On Study: Remedial Education

by Bernard Brandt

I have decided that life as an auto-didact, while necessary, is by no means sufficient. For most of my life, I read and studied as I saw fit, and so I garnered something of an education, even though my schooling suffered as a result.

As of the beginning of my Church’s New Year, September 1st, I have been reviewing my educational stock, and have found it wanting. As a result, I have been been pondering over my lacks, and have been devising a plan or curriculum of remedial education.

That plan involves three steps:

A. The Trivium.

For those who have not read it, may I recommend Dorothy L. Sayers’ remarkable essay, The Lost Tools of LearningThat essay makes the case that an education which would be worth having must begin with building and sharpening those tools of memory, reason, and imagination which are the basis for all further learning. Those tools are the original Trivium of Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.

I find that while I have been using those tools, and far more effectively than many, I still have not mastered them. That will now change. For the next three years, I intend on undertaking a course of study, or a tuition (as the Brits put it), in which I will devote myself to Grammar for the first, Logic (deductive and inductive) for the second, and Rhetoric for the third year.

This first year will involve using grammars (or organized texts) for the learning of these languages: Greek, Latin, Old English, French, and German. The discerning will recognize that the above five languages are the basis of most of the structure and loan words of the modern English language. I intend on using them to better master my understanding of English, my first language. I also intend on using the systematic structure of grammar, which is, the organization of a particular language, as the basis for better mastering other subjects as well.

I will also spend this year in organizing my approach to the mastery of Logic and Rhetoric, which I intend on pursuing for my second and third years. At the end of that period, I intend on having written and published three primers on those several subjects. But wait! There’s more!

B. The Quadrivium

Anyone who has read Plato’s The Republic knows that that is the source of the course of studies which Plato proposed for anyone who wished to become a philosopher. That course was formalized by the monk Cassiodorus, and was the basis of the secondary education received by most scholars of the mediaeval period. Those four subjects were Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. I propose to update them, as follows:

  1. Mathematics. I am currently reading Mathematics for the Millionwhich is a review of mathematics from ancient times to the present, and encompasses Arithmetic, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, Statistics and Probability, and Matrix Algebra. I intend on using this as a basis for further organized studies, most probably involving the Khan Academy, among other online resources.
  2. Music. I have obtained a number of books, and intend on working systematically through them to develop musicianship, basic theory, harmony, counterpoint, form, arrangement and composition. I also intend on systematic studies of voice and at least one instrument, most probably the classical guitar/renaissance lute (which has much the same fingering as the guitar).
  3. Physics. Two sources which I intend on pursuing are T’hooft’s Theoretical Physics as a Challenge, and the Feynmann lectures. These will be the basis for further studies as well.
  4. Visual studies. These will, of course, include the various treatises of two and three dimensional geometry, but will also proceed with a course of self instruction on drawing and visual design. Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain will be my start at this.

I hope to have a solid foundation in this updated Quadrivium by the end of the same three year period, enough so to at least be able to begin the writing of primers for each of those subjects. And, last but not least, I intend on using this modern Trivium and Quadrivium as the basis for my studies for the following seven years.

C. The Cross of Reality

I am indebted to a dear friend, Fred Williams, for introducing me to the writings of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. Prime among the concepts that R-H developed was that of The Cross of Reality, or the four directions of human experiences and inquiry: Within, Without, Past, and Future. I intend on pursuing them as follows:

  1. Within the human mind and spirit. Literature, literary theory, the arts, epistemology and psychology.
  2. Without, or outside. This involves the study of the two revelations of God: The Holy Scriptures, and the physical universe.
  3. The Past, or History. This, I believe, explains itself.
  4. The Future, insofar as humankind is capable of it. The study of what should be, or political, legal, economic and ethical theory.

I am now sixty two years of age. I expect that I should have a solid foundation in this modern Trivium, Quadrivium, and the Cross of Reality by the time I am 72. I can hope to live for another twenty years after that, if I take proper care of myself. I might even be able to get some good work done in time. And even if not, it would be worth it, to get, or at least to try for, an education worth having.