The Order of the Classical Liberal Arts and Sciences


Today is Tuesday, November 30, and this is William Michael, of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. I received a question from a friend this morning that I think is an important question that I don’t believe I’ve I’ve talked about much. I think it’s a topic that may cause confusion, and really may be the source of a lot of the confusion that surrounds classical education.

Why are there these fake classical Christian school programs, why is there this wacky talk about “stages of learning”?

I think this may may really get at the heart of this issue. And if we can clearly understand this topic, many other confusing issues will be taken away. The question that’s asked–let me just provide some context because I think it helps to see the real importance of the topic. The friend who wrote is a Catholic school principal, who has a desire to bring classical Catholic studies into his Catholic school. And as he looks at the classical liberal arts curriculum, he sees how it is arranged, he sees the different parts, the different arts and sciences. And then he turns and looks at his Catholic school. And he sees a K to 12 grade level system. And he asks the question, “How does the classical Catholic curriculum relate to grade levels or not even grade levels, but an order of studies for children in a school? What is the actual progression of studies in a school program?” And it’s an important question, because there’s misunderstanding regarding the seven liberal arts1, and this misunderstanding, is what leads us to this question. And I don’t think I’ve done a good job of explaining this. And so I’m thankful for this question. And the opportunity to get into it, because it’s actually very important. One of the things that well–let me let me just say this before I get into this.

The reason why we have this question, and I’m not saying this to be critical, or to be arrogant in any way, but the reason why we have to ask this question is because we haven’t studied the classical Catholic curriculum. That’s the reason why this question exists. And I think that this is the reason why I don’t talk about this much, because I don’t even think about it the way that others think about it, because I’m in the curriculum. I’m in the classical liberal arts and have been for 25 years now. But people standing on the outside, especially parents, and school administrators, who are trying to make decisions about what they would like the children to do are struggling with questions about the classical Catholic curriculum, because they have not studied the classical Catholic curriculum. And this is where the old saying comes in: “You can’t give what you don’t have”. It’s impossible for a school administrator, or a parent or even a teacher to make practical decisions about classical education occasion, when they themselves are not familiar with the actual content of the curriculum. And yet I respect and understand why they’re trying to make these decisions. They’re trying to give the children something better than they currently have available to them. They’re trying to improve the Catholic, the Catholic education that’s available, which is, which is noble. And I’m thankful for it. But at the same time, they’re running into the obstacles that tell them, You can’t give what you don’t have. And so that’s the dilemma that they find themselves in, even though their intentions are right and good.

“It’s impossible for a school administrator, or a parent or even a teacher to make practical decisions about classical education occasion, when they themselves are not familiar with the actual content of the curriculum.”

This work of restoring Catholic education still depends on someone knowing the details of the curriculum from inside of that curriculum, not standing on the outside, thinking about whether or not they would like to do this. And so the reason why people don’t know how the classical Catholic curriculum would apply to a school program is because they haven’t studied it. The reason why this nonsense, like Dorothy Sayers’ “stages of learning” can be accepted by anyone, whether it’s the people publishing the programs, people organizing schools, or parents homeschooling their children, is because none of these people have studied the classical Catholic curriculum. If they did, there would be no way that they could possibly think for one second, that this idea of the stages of learning was classical Catholic education. And so the reason we butt heads so much, is because I’m actually a Catholic Classicist who studies the classical Catholic curriculum, and most of the people who disagree with me and contradict me, are people standing outside the curriculum, talking about what they think is inside. But they’ve never actually studied it. And so if we would just study the classical Catholic curriculum and stop talking about classical education, stop standing on the outside talking about Catholic education, but actually pursue ourselves a classical Catholic education by actually studying the subjects, these issues would go away. And I apologize that I think I’ve taken too much for granted with respect to this question. And maybe I’ve even responded to people who are into all of this stages of learning nonsense. In an overly harsh way, because I assumed that they’ve studied the books themselves, and it’s clear that they haven’t. And that’s why these ideas are entertained at all. So before I get into this, I can provide a bandaid aid here to this problem, and answer the question, because of my own experience in the classical Catholic curriculum as a student. But this is only a band aid solution. And I don’t want anyone to take this and think that they can ignore the need to study the classical liberal arts and just take my answers and run with them and continue talking about the classical liberal arts. I’d like for those who have these questions and for parents in school administrators and teachers to realize that this confusion, this uncertainty, this ambiguity, that surrounds historic Catholic education, all comes from one source. And that’s the fact that it’s not being studied by school administrators, and parents and teachers. This is exactly the problem that I mentioned in a recent talk on why Catholic learning cannot be restored. I explained in that talk. That the reason why I don’t believe even though there’s 1000s of children who have studied in the classical liberal arts academy, I don’t believe the needle has moved. Because parents are still focused on courses that are at best enrichment courses. The course studies are still avoided, like the plague and I explained in that talk, why that is, until we acknowledge this elephant in the room, which is that we are not seeking wisdom. And we’re not studying the arts and sciences, which lead us to wisdom, as long as we continue to ignore that reality and pretend that we can ignore it, and still have the fruits of the Catholic culture that grew out of it. We’re deceiving ourselves, we’re still living in the pursuit of appearances, rather than reality. And as long as we continue to do that, we’re going to continue in this Walmart Catholic culture, rather than in the real thing. We’re going to continue talking about saints, talking about artists talking about philosophers talking about doctors of the church talking about classical education, without actually becoming artists, and teachers, and masters of the classical liberal arts. We’re going to continue with an appearance of learning, but not the reality. And we have to ask ourselves, why would we continue with appearances? And I believe that the answer is what I talked about. That our motives in Catholic education are not what they should be. Our motives are still not pure. We’re still not studying for the sake of wisdom. We’re studying still, for the sake of some temporal benefits. And that’s why we’re content with appearances. We really don’t want to study classical reasoning. We don’t want to study moral philosophy. We don’t want to study Sacred Scripture, we just want to know what they say. So that we can run with them in business, or we can make a decision for our school and tell others what to do, and make ourselves appear to be wise. That’s the problem. And that’s why Catholic culture is not going to be restored until we become sincere enough to pursue the true end, which is wisdom. Not appearances, but the reality. We’re going to continue playing this game of just wanting to know about these things so we can talk about them. So we can show off a kind of trivia, knowledge of them, but not actually possess the virtues and realities we talked about. Until Catholics overcome this fault in their character until Catholics choose to become saints rather than merely talk about About the saints, until Catholics decided to become wise men, rather than just talk about the wise men, Catholic culture is not going to improve. So I can offer in this talk, a band aid to cover this problem. But I want to make it very clear that my advice is not to take this talk and run with it. But to study the classical Catholic curriculum and realize that you’re just going to be back with more questions as long as you fail to do so. And again, I don’t mean that in a critical way, or to be arrogant in any way. I’m just telling you that that’s the real solution. And I believe that anyone who’s sincere and is concerned about Catholic culture will be pricked in their heart and agree with me, that that’s the problem. So I trust that that message will be received. Well, by those who hear it. Now to get to this question we’re looking at a school program and and it’s just part of real life, work in education. You know, there are people who will sit around and criticize everybody and everything. They criticize the Pope, they criticize the president, the Congress, they criticize schools, bishops, and they sit there doing nothing. And it’s very easy to just run your mouth and criticize the works. Other people are doing when you don’t have to put up any results, to show that you’re any better. And so all of the criticism of modern institutions, modern leaders and so on, is just idle talk. It’s just part of this. It’s part of this pretending culture. It’s not the reality. Did John Bosco sit around criticizing Catholic education on his computer? Did he sit around in his living room bad mouthing bishops and popes criticizing what other men are doing? No, He Himself created the solution. Did St. Ignatius of Loyola sit around criticizing Protestant schools criticizing the decline of Catholic schools in the 1500s? Thinking that he’s so smart because he can point out the faults in other men’s works on the ground? No, he actually started a religious order and created classical Catholic schools. The difference between the pretenders and the real Catholic workers is that real Catholic workers are engaged in real Catholic works. They’re not critics. And this modern critic culture comes from people sitting around watching television as spectators imagining that their applause or disapproval and criticism is some kind of real ministry to the world. They’re just spectators, they’re consumers. They’re not builders, they’re not problem solvers. To actually engage in Catholic works, requires virtue that these people don’t have. And that’s why they sit on the sidelines criticizing because they can’t undertake the work that needs to be done. The works are too complicated. The works are too difficult. The Works require too much patience and self control. The Works require sacrifice. The Works require temperance and simplicity of life. They’re motivated by justice. They require prudence. And these people who sit and criticize don’t have these virtues. They simply sit and criticize. But those who do undertake these works as we say have to start somewhere. You have to start somewhere. So the question is, do you start from scratch, and try to build the perfect system? Which is what the critics say they would do. But of course, they don’t do it. Because it’s not possible to do that. You have to start somewhere. And people may look at my work and say, Well, you didn’t do that. Look at what you’ve done in the classical liberal arts academy, you’ve restored the whole system of classical Catholic learning, with no compromise. So why are you saying, we need to start from somewhere when you didn’t do that? And the answer is, you’re wrong. The classical liberal arts academy is not my original work. I started as a classics teacher, in modern private schools. I started where I could. I started as I was doing the research, my research in classical Catholic education, or I should say, in classical liberal arts started when I was 19 years old. I’ve been studying and researching the classical liberal arts for 25 years, over 25 years. My first works, were in private schools. I started where I could. I started as a high school classics teacher, where I was teaching Latin and Greek philosophy, literature, history, and so on. I started where I could, I had to work within an existing system. And I got myself inside those schools. And then I asked myself, what’s the best I can do here? How can I most greatly impact this school. And I made sacrifices and took upon myself work and difficulties that had nothing to do with what was required of me for my paycheck. In order to accomplish that, for example. I wanted to promote classical language studies among the younger students, even though I was a high school teacher. And in the school, I taught it was a K to 12 school. So all of the grades were present. And I volunteered to teach Latin classes to the younger students in middle school. And so instead of having a free period as a teacher or a lunch break, when when I had my high school free period, or my high school lunch break, I would then go down to the middle school classrooms, and teach fifth and sixth graders, Latin grammar, to get them started earlier in Classical Studies. I didn’t have to do that. That’s how I made the most of the situation that I had. And so I taught as a high school teacher from 730 or eight o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon, without a free period or a lunch break. So that I could teach the classical languages to younger children. I made the most of the opportunity that I had. I didn’t start with a perfect system. I wasn’t even teaching in Catholic schools at the time. I was teaching in nondenominational private Christian schools that sought higher goals for their students than the Catholic schools do. And it was actually better for me to teach it in non Catholic school than at a Catholic school. In the last private school I taught at the school gave me permission to create courses that taught rhetoric and taught disputations and had the students participate in classical scholastic disputations. While all modern Latin teachers use the same books, I didn’t. I went back Back and researched and brought the old textbooks into my modern classrooms, and used my classroom as a laboratory, where I experimented and learned how to use the old teaching textbooks. I didn’t have to do that for my paycheck, I brought upon myself great burdens in order to do that, but that’s because I was making the most of what was available to me at the time. And then after 10 years of classroom teaching, that’s when I decided to start the classical liberal arts academy. And the first year I started the classical liberal arts academy, I was still teaching in the private school what happened in God’s providence. I left the private school. And I left a huge classics program that I had built at the private school. The school hired a replacement, who was a, a Yale graduate. And the students hated the classes and dropped them. And so that classics department was in danger of disappearing in a matter of months, and the parents all started to complain to the principal. And so the principal contacted me and asked me if I would come back and teach for an hour and a half in the afternoon. So those students could continue in those Classical Studies, if I would teach for an hour and a half each day. And they would pay me my full time salary for just an hour and a half of work. And so the CLA was able to get started because I was paid a full time salary for only an hour and a half of work at my former school. And when I started the classical liberal arts academy, it was because I wanted to create the ideal study program. And I took upon myself all of the risks and all of the difficulties of doing that. I had to learn how to create a website, I had to learn how to manage a business, I had to find students, I had to travel all over the Charlotte area, because I was going from house to house to tutor individual students to earn the money that I needed so that I could work full time. To start the classical liberal arts academy, I had to drive an hour and a half to meet with a couple of kids for a tutoring session that I got paid $70 for. My wife and I committed to starting the classical liberal arts academy. And we had nothing. But even that opportunity was made possible. Because I started somewhere and was able to then pursue something more perfect. As I said, after 10 years of working in a modern school setting. So if anyone looks at what I’m doing and says, Yeah, that’s the right way. That’s what you should do. No, that’s not how it worked. I didn’t just start off with everything perfect. I had to work in challenging circumstances. For 10 years before I was even in a position where I was ready to start something more perfect. And that’s how the classical liberal arts academy started. People who don’t do these works don’t understand the practical details of how they get done. And those who are trying to start where they are, are doing what they should we have to be patient. We have to learn we have to progress by steps. And we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For a school administrator, for example, that already has an existing Catholic school program. That program is probably already satisfying all of the modern state requirements all of the diploma requirements. There is no reason To tear all that up, it’s going to stress out the parents, it’s going to overwhelm the teachers. And you’re going to create problems that you don’t need to create. And rather than focusing on improving by degrees, you’re just going to have a giant mess. And in the end, your impatience is probably going to lead the program to be worse, rather than better. And so my recommendation to school administrators who are interested in improving their schools, is to just start gradually, and introduce courses from the classical liberal arts academy, that enrich the existing curriculum, it’s going to take more work, it’s going to take sacrifice, the students are going to need to be challenged and motivated. The plan is going to need to be articulated to parents. And that’s the kind of work that school administrators need to do. And if you need help doing that work, I’m happy to help you do it. We’ve got to start where we are, and improve what already exists. And if God permits, the opportunity comes for us to start a project from scratch, then we have a different a different problem to solve at that point. But for most people actually doing works. They should be eager to just start where they are, and begin making improvements. Plus, if improvements are made incrementally, and parents and teachers see the positive results of those changes, they’ll want to know if they can do more. That’s what happened to me when I was teaching. here in Charlotte, my, my reasoning and rhetoric and disputation courses were so influential that everyone wanted to know if I could do more than if I could do more. But the problem was I wanted to do more. But I wanted to go all the way at that point. And I was ready to get off on my own. But the success of the little that I did lead my superiors to ask me for my opinion, as to how we could do more. You’ll gain the trust and support of teachers and parents and students. If you start incrementally, and let them see the results. That’s the best way to move forward. Start where you’re at, make improvements, and let everyone see the fruits of those improvements. And if you can’t produce better results, then something’s wrong. And it wouldn’t be good for you to change things anyway. Because obviously, you’re missing something if the results don’t significantly change. I took over a Latin class that had 12 students in 12 Students studying Latin in the school in the high school. And within two years, I had 170 Students studying Latin at three different levels. Two years it took for that to happen. The results were were very rapid. The disputation class took over the whole high school. Students were skipping study halls so that they could come and sit in on my disputation classes. Because the classes were so helpful. If you get this stuff right, and actually restore classical education, the results are going to be significant and measurable. It’s not a case of the emperor’s new clothes, where everyone just stands around doing the same thing, trying to pretend that because the average LSAT score went up 20 points, that we’re really seeing the fruits of classical education, that kind of talk is nonsense. The results of real classical education are radical. We’re not talking a few sad points. We’re talking transformed lives. And I can share quotes from my former colleagues and students who bear witness to that I use those quotes to help me get the CLA started the feedback and recommendations of my colleagues and students. And those recommendations were, were radical. So you should start where you are, and you have to ignore the idle critics who sit on the internet or at home, talking about what they would do, should do or could do, might do, but don’t do. So let’s get to this question of the progression of the classical Catholic curriculum and how it affects or relates to an actual school program on the ground in space and time, with students working through it. There is an order to the arts of sciences, there is a progression in the arts and sciences, one goes before another, there is an order. However, this order is not what people think it is, who don’t study philosophy and actually understand what we’re talking about. When we talk about the order, let’s say of the seven liberal arts, and we can look at a chart, we can see that grammar comes first, then reasoning, then rhetoric. And then all of a sudden, we’re thrown into confusion, because while there’s four other arts, this is why the Dorothy Sayers model is. So to put it frankly, stupid. It makes sense that you could say okay, well, there’s grammar and then logic and then rhetoric. But what about the four other arts, it makes no sense to pretend that these are some kind of levels of learning, and then choose to only talk about three of them and just ignore the other four, there’s seven liberal arts, not three. There are seven liberal arts to try and interpret the seven liberal arts in some way that relates to a modern school progression is impossible. How people fall for this is a mystery. To say, oh, yeah, in the old times, what they used to do you see was they had three levels, and the kids would start out in the grammar stage. Yeah. And then they would, then as they got into puberty, they would sort of change and they’d start to argue, and they’d move into the logic stage. And then as they got older, they would move up into the rhetoric stage. You see, there’s three stages of learning. That’s what they used to do in the old times. Okay. Okay. I hear what you’re trying to say. But what about what about arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. And all of a sudden, the conversations over because that’s not what the classical liberal arts are. The order of the classical liberal arts, the order of the classical liberal arts is not academic, or pedagogical. The order of the classical liberal arts has nothing to do with ordering a grade level school curriculum into some kind of sequence of studies in time. That’s not what the order is. That exists in the classical liberal arts. It’s not a pedagogical order. It’s not a it’s not an academic order, or even an order of curriculum. That’s not what the order is. And again, if you studied the classical liberal arts, you would know this because it’s explained explicitly in the texts. What this order is. For example, the opening lines of Aristotle’s rhetoric, the very first line if you even open the book, and read just the first line, it says rhetoric is counterpart to dialectic. That’s the very first line of Aristotle’s art of rhetoric. It doesn’t say rhetoric comes after dialectic. It says rhetoric is counterpart. There are two sides of one coin. There’s no order of pedagogy or order of curriculum. That’s not the order that exists. If you were to open the first book of the quadrivium, which is the art of arithmetic, and read the very first chapter, I’m not talking, dive into the depths of these studies, I’m talking, if these people would even open the first chapter of the book, they would see an explanation of the order of the four Mathematical Sciences. The whole relationship between them is explained. This isn’t William Michaels. idea about classical education. This is explained explicitly in the texts of the seven liberal arts. Anyone who even opens the first pages would see this. That’s why this ignorance is profound. And these people live in this ignorance, even though they have been working in education, teaching these things they teach for four decades, they’ve still never read the first chapter. In classical arithmetic after all these years, they’ve never read the first sentence of Aristotle’s rhetoric. I don’t believe that. I believe what they do is intentional and selfish, because it sells and I have no way to justify giving them the benefit of the doubt. And, and tell myself that they sincerely believe that what they’re selling people is what was actually done. In the past. That’s impossible. It’s impossible for anybody to think that. They do it because it sells because it’s just something that appears to be different. And because it’s proven to be profitable among ignorant homeschooling families, and ignorant, private schools, why change it? It’s incredible. But the order of the classical Catholic Arts and Sciences is not to be confused with the order of studies or subjects in a school. Remember, these schools didn’t exist in the time that these arts were taught and studied. No one was asking what they should use in first grade. No one was asking what sixth grade students should study. The modern school system was invented in the 1850s. It never existed. The seven liberal arts and just to make sure this is clear, grammar, reasoning, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The seven liberal arts are seven philosophical subjects that need to be studied by anyone who wishes to pursue wisdom. There are seven subjects. There is a relationship between these seven subjects. But this relationship doesn’t have to do with how they’re taught in a school, or how a student should pursue the knowledge of them. That’s not what the order is about. The order of the seven liberal arts has to do with an order of development and demonstration of ideas that led to the development of these arts and sciences in history. I’ll, I’ll say that again. This is, this is the key issue. The order that exists between the seven liberal arts is an order of ideas that allowed for the development of the arts and sciences in history. And I’ll explain and again, you would understand this if you just studied classical arithmetic. Because this is explained in the opening chapter. Let me explain.

The seven liberal arts divide into two different sets of studies, we have the Quadrivium on one hand, and the Trivium on the other hand. One doesn’t necessarily come “before” the other, there are two completely different sets of subjects. The quadrivium has to do with the study of mathematical things. If you’d like to know what mathematical things are, I recommend you read the opening chapter to Ptolemy’s Almagest2, which is the textbook for Classical Astronomy. He explains this, in the opening page, literally, the first page, he explains the three different kinds. The three different kinds of ideas. There are those that are purely immaterial, insensible exist entirely in the mind. There are those who exist, there are those that exist as sensible things. Things that we can perceive with the senses. And there’s a third class of things that are called mathematical things that partake of both sensible and insensible. He explains, and again, this is the first page of classical astronomy. So for all of the classical educators out there with all their fake expertise, the answer to this question is found on the first page of three of the different liberal arts, the most classic sources. This isn’t some profound learning that I’m privileged to have. Because I’ve studied for 25 years. This is knowledge that you could have today by reading the first page in classical arithmetic, the first sentence in classical rhetoric, and the first page in classical astronomy. Three different kinds of ideas, insensible and sensible, with mathematical in between Ptolemy explains this, in the first page of his own the jest. The quadrivium is the study of mathematical things. Grammar is the study of spoken things. Reasoning is the study of spoken things. Rhetoric is the study of spoken things, we can see that the division of the seven liberal arts is between mathematical things and spoken things, things that exist in the mind these are the two divisions of the seven liberal arts. One doesn’t necessarily come before the other, there are two different sets of subjects. Now we can say that there is an order among them that allows for their development, for example, and this is what this order refers to. We would not be able to talk about arithmetic if we didn’t first establish an art of grammar and therefore grammar in a few philosophical sense is prior to arithmetic, because we cannot speak of arithmetic, we cannot speak of mathematical things without the knowledge of spoken things, of words and ideas and arguments and so on. So grammar is prior to arithmetic and in the same way grammar is prior to reasoning and to rhetoric, to geometry to music and to astronomy, because we would not be able to speak of them without an art of grammar. So, grammar may be established as the first of the seven liberal arts however, grammar goes on, through syntax and even prosody, meter and rhyme and subjects that relate to the art of poetry. Obviously, a person does not need to know what Dec Tillich, Hex ammeter is in classical prosody, before he can begin the study of arithmetic. Because arithmetic depends on grammar, it doesn’t depend on the entire art of grammar, it depends on a part of the art of grammar. But grammar goes on itself to become a very complicated study that extends into syntax and poetry. And just studied for many years. I’ve been studying classical grammar for 25 years, and I can still go on studying it my whole life and I will. Grammar is first. Philosophically, because a science of language has to exist, before we can speak about any of the other liberal arts. But that doesn’t mean that grammar as a subject has to be finished first. Because grammar is a very complex subject. Students need to know the basics of grammar so that they can use speech correctly, so that they can then study other arts and sciences. They don’t have to know the full declension of Latin pronouns, before they can study reasoning. They don’t have to understand the rules of agreement in syntax before they can study the principles of the art of rhetoric or start geometry. The order is not pedagogical. It’s not an order in curriculum. It’s an order in the actual philosophical development of the arts and sciences. And yes, there is some curriculum implication of that order. But it’s not that one art needs to be finished, before another art is started. There’s really only one case where that’s true and I’ll, I’ll explain that in a bit. So, we study the art of grammar, and grammar itself divides into four parts. It starts with orthography, where we study the letters and sounds of a language and then it moves to etymology where we study the parts of speech or words and the formation and meaning of words and then it moves to syntax, which is the study of construction, how the words are joined together to express ideas. And then finally, to prosody, which has to do more with poetry and rhetorical expression, the figurative use of language and so on. So grammar itself consists of four studies, the third and fourth of which are very complex arts. We don’t teach grammar to kids in the quote unquote grammar stage. We don’t have elementary school children studying the art of Classical poetry. And again, this is what makes this whole idea. So absurd. Just ask these schools, when you say the grammar stages, elementary school kids, so you have them studying prosody in elementary school, because that’s grammar. Oh, no, they don’t study that in grammar, or they don’t study syntax either in elementary school, oh, so. So really the grammar stage should be called like, what the orthography stage, maybe the etymology stage. It’s not even grammar that they’re talking about. And that’s why it’s just, it’s laughably ridiculous. Grammar can be studied for one’s entire life. It’s a complex subject, any talk of figurative language, figures of speech, poetry, rhyme, and meter and so on. All of that is grammar. Surely that’s not a study for elementary school kids, before they move up to reasoning? When does the Age of Reason begin? It begins when a child is seven or eight years old. So how can the reasoning stage take place in middle school, and yet the Age of Reason is seven or eight years old. Again, it’s not even a serious concept. No one who embraces it even gives it any thought. Like I said, it just it makes money. It’s good enough to create a niche market to rebrand modern education in a way that sells to a different market audience. And that’s where the thinking stops. It’s sophistry, having an appearance of learning for the sake of money making, and if you think that’s a harsh judgment, prove me wrong. I believe it’s impossible for anyone who has studied the classical liberal arts to even pretend for one second, that there’s any such thing as stages of learning. And it’s certainly impossible for anyone who says that, to give us any evidence from history, that that’s what anyone ever taught, or practiced in any Catholic schools, ever. I don’t think the burden of proof is on me. I think it’s on those who promote those ideas with no evidence, and no reason. The order is not pedagogical or academic. Its philosophical. Grammar, is the study of spoken things, spoken things in isolation, that are joined in syntax, and then can take on various meanings in prosody, and be used to express even more complex ideas. That’s the art of grammar, a very complex art to be studied throughout life. Then we get to the art of reasoning, which Aristotle treats in the Organon. And even within the art of reasoning, we’re dealing with different subjects, there are a number of different books that treat different topics. The first book is the categories, it deals with the meaning of words and words in isolation as symbols of ideas. Then, it moves on to the study of interpretation, which is the joining together of ideas to create propositions, which can be true or false. And then, in the next book, he goes into analytics, where he studies how propositions are joined together to produce syllogisms. And that continues through both prior and posterior analytics. Then he takes up another subject, in the topics, where he teaches the art of dialectical reasoning, which is different from the demonstrative reasoning, that he teaches in the analytics and then finally, in the sophistical, refutations or sophistical II lanky. He shows the common fallacies and deceptions that sophists use which can be under stood after we’ve learned the art of reasoning. The art of reasoning, again, can be studied throughout one’s entire life and needs to be. There’s no reason why a child who can read and write can’t begin the study of logic. There’s no reason why a student who’s learned to read can’t begin reading the categories of Aristotle and understand them with a good teacher, not with a modern teacher who doesn’t know what it means himself. But remember, the test of a teacher is that he can teach. He can express and explain things with simple ideas. Part of the problem that no one can teach and why they pretend they pretend that the kids have to wait to study the subjects is because they cannot explain them in simple terms, because they don’t know them. And this applies even to college professors. The reason why college professors have to play this game where they talk in the language of technical journals, even when they’re talking to freshmen in 101 level courses is because they can’t explain the topics in simple terms, because they don’t actually know them. They just play the game. They just play the game. If you call them out on it, you’ll be shocked to see how ignorant they are. And this is what Socrates used to do. He didn’t have to deal with, quote unquote, college professors in his day, he had to deal with specialists who pretended that their expertise in specific areas made them smarter than Socrates. And he just went one by one, and demonstrated how irrational and ignorant they were. The same is true today, except that instead of having sophists or specialists parading around as if they’re Wiseman, we have a whole culture of college professors, and quote unquote, scholars put them to the test. And you’ll be amazed how immature their ideas are, ask them for evidence for the things that they assert. And you’ll find they’ve never looked at the information critically, their entire academic career, they just copy and paste what they’re told to say in order to climb up through the academy and find themselves a paycheck. It’s copy and paste culture. It’s not demonstration. It’s not critical reading. It’s not disputation. It’s not truth seeking and experimentation. It’s just copy paste. Children can start these subjects at a young age with a teacher who’s able to explain them. Same thing is true for rhetoric. Any student who can read with comprehension, and has the help of a tutor can begin the art of rhetoric, there’s no need to wait until grammar is completed. It’s simple comprehension. Now, grammar was necessary for the development of the art of reasoning and grammar had to be developed first before the art of rhetoric could be developed. But that has to do with the development of the Arts in History by philosophers. That doesn’t have to do with the study of the arts, today by students. In the mathematical sciences, the ideas of arithmetic the simple theory of number has to be understood. Before we can even talk about geometrical ideas for example. You cannot define a square until the concept of the number four has already been established. You can’t define geometrical ideas until arithmetic has has been established as an art once arithmetic was established, and again, not the entire art of arithmetic, but just the basics. Just the basics. Before the concept of number was established in a scientific way, the art of geometry could not develop. The same was true with reasoning, because the art of geometry depends on reasoning. That’s why if you look at these arts chronologically, you’ll find that the philosophical sciences exploded when, after Aristotle established the art of reasoning, the art of reasoning was the instrument that was needed. Once the instrument was established. The investigation of the philosophical questions that needed to be answered, exploded, and led to the publication of all of Aristotle’s philosophical treatises. They were dependent, they were waiting for the art of reasoning to be established. And then once Aristotle established the art of reasoning, the philosophical sciences were able to be developed. Aristotle taught in the three hundreds BC it’s not a coincidence that Euclid came after Aristotle. It’s not a coincidence that Ptolemy the astronomer came in history, after Aristotle and Euclid. The order of the liberal arts and philosophical sciences is a philosophical order as one used those before it to build the next level. The next art in the sequence. There’s an order of dependence between the arts that was necessary for their development. And we can see this actually played out in the chronological development of the arts and sciences through time. And this continues into the Christian era. This is why Christian philosophy or true philosophy was perfected in the 13th century, by Thomas Aquinas. Because it was the fullness of time. Each step was dependent on the previous step, and human learning advanced step by step by step. The advances of one age, allowed for the advancement of the next stage and the philosophical sciences grew, generation by generation. Modern scientists like to pretend that this continues today, but it doesn’t. The scientific revolution in the 1600s was an overthrow and abandonment of that entire history of philosophical development. You have to study Francis Bacon to understand that if you get your information from the Internet, and from articles in scientific magazines, or from Catholics who’ve been to modern Catholic schools and have never studied philosophy and couldn’t tell you what Francis Bacon wrote about, you’ll get this modern romanticized view of science that the human race has just continued to grow and grow and build and build on all of our previous experience. But that’s not true. That’s not true. That’s like saying Protestantism is simply the next stage in the development of doctrine in Christian history, if you’re willing to believe that the scientific revolution was simply the next stage, in the development of human learning, then you should also accept the fact that the Protestant Reformation is the next stage. In the development of Christian doctrine, if you can understand how the Protestant Reformation relates to true Catholic doctrine, then you can understand how the scientific revolution which took place At the same time relates to classical philosophy, same exact issues on two different in two different areas to parallel phenomenon, working at the same time in history coming from the same spirit, which rebelled against both Catholic theology in the Protestant movement, and in the rejection of classical scholastic philosophy in the scientific movement. But what I want you to understand is that the classical liberal arts relate to one another, in a philosophical order one grew, after the other, had grown. Once, it’s like, unlocking one lock at a time, and each time the new lock is opened. Men get to work on the next block. And that continues. And we see that in the classical liberal arts and the philosophical sciences. It’s not an order of how they should be studied. It’s not an order of where they should be introduced in a school program, because remember, the schools never existed. There is certainly a dependence of ideas. For example, in rhetoric, you’ll learn that it’s necessary to prove things and in order to prove things, you’ll need to know the art of reasoning. But you don’t need to know the entire art of reasoning. In order to know how to prove things. You can open Aristotle’s rhetoric today and start reading and have no problem. If you do run into an issue. Aristotle will usually tell you in the text, if you read them, he’ll say, this has been explained in another place and provide a reference will say, you know, this is explained in the metaphysics. This is explained in the physics This is explained in the ethics This is explained in the categories and so on. There may be references, and where you find those references, where one idea in one art depends upon the idea in another art or science. That’s the order that exists among the classical Liberal Arts, and Sciences. That’s the relationship. It’s not a pedagogical order, it’s not levels of learning. It’s just a simple system, where ideas depend on simpler ideas, and one breakthrough allowed for the breakthrough in a higher art or science. It’s simple to understand. You have to be duped into thinking that some artificial stages of learning exists when you have no reason to believe that they do even in your own experience, you know that that’s not how it works. Children can reason before they learn to write poetry. Poetry is grammar reasoning, supposedly comes after grammar. It’s just nonsense. So don’t let the order that exists between the arts and scientists confuse you, as you think about a school curriculum. And imagine that somehow grammar needs to be in first grade. And you find that some of the concepts in grammar are difficult. It doesn’t seem like it makes sense at all. Well, that’s because it doesn’t make sense. You can start studying teaching the kids the basics of reasoning. In first grade, you can teach the principles of rhetoric in first grade, you can start classical arithmetic and geometry in first grade. Think about it. What do you have to do to start geometry? memorize definitions? Memorize axioms, memorize postulates. None of that stuff is too complicated for a second grade students. A point is that which has neither length nor breadth, what second grade student can understand that? He can start the study of geometry, that’s where it begins. It builds one definition at a time, one axiom at a time, one postulate at a time, one proposition at a time. When can you begin? As soon as the kid knows how to read? If the kid didn’t know how to read, and had a teacher who can just read for him, he could start then. That’s how these studies actually work. And what what all of this complexity and all of this talk about order and curriculum, what it really is, is just a, it’s just an excuse to keep ignoring the big elephant in the room, which is that we’re simply not studying. It just becomes an excuse, oh, well, we don’t introduce the kids to, you know, to rhetoric, because that’s really a no, no, no, no. There’s one very simple reason why students are introduced to things in these fake classical schools, it’s because the teachers don’t know them. The teachers can’t explain them. They can’t teach them for example, if a teacher is fluent in Latin, fluent in Latin, and he was given the task of teaching the children, the Summa Theologica, if he was fluent in Latin, he could teach them the Summa in Latin. It would be no problem. I asked myself this question all the time. Why don’t I just teach all of these books in the original languages and stop even stop even using translations. I could teach them in the original languages. And I’m going to as a part of the development of the academy in coming years. The only reason is a teacher would go through the process of teaching a book and translation is that he can’t easily teach the original language. After all, let’s say I go to teach Homer’s Iliad, and I say, well, the kids don’t know Greek. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to teach an English translation, well, guess what, the teacher is still going to have to explain every unfamiliar word and concept. In the English translation. The problems aren’t all taken away, because the book happens to be in the language of the children. All of the explanation and interpretation that’s needed, would have also been needed for the Greek text. It’s just an excuse. Because the teachers can’t teach the original language. Why do Latin teachers start kids with the most ridiculous exercising, memorizing declensions and things like that, rather than just reading Latin? It’s because they can’t read Latin. That’s why no teacher who is fluent in Latin would ever say, Well, to start this week, this week, we’re going to memorize the first declension of nouns. No fluent Latin teacher would ever do that. Day one, they would start reading in Latin, they would use their readings to learn vocabulary. schools can’t teach the arts to younger students, because the teachers don’t know them. And it’s very convenient for the schools to just use this as an excuse for why learn why real learning is continually just pushed higher and higher. Oh, you want to learn Latin? Oh, well, we teach that in, in college. Yeah, that’s not appropriate for fourth grade students. That’s not age appropriate. Like as if the teacher could teach it if he or she wanted to. If the teacher knows the material and can explain it in simple terms. The subject can be studied by any student of any age. If the students don’t know them, don’t know the subjects. Then they can simply pretend that there are some natural seri natural obstacle in the way that prevents them from introducing the kids to some higher idea. It’s a very convenient excuse. And as I said, you’ll notice that things just get pushed higher and higher and higher. Everyone stands around saying, hey, not my job, not my job. I’m second grade. Not my job. I’m ninth grade, not my job. This is just high school. Why are kids not studying classical ethics? In Catholic schools? Oh, well, that’s complicated stuff. You can’t teach that stuff to kids. Really. You’re telling me if I say, every human action, every human decision aims at some desired end. You’re telling me that what age child can’t understand that? What age child can’t comprehend the fundamental idea of Aristotle’s ethics that every human action and choice aims at some end and some ends are better than others. And we should ask the question, what is the greatest of all ends? What age students can’t understand that I guarantee I can go in the house and teach that to my six year old daughter right now. What age student can understand the ideas in Aristotle’s ethics, if he or she has a teacher who knows them, and can explain them in simple terms? The idea of the golden mean that between two opposite vices, we find virtue as the medium between them, that can’t be explained in terms that children can understand. Kids can understand that a prodigal spends too much. A stingy man spends too little. And a benevolent man or a generous man stands at the balance between those two opposite extremes. What age child can’t understand that. That’s classical ethics. Why is that? Not in schools? Oh, that’s too complicated for kids, they need to grow for it. No, no, that’s not why. That’s not why it’s not taught in schools. It’s not taught in schools, because the teachers don’t study ethics. That’s why the teachers don’t know it. And so they can’t have it in a school curriculum. Because the teachers don’t know it. What this what the teachers do is they act like they know all these things, but simply can’t teach them because the kids are, are not developed sufficiently to understand them. And so they, they blame everything on child development, as if there’s some kind of magical development taking place inside of children that all of a sudden, they reach the ethics stage, and then they reach the they reached the metaphysic stage, and then, oh, they hit their 14th birthday. And all of a sudden, they’ve blossomed into the geometry stage. It’s just an excuse to never teach the core subjects because no one studies of them. There’s no such order. Yes, of course, it’s true that children are developing. A toddler is two feet tall. He’s obviously in development. A four year old has a hard time handling of pen and writing cursive letters. Of course, that’s true. But we’re talking about physical development, his body is growing. And of course, there is a a development that I mentioned before, the progression into the age of reason. But that takes place at seven or eight years of age, not 15, not 20. We’re talking seven, eight years old children reach the age of reason. That’s why the sacraments begin for them, at that time, confession, communion and so on. Because they can reason at age eight. So why are we talking about the age of reasoning being Middle School? Well, isn’t that convenient that it just happens to align with the modern Middle School program. It’s all irrational, artificial nonsense teachers, and schools, excusing away the reality that they don’t teach the core subjects, because they can not teach them because they have not studied them, and they do not know them. That’s why they don’t teach them. So this mystery concerning the order of studies, doesn’t really exist. There’s a historical development of the arts and sciences. And that’s the order that exists. Among those arts and sciences one depends philosophically on the other. This is explained in the opening chapter of arithmetic, which you should go read, sign up in the classical liberal arts academy, it’s free, enroll in the classical arithmetic course study, chapters one and two. And you’ll see this whole system explained, it has nothing to do with students. It has to do with the philosophers who developed the arts and sciences, nothing to do with schools, or students. We’re approaching an hour and a half here, and I just like to sink a second to consider if I’ve left anything out. Oh, one thing. I mentioned earlier, that there was one art that really does depend on the master on the mastery of prior arts, and that one art is the art of Astronomy. Astronomy, you’ll see if you go to the classical liberal arts academy Study Center, students are not allowed to enroll in astronomy, it’s the only course students are not allowed to enroll in. And the reason why is because right from the beginning, in astronomy, Ptolemy picks up with proofs that make use of propositions from later books in Euclidean geometry. And if students haven’t studied those proofs, those propositions they really have no idea what Ptolemy is talking about. So astronomy, I have found in my experience, astronomy is the only subject that you really have to put off. Until you’ve taken the time to work through Euclidean geometry. That’s the only one that I’ve experienced. Music depends on your knowledge of classical arithmetic, but it’s one that can be developed alongside of the study of music. There’s no reason to delay and wait to start music. until you’ve completed arithmetic that’s not necessary. The basic concepts of arithmetic are immediately necessary in the study of music, but that’s it, then the two subjects go along, side by side and the same is true of geometry. The three mathematical arts, arithmetic, geometry and music, can all be studied together. Philosophical sciences, if you start with the starting texts, for example, Aristotle’s physics is the first book on natural philosophy if you try to read on the heavens or on the soul, without having first studied physics, in the physics, he establishes the general principles and then applies them to specific studies within natural philosophy. So there’s an order in that we move from universal principles in the first book, to particulars in the later books. So there is an order there, but that’s not no one’s no one’s asking about whether they should study on the heavens first. You start with physics. You start with ethics. You start with metaphysics and metaphysics just means after physics. So it’s the order is pretty obvious. After there really has the idea of beyond, no beyond physics, and philosophically, many of the ideas that are demonstrated in metaphysics are necessary for the investigation of the natural world. So is there an order among the arts and sciences, yes, but that order is philosophical. It has nothing to do with schools, or students, what determines where a student can begin, and what subjects a student can learn, and how early he or she can learn them has to do with how well the study materials are arranged for the student, and whether the student has the help of a tutor who can explain them in simple terms. A good example of this to prove this, and I’ll probably wrap up here. A good example of this can be found in Mozart. If you look at Mozart, Mozart was able to compose famous musical works when he was a child. And we immediately credit all of this to some kind of magical, genius, some innate ability, but that’s not true. That’s not true. Mozart was not some kid born to a peasant family. And while they were picking corn, all of a sudden Mozart started humming symphonies and started, you know, sketching quartets in the in the dirt out in the field, and we said, and people said, Wow, this kid is gifted. And it’s just like, they, they they gave him a violin and put him in the presence of musical instruments, and all of a sudden Shazam. He’s playing symphonies. Mozart was raised by a father, who was a master, musician, and teacher. He was raised by a man who knew how to teach the art of music and composition. He could give Aristotle exercises to perform, and activities to do that even at age five. Were within his grasp. Now was Eric was Mozart, gifted. Of course he was. But his art, his art did not come from his giftedness. There are many gifted musicians, but they’re not Mozart. Mozart’s art came from the combination of his giftedness and the access he enjoyed to an excellent teacher. Same is true of Bach, and many others. Bach was raised in a family of musicians. He wasn’t just some gifted kid who, instead of playing baseball, started hammering around on a piano and beautiful music came out. These kids were born into families that had master teachers present to work with the children. From the beginning. We see this in music today, we’ll see, quote, unquote, properties, presented at recitals. And yet, these kids are not simply happening their way into these performances. They’re diligently trained and disciplined by expert musical teachers. From the time they’re two and three years old. To pretend that the teachers are not the causes of their extraordinary achievement is to simply ignore the reality. When a child is provided, with the help that he or she needs, there’s really no subject that he can’t study and learn. The teachers determine what children can do at what age the greater the mastery is in the teacher. The more simply the teacher can explain the concepts and the earlier the children can learn them. That’s why education is such a mystery because it’s upside down. He who wishes to be greatest of all must become least he who is he who understands the classical liberal arts is the one who needs to teach the first grade class As the teacher who doesn’t understand the higher arts really isn’t fit to teach the younger children. And that’s one of the reasons why all of the pretenders want to be college professors. In college, you can fake it. And you can just blame the kids because they’re adults. Child kids these days, can’t write, don’t read. Don’t pay attention to class. It’s never the teacher’s fault in college because the kids are adults, you can just blame everything on the kids. That’s why everyone wants to be a college professor. It’s where all the fakers go to pretend that they’re teachers, even though everyone knows that those who can teach can teach in simple terms. And throughout history, the greatest teachers taught young students because as Plato taught youth, is the time for extraordinary toil. The college music professor is not going to produce a Mozart he’s going to be produced when he’s five years old. The college professor isn’t interested in that work of being an actual master teacher. And the only way that someone can be a master teacher is to have the art mastered, to know the art in a scientific way, and be able to teach it to other students. One last illustration, I would say is in sports. A great coach can take a team of unskilled players and teach them to win will hear a coach say I need to adapt my strategies to my personnel. I need to teach the players what they need to do in order for us as a team to win. And as the old Princeton basketball coach Pete Correll used to say the smart take from the strong a great coach will cause an inferior team with regards to talent to win by strategy and teaching and discipline. And we understand that we understand that great coaches win year after year after year, and not because they always have the best talent. But because they know how to teach the talent, they know how to coach the talent. They’re great teachers, they teach the art of the sport that they play. And that’s why the great coaches are those who when perennially not when they just happen to get a great alignment of talent. But even if the talent wins a bit, they can overcome it. By their coaching, by adjusting strategies, adjusting schemes and so on. We see this in coaching. We don’t wait for all of the players to become experts first, and then show ourselves to be good coaches. By coaching the most talented players to victory. It’s the opposite. Everyone knows that. A true coach is measured by whether he can go down. Take less talented players, teach them the skills, train them to play, build the schemes and the strategies and lead them to victory against teams with greater resources, greater talent, and so on. We all know that that’s where the greatest coaches are found. We all know that that’s where the greatest teachers are found. And we all can see that in modern education. This progression is used as an excuse to push studies to the college level. Because once we can say that a certain study belongs into college level. We can blame the students because they’re all adults. And there’s no law no longer any. They shouldn’t be dependent on teachers anymore. And so what happens is once we can get the kids to adulthood, we can then blame them and the teachers are free and clear and can just continue to fake it through the rest of their career. If anyone was a master of an art, he would be working with elementary school aged children. And he would be raising artists and masters. He wouldn’t be hanging out in college, blaming his students failures on their lack of interest, lack of study, etc. Everyone knows that we play dumb, and go along with this game in modern society, paying a fortune for an education, that is no education at all. These arts and sciences can be studied by any student willing to work, who has access to a teacher can make the ideas simple for him to understand where he is. And that’s the challenge in real education. And that’s what we’re working on in the classical liberal arts academy. That’s why I spend a lot of time on things like Petey school, I created a whole Petey school program. And I challenge anyone to try and teach three and four and five year old kids. That’s where mastery is needed. Not to teach teenagers, the elements of grammar that doesn’t require a teacher where the master teachers are needed in Christian education is at the very beginning. And when you look back to the Jesuits, when you look back to the monastic schools of history, you find that the people working with young children were masters. That’s what made those kids different. Our fake education system with a culture of teachers who are pretenders flips that all upside down and pretends that you’re going to get started in these things when you’re older. And we all know that doesn’t work. But we just go along with it. Stupid, uncritical, afraid to say anything. Because we don’t want to appear on charitable questioning people that are just ripping off Christian society, for their own personal profit, in the name of education, so I hope that’s helpful in understanding what the order is that exist between these studies, and clearing up the false idea that this has anything to do with schooling or grade levels, or anything like that. If the teachers know the arts, they can teach them to their students.Transcribed by

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  1. Willmann, O. (1907). The Seven Liberal Arts. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 4, 2021 from New Advent:
  2. Toomer, G.J., Ptolemy’s Almagest. Princeton University Press, 1998.