The Education of the American Founders

“Dad had enough gall to be divided into three parts,” opens one of America’s beloved tales, Cheaper by the Dozen, published in 1948. To the audience of the day, this colorful description would evoke a commonplace pun from the ubiquitously read Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which opens “All Gaul is divided into three parts” (or Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres as the Latin student would have had to translate).

The chances are, neither you nor your children have read Julius Caesar and his famous Gallic Wars. However, your grandparents very likely did, and nearly every educated (certainly college educated) American for hundreds of years before that. What changed, and why does it matter?

America has been robbed of true education

John Adams, the second president of the United States and one of the original Founding Fathers wrote to his teenage son, John Quincy, who would later become the 6th U.S. president:

“I wish to turn your thoughts early to such studies as will afford you the most solid Instruction and improvement for the part which may be allotted you to act on the stage of life. There is no history, perhaps, better adapted to this useful purpose than that of Thucydides, an author of whom I hope you will make yourself perfect master.”

Letter from John Adams to his son John Quincy Adams, Philadelphia, August 11, 1777

Like Julius Caesar, most Americans haven’t read, and perhaps even heard of Thucydides. If that is you, you are not alone! The books and authors that were essential and foundational to the American founders (and generations before and after them) have been stripped from our schools and curriculum over the last 100 years.

This is not a coincidence. These books and ideas, and the art of wrestling with them (once the core of American education) are essential to a free people. As Dr. Scott Postma of Kepler Education says in the mini-documentary We’ve Been Schooled (WATCH: 11 min), “to understand why the modern man has become so dependent on the State, we need look no further than our public education system.”

It would be easy to focus on today’s falling standards, the woke ideology taught in schools, or just glance back a moment at the rich education that was so common to previous generations to know that something needs to be retrieved. But these are past and present comparisons and miss the even bigger picture that is essential to understand if we are to renew true education: what is education?

It’s Time to Reclaim Real, Freeing Education

The education that we have lost has a name: Classical Education, or the Liberal Arts. The word liberal used here has nothing to do with our common use of the word in politics and culture today. Liberal comes from the Latin liber, meaning “free,” and historically described the kind of education expected of a freeman–especially one in a position of leadership, like landowners, lawmakers, innovators. It is the education that equips students with the tools of learning. It teaches how to learn, how to think, how to reason, and how to persuade. This is why nearly every US President was trained in the Liberal Arts, and so many current CEOs and leaders around the world have Liberal Arts degrees. In fact, there is one institution that still has nearly every graduate read Thucydides: West Point Military Academy. Even today, those who are training elite leaders still recognize the essential education that was once commonplace to every American.

The opposite of the Liberal Arts are the Servile Arts, those arts and skills related to “how to do a thing” and not “why to do a thing.” And historically this was the education given to servants, slaves, and the lower classes. If you examine the education students are commonly given today, especially in college, you will recognize these servile arts have taken over our education system. Why? Because those steering our education system value citizens trained to be cogs in a machine, and dependent on the state. Free men and women who know how to think, how to question, and how to write are dangerous to tyrants who want to control a people.1

The ability of the American founders to carefully draft our Constitution was not created in a vacuum. It came from generations steeped in Scripture and the great books. They read the Bible, they read Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Plutarch, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Augustine, Dante, Milton, and so many others. And it deeply informed who they were as Americans. So much so that George Washington was called the “Cincinnatus of the West” (after the 5th century B.C. Roman).

(Photo: Statue of George Washington dressed in a Roman toga resigning his commission, a reference to his imitation of Cincinnatus.)

The American education system has destroyed the Liberal Arts by watering down the curriculum in high school and often replacing great books with woke books. The career preparation we now have in schools (in place of real education) used to be done primarily through apprenticeships. This hijacking of the Liberal Arts has been so successful that we now respond to the “shell” that remains of the Liberal Arts in college with the joke, “Want fries with that?”.

How do we Revive Classical Education?

While much damage has been done, this is not the first time in history that true learning has languished and had to be reclaimed. In fact, it was the church throughout the Middle Ages that preserved many classical texts for future generations. Christians not only founded the first universities in Europe, but made a classical education (a Liberal Arts education) the cornerstone of higher education. In early America we see how Christian this education was in the founding statements of Harvard College.

Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well [that] the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him (Prov. 2:3).

Harvard College, Rules and Precepts, 1646.

I believe that a retrieval of classical education is impossible without the perspective and foundation our American founders and the founders of Harvard University shared. The renewal of Classical Education must be Christian. To try to revive classical education that is not explicitly Christian is like trying to regain a cultural appreciation for fine wine, but ignoring the art of viticulture. Christianity is the soil in which classical education grew. Even the pre-christian pagan works were cherished, preserved, and used by Christians, so much so that the 4th century pagan emperor Julian the Apostate forbade Christians from teaching the classical texts (pre-Christian epics like the Aeneid of Vergil) in their schools. The cancelling of the classics by those opposed to Christendom is nothing new!

Practical Steps

The first step is probably the hardest for many Americans. I don’t believe it is possible to give your children a truly classical Christian education if they are in government schools. You must opt-out. Whether you choose homeschooling, private education, or online classes like Kepler Education, take the step of faith, and get your children out!

Once you have made that decision, there are so many wonderful options. I am a second generation homeschooler, and homeschool my own children. When my parents homeschooled us overseas, there was very little available in terms of support or curriculum. Today, there is an almost overwhelming amount of choice for how to give your children a Christian and classical education.

Old Western Culture

I have worked with classical educators over the past ten years to develop a curriculum that I believe is a must-have for every family. It is a four-year great books curriculum called Old Western Culture, and while it is primarily a high school curriculum (history and literature), parents (and even teachers) often use it themselves. As a decade of parents who have used the curriculum can testify, this is an excellent way for a teenager or adult to acquire the core of what it means to have a true (classical) education.

But whether or not you use Old Western Culture (presented in more detail below), read the great books! Join the conversation that has been happening for centuries by all educated men and women. Through these books, you will converse with the American founders, Reformers of the 16th century, and early church fathers who all had this education in common, and from that education learned what it means to be free.

Don’t cancel the classics!

We responded to schools and universities stripping away the classics with our own “apology” for the great books.

Watch our “Apology” for the Great Books video, and hear the full letter from John Adams to his homeschooled son.

A Practical Tool for your Family: Old Western Culture

The great books of Western civilization form the core of every effort to revive classical education. Roman Roads Press has developed an award-winning curriculum for high school students and adults that makes the study of the great books enjoyable, easy, and affordable.

Old Western Culture is a lecture-based curriculum that guides students through the great books themselves. Read the books that inspired and equipped American Presidents and Statesmen, authors throughout all history, the Protestant Reformers, the Medieval Christians, and the early Church Fathers.

Daniel Foucachon and his family

About the Author

Daniel Foucachon grew up homeschooled in Lyon, France where his father was a Presbyterian minister. His family moved to Moscow, Idaho in 2005 where he attended New Saint Andrews college, graduating in 2010. He is the founder of Roman Roads Press, a publisher of classical Christian curriculum, and Kepler Education, a platform for independent teachers to offer online classes. He is married to Lydia, and has six children with a 7th on the way. When he is not promoting classical education and the great books, he loves to spend time with his family attempting to small-scale farm.

The motto of my company, Roman Roads Press, is to “Inherit the Humanities.” This motto assumes a few things. First, there is something to inherit. There is a rich heritage to receive (the collection of works and ideas held in common by all those who preceded us in the West). Secondly, it is a verb: Inherit! You have to do something about it. So, inherit the Humanities today, both you, and your household.

Testimonials for Old Western Culture

This has to be the best curriculum we have found for studying the great classics! We’ve been homeschooling for about 15 years and have not found anything like this. 

Stephanie W, Homeschool Mom

It is a program my kids have loved the most this year. And I love that I am able to learn alongside then too. After many years of misunderstanding some of The Great Books, I can safely say I am closer to realizing what they mean now. I am truly amazed by this program!

Amy F, Homeschool mom

As a homeschool mom just venturing into classical education, I can tell you that Old Western Culture: The Greeks is super-easy to use. With schedules carefully laid out for you, you can easily plug and play. I like that all preparation is done for me and I need simply to enjoy listening to my children as they begin to think and talk and discuss ideology together.

Lynn, Homeschool mom

I’ve tried a lot of “great books” materials in the past. All have left me feeling inadequate and incapable. All of them. Old Western Culture though? This one is different.

Debra B, homeschool mom

But what if there was a single program that adequately covered key texts of Western literature; that was well-written, accurate, and Christ-centered; and that didn’t just mimic all the other courses? Well, there is. Old Western Culture: A Christian Approach to the Great Books is everything other Classical-style courses wish they were.

Caleb Cross, Exodus Books

God is in the process of redeeming my education as I educate my sons. Thank you for aiding us in that journey.

Jen R., Old Western Culture homeschooler

We love Old Western Culture and how it has made attaining a classical Christian education in the humanities very achievable and enjoyable! We used several other classical Christian humanities programs before realizing that they weren’t very homeschool friendly and we are so so blessed to have found Old Western Culture. 

Old Western Culture homeschool family
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Men, Carry Your Father

As a boy I lived for a period in Florida, the capital of retirement homes. As a result, for various reasons, we visited a few of these homes. They were nice. Like little vacation villages. Yet they were also tragic. This is where the most essential members of our society spent their most important years. 

We were living in Florida because my grandfather was dying of cancer, and we lived with him during his last days. He never lived in a retirement home, and died Christmas morning in his own bed, surrounded by family. What a gift to him, but what a greater gift to us. 

In book II of Vergil’s Aeneid, we encounter one of the most moving scenes in the epic story. Aeneas carries his father Anchises from the burning ramparts of Troy, while holding his son’s hand. In one image famously depicted by artists throughout the centuries, we see Aeneas preserving both the past and the future; his father, and his son. It’s easy to understand the need for the future, but even his father argued with Aeneas, telling him to “Make haste to save the poor remaining crew / And give this useless corpse a long adieu.” (Aeneid Book II.870). His father feared he would be a burden, and unneeded. But Aeneas needed Anchises. He didn’t need his strength, or even longevity. In fact, Anchises would die on the voyage. He needed his father for his wisdom, but more importantly, he needed what every father represents to his son: identity. To abandon his father, while alive, even if it made logical sense, would have symbolized an abandonment and death of his identity. 

Even after his death, we are reminded what his father represents when Aeneas goes into the underworld in book 6, and speaks to his father. There Anchises reminds Aeneas who he is, and what he is destined for. This is what fathers are for. 

Earthly fathers give their children a name, a household, and a lineage.

Our Heavenly Father also gives us His name in baptism, a household, and a lineage.

Our spiritual fathers have gifts to give us as well. 

The theologian Hughes Oliphant Old explored the concept of fathers in the faith this way: 

“It is an old custom to call John Chrysostom ‘our father among the saints.’ John Chrysostom, however, was celibate. Not one of us can claim him as our ancestor. What makes him then our father? Augustine had one son, who died at the age of twelve…How is it that we call such men Fathers? 

The answer is this: Chrysostom, Augustine, and Jerome have again and again engendered spiritual children, in one generation after another, in one culture after another…The Fathers were the seminal thinkers of Christian theology. If it were not for this ability of theirs to speak to the most devout and fertile of minds of every age and nation, they would have been forgotten long ago.” 
(Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship Reformed According to Scripture, 168.)

We need our fathers. Our earthly fathers by blood, our spiritual by faith, and our cultural fathers by inheritance. We need to carry them on our backs if our city is sacked. They are not dead weight, they are the treasure to retrieve from the flames. 

This Father’s Day, honor your earthly father, honor your Heavenly Father, and honor your spiritual and cultural fathers. This exhortation is embedding in our motto, “Inherit the humanities.” “To inherit” assumes the heritage is already yours and that it is a blessing to receive. 

Happy Fathers Day!

Daniel Foucachon, for all of us at Roman Roads Press

http://www.romanroadspress.com

The Very Strongest Bodies Commenced with Milk

“We are giving small instructions, while professing to educate an orator. But even studies have their infancy, and as the rearing of the very strongest bodies commenced with milk and the cradle, so he, who was to be the most eloquent of men, once uttered cries, tried to speak at first with a stuttering voice, and hesitated at the shapes of the letters. Nor, if it is impossible to learn a thing completely, is it therefore unnecessary to learn it at all.”

– Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory

Learn about Quintilian in Old Western Culture: The Romans

Kepler Education

Introducing Kepler

Kepler Education is a consortium of independent teachers, united by a vision for classical Christian education and on a single platform.

Learn how this unique approach to online classes offers a tailored education to your family as you go through jr. high and high school with your children.

See our current (and growing) number of class offerings and teachers at https://kepler.education

Children’s Church

A friend ran into this argument:

“Can you give biblical reasons for not having someone watch your ONE YEAR and 2-month-old child while you’re in church? Come on man. 14-months-old?? Can you tell me exactly what you think you are accomplishing by having a 14-month-old in church?”

childrenschurch

He responded simply with Bible references.

Have you not read?

“Call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.” -Joel 2:15-16

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” -Matthew 21:16

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” -Luke 18:15-17

“There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.” -Joshua 8:35

“Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” -Deuteronomy 31:12-13

“Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” -2 Chronicles 20:13

“While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.” -Ezra 10:1

“When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another.” -Acts 21:5-6

Ephesians 6 assumes that children would be present at the reading of the letter to the congregation.

Children were present at Jesus’ preaching (Matt 14:21).

Keep your kids in Church! The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. The elements of a service are didactic even if they don’t have full comprehension. What they will quickly gain is the knowledge that “these are my people, this is where I belong, this is the Body of Christ where I worship God.” It may take years for them to put that into words, but they understand it as surely as they understand that they belong at your dinner table. Have you ever tried removing a one-year-old from a dinner table full of older siblings?  They know to whom they belong. They have an incredible ability to discern the Body.

A Better Admissions Test: Raising the Standard for College Entrance Exams

a-better-admissions-testIt was a real privilege to contribute to A Better Admissions Test: Raising the Standard for College Entrance Exams by Classic Learning Initiatives! It was especially delightful when my search for a primary source brought me to the University of Idaho special collections, and the inaugural address of Frederick Kelley, President of the University of Idaho in 1928. Kelley, the original creator of the standardized exam in 1915, changed his views with age and wisdom, and spent the latter part of his career advocating for classical liberal arts.

My chapter (Chapter 1) gives a brief history of entrance exams in the United States, starting with an overview of the classical liberal arts, a needed foundation to understand the change brought about by standardized testing.

Robert Bortins of Classical Conversations said it best about this book: “A must read for anyone in education or admissions who is brave enough to admit that things aren’t quite right in higher education any more.”

English and the Latin Question

“We are all—more or less deliberately—students of English; we all recognize the value of accurately expressing our ideas and of exactly understanding the ideas of other. Now, though the notion has never dawned upon the large, good-humored, unenlightened public opinion which indirectly shapes our educational policies, to the serious student of English some acquaintance with Latin is not merely convenient, not merely valuable, but quite literally indispensable. At every onward step towards the mastery of his own language and literature he must use his Latin lamp if he has one, or stumble and go astray in the darkness if he has not. In this position the value of Latin is unique.”

—The Classical Weekly, Vol. V, No. 26. May 1912. Full column HERE (highly recommended!)

classical-weekly

Teaching to Tests

Quote

“If the unhappy day ever comes when teachers point their students toward these newer examinations, and the present weak and restricted procedures get a grip on education, then we may look for the inevitable distortion of education in the terms of tests.”

—Carl Brigham, creator of the SAT recanting his invention, and arguing against its advancement.
From The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, by Nicholas Lemann