September 15, 2007

C. S. Lewis’s School Schedule

Category: History :: Permalink

For some time now, I’ve been reading through the first volume of C. S. Lewis’s Collected Letters.  They are fascinating reading for anyone who has enjoyed Lewis’s works.  I was interested to discover what his educational schedule was during the time he was studying with his tutor, Mr. Kirkpatrick, in 1915, when he was sixteen or seventeen years old.  This is from a letter he wrote to his best (one might well say, his only) friend, Arthur Greeves:

You ask me how I spend my time, and though I am more interested in thoughts and feelings, we’ll come down to facts.  I am awakened in the morning by Kirk splashing in his bath, about 20 minutes after which I get up myself and come down.  After breakfast & a short walk we start work on Thucydides — a desperately dull and tedious Greek historian (I daresay tho’, you’d find him interesting) and on Homer whom I worship.  After quarter of an hour’s rest we go on with Tacitus till lunch at 1.  I am then free till tea at 4:30: of course I am always anxious at this meal to see if Mrs. K. is out, for Kirk never takes it.  If she is I lounge in an arm chair with my book by the fire, reading over a leisurely and bountiful meal.  If she’s in, or worse still has “some people” to tea, it means sitting on a rigiht angled chair and sipping a meagrue allowance of tea and making intelligent remarks about the war, the parish, and the shortcomings of everyones servants.  At 5, we do Plato and Horace, who are both charming, till supper at 7.30, after which comes German and French till about 9.  Then I am free to go to bed whenever I like which is usually about 10.20 (p. 145).

What I find most interesting about that schedule is that it is focused almost entirely on languages and on the classics.  This is a “high school” curriculum, but with no math or science or English literature or even any history besides the history in the books that Lewis was translating (of course, when he says he’s “working on” Thucydides or “going on” with Tacitus or “doing” Plato and Horace, he means he’s reading them in the original Greek and Latin).

People complain today sometimes that certain homeschoolers aren’t teaching a complete curriculum.  That may be, and maybe that isn’t good for every child.  On the other hand, Lewis seems to have done fairly well with the education he received.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:54 pm | Discuss (6)

6 Responses to “C. S. Lewis’s School Schedule”

  1. once more with feeling » Blog Archive » C. S. Lewis’ school schedule Says:

    […] John Barach posted on what used to be considered high school education. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  2. gullchasedship Says:

    Yeah, but who wants a society of lawyers, journalists, and humanities professors. That, to me, is still the fundamental problem with classical education.

  3. John Says:

    1. in response to Mark, I’m not sure this “used to be considered high school education.” In other words, I don’t think this is what the kids in the public school (e.g., Malvern) were getting. Rather, it’s the weird education that “the Knock” gave Lewis, and it was not only quite deficient (see below) but also quite unusual in its own day.

    2. In response to Pete, what Lewis describes is not “classical education” as it’s practiced today. It’s an unusual education even for its own day (see above), but it’s also very unlike what classical Christian schools are (or should be) presenting.

    In a “classical” Christian school, or at least in one of the better ones, Latin is taught — and in the best ones, like Atlas in Moscow, Hebrew and Greek are taught and valued above Latin — but so are math and history and science and English literature.

    “Classical” refers more to methodology (and Lewis’s education wasn’t “classical” in that sense either).

    The methodology is generally that of the trivium as outlined by Dorothy Sayers in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” which started with facts when kids are little, moved on to logic when kids are a bit older and want to argue, and ended up with rhetoric when kids reach their teens and want to “express themselves.”

    As well, the best “classical” Christian schools are Christian first and foremost. Lewis’s instructor was an atheist and Lewis himself was an unbeliever at that time — not to mention a hypocrite, pretending to his father that he was still a believer and even being confirmed in the Anglican church of his childhood while openly talking as an unbeliever in his letters to Arthur Greeves.

    Some classical Christian schools seem to me to place an inordinate emphasis on Greek and Roman literature. That’s a big mistake, I think.

    As for the kind of people they train, the point is not to train people who are lawyers, journalists, and humanities professors. The goal is simply to give every child a good education, which is not an education heavy on “the classics.”

    Training in Latin, for instance, isn’t intended to produce Latin scholars so much as it is intended to produce people who are able to learn other languages, which is a skill that people need in all kinds of walks of life.

    Besides, I can’t think of any approach to education that acts as if it’s designed to train people to be truck drivers or loggers or factory workers or whatever. Teachers teach history as if the students are going to be interested in it, that is, as if they are going to be historians, even though only 1% of them probably will ever read a history book again in their lives. Such is the nature of education, no?

  4. joel hunter Says:

    Some classical Christian schools seem to me to place an inordinate emphasis on Greek and Roman literature. That’s a big mistake, I think.


  5. John Barach Says:

    Joel, I don\’t think that it\’s wrong to study Greek and Roman literature. You need to study it some in order to understand later literature. For instance, you really need to study Vergil in order to understand Milton. As well, Greek and Roman philosophy and political theology still shapes a lot of people\’s thinking today, and it\’s good for students to understand it.

    The problem comes when teachers teach this stuff as if it\’s something to be embraced or emulated. The Greeks and Romans were pagans, and their philosophy is pagan philosophy and their political theology is pagan political theology. They are demons that need to be exorcised, not gods to be embraced.

    That\’s a short answer. For a longer answer, see James Jordan\’s articles \”The Great Hangover Part 1\” and \”Part 2, as well as Rich Bledsoe\’s response \”In Defense of Latin,\” and particularly Jordan\’s series \”The Case Against Western Civilization Part 1,\” \”Part 2,\” \”Part 3,\” \”Part 4,\” \”Part 5,\” \”Part 6,\” and \”Part 7.\”

    I don\’t know that I agree with everything Jordan says here, but I do agree with the gist of it. I believe in training children to be Christians, not to be Greek or Roman pagans. More than that, I believe in training children to be forward-looking believers, not just backward-looking classics scholars.

  6. Ros Says:

    That sort of specialisation at age 17 is still fairly normal in the UK. Up to age 15/16 greater breadth was expected/required, but most people would only take 3 subjects at A-level. In very recent years, this has increased to maybe 4 or 5. But most would still tend to choose either all science-type subjects, or languages, or humanities.

    And the ‘liberal arts’ degree is unheard of. Everyone who goes to university (at 18) chooses one subject (or occasionally 2 in combination) to study. Depth is valued more highly than breadth in the UK education system.

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