temporal and the eternal. 

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Four Tips for Cultivating Classroom Conversation (With Some Help from G. K. Chesterton)

Within the Christian classical education renewal, Socratic conversations, seminars, and colloquies are an essential element. At the very least, schools and homeschools all speak of the Socratic approach as a distinctive of the classical approach. Everyone is doing it, everyone is advertising that they do it, and everyone wants to be doing it well. Many of us, then, are in search of tips to make that sort of classroom conversation a bit more, say, conversational. It can be supposed, with reasonable certainty, then, that this is why you are reading this article. Alternatively, you might be reading it in order to find out what foolish things I might say, so that you can kindly correct me. In either case, welcome. 

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Is Classical Education Still Possible?

I’m now old enough to look back on over half a century in the world of education as either a student or a teacher.  It’s hard to make this backward glance without cynicism or to look ahead without despair. All this time the trend lines by almost any standard measure bent ever lower and lower, while the language of reform never failed to beat upon the ear. This world of education, and all the reformers in it, seem to divide themselves roughly into two groups: those who believe that in technology, brain research, mega-data, or some research-based breakthrough we will discover new tools and approaches that will revolutionize the way we learn and teach, and those who believe that recovering “the lost tools of learning” will spark another Renaissance and turn those trend lines around.  

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Permanence & Progress: How to See the Past As an Icon & Not As a Golden Calf

If you are reading these words, you already have a great devotion to the past. After all, this is a publication devoted to supporting the concept of classical education, which focuses heavily on the way young people should absorb the cultural, spiritual, and intellectual heritage of human civilization. The classical education movement emerged in part because of the perception that many mainstream institutions had jettisoned too much of that heritage (and some of its best pedagogical principles). That act of detaching from the past was largely guided by the progressivist notion that the current generation is more advanced and enlightened than those who have come before us.

 

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The Illuminating Light

Most of you know that we have inherited a very rich educational tradition from those who preceded us. We know that in one sense, education is the transmission of culture—the transmission of the soul of society from one generation to another, as G. K. Chesterton put it. But many readers may not be aware that an important part of our educational culture comes to us through the monastic tradition. How important? In fact, if we remove monastic education from the wider western culture, we must also remove our universities and hospitals; we must remove much of the classical liberal arts curriculum, we must remove Aristotle himself, and Cicero, and much of what we have of Vergil and Horace.

 

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The Quadrivium and the Character of God

Sometimes when reading or studying or listening, I catch a glimpse of ideas and connections beyond my current understanding. At times these ideas are nascent and ephemeral—mists that have not yet solidified (if they ever will). It is as if figures are coming together on the periphery of my vision, and I fear that if I look at them directly, the forms will dissolve into vaporous ribbons and float away. Some passages of scripture are like that—for a moment I can grasp a spiritual truth or significance that swells beyond my comprehension. I am encouraged by the fact that even the Apostle Peter said that Paul was hard to understand. 

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The Arts & The Education of Attentiveness

The smallest things often spark the greatest alterations; our happenstance changes and choices, like pebbles dropped in still water, ring their way outwards till the whole of life’s encircled. Had you been a reflective Italian tradesman in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, your attention may have been captured by the wonderful and terrible Great Events happening all around you: the city-states finding independence from the papacy, sublime cathedrals springing towards the skies, a whole new class of merchants bridging the class divide, rumors of a Black Death prowling nearby. And with your whole world convulsed in the eager pangs of a new birth, a Renaissance, perhaps you would not have assigned much significance to the changing of the bells. 

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Let Us Attend

Has it ever been harder to get and hold a student’s attention? It seems that we suffer from a cultural attention deficit disorder every bit as much as from the more well-known cultural amnesia. Excessive stimulation assaults our senses while fragmentation creates discord in our souls.

Yet, the most important skill our students need to practice, the skill on which everything depends, is the ability to pay attention. We can learn how to cultivate this faculty, or we can ensure that most of our teaching goes to waste. 

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The Seeing of the Eye: On Job, God's Revelation, and the Problem of Evil

Classic literature is one of the great humanizing forces of our civilization. This is because literature can take an arcane philosophical problem and clothe it with living flesh, forcing readers to grapple with universal questions in the context of human relationships. At its best, classic literature calls forth essentially human reactions from its readers; the more we read it, the more human we become. 

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Ecce Homo: The Classical Refrain of The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel endures its fair share of criticism from Christian parents and classical teachers. It is the poster child for twentieth-century debauchery and godlessness—a reputation it has earned. But a close reading of the novel reveals Fitzgerald working in a literary tradition that goes all the way back to ancient Rome. His masterpiece aims at some of the most cherished literary goals of the classical world while drawing power from a much more contemporary setting.

 

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Why Mystery Stories Are the Cure for What Ails Us

It is impossible for us to fully grasp the cataclysmic cultural shift that was created by World War I. Each of us has lived and moved and had our being shaped by the world that emerged from that rubble. The War to End All Wars did not succeed in ending war, but it did herald the final blow to the unparalleled optimism of the 18th and 19th centuries, destroyed the remaining vestiges of the Medieval world, and ushered in worldwide despair, angst, and nihilism.In other words, Modernity was born.

 

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