In what way is Old Western Culture a “Christian Approach” to the Great Books?

crossOld Western Culture is a distinctly Christian course. The creators of the course believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, the Providence of God working in history, and that all truth is God’s truth wherever it may be found.

A Christian worldview is not “taught” as an afterthought, but assumed throughout and thoroughly integrated in the approach to the material. Below are two small excerpts from the course which demonstrate how this works itself out in Old Western Culture.

 

Platonic Heresies and the Church (excerpt from The Philosophers).

The Bitterness of Achilles (excerpt from The Epics).

Does Old Western Culture present the perspective of a specific denomination?

Wes Callihan, the author, makes this statement:

I teach explicitly as a Christian and in the light of the historic, universal Christian faith. In nearly every class I make connections to that faith and to the radically
redemptive character of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection and of the church’s mission for individuals and nations. I affirm three things as most important:

  1. the Nicene Creed as a faithful summary of the Christian faith,
  2. the gospel as declared in John 3:16, Romans 10:9-13, and I Corinthians 15:1-4, and
  3. the absolute necessity of Christian unity and love in the bond of peace as expressed in Galatians 5:22-23 and throughout I John.

I am largely in agreement with the major Reformational Protestant confessions, especially the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 39 Articles of the Church of England, but am deeply appreciative of and often sympathetic to the historic Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

None of this is required of students – the only spiritual requirements are a good attitude and a willingness to learn – but it should be expected that the teaching will clearly, explicitly, and regularly reflect a historical and classical Christian perspective.

If Old Western Culture is a Christian course, why does it include Pagan literature?

More on why you should study Pagan literature:
- Q&A with Wes Callihan: Why Should we Study Pagan Authors? (10 min video)
- Course Excerpt from The Philosophers: St. Paul alludes to Socrates (2:44 min video)

Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With

Reading is romanticI recently read an article about why readers, scientifically speaking, are the best people to fall in love with. I agree! I married a woman who loves to read, and loves to learn! She read all the right books while growing up! (Incidentally, she took Wes Callihan’s Great Books courses online in high school).

The article points to several benefits that reading will bring a reader. It enables them to speak to someone in a meaningful way. It allows a person to understand other people; it teaches the art of empathy. And it gives wisdom that years of actual experience could never give.

Because reading is something that molds you and adds to your character. Each triumph, lesson and pivotal moment of the protagonist becomes your own.
Every ache, pain and harsh truth becomes yours to bear. You’ve traveled with authors and experienced the pain, sorrow and anguish they suffered while writing through it. You’ve lived a thousand lives and come back to learn from each of them.

This is very similar to what Wes Callihan says when he encouraged the reading of imaginative literature, which he called “bootcamp for life.”

Stories are Bootcamp for Life

So read often, read good books, and read varied books!

If you want to be guided through the reading of the greatest books, check out Old Western Culture!

History: A Moral Requirement

Quote

The study of history is a moral requirement for Christians. 
Think of the Israelites who were required to remember the past. 
Think of Paul in the NT: ‘These things were written for our instruction.’

- Wesley Callihan, Porch of our Fathers

History: A Moral Obligation

Summer Unit Study + Review = Free Curriculum!

The Greeks - Old Western Culture by Wes CallihanEach year of the Old Western Culture curriculum is neatly divided into quarters. Because of this every unit can stand alone as its own unit study.

Between July 1st and July 15th, purchase any 1 unit from The Greeks (year 1 of Old Western Culture), send an email to reviews@romanroadsmedia.com letting us know you’re planning on doing a review, and submit your review of that unit by August 30th. You will then be able to choose a second unit of your choice from The Greeks or The Romans, and we’ll send it to you for free!

Already own Old Western Culture? No problem! Between July 1st, and July15th, send an email to reviews@romanroadsmedia.com, and let us know you plan to submit a review, let us know which unit you’ll be reviewing, and we’ll add you to the list. If you already own The Greeks (good for you!), you may choose a unit from The Romans.

TERMS:
Review must be submitted to reviews@romanroadsmedia.com by midnight, August 30th. To qualify as a review, it must be a minimum of 150 words (500 would be ideal), use generally correct grammar (we reserve the right to correct typos and basic grammar, but please write carefully), and represent a basic knowledge of the course. The use of screenshots, photos, and other graphics or media are highly encouraged, but not required. Your review will be posted on the Roman Roads Media website with your first name and the initial of your last name. If you blog, you may post the review to your own blog (in fact, this is the preferred method!), and send us a link to the relevant page at reviews@romanroadsmedia.com. After your review has been received, we will send your second unit of choice from either The Greeks or The Romans. 

John Adams to his son: Read Thucydides

Thucydides by William Smith, AM

Thucydides, translated by William Smith, A.M.

John Adams wrote to his son, John Quincy Adams, soon after the Declaration of Independence, exhorting him to read Thucydides as a way to be best prepared for the days ahead of him as a leader. Here is the full letter:

My dear Son,

As the War in which your Country is engaged will probably hereafter attract your Attention, more than it does at this Time, and as the future Circumstances of your Country, may require other Wars, as well as Councils and Negotiations, similar to those which are now in Agitation, I wish to turn your Thoughts early to such Studies, as will afford you the most solid Instruction and Improvement for the Part which may be allotted you to act on the Stage of Life.
There is no History, perhaps, better adapted to this usefull Purpose than that of Thucidides, an Author, of whom I hope you will make yourself perfect Master, in original Language, which is Greek, the most perfect of all human Languages. In order to understand him fully in his own Tongue, you must however take Advantage, of every Help you can procure and particularly of Translations of him into your own Mother Tongue.
You will find in your Fathers Library, the Works of Mr. Hobbes, in which among a great deal of mischievous Philosophy, you will find a learned and exact Translation of Thucidides, which will be usefull to you.
But there is another Translation of him, much more elegant, intituled “The History of the Peloponnesian War, translated from the Greek of Thucidides in two Volumes Quarto, by William Smith A.M. Rector of the Parish of the holy Trinity in Chester, and Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Earl of Derby.”
If you preserve this Letter, it may hereafter remind you, to procure the Book.
You will find it full of Instruction to the Orator, the Statesman, the General, as well as to the Historian and the Philosopher. You may find Something of the Peloponnesian War, in Rollin.
I am with much Affection your Father,
John Adams

The translation of Thucydides mentioned is available as a scanned document from Google Books! You can see and read it HERE.

Wes Callihan guides students through Thucydides’ great work, “History of the Pelloponnesian War,” the same book mentioned above, in The Histories unit of Old Western Culture.

Preparing Younger Kids for a Great Books Education

Preparing Younger Children for a Great Books EducationOne question that often comes up as we talk to parents of younger children is “How do I prepare my younger children for a Classical (Great Books) education?”

What a great question! There is a lot to consider: do my kids need to learn Latin and Greek, do they need to be learning ancient history now, do we need to study the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) in elementary?

To help families with younger children, we’ve published a wonderful e-book by one of the top thought leaders and teachers in the world of classical, Christian education today - Wes Callihan of Schola Classical Tutorials, as well as the author of the Old Western Culture curriculum.

The e-book is called “How to Prepare Younger Children for a Great Books Education” and we would love to share it with you for free.  

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Summer Reading Program from Exodus Books

summer-reading-programOscar Wilde once said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

Summer is the time of year that students have the most leisure. Encourage them to spend that time reading good books!

Exodus Books is hosting a 2014 Summer Reading Program, and is giving away a bunch of prizes. One of the prizes for the high school level is a complete year of the Old Western Culture curriculum!

Here is a brief explanation of the reading list offered:

The Outside of a Dog Book List offers 50+ titles for each grade. Full of genuine classics and family favorites, it doesn’t promote a liberal agenda, cater to the lowest common denominator, or present books designed to make anyone look smart. It’s a list meant simply to open the wide doors of reading to kids turned off by more standard fare, to help kindle a love of reading.

So sign up your reading kids of all ages, and win some great prizes!

Blessings,
Daniel Foucachon

Related: hear what Wes Callihan has to say about imaginative literature:

Exodus Books reviews Old Western Culture

Exodus Books - Old Western CultureExodus Books, a bookstore in Portland, as well as a large online reseller of curriculum, now carries the Old Western Culture curriculum, and wrote a review. The review (written by Caleb Crossman), was not only well-written and comprehensive, but very entertaining to read! Caleb shows his knowledge (and love) of the classics as he uses classical allusions throughout. Our favorite excerpt is when Wes Callihan is called a “benevolent centaur,” an allusion to Chiron, the centaur in Greek mythology who helped in the education of Achilles:

The mastermind behind Old Western Culture is Wesley Callihan, a veteran of Christian education. His presence hovers throughout the program like a benevolent, highly intelligent centaur: noble, serious, and wise.

We highly recommend the entire review! It’s an excellent overview of the curriculum.

Old Western Culture:

A Christian Approach to the Great Books
by Caleb Crossman, for Exodus Books

Even those who love the Great Books can be overwhelmed by the number of courses based on them. As Classical-influenced education gains popularity in Christian and home school circles, curriculum centered on literature from the past has proliferated. But not all of it is created equal.

Old Western Culture: The GreeksThe number of such courses and the degrees to which they explain the literature of the past and why it matters make navigating them all a nightmare, or at least very frustrating. A quick survey of most of them reveals that they cover the same texts, in the same way, and at the same pace.

But what if there was a single program that adequately covered key texts of Western literature; that was well-written, accurate, and Christ-centered; and that didn’t just mimic all the other courses? Well, there is. Old Western Culture: A Christian Approach to the Great Books is everything other Classical-style courses wish they were.

How Do These Work?

The mastermind behind Old Western Culture is Wesley Callihan, a veteran of Christian education. His presence hovers throughout the program like a benevolent, highly intelligent centaur: noble, serious, and wise. At the center of the course is a series of lectures by Mr. Callihan, during which he presides from a leather throne in an imposing study, explaining great books and great ideas.

Wes CallihanBut enough of the rhetoric. This program is intended for high school students—there are four years of study, each with a series of lectures, readings in source literature, and workbook assignments relating to both the lectures and the source readings. Each year has been set up to accomodate a 36-week school year, with four 9-week terms. Daily lesson plans are included for each term, complete with reading assignments and when to watch the lectures (students should study about 2-3 hours per day).

There are four time periods covered, one per year: the Greeks, the Romans, Christendom, and the Moderns. Each 9-week term per year covers a different aspect of the respective time periods. For instance, the course on the Greeks is divided into four lecture series—The Epics, Drama and Lyric, The Histories, and The Philosophers.

All lectures are recorded on DVD. Students watch the lectures and answer workbook questions based on them (workbooks for each term are availalble in spiralbound print versions, as downloadable PDF files, or as printable PDF files on the course DVDs). Callihan delivers the lectures from a leather chair in an awesome study, and while there are occasional words, names and graphics that appear onscreen, the camera focuses primarily on Callihan intoning in his rich, warm voice. The lectures are not scripted—Callihan makes a point of not teaching from notes (learn why with this video).

Along with watching the lectures, students are to read the source texts under consideration. Every title is available for download in electronic form from the Romans Road website, though the producers strongly urge students to buy hard copies; Callihan reads from recommended translations, but you can use whatever accurate translation you like. There are also workbook questions related to the reading assignments.

The "Guide to the Art" for Drama and Lyric

The “Guide to the Art” for Drama and Lyric

Each term, students write a paper and complete a final exam included in PDF form on the DVDs (also downloadable at www.romansroadmedia.com). Every series of DVDs (one series for each term) also comes with a full-color pamphlet displaying and discussing various classic works of art based on the content of the coursework. There is some nudity and violence depicted in these paintings and sculptures, but nothing more extreme than what you’ll encounter in the source literature.

What sets Old Western Culture apart from other programs like it is the ability of Callihan to engage the content on a deep level and yet make it relatable and understandable for high school students. He doesn’t dance around difficult issues, doesn’t avoid difficult texts (there’s a lot of philosophy here), and succeeds in applying a biblical Christian worldview to the works considered.

A lot of time is spent evaluating plot elements, but it’s always with the intent of understanding what the author of the text was trying to say, not simply to help students learn the basics of plot analysis. The questions in the workbook, the readings, and especially the lectures all conspire to guide students toward a holistic approach to literature study.

This isn’t just about fiction, either. Callihan reads epics, novels, and poetry, as well as theology, philosophy, and history. The goal is to understand the background to our current society, grapple with the hard and perennial questions about life, God and the world, be formed by the thought of the giants of Western culture, and apply a Christian worldview to all of it.

Our Honest Opinion

So, it’s a great program. But why should we study the Great Books of Western civilization in the first place? Callihan quotes the great sage of our time, C. S. Lewis, as saying that the books of the past do what no modern book can: they provide us with a perspective radically different than our own. This perspective in turn helps us critique our own situation and look at it more objectively, from the standpoint of the wisdom of the ancients.

booksFortunately, however, Callihan doesn’t idolize the past or its greatest thinkers and writers. One of the chief sins of courses like this is ascribing all manner of Christian ideology to men like Marcus Aurelius and Plato. Callihan doesn’t hesitate to show where the ancients (and early moderns) were right, but he also shows where and how they were wrong.

The course is comprehensive (for high schoolers), accessible, and easy to implement. Students can work alone, though it’s always helpful for kids to discuss what they learn with their parents. Because it involves a variety of learning methods (reading, writing, and watching/listening to lectures), students will internalize the content much more thoroughly than in more limited courses.

Of course, Old Western Culture isn’t perfect. There is one glaring shortcoming—where the program ends, and this is a failing that it shares with just about every other similar program out there. By ending with 19th-century moderns, the authors do a disservice to kids living in the 21st century: a lot of virulently anti-Christian philosophy has developed post-1900, and it would be an invaluable asset for young people to be guided through the morass.

Still, this is a great program. We really can’t recommend it enough, especially to those interested in Classical-style and Great Books education. Unlike Sonlight’s reading lists, these are more or less age appropriate; unlike Omnibus, Callihan doesn’t ask students to bite off more than they can chew. Ideal for college students and adults as well, Old Western Culture is one of the best products we offer for studying the humanities.

“Weren’t the Greeks Pagans?”

Julian the Apostate, the son of Constantius. Marble. Rome, Capitoline Museums.

Julian the ApostateIn the first clip below, Wes Callihan explains why Christians should study Greek pagan literature.
In the second clip he gives an example of how the early Christians used the pagan epics. In fact,  the pagan emperor Julian the Apostate forbade the Christians from teaching these epics because the Christians were using them to preach Christ! Matt Bianco, of Classical Conversations, wrote an article giving some great background to the story of Julian the Apostate, and the outlawing of the pagan epics, which you can read HERE.Find out more about Old Western Culture.“Weren’t the Greeks Pagan?” 
Julian the Apostate Forbids the Christians from Teaching Pagan Epics

Proclaiming Claudius Emperor

Claudius, the 4th emperor of Rome, had to be dragged out from behind curtains where he was hiding in order to be proclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard. A bookish man, preferring to write and study history, Claudius did not want to be emperor. After all, many of the previous emperors had been killed by rivals. It is said that Claudius, a partially crippled man from birth, accentuated his condition so as not to appear a rival to Caligula who had been killing other heirs. In the end, Claudius’ fears were not unfounded, for he was assassinated himself.

Taken from Lesson 1 (An Overview of Roman History) of The Aeneid, Unit I of The Romans in the Old Western Culture literature curriculum.

Proclaiming Claudius Emperor

Taken from The Aeneid, part I of The Romans, year 2 of the Old Western Culture literature curriculum for high school. Painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. A.D. 1867.