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C.S. Lewis, the Super Bowl, and Studying History

February 10, 2016

 The “Exploring” phase of The Pillar has been working through the various steps of the “path to wisdom.”  We’ve examined the trivium subjects of grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the quadrivium subjects of geometry, music and astronomy.  The most recent issue, which addressed literature, stepped up into subjects that explore humanity and culture through reason ...which brings us to this issue's topic: history.  But this week it also seems appropriate to mention the Grand Final of all Grand Finals (if I may): the Super Bowl.  So here's my attempt to intelligibly blend comments about studying history with this gridiron spectacular.



Super Bowl 50 was billed as the battle of two very different quarterbacks. Experience vs youth; disciplined vs free-spirited; stand-in-the-pocket-marksman vs. innovative-run-and-gunner.  Receiving less attention (ok, actually, none at all!) was how both players illumine the importance of engaging the subject of history. 


The Denver Broncos’ Payton Manning is known for rigorously studying the defensive formations of opposing teams.  After practices, he can be found meticulously analysing videotape from past games and seasons.  By understanding the history of how certain defenses have acted, reacted and changed over time, Manning can anticipate on-the-spot what strategy to use again them.  As he walks to the line to snap the ball, he often changes the predetermined play based on how he “reads” the defense’s formation. 
Manning is the most prolific passer of all time in the NFL, suggesting that studying the past is important for making good decisions in the present.  But this sort of “learning from history” isn’t the only benefit of studying the subject. 

Explaining why we should read old books, C.S. Lewis writes:


If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.  Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. 


Studying history initiates us into a conversation that began long before we arrived at the party.  That conversation is about man’s pursuit of human flourishing.  If we want to understand certain remarks, get particular jokes, avoid inappropriate comments and contribute in a constructive way, we need to discern how that conversation has unfolded over time.  In other words, to thrive in the world today—to keep the conversation going—it helps to understand and appreciate historical developments in social, political, philosophical, theological, scientific and legal thought. 
And, according to Lewis, that means reading old books.
One problem, though, is that,


There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by professionals, and the amateur should content himself with the modern books. ... The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face.


This is where Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can help.  Newton has made a habit of, after scoring a touchdown, handing the football to a kid in the stands.  (In one game this season, Newton unknowingly handed the ball to a boy whose dad had promised to take him to a Panthers game but died earlier that year.  Receiving this prize directly from the superstar Newton was a moment the boy will never forget.)


 Lewis insists that reading old books by their original authors is preferable to just reading modern texts about them.  “It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher,” he says, “to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”  Similarly, celebrating a touchdown with the athlete in person is more exhilarating than just watching it on TV. 
Cam Newton has consistently walked up to kids and invited them, first hand, into a larger celebration. C.S. Lewis reminds us that we can do something even more significant in education: invite students into a larger conversation through meeting great authors face-to-face. 
The Millis Institute takes this seriously, which is why we walk students through the history of Western civilisation and invite them to engage the greatest thinkers and books of all time.


New Millis Program for Secondary Schools


Year 7-12 students at four Queensland schools are preparing to participate in a new academic program called "The Path to Wisdom."  Hosted at CHC, this event provides a 3-hour interactive session each semester with Millis Institute staff and CHC President Darren Iselin.  The goal is to engage students in the traditional liberal arts subjects, cultivating in them knowledge and skills that are foundational for all learning.  Over 200 participants are expected to convene for the inaugural session on Monday 22 February.

Each semester, students in Years 7-10 will explore one of the original liberal arts subjects: the “trivium” of grammar, logic and rhetoric (developing their writing, speaking and thinking skills) as well as geometry, music, science/astronomy, and media/arts (helping them appreciate the order and beauty of God's creation).  Students in Years 11-12 will engage philosophy, ethics, Christian worldview, and calling, which will introduce them to questions concerning human flourishing and how to think about them from a Christian perspective.  

We're excited about this unique program's potential to help secondary students think critically, solve problems, make good decisions, and communicate insights to others.  These are necessary skills for success, not only in school and university but also in work and leadership arenas…not to mention life in general! 


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