The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Kevin Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
First, the positives.
Clark and Jain state in the introduction that their book is extending the bridge that the contributions of Douglas Wilson's book, Case for Classical Education, and Evans and Littlejohn's book, Wisdom and Eloquence, have made toward repairing the ruins of the classical liberal arts education. I think that they have given Classical educators, whether Boards, Administrators, or Teachers, a wealth of material for reflection, integration, and probably reorientation of their classical and Christian schools. Perhaps most significantly is their integration of Piety, Gymnastic, Music, and Philosophy into the pedagogical course that includes the seven liberal arts (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). They also seek to integrate Theology, but I found their sections on theology (the shortest in the book) to be the least developed and compelling. It isn't that I disagreed with their conception of the place of theology, but they did not bring much clarity to the study of theology as a subject, leaving it to be considered as a discipline that provides the grounds for and permeates the rest of the subjects. On the whole though, this is a delightfully fresh and welcomed addition to the literature on classical education and I hope it becomes a required reading for parents and classical educators in Classical schools and homeschools everywhere.
Second, the things that could be improved. Though this section is lengthier, it doesn't detract from the tremendous value of this book. In fact, it is because I like this book so much that I hope a second edition comes out that improves some of the things that may turn off the reader who isn't immediately excited about it, or has little or no experience with classical and Christian education.
First, a minor quibble. For a book that is outlining a philosophy of Christian Classical Education that values beauty, the layout of the book is underwhelming. The cover is adequate, but inside the margins are too narrow, the blocky highlight quotes that interrupt the text are obtrusive, and the footnotes will be intimidating to anyone who isn't used to reading scholarly literature (or, rather, scholarly literature that uses footnotes rather than endnotes). For the second edition, my humble suggestion would be to widen the margins to at least one inch on the top and bottom, and perhaps 1.25 on the outside edges; eliminate the highlight quotes or relegate them to the margins in a smaller font; turn the footnotes into endnotes, either at the end of chapters or at the end of the book.
Second, a second edition should go deeper into explaining the role of theology as a subject at the end of the course of education. If there are implicit theological elements throughout, what sort of "catechetical" knowledge of the Bible, if any, should classical educators provide, and how should theology capstone the entire endeavor at its end? What sort of theological study did the medievals employ?
Third, a second edition should expand the appendices. The first appendix was little more than talking points for what promises to be a much more detailed explication of a recurrent theme in the whole book, which is how the late medieval shift in philosophy opened avenues into modernity. The claim is probably an overstatement, or at least needs to integrate other factors, but as it stands in the book, the reader is just left wondering why such an important historical shift is only getting two pages of summary. Appendix II requires explanation. It was not clear to me how exactly the features of the chart were to be used, or what made the chart's contents a narrative. Appendix IV, like Appendix I needs to be expanded, and perhaps integrated with Appendix I since there seems to be some connection between nominalism, voluntarism, and the rejection of two of Aristotle's four causes. Appendix V looks great, so great in fact that it might be better put in the introduction to help the reader see the whole in one image before diving into each particular.
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