Sadness, anger, and hope. These are the emotions that I experienced as I read Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans. The book casts a vision for education that leads students not only to grow spiritually, intellectually, and socially but to foster similar growth in society. Against the pragmatism of vocational-technical educational philosophy, the authors advocate education that instills in students a love for wisdom and the skill to use that wisdom for the transformation of the culture.
With regard to the range of emotions evoked in me by this book, I was saddened because the rich tradition of the liberal arts has been so significantly neglected in favor of contemporary experimentation in educational method. I was saddened because we do not, as a culture, generally approach education as a means of gaining wisdom but as a means of generating income. Education has historically been about producing cultural leaders. And if such leaders are to be produced, they must be educated to think well and speak clearly. This is the sort of education that produced the men who crafted the American Declaration of Independence. This is the sort of education that produced the men who forged the Protestant Reformation. This is the sort of education that produces free cultures, and if it is lost, then freedom is lost as well.
I felt anger because I did not receive such a Christ-centered and classical education. I am struggling now to gain the sort of education of which these men write because I did not receive it in grade school. I was not taught the intricacies of language and how to use it with care and precision in a persuasive manner. I was not taught to identify the fallacies foisted upon me by those who will seek to take advantage. I didn’t learn to diagram a sentence until I took intermediate level Greek in seminary. Indeed, I learned to diagram in Greek before learning the same skill in English, and my understanding of English grammar at present is a result of the only two options of sinking or swimming in graduate school Greek. How much benefit I would have reaped had I been trained in these skills from the earliest grades.
But I also felt hope. I felt hope because men like Littlejohn and Evans are writing books like Wisdom and Eloquence. I felt hope because our Lord is raising up a generation of educators who long to give their children what they themselves never received. I felt hope because Christian parents across the country are taking charge of the education of their children in obedience to Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6. I felt hope because my own son will perhaps be given the sort of education which I did not receive, which will equip him to shape the world in which he lives rather than be shaped by it.
You have certainly noticed by now that this is not the typical book review in that I’ve spoken more of my reaction to the book rather than the content of the book itself. But it occurs to me that the highest recommendation of a book might come in the form of personal testimony rather than a summary of content. I will say briefly that the authors use the opening chapters (1-4) to establish the philosophical framework for Christian liberal arts education. The following four chapters (5-8) will be especially helpful to those with little previous exposure to the liberal arts curriculum. In these chapters, Littlejohn and Evans give an overview of the entire curriculum and make numerous helpful suggestions with regard to objectives and course planning. The final two chapters (9-10) provide some practical advice for establishing a healthy ethos for a liberal arts school. Many of these chapters should be read and read again. The book has some specific strengths, of which I have written previously. And, as with all published works, it has weaknesses, of which I may write in the future. At this point allow me to simply commend to you the joy of reading this book.
Wisdom and Eloquence is itself full of wisdom put eloquently. Every Christian parent should read this book. It is one with which I will certainly consult with regularity.