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On Education and Its Institutions

The contemporary controversy concerning education centers around the institutions tasked with providing it.  We ask ourselves what curricula should be implemented, what teaching methods are most effective, and how governmental agencies can assist in the growth of educational institutions—we debate the morality of teachers and their influence, the rights to speech and questioning, the difficulty of grading and assessment and so on and on.  All too rarely, especially as these disputes intensify, do we pause to question our presuppositions concerning the true nature and purpose of education itself.  Indeed: long is it overdue that we turn our gaze away from the institutional structure and instead towards the individual, the family, and especially the parents who themselves are not only the first teachers of their children, but who ought to teach them always—who ought to be models from which their children learn throughout life.

This is not to deny the necessity of educational institutions—not only as pragmatic necessities for parents who cannot afford to homeschool but also for higher learning of every kind.  Yet, though necessary, institutions will always be insufficient.  We cannot outsource or offload the responsibility for education to any institution or collection of institutions.  Institutions are lenses that help bring clarity and focus; but they are not the light.

Real Education

Education, as any experienced educator knows, consists in guiding rather than informing; in fostering the right questions rather than the correct answers.  Intellectual nourishment, however, requires a holistic approach.  Going to the gym five days a week will do relatively little for one’s health if all other hours of the day are marked by constant consumption of junk food and buttery baked goods.  So too, the best teaching in school cannot eradicate contrary examples given at home—nor, for that matter, should this be required.  For the student to see his parents’ leisure hours consumed whole by television or distractions encourages inheritance of the same infertile habit.  Every human being signifies to every other not only through words and actions, but by the virtues and vices cultivated in one’s person.  We not only think through signs; we are ourselves symbols, signifiers of the truths and goods in which we believe, shown through our actions.

Thus, we must reorient our perspective on education: the foundation—the first symbol by which its merit is conveyed to the child and spread throughout the culture—cannot be found in the institution but rather only within the household and particularly in parents aflame with their own love for wisdom and learning.  This love becomes a first spark in the lives of children—to be focused and brightened by the lenses of educational institutions.  But they can neither start nor maintain that fire.

Communal Lights

This love of learning and discovery passed from parent to child need not be of abstruse topics—neither metaphysics nor science, theological controversy nor philosophical dialectic—but can be rooted in the very life of the home: in the tradition of family, in the cultivation of land, in the play of language through story and invention.  Principally, this love must kindle the natural desire to know, that sits at the heart of every human being.  That parents may seek development of their own higher education, of course, serves all the better, for this demonstrates that learning not only satisfies curiosity or amusement, but that it requires discipline, and that this discipline earns the soul richer rewards. 

By showing this intellectual discipline to children—and, indeed, one’s whole community—the parent (or even the unmarried and childless adult) exposes the lie that education after childhood constitutes a mere hobby or pastime.  At the Lyceum Institute we aim to provide a digital community which supports this continued pursuit of learning—as, indeed, education always is enriched by being shared with others.  In fact, no education occurs alone; it is handed down by ourselves and by others and flourishes thereby, through books and records of findings and thought.  But a living engagement takes it further: brings it into the life possible only through conversation, through disputation, through real questioning. Community, structured by an institution, helps shape the lens through which the lights of learning shine brighter.

We would love for you to join us.

Last Chance to Register for Fall Seminars

With discussion sessions beginning this coming Saturday (9/23), I would be remiss if I did not put out a final call for registration in our Fall seminars. We have three provocative offerings, each of which promises to confront the errors of modernity in radically differing ways.

Registration for all seminars closes on 21 September 2023 at 11pm ET!

Podcast – How Does One Know?

I recently joined John Johnson and Larissa Bianco over at the Albertus Magnus Institute to talk about all things (or, at least, a lot of things) related to knowledge and the specifically human difference in how that knowledge unfolds in our experience. Be sure to check out the AMI website, especially the two summer courses starting in June: close read’s of Newman’s Idea of a University and Plato’s Republic!

But first, follow us into the weeds of knowing (and be sure to listen to the many other great podcast episodes available here). What is knowledge? How do animals know? How does human knowledge differ fundamentally from that of an animal? What roles are played by signs and relation in human knowledge? Why is knowledge a source of joy? What does it mean to say that “all men desire to know?” What is the object of that knowledge? The questions keep on coming!

Mentioned in the podcast: Education and Digital Life: Founding Declaration and Related Essays.

Restless Soul: Zena Hitz on the AMI Podcast

Friends being friends with friends: it is a beautiful thing! Listen to Dr. Zena Hitz, tutor at St. John’s College, author of Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (a highly-recommended book), and Co-founder & President of the Catherine Project talk on the Magnus Podcast, hosted by John Johnson and Larissa Bianco. We are affiliate partners with both institutions! Listen to Dr. Hitz discuss the development of thinking and the role of education in the fructification of a human life.

As we all agree, we can do more together than we can do alone.

Listen to the podcast here!

Lifelong Intellectual Development

The Lyceum Institute is dedicated to nurturing the habits of lifelong intellectual development through the use of digital technology, making high-quality education accessible to a meaningfully diverse community of like-intentioned persons. As a non-profit institution, we rely on the generosity of our supporters to continue providing exceptional learning experiences that foster genuine thinking and self-improvement. How do we provide this education and how can you help?

Higher Education

All of our programs are structured and conducted with the intent of building key habits of intellectual virtue: studiousness, diligence, orderliness, focus, knowledge, insight, and the humility to recognize, respect, and adhere to wisdom. These habits are cultivated in an atmosphere that emphasizes forming and asking questions—questions asked of others, of the tradition, of the present world, and most of all, of oneself. We cannot improve without knowing what we lack, and we cannot discover answers if we do not know the questions.

Traditional institutions of higher education remain invaluable, but insufficiently meet our current needs. Students must overcome obstacles of time, place, and considerable financial expense to attend such programs. Moreover, wars of ideological opposition, serving only to distract from an honest pursuit of the truth, have decimated the courses and curricula of many universities. By contrast, the digital environment of the Lyceum is flexible, affordable, and concerned with the inquiry into and discovery of what is true, regardless of its provenance or associations.

Members and Studies

Members of the Lyceum Institute come from a wide range of backgrounds and with a diversity of experience: factory workers and truck drivers, PhDs and medical doctors, students and retirees, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim; with backgrounds in the humanities and the sciences, with decades of study or just beginning—we all seek the same good and are bound by the common desire to know. Humility before true wisdom, possessed by none but loved by all, provides the foundation for our community.

Thus we commonly engage in studies of philosophy, literature and the arts, the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (though continually revising our understanding in light of the new technological paradigm), languages (with an emphasis on Latin), and keep open our doors for new thoughts.

Together we are building a new way of learning: one not constrained to a course of months or years, but which integrates itself into the whole of human life.

Since joining [the Lyceum Institute], I feel that I have found a place in the digital wasteland to call home: a home where I learn and discuss more about philosophy, the classics, art, theology and psychology; a home where my interests are taken seriously and given room to grow; a home where I find others living consciously, respectful of the thoughtfulness of others, motivated by the wisdom of the past, and wrestling with the answers for the future.

-Mark [see more testimonials here].

Broader Community

At the core of this new way of learning stands a principle of financial subsidiarity. Put simply, we do not want financial barriers to stand in the way of individuals serious about integrating their love of wisdom into daily life. Thus, we encourage all of our members who can to pay more, so that those who cannot, may still participate. But we also rely upon donations from the broader community to supplement this model of subsidiarity.

Every member that we gain is another light in the dark—brightening not only our own digital community, but bringing that light to friends and family and their local communities. Every donation we receive is fuel for those flames.

Even if membership is not right for you, you can help us to brighten the world. Donate to our Spring Fundraiser by 8 June 2023, Better Self-Critics, to help us reach our quarterly goal, or set up a recurring donation here.

Trivium: The Art of Logic 2023

On 1 May 2023, we will begin our second Trivium course of the year: The Art of Logic. Our first discussion session will take place on 8 May 2023 at 6:00pm ET. This course is open to all enrolled Lyceum Institute members; having taken Grammar is not a prerequisite. If you would like to sign-up and take this course, enroll here. You can find out more about our approach to studying logic here.

In brief, however: is there right reasoning concerning reasoning itself? Can we reason rightly about other things if we are misled as to the nature of reasoning itself? Of course we can; but incidentally, rather than properly, and in a manner not precisely under our own control. Without having successfully undergone training in logic, we are much more likely to go awry in the formation of our beliefs—holding things untrue or unfitting to reason, that is—than otherwise. Thus, even though it is quite difficult, Thomas Aquinas rightly says that we ought to begin our learning from logic:

And for this reason it is necessary in learning to begin from logic, not because it is easier than the other sciences—indeed, it has the greatest difficulty, since it concerns second intentions—but because the other sciences depend upon it, insofar as it teaches the mode of proceeding in all the other sciences.

c.1257-59: In de trin., q.6, a.1, p.2, ad.3: “Et hac ratione oportet in addiscendo a logica incipere, non quia ipsa sit facilior ceteris scientiis, habet enim maximam difficultatem, cum sit de secundo intellectis, sed quia alia scientiae ab ipsa dependent, in quantum ipsa docet modum procedendi in omnibus scientiis.”

In our course, we will concern ourselves not only with learning to analyze propositions and syllogisms of both categorical and hypothetical structure, to parse prose writing for its logical structure (and errors therein), and to illuminate the illative relation which ties together all our reasoning, but also situate logic both historically and as it fits within the broader tradition of the Trivium.

Again, this seminar is open to all Lyceum Institute members, at every level of enrollment. Our primary (required) textbook is R.E. Houser’s Logic as a Liberal Art.

Trivium: Art of Grammar 2023

Today (2 January) we begin our 2023 course in studying the Trivium: Art of Grammar. Our first discussion session will take place on 9 January 2023 at 6:00pm ET. This course is open to all enrolled Lyceum Institute members. If you would like to sign-up and take this course, enroll here. You can find out more about our approach to studying grammar here.

Too few of us know well enough the nuances and difficulties of the English language, or of language in general. Yet all of us live today in a world suffused by language. The more time we spend in digital environments, especially, the more we find ourselves comprised by linguistic structures. A careful study of the English language is necessary to guard oneself against misinformation, deception, and abuse. The Lyceum Institute offers an accessible program and supportive community for undertaking such a study.

Humble Beginnings for Human Education

To all our visitors, members, faculty, patrons, and benefactors: I am deeply humbled by the time, dedication, and resources that you have given to this endeavor—more so by the fact that each good we have received seems to have resulted in returns with exponential interest. A single seed, well-nurtured, may produce many fruits; and the seeds first sown at the Lyceum Institute are just beginning to flower. We began with four seminars, taught by one faculty members, in 2019. In just a few short years, we have blossomed to seven faculty, twelve seminars, six Latin courses, German, three Trivium courses—and more. From these humble beginnings, we are aspiring to great things: true human education.

As we turn the corner into the new year, I yet again must ask for your continued support. All seeds require continued nourishment. Your funds will enable us to accomplish our goals in 2023 and beyond. Click the link below to learn more about our progress and our goals, and to see our GiveButter campaign.

Even if you cannot contribute financially, please spread the word about the Lyceum Institute! You can also subscribe to our Newsletter, choose another means of support, or enroll and participate in our program!

Latin Courses for 2023

If you have ever wanted to learn Latin, or to improve your already-existing abilities with the language, we have lots of options for you in 2023! We have set the calendar for our Latin Courses in 2023. This includes three Foundations Elementary courses (comprising a total of 36 weeks), which teach the basics and three Selected Readings courses, which comprise a variety of selections in prose and poetry, Scholastic writings, and the Moral Epistles of Seneca the Younger. Our wide range of Latin offerings enables students to grow in understanding and confidence of the language.

Elementary Latin I10 January – April 18 (Tuesdays)6:00–7:00pm ET (New York)
Elementary Latin II10 January – April 18 (Tuesdays)7:30–8:30pm ET
Elementary Latin III9 May – July 25 (Tuesdays)7:30–8:30pm ET
Seneca’s Epistles13 April – June 22 (Thursdays)6:00–7:00pm ET
Scholastic Latin29 August – November 21 (Tuesdays) 10:30–11:30am ET
Prose & Poetry14 September – November 16 (Thursdays)6:00–7:00pm ET

All of our class sessions are recorded, so if a student must miss a session or two, they can still review the material. However, because language requires practice, attendance at classes is required. This policy also helps students keep pace with one another and builds community among participants.

Participation in all three Elementary courses and in Scholastic Latin is included at every level of enrollment, while a nominal fee is required for Seneca’s Epistles and Prose & Poetry. Elementary courses are offered annually, and can be re-taken as often as desired. One cannot enroll for these courses without being a member of the Lyceum Institute.

If you are interested in Latin, you can learn more about our approach here (and contact our Director of Languages, Richard Sharpe). We hope you will consider enrolling and studying with us in 2023!

Re-Thinking Education

I have, relative to my own age and experience, long been a critic of academia. Just the other week, a friend reminded me of a late-night frustrated rant delivered in graduate school about the seeming hopeless prospects laid before us. Not only our chances to find meaningful employment, I claimed, but the whole structure is crumbling. The problems are entrenched in its very structure: it has become irredeemably ordered toward expedience, technical training, empty credentialing, pseudo-professionalism, consumerism, and disdainful of the methods through which true intellectual habits are formed, for these all are inconvenient to its model.

But worst of all, the gears of academia’s modern mechanism grind down those who most love its true (if largely abandoned) purpose: the pursuit and teaching of the truth. Many good professors stay in their positions despite academia: they love teaching and seeing their students get it; discovering truths new to themselves; being in a community of the like-minded. But to see these goods realized often requires a Herculean effort. Burdened with apathetic students and bureaucratic headaches, they are left with too little time. Job security eludes many, and most attain it only by sacrificing even more time to tasks even more tedious.

What are we to do? Give up and allow ourselves finally to become naught but ground-down dust—or abandon the academic intent altogether? Or… might we do something else? I believe in the third alternative. Allow me to explain; and allow me to be so audacious as to use poetry in offering an explanation of re-thinking education.

The Purpose of Education

Controversy over the topic of academic freedom seems to arise every so often. In recent years, the controversy has mostly concerned the policing of language and adherence to ideologies concerning individual identities. Popular figures—mostly those who have suffered somehow at the hands of relevant censorship—have made names for themselves by railing against this restriction of intellectual freedom. But the proponents of academic freedom often champion it as a kind of absolute principle. Behind their advocation stands a belief that, on a level playing field, truth will win out over falsity, and, therefore, academia should be a place where any idea can be stated.

But the “level playing field” does not ever exist.  Culture shapes students long before they enter the university and tends to maintain a hold on their thought throughout as well.  Moreover, even in the university, we live not by intellect alone.  A professor may have weak arguments, but a cool, commanding air about him; and he may be handsome.  The other, meanwhile, might have the best reasoning, but be physically ailing, old, unrelatable.  To which will the typical eighteen-year-old be more drawn?

Many academics accepted (contrary to the spirit of intellectual inquiry) that the academy was a place in which they could freely pursue whatever theory they wished.  To be sure, intellectual inquiry demands a looseness with respect to restraint.  But it does not merit total absence of any restraint.  It requires an antecedent purposiveness: that of being-towards-truth.  Put otherwise, freedom without purpose is not really freedom; and academic freedom not ordered towards the pursuit of truth (and the willingness to admit fault or uncertainty) is not a freedom anyone should possess.

In the absence of this unifying pursuit (behind which absence there lies another story too long to tell here), the “university” (to which name it no longer merits a claim) turns to purposes inhuman and inhumane: primarily, the diversion of its resources into the training of functionaries.  This perversion of aim runs deep.  It infects university presidents and deans, board members and trustees, hiring and curriculum committees, and branches out systemically through every vein of the increasingly-bureaucratic institution.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats 1919: ”The Second Coming”

W.B. Yeats’ poem—perhaps his most famous—“The Second Coming” expresses this reality, most especially in its first stanza.  The university has lost its center and all culture falls apart.  If governments and corporations seem increasingly totalitarian, this comes as a response (a poor one) to an anarchy in the human soul: a loss of principle and a corresponding loss of order.  The world seems bleak… and we lack the education to make it right again.  Many, I think, anticipate the “rough beast”—war, plague, famine, destruction of all civil order; a purging fire—with trepidation, anxiety, but also a sense of relief.  Let it all be over.

Slow Build of a New Approach

Like many, I do not find myself often brimming with optimism about the world.  Things do, indeed, appear bleak.  But it is historically myopic to believe this bleakness an abnormality.  If we find the world seeming dark today, perhaps this is because we have never been able to see so much of it in so short a time.  All the worst news rains down upon us in a constant barrage.  Tragedy, strife, and suffering can be delivered instantaneously around the globe.

Good things, on the other hand—truly good things—take time for their fruits to ripen.  As such, we can seldom see them at an instant.  We must observe them closely and across months, years; perhaps even decades or centuries.  The immediacy of the bad and the long, slow unfolding of the good, no doubt, frustrates our contemporary minds.  Habits of immediate gratification have seized us all.  We lack the patience to wait and watch, to see the good through from seed to fruit.  But our impatience is unbecoming.  The realization of the good is and ought to be slow.

Why “ought”?  Perhaps that assertion evokes a knee-jerk reaction, an objection.  But from where?  What within us objects to the notion that the good ought to be slow?  Most likely, it arises from that aforementioned habit of immediate gratification.  Yet do we truly see the good of things gained immediately?  Or do we not, and rightly so, appreciate more the things hard-won?  Deep and abstruse philosophical questions emerge here: questions concerning act and potency, virtue and human habits.  We’ll not tackle them at the moment (for, indeed, they cannot be tackled at a moment—for understanding them is a true good).  Succinctly stated, however, the world which we inhabit requires toil by its nature.  It is fitting that we toil to bring forth the good.  We may not like this truth; but we will be much more at peace with the world if we recognize and accept it.

Doubtless, we find ourselves frustrated with the state today of academia.  We want a quick solution—just as we might wish to become healthy or virtuous or more learned ourselves tomorrow.  Perhaps it seems the most expedient path to recovery lies with the already-extant institutions.  Universities have buildings, of course, and funding, and faculty; accreditation and curricula, degrees and name-recognition.  But they no longer have credibility because they no longer have purpose.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas 1947: “Do not go gentle into that good night”

And purpose, of course, is also a true good.  We cannot “hand it back” to the university, held as it is by the perverse order entrenched in every level of its existence.  Purpose in education must be grown again, slowly, painstakingly, day by day, month by month, year by year.

Put otherwise, the answer is not, as Dylan Thomas would have it, to “rage against the dying of the light”; but neither is it to “go gentle into that good night”.  The sun is setting on the university, and it may be a long darkness to follow. But there will be a dawn, and we, in the meantime, may hold a candle.  One flame may beget another, and that second beget a third, and so on—but we should not try burning down the house just to make a briefer, brighter light.  An educational institution cannot be created in a single day. We have our purpose. But we will build that fire slowly.

Help Keep the Flame

Alright—just as I am not often brimming with optimism, neither am I often this melodramatic.  The flame is a metaphor, of course, for what I hope the Lyceum Institute is, and will be.  And, of course, I hope that you will help keep it going: either by donating or, even better, by supporting us through enrollment (or purchasing our “manifesto”). Re-thinking education requires a slow building of habit. We are planting the seeds. We hope you will help us bear the fruits: this year and next, this decade and the following, throughout this century and beyond.