Alfred the Great’s England

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great

When I was writing my book Saints and Scoundrels, one of the most fulfilling chapters was my chapter on Alfred the Great. I have been fascinated by King Alfred (849-899) ever since I was a boy and read the famous story about him burning the honey cakes. But what impressed me the most when researching for my chapter was the extent to which King Alfred laid the foundation for modern England.

Although King Alfred is considered one of the early kings of England, in actual fact England did not exist in the ninth century. Alfred was the King of Wessex, which was one among a number of small Saxon Kingdoms at the time.

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The Robin & Boom Show #05 – Interview with Michael d’Esterre on Classical Education and Emotional Wellness

What is classical education? How can the liberal arts fortify children against anxiety, depression and addiction? What was Charlotte Mason’s contribution to classical education? These are some of the questions that Robin and Jason explore with this week’s guest, Michael d’Esterre. Michael is a clinical social worker in Spokane Washington, who is turning to the liberal arts to find answers to some of our society’s most pressing problems, including mental disorders and addiction.

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Education Should Nourish Our Souls

From my Touchstone article ‘More Than Schooling‘:

“Our loves orient us to visions of human flourishing that pull us towards a certain telos far more effectively than someone trying to push us there. …the real competitor of classical education is not the public schools, as so often thought, but the panoply of what [James K.A. Smith] calls “secular liturgies,” which also aim to capture our imaginations on an instinctive level. For him, Christian education is important, not because the public schools are so bad, but because shopping malls, commercials, and clothing advertisements are so good, or appear so to the impoverished soul.

The idols of the materialistic world usually reach our hearts only because they have first captured our imaginations. Now, capturing the imagination is also what a liberal arts education should fundamentally be about. It’s not simply about learning things, but about being nourished, and coming to love what is good, true, and beautiful at a gut level.”

Virtue and Classical Education: A Commencement Address to a Graduating Class

When Odysseus turns from Calypso and her promise of immortality, he chooses to embrace the distinctively human virtues that make him vulnerable to weakness and pain.

Once Albert Einstein was traveling on a train from Princeton when the conductor came down the aisle punching tickets. When the conductor reached Einstein, the great physicist reached into his vest pocket, but could not find his ticket. So he reached into the pockets of his pants, but still he couldn’t find the ticket.

The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, it’s ok. I know who you are.”

As if not hearing these words, Einstein continued searching for the missing ticket. As he opened his briefcase to look inside, the conductor said again, “Dr. Einstein, we all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Please don’t worry about it.”

Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets, but behind him he could see the scientist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for the missing ticket.

Rushing back to him, the conductor said, “Please, please Dr. Einstein, do not worry. I’m sure you bought a ticket. We know who you are and really, it’s no problem.”

Einstein stood up, looked the conductor in the eye and replied, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I do not know is where I am going.”

Einstein wanted to find his ticket so he could remind himself where he was headed. Continue reading

Worldview Education, Technology and the Value of Boredom

This morning while doing some research for a couple clients, I came across two interesting articles that seemed to connect.

One article was a piece by Rod Dreher talking about his time at the recent Society of Classical Learning (SCL) conference. Titled ‘The Problem with ‘Worldview’ Education‘, Dreher shared Joshua Gibbs’ insight that “real art is not something that calls forth an immediate response. You have to contemplate it, turn it over in your mind for a while.” Gibbs went on to suggest that one of the casualties of the worldview-based approach to education is that the rush to analyze texts through a worldview grid can prematurely foreclose–or even completely short-circuit–this necessary process of wondering about and contemplating texts.

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The Robin & Boom Show #10 – C. Derick Varn on Higher Education and Cheating

Jason Van Boom interviews author and educator, C. Derick Varn, about the with the college admissions bribery scandal, and what this tells us about trends in higher education today. How does modern education compare to the medieval university? Is there value in elite education? What is a meritocracy? What does it mean for a student to teach himself? How has our system of university degrees developed since the Middle Ages, and is it still viable? These are some of the many questions addressed in this episode.

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Don’t Take Short-Cuts With Your Teenagers

From “The Robin & Boom Show Episode 3

“…a lot of parents with traditional Christian values are increasingly unhopeful about being able to pass those values on to the next generation… And one of the things we’ve noticed is that when parents feel pessimistic about their chances of success, the temptation can be to take short-cuts and to settle for getting our children to assent to the beliefs and lifestyle choices that reflect our values without actually helping them to develop the type of critical thinking and thoughtful disposition that’s necessary for them to really make those values their own. It’s a lot easier to settle for the intermediate goal of just getting our children to tick the right box, to parrot back our traditional values, instead of actually inculcating within them the type of attentive and thoughtful and engaged and reflective disposition that’s necessary if those values are going to become part of who they are. And so essentially, we develop a kind of tribalism where we make the children feel that it’s not okay to question the tribe, or we may use control and manipulation to shut down critical discussion. And of course, then what happens is that the children go away to college and become exposed to another tribe – say, something like social Marxism – and because they haven’t been taught to ask questions, they just become like sheep to the slaughter.”

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Great Lent and Cultural Anthropology

During this season of Lent, I have thought more than once about the spiritual value of struggle. The Church would not have given us an entire season devoted to struggling if it were not appropriate to view struggle in a positive light.

Not everyone agrees that struggle is good. In my Touchstone article The Cross of Least Resistance, I quoted a number of influential evangelical leaders who taught that the presence of struggle in a person’s spiritual life is a sure sign that something is wrong. This present article will not attempt to expose the hermeneutical and exegetical errors in the opinions of these false teachers (for that, see here and here and here). Instead, I want to look at the question of struggle from the perspective of cultural anthropology. But first, why cultural anthropology?

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The Robin & Boom Show #04 – Discussion With Keith Pimental on Tribalism

Jason and Robin are joined by Keith Pimental to discuss tribalism. They explain what tribalism is and why it’s a problem in America today. During this conversation you will learn what parents and educators can do to develop critical thinking among the youth, what the difference is between critical thinking and wisdom, and why critical thinking by itself is not enough for human flourishing.

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The Robin & Boom Show #03 – Discussion with Keith Pimental on Transmitting Values to Next Generation

What happens when parents and politicians settle for intermediate goals without giving attention to the long-term end of human flourishing? What is the culture-wide impact of relativism? What happens when we neglect the importance of history and eternity? And what is “methodological Machiavellianism”? These are just some of the questions that Robin and Jason discuss in this episode with their guest from Portugal, Keith Pimental. 

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