Crossing the Educational Rubicon: Charlotte Mason Through High School
- Thursday, September 16, 2010
But tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face,
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.
—Julius Caesar, II.I.21-27
Pride is the germ of kings;
Pride, when puffed up, vainly, with many things
Unseasonable, unfitting, mounts the wall,
Only to hurry to that fatal fall,
Where feet are vain to serve her.
Moving from ancient Greece, where we could easily spend an entire academic year and only scrape the surface, we find ourselves in Ancient Rome. Here, too, are great minds and literary treasures to mine. Every student studying this period should undertake at least Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare's source for both of these plays is Plutarch's Parallel Lives. Olivia Coolidge's Lives of Famous Romans is an easily accessible abridgement of Plutarch by an Oxford-trained scholar. Coolidge has provided the same service in her Caesar's Gallic War, giving the modern reader access to one of the most important historical records of Roman conquest. A novel of Rome set at the time of Nero is Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1905. The novel involves a beautiful Christian convert named Ligia and a young Roman patrician who fall in love amidst the terror and corruption of Nero's escalating depravity and megalomania. Richly layered with historical and philosophical context, the novel accurately presents the growth of Christianity set against the barbarity and cruelty of the dying Roman Empire.
As Edith Hamilton so aptly does for ancient Greece, she also did for Rome. In her book The Roman Way, students will have the opportunity to see how Greek philosophy carried over to Rome and enabled Rome for a time to establish an empire built upon republican principles of law and civil order. Reading the letters of Cicero is instructive in light of the apathy and indifference that allowed Rome's noble system of government to fall victim to usurpation and abuse of power. The poetry of Horace, his love of simplicity and gentle virtue, the love poems of Cattallus, and the war diaries of Caesar all form the foundations of modern history and literature. While this cursory overview is hardly reflective of the riches to be mined in studying this period, those that are fortunate enough to discover the treasures here will likely form a lifetime curiosity that will lead them into still greater discoveries.
While the challenges of the Charlotte Mason approach to education carried through high school can be daunting, the benefits and blessings of perseverance can be most beautifully realized at this level. Discussion of the great questions with your high school students richly grounded in timeless works of history and literature can offer some of life's most invigorating, enjoyable, and inspiring moments. Even more importantly, you will have provided your scholars with a knowledge of the works that have formed the greatest minds of the ages. In that, you will give your students a priceless gift that will carry them through the rest of their lives.
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