We Need More Metaphors For Classical Education

“While I appreciate agrarian metaphors for classical education, I think it better to liken a classical school to a farm than a garden. In the last ten years, gardens have become lifestyle accessories for #intentional social media users. Don’t get me wrong. I keep a little herb garden next to my front door and I love not paying three dollars for half an ounce of rosemary sprigs or a packet of thyme, but these days, it seems like every fellow with a theology blog and a couple tomato plants thinks he’s Wendell Berry. Sure, keeping a twenty square foot garden can put you a little more in touch with nature, and thus a little more in touch with reality, but anyone who thinks a classical education is like a small, low commitment plot of poultry seasoning simply isn’t taking the agrarian metaphor all that seriously.       

What is helpful about agrarian metaphors (cultivating, nurturing) is that they get at the fact a classical education isn’t transactional and thus you can’t force it to work any more than you can coerce a plant into growing. Plant growth requires a very certain environment, which is true of student growth, as well, and so man prayerfully provides the context, but God gives the increase. Agrarian metaphors for education also put some weight back on parents who expect too much of a classical school. Giving a plant eight hours of sunlight, water, and rich soil every day will all be for nothing if the other sixteen hours of the day involve feeding the plant bleach and shoving it in the freezer. A classical school demands a classical home, as well.  

I prefer the farm to the garden (as a metaphor for classical education) because farming is a way of life, while gardening is not. You can forget about a garden in the winter, leave it for a ten-day vacation in the spring, and the thing will still be there for you when you get back. A small garden—the sort which so many Americans have started in the last several years—is an occasional hobby at best and only requires irregular maintenance and care. In short, it’s nothing like classical education. The agrarian metaphor for classical education only makes sense in the light of a more comprehensive, risky compromise with the earth.”

-from Army, Monastery, Manor, Farm: What Is Classical Education Like?

Published by Joshua Gibbs

Sophist. De-activist. Avid indoorsman.

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