My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Own. Wish I could do 3.5 stars.
I’m both smarter and dumber after reading this book.
This book is unabashedly Roman Catholic; quoting RC theologians and philosophers regularly and consistently, including the two most recent Popes frequently. His section on learning being by necessity in a liturgical framework emphasizes and highlights the RC Mass, which as an unabashed Reformed Protestant I found off-putting.
To me, parts of the book seemed wavering on the edge of a numerology that was reading more into numbers than are there … but not quite. At times, I found the writing confusing, but that was probably more my lack of knowledge than his writing.
There, the warnings are out of the way.
First, it must be said, footnotes are vastly superior over endnotes. So glad he included footnotes (only wish they had been funny like Susan Wise Bauer's). His large bibliography is also a treasure trove of recommendations.
Second, parts of this book are fascinating. Parts are encouraging. Parts were very thought provoking. Sometimes, I lost the thread of what he was trying to say. The concluding chapter, however, did as it was supposed to do and summed up nicely. He comes to a point where he's trying to get around a dualistic society pitting faith against reason:
Faith is not opposed to reason, but it does function as a constant goad, a challenge, a provocation to reason. Faith claims to stand beyond reason, to speak from the place that reason seeks. But it does not claim to understand what it knows, and it should not usurp the role of reason in that sense, any more than it should contradict it. The resolution lies not in faith, nor yet in reason, but in love. We are perennially tempted to reduce Christianity to something less than itself: either to power (will, faith, law) or to philosophy (knowledge, reason, wisdom). Nominalists tend to do the former. Realists tend to do the latter. But the solution to this supreme problem in binary logic is through a third and higher thing: love, in which both will and knowledge are reconciled and held in balance -- or rather, in which both are transcended. God is love, in which both will and knowledge are comprised.
I appreciated the examples of objective beauty found in the the quadrivium's disciplines, and had rather expected that most of the book would be that. It wasn't, which is probably good because I didn't comprehend parts of what he was explaining as it was (the deficiency is mine).
And it wasn't entirely about teaching those skills from a Christian perspective nor giving me direction on how to teach truth and beauty in the quadrivium, which I had also expected. Rather, it issued a challenge to me, the reader, to seek the beauty in the nature of things and to help my pupils to do that too. One of my favorite quotes from the book (found in the footnotes!) was: "For [Simone] Weil preayer consists of attention to God and the concentration required to solve (or even attempt) mathematical puzzles is never wasted, since it develops the soul's capacity for the higher attentiveness --not to mention (in the case of those of us who find mathematics difficult) humility!
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