Only One Thing is Necessary

[A version of this article was first published on the Classical Conversations blog.]

There is only one thing necessary in homeschooling and in life. That one thing is our full attention to, and adoration of, Christ. Ironically, at the very place where we are tempted to reply, “yes, but…” we find the answer to our hectic and busy lives.

Oh Martha

We get overwhelmed with homeschooling. This is not surprising for we also get overwhelmed with parenting, work, housekeeping, relationships, and life. Perhaps we are overwhelmed because we are Americans, and Americans have their foibles, but more likely it’s because we are just human; we take on too much and worry too much. The problem is that most of what we try to do is good. For homeschoolers the good comes in many forms: we schedule activities, prepare lessons, guide our children through their studies, and we are generally at it constantly. We can make a mile long list of all the good things to do. But even if we could complete that list we would likely miss the point, the one thing that makes homeschooling (and all education) worthwhile. What is that one thing? The answer is simple, though not easy; and it’s something every Christian should know, but we lose sight of it all the time. What is it? Luke presents it better than I ever could:

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NASB)

We too are worried and bothered about so many things. But only one thing is necessary. Choose the good part and it will not be taken away from you. Mary chose the one necessary thing. Will we?

I love this little story, but as with so many of my favorite Bible passages, I am am troubled by it. Consider the situation. Christ is present with his followers. These people love him. They care about him and they want to serve him. They want to serve others around him as well, and by doing so they are supporting His ministry. Christ came declaring the kingdom of God and these people want to be a part of that kingdom. Martha is intent on doing her part. She is laboring, taking on extra work. We know that being a good host was highly valued in those days and in that culture. And here Christ himself was in Martha’s house. This was a big deal. Was not Martha right in expecting her sister to help, even just a little? What in the world was Mary doing?

Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. She was fully attentive to Christ.

Does this not translate to our lives as well? We are serving God and His kingdom by raising and teaching our children in the way of Christ, are we not? We want to serve God, to serve others, to live out the kingdom of God here and now. How then can we forsake these duties, these good things, for something that looks like we’re loafing? In short, how are we going to teach our children all that they must know; and how are we going to get everything done, if we merely sit at Christ’s feet? Isn’t Martha right? Perhaps she needs to chill out a little, but on the whole isn’t she focused on the right things? Aren’t we right to fill our homeschooling days with a plethora of activities, lists, timelines, conjugations, papers, etc? Shouldn’t we be trying to get it all done?

The One Thing

I am also troubled by this story in part because I am not sure I fully grasp Christ’s meaning. Just what is the one thing?

Let’s think about this a little more. Every day we have the opportunity to serve, every day we can (at least in our hearts) be at our Lord’s feet. In Mary’s case Christ was actually, physically there. Where else could Mary be but at his feet? Martha was doing good, but she was not choosing the best part, the one thing. Martha hosted but Mary adored. Martha served but Mary worshiped. Martha was about getting the work done. Mary knew it was about Christ. Perhaps Martha was right to serve, but she was wrong to worry about it, and she probably should have set aside her worries and duties and just sat with Mary at Christ’s feet.

Could it be that the one thing is Christ Himself? Or perhaps, we should say the one thing is the proper orientation of our souls, or the right perspective on life, that comes from trusting entirely in God and understanding the true nature of His grace. Maybe it’s the same thing. Christ is the still point around which all of creation turns. In Him is the summation, revelation, and incarnation of God’s great master plan━a plan that is filled with mercy, is trustworthy, and is for our salvation.

The question remains: What does this look like in our lives today? How should this play out in our homeschooling contexts, on our Classical Conversations’ campuses, and in our daily struggles?

Our Choice

In our homeschooling we are faced with the choice of being a Martha or a Mary. The difficulty is that Martha offers the stronger appeal to us. We have so much to do, so much to get done. And those things often do need to get done. But the truth is we really don’t want to be told our “to do” lists are missing the point much of the time. If we are not careful, Martha will be our hero.

Perhaps we can get to the essence of Christ’s gentle statement to Martha by contrasting it with what we find so often in the world. Whether in our modern world or in the ancient world, the evidence points to a constant scurrying of human activity that hustles and bustles towards ever increasing busyness and ever increasing worries. We are full of the cares of the world. We are burdened with desires and concerns. Our schools, public and Christian, are bursting with activities. All too often schools exemplify the disease of the age with their multiplicity of subjects, standards, tests, grades, technologies, goals, curricula, hoops to jump through, levels to attain, packed lesson plans, and constant worries.

But what if one doesn’t get all of it done? What if one’s children do not get through the lesson in the allotted time? Or what if you do a bad job of teaching a lesson? What if a student fails to memorize the history timeline, or gets her conjugations mixed up, or just plain can’t sit still today? In those situations where is your compass pointing? What is your ultimate destination? Why are you even bothering to homeschool?

The Big Picture

Just a few verses after the scene with Mary and Martha, the disciples are asking Jesus how they should pray. In those days to ask a Rabbi how to pray was like asking him to sum up the essence of his teaching in a short, easy to remember statement. Jesus replies by saying they should pray this way:

“Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2b-4, NASB)

Notice first what is said: The prayer begins by praising God, then desiring His kingdom to come. Next is a plea for basic needs to be met. Forgiveness is then asked for, followed by a reminder of what condition must be met in order to be forgiven. Finally there is a request to be kept from temptation. Now notice what is not said: “Lord help us to get everything done, give us the strength to finish our “to do” lists, make sure our children complete their homework, help us to make successful lesson plans, and please solve the laundry pile.”

Certainly we have a lot to get done. We have taken on the great task of educating our children. But we must not lose sight of the one thing necessary. As we devise our curricula, make our lesson plans, teach our children, and prod them in their homework, we must remember to choose the good part that will not be taken away. Let us be fully attentive to Christ and REST in Him.

Choosing to homeschool

[This article was first published on the Classical Conversations blog.]

Homeschooling is not for everyone. Though more parents might try it if they thought they could. I have heard parents say they would consider homeschooling, but they don’t think they can do it. They have fears and they worry about taking on more than they can handle or want to handle. The reality is that homeschooling is not easy. In fact, it’s quite difficult. In a way it’s impossible. But it’s also being done successfully every day.

I want to address those fears in two ways: 1) The 40,000 foot level, and 2) some specific concerns.

From 40,000 feet

Homeschooling is a little like jumping off a cliff or a leap into the unknown. It’s a big bite to chew, a heavy load to carry, a constant worry of sorts. The goal of the homeschooler is to educate their own children, for any number of reasons, such that they grow up better educated than they would have from other educational approaches. How homeschoolers define better is varied and debated, and sometimes better isn’t better. And even if one has hit upon something truly better it’s still a daunting task. Thus, while one is struggling in the midst of the implementation, one is often haunted by lingering thoughts about the approach.

But consider the flip side. Deciding which school your child goes to is not the end of your responsibility for your child’s education. Sending your kid to the school bus with a warm coat, a bag of books, reams of completed homework, and a lunch is not the end of your responsibility either. We have inherited historically recent ideas of what education is and how it should be done. Our society tends to believe that education, like medicine, should only be done by professionals. For medicine this may be true, but for education this is both a fallacy and a false hope. Professional educators can be quite good and many are excellent, but they also struggle with their method and implementation. There is no consensus in the politically charged world of public education on which method is best. There are many competing ideas that fight for support and funding. Putting those ideas into practice is also fraught with peril. Schools often have to settle for a compromise between the latest educational ideas and maintaining adequate control of 20+ (in our school district it’s closer to 40+) unique personalities in the classroom. My own experience, and much of what I have observed of others, shows me that both method and implementation are the great bugaboos of all education. Thus the choice to not homeschool is just as difficult a decision.

There is also social pressure to see homeschooling as an aberration, but it’s not a true aberration. All educational choices have some validity in certain contexts. In fact, government schooling is an aberration, designed to accommodate the needs of the industrial revolution and the barest requirements of democracy – both recent events in Western culture. Homeschooling, on the other hand, has been around for millennia.

For the thinking and loving parent the choice, and maybe the inevitability, of public school is not an easy one. For the homeschooling parent the choice to not go with public school is also difficult. There are no perfect alternatives, no obviously correct methods, and implementation troubles all teachers. Thus, parents can, at the very least, be confident that choosing to homeschool is not necessarily harder than choosing government education, though we have been conditioned to see the government choice as the easy one.


And yet fears and concerns still linger. Prospective homeschoolers still shy away. There are no easy answers or secret shortcuts. I have listed some of those concerns below, but I know there are many more.
Are you truly qualified? The short answer is there is no one more qualified to teach your own children than you. Does this mean you will be the perfect teacher? No. But no one else, not even a state accredited teacher, is more qualified than you.

  • Can you teach your child to read? Yes. We did it and we’re no different than anyone else. There are also many excellent resources available.
  • What about subjects in which you are weak? Remember you are teaching a child. In no way do you need to be a master of a subject in order to teach it to a child. The most important quality is a passion for learning. Taking on a subject you don’t know well gives you the chance to learn it yourself. The best way to learn a subject is having to teach it to another. Government teachers are not subject matter experts either. Again, there are many excellent resources to pick from.
  • Can you manage it? This is a bigger question beyond merely the teaching of specific subjects. Homeschooling is a total family project. Educating your child does not get separated from the rest of life, including cleaning the house, running errands, and everything else. If one has more than one child, especially little ones that need a lot of attention, management becomes rather challenging. From my own experience, and more so from observing my wife, the answer is yes you can manage it. That is not to say it will be easy, and sometimes you may want to throw in the towel. But remember you set the schedule. If it gets too tough, take a break and do something else for the rest of the day, or even the week.
  • Will your own flaws get in the way? Yes. You are not a perfect person. You do not have as much patience or kindness or strength as you need to do everything you wish you could. And neither does a government teacher. Since there is no getting away from your flaws then it’s a mute point in a way. You are who you are. The key is to seek wisdom and love and forgiveness in the midst of homeschooling. Ironically, your flaws will provide some of the best opportunities for teaching those things that are most valuable.
  • Do you know where to begin, and then where to go from there? Maybe not, but you can find out. One of the most surprising aspects of homeschooling is the plethora of teaching materials, curricula, and advice. There are even whole programs available, Classical Conversations being one of the best. And then there are tons of great teaching aids that can be used to supplement any subject, any teaching style, any learning style, and everything else. Ask any veteran homeschooler and you’ll be surprised.
  • Won’t you be stuck at home all day, every day? One of the big surprises of homeschooling is how much one is away from home. Homeschooling is about learning, not about staying at home. Field trips are common. Doing lessons with other homeschooling families is also common. There are many resources for education outside the home, including homeschooling co-ops in many areas.
  • Will you have the support you need? That depends. The answer is, you can if you seek it out. Homeschoolers tend to be a supportive kind of people. Maybe it’s because they recognize they don’t fit into more common educational and societal categories. But there are no guarantees you will have the support of your friends or extended family, or that you will want to hang out with the other homeschoolers you meet. But that’s life. The key is to know why you have chosen to homeschool, cling to that in times you don’t have support, and be able to articulate your position to others who may then see the light and become supportive.
  • Won’t it be hard? Yes. That old platitude is true – anything truly worth doing is never easy. But the fact is, life is hard. You don’t get away from “hard” by not homeschooling.
  • Will I be denying my kids a fuller educational experience? This is a question to ponder. The short answer is no, but a more substantial answer has everything to do with unpacking the idea of “experience” and how the homeschooling experience creates a different experience than public education. Much of it depends on one’s reasons for homeschooling. Homeschooling can (and usually does) provide a much richer, much fuller, less damaging, and less demeaning experience than public education. Strong words, I know.


There are many reasons parents might have concerns about homeschooling. Maybe most of my thoughts above are inadequate. But I see the fear to homeschool being similar to the fear of being in relationship with another, or taking on a new job, or having a child. What’s remarkable is how often we take on big, scary projects in stride – and even come more “alive” in the process. The truth is, the love of one’s children is a powerful motivator for the homeschooler. Homeschooling is a monumental task, even impossible in some ways, but it is both a privilege to do and a challenge worth embracing.

Considering Classical Conversations and the Gift of Community

[This article was first published on the Classical Conversations blog.]

Think about community. The word “community” comes from the Old French word communité which, as you Latin students know, is derived from communitas (cum, “with/together” + munus, “gift”). In short, community is the gift of being together with others. Which raises a question: Do we see the communities in which we live and participate as gifts of being together? Do we see the Classical Conversations communities, of which we are a part, as gifts?

My guess is that it’s a mixed bag. Probably most CC communities are wonderful and encouraging and some are not, and a few are in between. All will be a mix of good and bad, of warmth and camaraderie along with the difficult stuff that arises because we are sinners. Perhaps, though, it is precisely in the difficulty of doing community that we find a blessing. Should we see our individual CC communities as something more than a convenient classical education homeschooling resource and weekly social gathering? I want to suggest that beyond timelines and Latin, beyond grammar and world maps, our CC communities offer social connections where we are challenged by the greatest classical lesson of all, to be genuine followers of Christ.

This is a rather heady claim, but let’s consider what communities are all about and why God would put us in them. However, I must pause and say that I am interested in community because I “do” community so poorly. My wife is so much better than I at doing community. I am exploring the idea of community so that I might enter into community better than I do now.

What is community for?

We all live in multiple communities. We have our families, our neighborhoods, our churches, our friends, and even our Facebook “friends.” Some communities are good and healthy, others not so much. Some communities are those places where we feel most at home. Others are more difficult. And sometimes we wonder why Christian communities are not always friendlier or more supportive than some non-Christian communities. Yet we seek out communities and community all the time. There seems to be something deep within us that wants and needs genuine community. For how much we might want to think of ourselves as individuals, as islands, we keep coming back to others. Why?

We bear the image of God and, therefore, like God we are personal and uniquely relational. As Christians we look forward to the kingdom of God finally being established where we will live and thrive in that ultimate community, free from sin and suffering, free from the ills that plague our communities today. One way or another we are clearly made to be in community.

To be in community is to be in relationships, and relationships are the arena in which God teaches us the truth of His love, the truth of ourselves, and the true value of such things as mercy, forbearance, forgiveness, grace, excellence of character, and virtue. In community this teaching becomes visceral and tangible rather than merely hypothetical. Many creatures live in, and need to be in, relationship with each other and other creatures, but human beings do relationships and community differently. That is because we are moral beings. We are made in the image of God, which means we are persons. God gave to us the ability and the need for community as a gift, not because being in community is always easy or enjoyable, but because there is a kind of richness in that type of human relationship in which we grow in our sanctification. A community is, in many ways, a mysterious web of obligations that holds us accountable, that calls for our participation, and that both supports and challenges our individuality. Among the various benefits of community, it helps keep us honest about our failings and our sin. Community helps us grow up.

How is Classical Conversations a community?

If you participate in a local Classical Conversations group then you are part of that community. You are a member regardless of how involved or on the fringes you are. However, there is more to being in community, and more to what makes your CC group a community, than merely what happens by default when a group of people get together. Communities are, in a sense, living beings. They come together, grow, flourish, and fail much the way other organic beings do. But more than being merely the product of some kind of DNA or natural forces, human communities are the tangible results of choices made from out of our free will. Your CC community is the same. It will be a good community if the people involved make wise and loving choices to create and foster that community. I realize this is obvious.

I think it is critical that we don’t get too technical in defining “community.” Let’s just say that a community is a group of people that are linked in some way by some commonalities like similar goals, ideas, language, experiences, etc. And let’s say that though proximity is often an important element, it is not always necessary. And let’s also say that communities are living things such that communities require active participation by their members. Now all that does not mean a community is a tight-knit group, nor does is mean all communities have members with identical goals, and it certainly doesn’t mean there are clear boundaries demarcating what’s in and what’s out. In short, we generally know a community when we see one, but we will fumble a bit trying to clearly define its specific characteristics.

A Christian community (big or small), whether a church or music team, a Bible study or group of friends, a business or book club, a sports team or a theology nerd pottery club, has an additional characteristic: Christians are called to love each other with the same love that Christ showed us. We are to seek what is best for each other, to take up our cross daily, to “put on Christ” and be servants. Consider what Saint Paul wrote to the community of Christians struggling through life in fear and trembling in first century Colossae, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” If we are to be a part of a Christian community then we should make compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience our underlying virtues. If we are actively participating in a Classical Conversations community then we must realize that those virtues are more important than our timelines and Latin, or our grammar and world maps, and even more than the curriculum itself.

However, any Classical Conversations community does have a fundamental educational basis that makes it unique. And, perhaps, sharing in the struggle of a Christian Classical education brings challenges one does not find in most other places. If we are to understand education as being, in the words of Andrew Kern, “the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty so that the student is better able to know and enjoy God,” then we really have got our hands full. If we want to know the boundaries of a CC community then this basis is a pretty good place to start. For while we struggle with the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we do so in the specific context of meeting once a week with our fellow CC community members, of guiding our children (and sometimes other children) through the curriculum, then taking that curriculum home, and sometimes interacting with other CC families at various times throughout the week. And all the while we are cultivating wisdom and virtue by nourishing our children’s souls on truth, goodness, and beauty so that they are better able to know and enjoy God.

But we will frequently fail. Perhaps not catastrophically, but in many little ways we will not reach our goals. And, at times, we will even hurt each other. We are finite and limited, sure, but more importantly we are sinners. We will find ourselves all too frequently doing the things we know we shouldn’t do, and not doing what we know we should. At that point a CC community has the opportunity to be a gift beyond even the natural and wonderful gift of a classical education. For it is at that point that we have no choice but to turn to God and to encourage each other in the way of Christ. For at the center of every CC community should be God, in whom we live and move and have our being, and His Christ, who is the perfect image of God to us. The great irony of the Christian life is that in and through our failures comes our sanctification and our true hope. Community is one way God makes that happen. Truly, that is a gift.

Of Education by John Milton

First published in 1644 as “…a small tractate of Education — to Mr. Hartlib.

Mr. Hartlib,

I Am long since perswaded, that to say, or do ought worth memory and imitation, no purpose or respect should sooner move us, then simply the love of God, and of mankind. Nevertheless to write now the reforming of Education, though it be one of the greatest and noblest designs that can be thought on, and for the want whereof this Nation perishes, I had not yet at this time been induc’t, but by your earnest entreaties, and serious conjurements; as having my mind for the present half diverted in the pursuance of some other assertions, the knowledge and the use of which, cannot but be a great furtherance both to the enlargement of truth, and honest living, with much more peace. Nor should the laws of any private friendship have prevail’d with me to divide thus, or transpose my former thoughts, but that I see those aims, those actions which have won you with me the esteem of a person sent hither by some good providence from a far country to be the occasion and the incitement of great good to this Island. And, as I hear, you have obtain’d the same repute with men of most approved wisdom, and som of the highest authority among us. Not to mention the learned correspondence which you hold in forreign parts, and the extraordinary pains and diligence which you have us’d in this matter both here, and beyond the Seas; either by the definite will of God so ruling, or the peculiar sway of nature, which also is Gods working. Neither can I think that so reputed, and so valu’d as you are, you would to the forfeit of your own discerning ability, impose upon me an unfit and over-ponderous argument, but that the satisfaction which you profess to have receiv’d from those incidental Discourses which we have wander’d into, hath prest and almost constrain’d you into a perswasion, that what you require from me in this point, I neither ought nor can in conscience deferre beyond this time both of so much need at once, and so much opportunity to try what God hath determin’d. I will not resist therefore, whatever it is either of divine, or humane obligement that you lay upon me; but will forthwith set down in writing, as you request me, that voluntary Idea, which hath long in silence presented it self to me, of a better Education, in extent and comprehension far more large, and yet of time far shorter, and of attainment far more certain, then hath been yet in practice. Brief I shall endeavour to be; for that which I have to say, assuredly this Nation hath extream need should be done sooner then spoken. To tell you therefore what I have benefited herein among old renowned Authors, I shall spare; and to search what many modern Janua’s and Didactics more then ever I shall read, have projected, my inclination leads me not. But if you can accept of these few observations which have flowr’d off, and are, as it were, the burnishing of many studious and contemplative years altogether spent in the search of religious and civil knowledge, and such as pleas’d you so well in the relating, I here give you them to dispose of.

The end then of Learning is to repair the ruines of our first Parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the neerest by possessing our souls of true vertue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection. But because our understanding cannot in this body found it self but on sensible things, nor arrive so clearly to the knowledge of God and things invisible, as by orderly conning over the visible and inferior creature, the same method is necessarily to be follow’d in all discreet teaching. And seeing every Nation affords not experience and tradition enough for all kind of Learning, therefore we are chiefly taught the Languages of those people who have at any time been most industrious after Wisdom; so that Language is but the Instrument conveying to us things usefull to be known. And though a Linguist should pride himself to have all the Tongues that Babel cleft the world into, yet, if he have not studied the solid things in them as well as the Words & Lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteem’d a learned man, as any Yeoman or Tradesman competently wise in his Mother Dialect only. Hence appear the many mistakes which have made Learning generally so unpleasing and so unsuccessful; first, we do amiss to spend seven or eight years meerly in scraping together so much miserable Latine and Greek, as might be learnt otherwise easily and delightfully in one year. And that which casts our proficiency therein so much behind, is our time lost partly in too oft idle vacancies given both to Schools and Universities, partly in a preposterous exaction, forcing the empty wits of Children to compose Theams, Verses and Orations, which are the acts of ripest judgment and the final work of a head fill’d by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims, and copious invention. These are not matters to be wrung from poor striplings, like blood out of the Nose, or the plucking of untimely fruit: besides the ill habit which they get of wretched barbarizing against the Latin and Greek idiom, with their untutor’d Anglicisms, odious to be read, yet not to be avoided without a well continu’d and judicious conversing among pure Authors digested, which they scarce taste, whereas, if after some preparatory grounds of speech by their certain forms got into memory, they were led to the praxis thereof in some chosen short book lesson’d throughly to them, they might then forthwith proceed to learn the substance of good things, and Arts in due order, which would bring the whole language quickly into their power. This I take to be the most rational and most profitable way of learning Languages, and whereby we may best hope to give account to God of our youth spent herein: And for the usual method of teaching Arts, I deem it to be an old errour of Universities not yet well recover’d from the Scholastick grossness of barbarous ages, that in stead of beginning with Arts most easie, and those be such as are most obvious to the sence, they present their young unmatriculated Novices at first comming with the most intellective abstractions of Logick and Metapysicks: So that they having but newly left those Grammatick flats and shallows where they stuck unreasonably to learn a few words with lamentable construction, and now on the sudden transported under another climate to be tost and turmoil’d with their unballasted wits in fadomless and unquiet deeps of controversie, do for the most part grow into hatred and contempt of Learning, mockt and deluded all this while with ragged Notions and Babblements, while they expected worthy and delightful knowledge; till poverty or youthful years call them importunately their several wayes and hasten them with the sway of friends either to an ambitious and mercenary, or ignorantly zealous Divinity; Some allur’d to the trade of Law, grounding their purposes not on the prudent and heavenly contemplation of justice and equity which was never taught them, but on the promising and pleasing thoughts of litigious terms, fat contentions, and flowing fees; others betake them to State affairs, with souls so unprincipl’d in vertue, and true generous breeding, that flattery, and Court shifts and tyrannous Aphorisms appear to them the highest points of wisdom; instilling their barren hearts with a conscientious slavery, if, as I rather think, it be not fain’d. Others lastly of a more delicious and airie spirit, retire themselves knowing no better, to the enjoyments of ease and luxury, living out their daies in feast and jollity; which indeed is the wisest and the safest course of all these, unless they were with more integrity undertaken. And these are the fruits of mispending our prime youth at the Schools and Universities as we do, either in learning meer words or such things chiefly, as were better unlearnt.

I shall detain you no longer in the demonstration of what we should not do, but strait conduct ye to a hill side, where I will point ye out the right path of a vertuous and noble Education; laborious indeed at the first ascent, but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospect, and melodious sounds on every side, that the Harp of Orpheus was not more charming. I doubt not but ye shall have more adoe to drive our dullest and laziest youth, our stocks and stubbs from the infinite desire of such a happy nurture, then we have now to hale and drag our choisest and hopefullest Wits to that asinine feast of sowthistles and brambles which is commonly set before them, as all the food and entertainment of their tenderest and most docible age. I call therefore a compleat and generous Education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and publick of Peace and War. And how all this may be done between twelve, and one and twenty, less time then is now bestow’d in pure trifling at Grammar and Sophistry, is to be thus order’d.

First, to find out a spatious house and ground about it fit for an Academy, and big enough to lodge a hundred and fifty persons, whereof twenty or thereabout may be attendants, all under the government of one, who shall be thought of desert sufficient, and ability either to do all, or wisely to direct, and oversee it done. This place should be at once both School and University, not needing a remove to any other house of Schollership, except it be some peculiar Colledge of Law, or Physick, where they mean to be practitioners; but as for those general studies which take up all our time from Lilly to the commencing, as they term it, Master of Art, it should be absolute. After this pattern, as many Edifices may be converted to this use, as shall be needful in every City throughout this Land, which would tend much to the encrease of Learning and Civility every where. This number, less or more thus collected, to the convenience of a foot Company, or interchangeably two Troops of Cavalry, should divide their daies work into three parts, as it lies orderly. Their Studies, their Exercise, and their Diet.

For their Studies, First they should begin with the chief and necessary rules of some good Grammar, either that now us’d, or any better: and while this is doing, their speech is to be fashion’d to a distinct and clear pronuntiation, as near as may be to the Italian, especially in the Vowels. For we Englishmen being far Northerly, do not open our mouths in the cold air, wide enough to grace a Southern Tongue; but are observ’d by all other Nations to speak exceeding close and inward: So that to smatter Latine with an English mouth, is as ill a hearing as Law-French. Next to make them expert in the usefullest points of Grammar, and withall to season them, and win them early to the love of vertue and true labour, ere any flattering seducement, or vain principle seise them wandering, some easie and delightful Book of Education would be read to them; whereof the Greeks have store, as Cebes, Plutarch, and other Socratic discourses. But in Latin we have none of classic authority extant, except the two or three first Books of Quintilian, and some select pieces elsewhere. But here the main skill and groundwork will be, to temper them such Lectures and Explanations upon every opportunity, as may lead and draw them in willing obedience, enflam’d with the study of Learning, and the admiration of Vertue; stirr’d up with high hopes of living to be brave men, and worthy Patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages. That they may despise and scorn all their childish, and ill-taught qualities, to delight in manly, and liberall Exercises: which he who hath the Art, and proper Eloquence to catch them with, what with mild and effectual perswasions, and what with the intimation of some fear, if need be, but chiefly by his own example, might in a short space gain them to an incredible diligence and courage: infusing into their young brests such an ingenuous and noble ardor, as would not fail to make many of them renowned and matchless men. At the same time, some other hour of the day, might be taught them the rules of Arithmetick, and soon after the Elements of Geometry even playing, as the old manner was. After evening repast, till bed-time their thoughts will be best taken up in the easie grounds of Religion, and the story of Scripture. The next step would be to the Authors of Agriculture, Cato, Varro, and Columella, for the matter is most easie, and if the language be difficult, so much the better, it is not a difficulty above their years. And here will be an occasion of inciting and inabling them hereafter to improve the tillage of their Country, to recover the bad Soil, and to remedy the waste that is made of good: for this was one of Hercules praises. Ere half these Authors be read (which will soon be with plying hard, and daily) they cannot chuse but be masters of any ordinary prose. So that it will be then seasonable for them to learn in any modern Author, the use of the Globes, and all the Maps; first with the old names, and then with the new: or they might be then capable to read any compendious method of natural Philosophy. And at the same time might be entring into the Greek tongue, after the same manner as was before prescrib’d in the Latin; whereby the difficulties of Grammar being soon overcome, all the Historical Physiology of Aristotle and Theophrastus are open before them, and as I may say, under contribution. The like access will be to Vitruvius, to Senecas naturall questions, to Mela, Celsus, Pliny, or Solinus. And having thus past the principles of Arithmetick, Geometry, Astronomy, and Geography with a general compact of Physicks, they may descend in Mathematicks to the instrumental science of Trigonometry, and from thence to Fortification, Architecture, Enginry, or Navigation. And in natural Philosophy they may proceed leisurely from the History of Meteors, Minerals, plants and living Creatures as far as Anatomy. Then also in course might be read to them out of some not tedious Writer the Institution of Physick; that they may know the tempers, the humours, the seasons, and how to manage a crudity: which he who can wisely and timely do, is not only a great Physitian to himself, and to his friends, but also may at some time or other, save an Army by this frugal and expenseless means only; and not let the healthy and stout bodies of young men rot away under him for want of this discipline; which is a great pity, and no less a shame to the Commander. To set forward all these proceedings in Nature and Mathematicks, what hinders, but that they may procure, as oft as shal be needful, the helpful experiences of Hunters, Fowlers, Fishermen, Shepherds, Gardeners, Apothecaries; and in the other sciences, Architects, Engineers, Mariners, Anatomists; who doubtless would be ready some for reward, and some to favour such a hopeful Seminary. And this will give them such a real tincture of natural knowledge, as they shall never forget, but daily augment with delight. Then also those Poets which are now counted most hard, will be both facil and pleasant, Orpheus, Hesiod, Theocritus, Aratus, Nicander, Oppian, Dionysius, and in Latin Lucretius, Manilius, and the rural part of Virgil.

By this time, years and good general precepts will have furnisht them more distinctly with that act of reason which in Ethics is call’d Proairesis: that they may with some judgement contemplate upon moral good and evil. Then will be requir’d a special reinforcement of constant and sound endoctrinating to set them right and firm, instructing them more amply in the knowledge of Vertue and the hatred of Vice: while their young and pliant affections are led through all the moral works of Plato, Xenophon, Cicero, Plutarch, Laertius, and those Locrian remnants; but still to be reduc’t in their nightward studies wherewith they close the dayes work, under the determinate sentence of David or Salomon, or the Evanges and Apostolic Scriptures. Being perfect in the knowledge of personal duty, they may then begin the study of Economics. And either now, or before this, they may have easily learnt at any odd hour the Italian Tongue. And soon after, but with wariness and good antidote, it would be wholsome enough to let them taste some choice Comedies, Greek, Latin, or Italian: Those Tragedies also that treat of Houshold matters, as Trachiniæ, Alcestis, and the like. The next remove must be to the study of Politicks; to know the beginning, end, and reasons of Political Societies; that they may not in a dangerous fit of the Common-wealth be such poor, shaken, uncertain Reeds, of such a tottering Conscience, as many of our great Counsellers have lately shewn themselves, but stedfast pillars of the State. After this they are to dive into the grounds of Law, and legal Justice; deliver’d first, and with best warrant by Moses; and as far as humane prudence can be trusted, in those extoll’d remains of Grecian Law-givers, Licurgus, Solon, Zaleucus, Charondas, and thence to all the Roman Edicts and Tables with their Justinian; and so down to the Saxon and common Laws of England, and the Statutes. Sundayes also and every evening may be now understandingly spent in the highest matters of Theology, and Church History ancient and modern: and ere this time the Hebrew Tongue at a set hour might have been gain’d, that the Scriptures may be now read in their own original; whereto it would be no impossibility to add the Chaldey, and the Syrian Dialect. When all these employments are well conquer’d, then will the choise Histories, Heroic Poems, and Attic Tragedies of stateliest and most regal argument, with all the famous Political Orations offer themselves; which if they were not only read; but some of them got by memory, and solemnly pronounc’t with right accent, and grace, as might be taught, would endue them even with the spirit and vigor of Demosthenes or Cicero, Euripides, or Sophocles. And now lastly will be the time to read with them those organic arts which inable men to discourse and write perspicuously, elegantly, and according to the fitted stile of lofty, mean, or lowly. Logic therefore so much as is useful, is to be referr’d to this due place withall her well coucht Heads and Topics, untill it be time to open her contracted palm into a gracefull and ornate Rhetorick taught out of the rule of Plato, Aristotle, Phalereus, Cicero, Hermogenes, Longinus. To which Poetry would be made subsequent, or indeed rather precedent, as being less suttle and fine, but more simple, sensuous and passionate. I mean not here the prosody of a verse, which they could not but have hit on before among the rudiments of Grammar; but that sublime Art which in Aristotles Poetics, in Horace, and the Italian Commentaries of Castelvetro, Tasso, Mazzoni, and others, teaches what the laws are of a true Epic Poem, what of a Dramatic, what of a Lyric, what Decorum is, which is the grand master-piece to observe. This would make them soon perceive what despicable creatures our comm Rimers and Play-writers be, and shew them, what religious, what glorious and magnificent use might be made of Poetry both in divine and humane things. From hence and not till now will be the right season of forming them to be able Writers and Composers in every excellent matter, when they shall be thus fraught with an universal insight into things. Or whether they be to speak in Parliament or Counsel, honour and attention would be waiting on their lips. There would then also appear in Pulpits other Visages, other gestures, and stuff otherwise wrought then what we now sit under, oft times to as great a trial of our patience as any other that they preach to us. These are the Studies wherein our noble and our gentle Youth ought to bestow their time in a disciplinary way from twelve to one and twenty; unless they rely more upon their ancestors dead, then upon themselves living. In which methodical course it is so suppos’d they must proceed by the steddy pace of learning onward, as at convenient times for memories sake to retire back into the middle ward, and sometimes into the rear of what they have been taught, untill they have confirm’d, and solidly united the whole body of their perfeted knowledge, like the last embattelling of a Roman Legion. Now will be worth the seeing what Exercises and Recreations may best agree, and become these Studies.

Their Exercise

The course of Study hitherto briefly describ’d, is, what I can guess by reading, likest to those ancient and famous Schools of Pythagoras, Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle and such others, out of which were bred up such a number of renowned Philosophers, Orators, Historians, Poets and Princes all over Greece, Italy, and Asia, besides the flourishing Studies of Cyrene and Alexandria. But herein it shall exceed them, and supply a defect as great as that which Plato noted in the Common-wealth of Sparta; whereas that City train’d up their Youth most for War, and these in their Academies and Lycæum, all for the Gown, this institution of breeding which I here delineate, shall be equally good both for Peace and War. Therefore about an hour and a half ere they eat at Noon should be allow’d them for exercise and due rest afterwards: But the time for this may be enlarg’d at pleasure, according as their rising in the morning shall be early. The Exercise which I commend first, is the exact use of their Weapon, to guard and to strike safely with edge, or point; this will keep them healthy, nimble, strong, and well in breath, is also the likeliest means to make them grow large and tall, and to inspire them with a gallant and fearless courage, which being temper’d with seasonable Lectures and Precepts to them of true Fortitude and Patience, will turn into a native and heroick valour, and make them hate the cowardise of doing wrong. They must be also practiz’d in all the Locks and Gripes of Wrastling, wherein English men were wont to excell, as need may often be in fight to tugg or grapple, and to close. And this perhaps will be enough, wherein to prove and heat their single strength. The interim of unsweating themselves regularly, and convenient rest before meat may both with profit and delight be taken up in recreating and composing their travail’d spirits with the solemn and divine harmonies of Musick heard or learnt; either while the skilful Organist plies his grave and fancied descant, in lofty fugues, or the whole Symphony with artful and unimaginable touches adorn and grace the well studied chords of some choice Composer; sometimes the Lute, or soft Organ stop waiting on elegant Voices either to Religious, martial, or civil Ditties; which if wise men and Prophets be not extreamly out, have a great power over dispositions and manners, to smooth and make them gentle from rustick harshness and distemper’d passions. The like also would not be unexpedient after Meat to assist and cherish Nature in her first concoction, and send their minds back to study in good tune and satisfaction. Where having follow’d it close under vigilant eyes till about two hours before supper, they are by a sudden alarum or watch word, to be call’d out to their military motions, under skie or covert, according to the season, as was the Roman wont; first on foot, then as their age permits, on Horseback, to all the Art of Cavalry; That having in sport, but with much exactness, and daily muster, serv’d out the rudiments of their Souldiership in all the skill of Embattelling, Marching, Encamping, Fortifying, Besieging and Battering, with all the helps of ancient and modern stratagems, Tacticks and warlike maxims, they may as it were out of a long War come forth renowned and perfect Commanders in the service of their Country. They would not then, if they were trusted with fair and hopeful armies, suffer them for want of just and wise discipline to shed away from about them like sick feathers, though they be never so oft suppli’d: they would not suffer their empty and unrecrutible Colonels of twenty men in a Company to quaff out, or convey into secret hoards, the wages of a delusive list, and a miserable remnant: yet in the mean while to be over-master’d with a score or two of drunkards, the only souldery left about them, or else to comply with all rapines and violences. No certainly, if they knew ought of that knowledge that belongs to good men or good Governours, they would not suffer these things. But to return to our own institute, besides these constant exercises at home, there is another opportunity of gaining experience to be won from pleasure it self abroad; In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against nature not to go out, and see her riches, and partake in her rejoycing with Heaven and Earth. I should not therefore be a perswader to them of studying much then, after two or three year that they have well laid their grounds, but to ride out in Companies with prudent and staid Guides, to all the quarters of the Land: learning and observing all places of strength, all commodities of building and of soil, for Towns and Tillage, Harbours and Ports for Trade. Sometimes taking Sea as far as to our Navy, to learn there also what they can in the practical knowledge of sailing and of Sea-fight. These ways would try all their peculiar gifts of Nature, and if there were any secret excellence among them, would fetch it out, and give it fair opportunities to advance it self by, which could not but mightily redound to the good of this Nation, and bring into fashion again those old admired Vertues and Excellencies, with far more advantage now in this purity of Christian knowledge. Nor shall we then need the Monsieurs of Paris to take our hopefull Youth into their slight and prodigal custodies and send them over back again transform’d into Mimicks, Apes, and Kicshoes. But if they desire to see other Countries at three or four and twenty years of age, not to learn Principles but to enlarge Experience, and make wise observation, they will by that time be such as shall deserve the regard and honour of all men where they pass, and the society and friendship of those in all places who are best and most eminent. And perhaps then other Nations will be glad to visit us for their Breeding, or else to imitate us in their own Country.

Now lastly for their Diet there cannot be much to say, save only that it would be best in the same House; for much time else would be lost abroad, and many ill habits got; and that it should be plain, healthful, and moderate I suppose is out of controversie. Thus Mr. Hartlib, you have a general view in writing, as your desire was, of that which at several times I had discourst with you concerning the best and Noblest way of Education; not beginning, as some have done from the Cradle, which yet might be worth many considerations, if brevity had not been my scope, many other circumstances also I could have mention’d, but this to such as have the worth in them to make trial, for light and direction may be enough. Only I believe that this is not a Bow for every man to shoot in that counts himself a Teacher; but will require sinews almost equal to those which Homer gave Ulysses, yet I am withall perswaded that it may prove much more easie in the assay, then it now seems at distance, and much more illustrious: howbeit not more difficult then I imagine, and that imagination presents me with nothing but very happy and very possible according to best wishes; if God have so decreed, and this age have spirit and capacity enough to apprehend.

The End