By guest author Kevin Swanson
The founding fathers of this nation were brilliant men – outstanding communicators, deep thinkers, and well read in the classics. Compare John Adams’ or Patrick Henry’s letters and speeches with the stumbling mutterings and the commercial sound bites produced by our current leaders and you will quickly note a vast difference in comprehension, literary ability, and rhetorical depth. Yet the education of our founders did not comprehend thousands of books over 18-22 years of study. These men focused upon a handful of books written by the best writers and thinkers in world history.
When it comes to literature, it would be much better to study four of the very best books ever written than to peruse a thousand books that will prove to be the best schlock produced by an empire in decline. Choosing just four of the best of authors or teachers instead of four hundred produces a depth of learning unmatched by any other form of education. As you sit at the feet of these masters, you will actually learn their system of thought – their best attempt at constructing a cohesive, consistent world and life view. You will learn everything they know and see what they can see from their vantage point. Then you will be much better prepared to stand on their shoulders, as it were, in your own thinking or leading or writing. And this is how you will grow as a person and hopefully contribute to a developing system of thought and life in your own community, whether it be family, business, church, or civil government.
For some reason, education in the modern age became an extremely expensive, highly technical endeavor that really didn’t accomplish all that much. Our founders did not buy curriculum. They learned Greek and Latin and read the best books they could find. They were thoroughly acquainted with the Bible, Shakespeare, Cicero, Virgil, and Livy. Patrick Henry, for example, read through Livy’s historical survey every year. For these men, it was better to have a thorough understanding of a few of the best books than to have cursorily scanned a thousand books so as to come across as semi-literate in a dinner party.
Give Your Children Great Literature
Great literature merely chronicles the thinking and the lives of men as they build their empires and live a life they somehow think is worth living. Great literature is always written when the great towers are built. Typically, men quit writing anything worthwhile as the towers begin to crumble. This is what we find with Greece and Rome; and the same is happening with the modern empires of Spain, France, England, and finally America.
But there are always two cities or two kingdoms that make up the history of mankind. These cities coexist, yet they share little in common. Different periods of time and locations in world history will find more or less of one or the other of these cities absorbing man’s existence and experience. The principle governing one city is subjugating power, and the principle that governs the other is that of love (Mark 10:42ff). The city of man serves man who always turns himself, or his king, or the state into a god. But the city of God serves the King of kings and Lord of lords, the crucified Savior who reigns from the right hand of the Father until He brings all of His enemies under His footstool.
Now, back to the discussion on education. There is much great literature to study in the history of man, some written by Christians and some by non-Christians. While it is important to survey the great literature produced in both cities, I would argue that the Christian student should direct special attention to that literature produced in the city of God. For the empires that are built on ideas formulated in the city of man inevitably crumble and fall, but the kingdom of Jesus Christ will continue forever.
The Very Best Education
Of course, the greatest literature is found in those sacred writings inspired by God’s Spirit and contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Should our children know Shakespeare or Milton or Augustine better than they know the Bible, then we have failed to give our children an adequate education. I have produced intensive Bible Study Guides for families interested in an in-depth study of the Scriptures as the Core Curriculum of a Christian education.
But to think that our own minds are capable of understanding the Bible, the nature of God, man, and the world around us better than all of the brilliant minds of men who have gone before us would be pure, unmitigated hubris. Therefore, if there have ever lived men who have studied the Bible and attempted to formulate a world and life view around its contents, and have produced writings that millions of Christians have considered edifying throughout the ages, it would seem prudent to know some of this material.
In my early education, my own father supplied me with the best Christian books ever written, and I am doing the same thing for my children. Taking writers whose books have endured more than 300 years of history for their superb quality, I recommend Eusebius, Augustine, Bede, Anselm, A’Kempis, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Foxe, and Edwards for starters. What a shame that many Christian high school students spend far more time studying the transcendentalists, the Renaissance humanists, the Enlightenment philosophers, the feminists, the socialists, and the Unitarians, than they do the great Christian thinkers and writers!
“But,” some have told me, “We don’t agree with the ideas expressed by certain of the great Christian thinkers and writers!” My answer is simply, “And you agree with all of the humanist thinking represented by the likes of Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Machiavelli, Tennyson, Dickens, Hawthorne, Alcott, Thoreau, Emerson, Hemmingway, and Steinbeck?”
Unless the goal of the high school regimen is to graduate our young students with an incoherent, muddled perspective of human thought, I think it would be better that they study a distinctive Christian world and life view. And this will render them competent to study other competing worldviews found in western literature and world literature. To accomplish this, we begin with the preference for quality over quantity, and the Christian worldview over the humanist in this all-important area of our children’s education.