Now that you understand the discipling process of the classical Christian paideia, you are ready to catch the high school vision and create a Western classics curriculum wishlist for the next four years. So how do you, as the elder in this relationship, decide what fundamental realities you want to explore during your teen’s classical education? You could make a list of abstract concepts like truth, goodness, and beauty then assign them to your teen, but that approach is too ambiguous for me because it lacks historical context. The Apostle Paul, as well as Jesus, used the Torah and the Prophets as the authoritative starting point for ideas, and as a Christian, surely the Bible will significantly influence your post-trivium discussions, perhaps even as the cornerstone of all thought. Even classically educated non-Christians should explore the depths of Scripture for the valuable lessons therein. But there is more to read than Scripture. Literate 21st Century thinkers are extremely fortunate to have access to an even broader base of ideas as expressed in what is generally known as the “Western Canon.”
The English word canon derives from the Greek word that means measuring rod or standard.
The “Western Canon” is a collection of books, art, and music that have been most influential in shaping Western culture.
In effect, these works are the standard by which Westerners live. There is no distinct origin of the canon; rather, the Western Canon grows over time as men and women of learning agree that certain works of literature and fine arts are timeless in worth because they deal with the essential themes of life. These “classic” works represent the inherited body of knowledge, beliefs and achievements of Western civilization. They are rich in timeless ideas; as such, they will be the backbone of your post-trivium dialogue as you seek to guide your teen in interpreting meaning for the purpose of influencing his culture.
Why should you study the classics? Belief drives action, and the achievements of our civilization were not revealed in an historical vacuum. There is a unique, symbiotic relationship within the works of Western Canon. In other words, classic works inspire classic works. For instance, Michelangelo painted the fabulous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. You may recall the graceful, gripping image of God’s finger reaching out to man’s finger. This idea of God reaching out to man surely arises from the Biblical Canon of Scripture. However, what you may not know unless you have seen the entire masterpiece is that lining the walls of the Sistine Chapel are images of the New Testament Apostles and Old Testament Prophets intermingled with mythological pagan goddesses! Although shocking to see religious syncretism manifested during such a late date as the Renaissance, the images provide a wealth of ideas from ancient Greek and Roman mythology as well as Christian classics. The influence of earlier oral, written, and artistic works is apparent and provides a rich basis for meaningful discussion.
Another example of how the classics influence each other is the idea of the dome. Brunelleschi, widely recognized as an engineering genius, gained inspiration for the miraculous dome that caps the Duomo in Florence, Italy from ancient Roman author, Vitruvius, who wrote the Ten Books on Architecture. Subsequent architects marveled at Brunelleschi’s Duomo and created their own masterpieces like the ornate dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or the majestic dome of the U. S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
The perpetual influence of the Western Canon is apparent in literature, medicine, military tactics, law, and countless other areas of knowledge. Dante and Shakespeare pattern much of their poetry on the oral verse of the Homeric bards of ancient Greece. Dante even includes Vergil, the author of the Roman epic Aeneid, as a character in his trilogy. The Hippocratic oath that contemporary medical students take derives from the ancient Western anatomist and physician, Hippocrates. DaVinci’s famous drawing of the human body was influenced by the early writings and understanding of Hippocrates and his disciples. The modern military battalion of the U. S. Armed Forces has roots in the ancient Greek phalanx which influenced the structure of the Roman legion. Finally, our form of government known as a democratic republic is a fused adaptation of the Greek idea of democracy and the Roman idea of a republic.
Which classics of the Western Canon most closely meet the themes of your family and the interests and abilities of your teen? To begin your discovery, complete the following “absorb, do, and connect” activities.
- Read Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge
- Read Classic Lit Art Favs
- Read Classic Composers Favs
- Listen to Exploring the Classics of the Western Canon (8:44)
- Read Three Methods for Interpreting Textual Meaning
- Read Study Scripture, Christian Writings, and Theology
- Grab a copy of Invitation to the Classics by Os Guinness
- Play game – identify
- Consider Worldview Curriculum Choices
- Answer questionnaire
- Discover my top list of classic lit/art/composers
- Did you know…?
- Complete the pdf
Now that you have a long-term vision for the high school classical curriculum, it’s time to draft a mock high school transcript that captures the breadth of the classical home education that you plan to accomplish over the next four years. Go on to the final step in your high school Classical Makeover: How Will You Customize the High School Transcript?