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Top Ten Books on Classical Education

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Here's the list Christopher Perrin provides in his Lecture Hall session on the top ten books on Classical Education (for new classical educators).

  1. The Liberal Arts Tradition
  2. An Introduction to Classical Education
  3. How the Irish Saved Civilization
  4. The Great Tradition
  5. A Mathematician’s Lament
  6. The Abolition of Man
  7. The School We Need
  8. Only the Lover Sings
  9. Desiring the Kingdom
  10. The Seven Laws of Teaching

Which ones have you read, and what was most helpful about it? Which one would you replace with another choice, and why?

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I've only read half of the books on this list, so I wouldn't venture to determine which I'd replace. I'd definitely add Wisdom and Eloquence to the list. Another lesser-known book I enjoyed that fits right in is Educating for Virtue, a small collection of essays by Russell Kirk, Claes G. Ryn, Paul Gottfried, Peter J. Stanlis, and Solveig Eggerz, and edited by Joseph Baldacchino. (If the only one you've ever heard of is Russell Kirk, you're in the same position as me.) The essays were originally presented at a conference at The Catholic University of America in 1987.

Here's the table of contents:

  1. The Humanities and Moral Reality
  2. The Ethical Purpose of Literary Studies
  3. Education and the American Political Tradition
  4. The Humanities in Secondary Education
  5. Permanence and the History Curriculum

And from the introduction:

"...If there is a single thread that runs through these essays, it is the recognition of a universal order that transcends the flux of human life and gives meaning to it...Insofar as men act in accordance with this order, they experience true happiness and are brought into community with others who are similarly motivated. But men are afflicted with contrary impulses that are destructive of universal order. When acted upon, these impulses bring suffering and a sense of meaningless and despair; the result is disintegration and conflict--within both the personality and society at large. Yet so tempting are the attractions of these impulses--to yield is effortless and the payoffs in terms of short-term pleasure and ego gratification are alluring--that they frequently prevail and must be taken into account in any realistic assessment of human affairs.

"This tension within the person between competing desires--the conflict between what Plato called the One and the Many--is the ultimate reality of human experience. To apprehend this reality, and to act in the light of the transcendent purpose with appropriate reverence and restraint, is the essence of wisdom; and to help deepen and strengthen this apprehension--through philosophy, history, literature, and the arts and sciences--is the overarching purpose of any education worthy of the name."

The essays on literature, history, and the humanities make this book particularly apt for instructors in those subjects developing a teaching philosophy, but I think overall it's a worthwhile read for anyone in classical education.

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Interesting choices Patrick! Have you read any of Douglas Wilson's books on classical education? When I read Wisdom and Eloquence it seemed that Littlejohn was addressing his views in large part in reaction to Wilson. If I were to recommend it to a new teacher I think I'd include one of Wilson's books as well to give the complete picture of the debate (either Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning or Repairing the Ruins).

The Kirk, et al. book sounds very promising! I've added it to my wish list 😁

I've also only read half of the books on Perrin's list. I'm a little surprised that he didn't put Norms and Nobility on his top ten for new teachers, but I'm guessing it shows up on his 102 list (I haven't watched that lecture yet).

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I'd also put Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning on this sort of list, maybe in the top ten. I think reading it and Wisdom and Eloquence alongside each other is a helpful exercise, to see what they agree and disagree on. (I also recall an ACCS lecture and article by Wilson addressing some of the critiques after Wisdom and Eloquence came out.)

It took me quite a while before I got around to reading Norms and Nobility. (One of our former teachers actually wrote his dissertation on it.) I enjoyed it a lot, but also found it really intimidating. Maybe it's not on the list because new teachers can't afford it...😉

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46 minutes ago, Patrick Halbrook said:

I'd also put Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning on this sort of list, maybe in the top ten. I think reading it and Wisdom and Eloquence alongside each other is a helpful exercise, to see what they agree and disagree on. (I also recall an ACCS lecture and article by Wilson addressing some of the critiques after Wisdom and Eloquence came out.)

It took me quite a while before I got around to reading Norms and Nobility. (One of our former teachers actually wrote his dissertation on it.) I enjoyed it a lot, but also found it really intimidating. Maybe it's not on the list because new teachers can't afford it...😉

Yes, Norms and Nobility is a greater challenge than the others (though not, perhaps, greater than Abolition of Man, except for the size), and certainly expensive!

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...and personally, I found reading Norms and Nobility a breeze in comparison with trying to truly implement its ideas.

Edited by Patrick Halbrook
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2 hours ago, Patrick Halbrook said:

...and personally, I found reading Norms and Nobility a breeze in comparison with trying to truly implement its ideas.

Man, if implementing anything pedagogical were as easy as reading about it, life would be far less difficult.

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I think The Liberal Arts Tradition is a great #1 choice if we're talking about a "101" list. I'm not sure it's fair to count The Great Tradition as "a" book. It's excerpts from scores of writers. I think one or two ancients deserve a place of their own on that list, and one of them needs to be Plato. Some Jacques Barzun wouldn't be out of place, either "Teacher in America" or "Begin Here," perhaps. Of course, I've only read about half of them, so I can't say what they might displace.

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