What Would Socrates Do?

This post is a tribute to Earl Shorris, one of my favorite writers on education who passed away in 2012. I am reprinting  the April 16, 2013 Wall Street Journal Book Review of his latest book, The Art of Freedom.  This piece was written by Naomi Schaefer Riley.


dog-SHORRIS--obit-articleInlineIn The Art of Freedom, Earl Shorris describes his efforts to establish a set of courses that would teach the core texts of Western civilization to people living in poverty, whose school experience had scanted the canon or skipped it entirely.

Almost two decades ago, Earl Shorris, a novelist and journalist, told the editor at his publishing house that he wanted to write a book about poverty in America.

The editor, to his credit, said that he didn’t want just another book describing the problem. He wanted a solution.

So Shorris, who had attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship many years before and who was greatly influenced by its Great Books curriculum, hit upon the idea of teaching the core texts of Western civilization to people living in poverty, whose school experience had scanted the canon or skipped it entirely.

His Eureka moment came when he was visiting a prison and conducting interviews for another book he was planning to write.

bh1He asked one of the women at New York’s Bedford Hills maximum­ security prison why she thought the poor were poor.

“Because they don’t have the moral life of downtown,” shereplied. “What do you mean by the moral life?” Shorris asked.

“You got to begin with the children . . . ,” she said. “You’ve got to teach the moral life of downtown to the children.

And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures.”

He asked whether she meant the humanities. Looking at him as if he were, as he puts it, “the stupidest man on earth,” she replied: “Yes, Earl, the humanities.”

Poverty, Shorris concluded, was a condition that required more than jobs or money to put right. So he set out to offer the “moral life” as well. Beginning with a class of 25 or so students found through a social ­service agency in New York, Shorris—along with a few professors he had recruited—taught literature, art history and philosophy. The first classes included readings in Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides and Sophocles.

imagesThus was born the Clemente Course in the Humanities, which is now the recipient of broad philanthropic support.

It is offered to the poor in more than 20 cities around the United States, as well as in other countries, from South Korea to Canada.

“The Art of Freedom” is a narrative of the program’s founding experience as well as a meditation on the Western classics and their effects on readers.

The book, sadly, appears posthumously. Shorris died last year at the age of 75.

The idea of the Clemente Course—named for Roberto Clemente, the baseball player who gave his name to the Manhattan community center where the course debuted—was to “educate a self­-selected group of adults living in poverty,” in classes taught by professors from nearby colleges and universities.

The spirit of the Great Books program was a key part of the idea: There would be no chasing after trendy reading lists or narrow relevance. When Shorris went to recruit students in the South Bronx, in New York City, a white social worker asked him if he were going to teach African history. “No,” he said. “We will teach American history. Of course the history of black people is very important in the development of the United States.”

downloadOver time, Shorris began to add texts from the various cultures where the course was being offered—Native American myths, South Korean novels.

But his focus on the Western classics was refreshingly relentless. He was accused of “cultural imperialism,” but the charge didn’t seem to faze him.

The Clemente Course now taught in Darfur, in the Sudan, teaches John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.”

Shorris had no patience for mediocrity in his project and insisted on only the best professors to teach Clemente’s classes. When he had to find staff to teach in Chicago, he writes, “neither Chicago State nor the nearby community college . . . were up to the standards of the Clemente Course.”

In the classes he taught, he addressed his students with “Mr.” or “Ms.” He believed that a proper form of address conveys dignity and avoids the kind of casual relationship that most universities want their students and professors to have.

images (1)The Clemente Course differs from life at universities in other ways—for instance, by taking the Western classics seriously. How many college graduates have read Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides and Mill?

It also differs in its sense of what the texts can do.

Much of the liberal ­arts curriculum in universities today is devoted to learning about oppression of one sort or another, but Shorris argued that the study of the humanities is a fundamentally optimistic endeavor.

Not that Clemente texts are routinely cheery or anodyne.

Shorris himself taught Dostoevsky, “the brilliant archeologist who dared to make us look deep into our dark sides.” But Shorris did feel that, by reading and discussing classic texts, life was better or richer in some fundamental sense: more valued, more hopeful, more free.

download (1)One way that the humanities can help the poor in particular, according to Shorris, is by making them more “political.

” But, he writes, “I don’t mean ‘political’ in the sense of voting in an election, but in the way Pericles used the word: to mean activity with other people at every level, from the family to the neighborhood to the broader community to the city-­state.”

The humanities, he tells his first class, “are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you.”

Shorris recounts the story of a young man in his first class—a 24­-year-­old with a history of violent behavior—who called him describing how a woman at work had provoked him. “She made me so mad, I wanted to smack her up against the wall.

I tried to talk to some friends to calm myself down a little, but nobody was around.” Shorris asked him what he did, “fearing this was his one telephone call from the city jail.” Instead, he told Shorris, “I asked myself, ‘What would Socrates do?’ ”


This article once again makes the point of how simple and deep education should be.  Our efforts at Monticello College are inspired by the work of people such as Earl Shorris, Louise Cowan (a great educator and founding fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture), Viniece Walker (the insightful Bedford prison inmate) and the hundreds of other Liberal Arts advocates who understand the vital necessity of the classics to our culture and our civilization.


Return of the Manual Arts

TWFWe have spent considerable space in these posts discussing education, particularly the liberal arts.

This post is dedicated to the lesser known side of our curriculum—the manual arts.

Manual arts are not something that the average American thinks about in the 21st century.

But a hundred years ago, the vast majority of Americans were engaged in the manual arts everyday.

In fact, excluding the last 60 years of developed nations, manual arts were the reality for nearly the entire global population. Even now, most of the seven billion inhabitants on earth engage in the manual arts daily.

Without the manual arts, most of what we enjoy almost unconsciously, would not exist.  In our high-tech, synthetic, and artificial world, we have reached a “roman” sense of existence—the only difference from then to now—we just have more sophisticated slaves.*

imagesIn a very thought-provoking article by Oliver DeMille, The Future of American Education: 8 Trends Every Parent Should Understand, DeMille gives us a glimpse of what we have become:


Since 2001 a number of social commentators have noted that as a society we are outsourcing more and more of the things that were typically done by families (one of the best works on this is The Future of Business by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich).


For example, the following list includes things done almost entirely by families in the year 1900:





Food Growing



Reading Bedtime Stories

Sexual Intimacy

Home Repair

Taking Care of Animals

Yard Care

Role Modeling

Teaching Religion

Massage Therapy



The list has changed in the past century, and the victim has been the family.  Perhaps the “Big 5” on the list are:


Childcare, which has been outsourced, especially in urban America, to professional childcare institutions.


Food Preparation, which has been outsourced to fast food and pre-packaged meals.  For example, 1999 was the first year in which expenditures in the U.S. for fast food exceeded expenditures for groceries. 


Entertainment, which used to consist of families reading together or activities like group picnics and outings.  Today, even when families are together, they usually sit facing away from each other toward a television, movie screen, or sporting event.


Teaching Religion, which was once seen as the role of parents with the preacher lending a helping hand, is now almost entirely outsourced to the pastor or Sunday school teacher or to some secular alternative.


Education, which historically was overseen by parents who hired and evaluated teachers and did much of the instruction themselves, has now been almost fully outsourced to “the experts.”


Another huge trend, which already has drastic consequences that are only beginning to be understood, is the outsourcing of counseling between husband and wife (discussion of their fears, anxieties, worries and fondest dreams) to expert counselors.


Perhaps the 54% divorce rate in the U.S. is connected to this; as Allan Bloom** pointed out in 1987, people live, sleep and sometimes eat together, but they don’t think, dream and work together toward a common goal in the same way that our grandparents did. This delegation of intimacy to the experts may yet be the biggest trend of all.


And what is the impact of using videos or DVDs in the place of reading bedtime stories to toddlers?  The outsourcing of our families and the things only families can do well is a growing trend, and a very sobering commentary on the future of our society.


Historians might compare it to the fateful practice among French women in the 1750s-1780s of not nursing their own children—of instead turning them over to wet nurses. Few would argue that this was the only cause of the bloodbath and societal fall in the French Revolution in the 1780s, but almost everyone agrees that this was a significant part of it.


So, with all these duties being outsourced, what is left that only the family can do?  According to the new economy – nothing.  The leading view today is that “It Takes a Village,” that even love can be outsourced to teachers, coaches, clubs, and mentors.


The truth is that it does take a village, a community, but a community of families working, playing, cooperating and facing obstacles together, not a community of government institutions.

This idea of outsourcing seems to be a national pastime, albeit there does appear to be a small underground resurgence of the manual arts illustrated by websites such as theurbanfarmingguys.com.

One of the reasons we have disowned the use of the manual arts is due to the steady progression of technology.  The advent of labor saving devices (LSDs) has improved our lives in many ways.  It has also been the underlying source of a whole host of sedentary lifestyle diseases. Where is the balance?

images (1)Labor saving devises or the greater concept of saving labor has an interesting history.

From the advent of the Industrial Revolution, saving labor changed the world from mere survival to producing a cash crop beyond subsistence or allowing a farmer increased discretionary time for more favored pursuits.

By the 1970s the workingman was able to produce much more with a fraction of the backbreaking labor required a century before which stabilized into a 40-hour work-week…increasing discretionary time even further.

It also freed the American housewife of many undesirable chores, and like her spouse, freed up significant “my time”…but to what end?

If it was to allow them to relax a little more, no harm down. If it permitted more time to give to others or to develop talents that would be good too, but unfortunately for most of people, it led to their less ambitious side with copious amounts of time being devoted to the latest entertainment and diversion– Television– late morning and afternoon soap opera TV series such as the “Dark Shadows” or “General Hospital”, and time devouring shows such as “The Price is Right.”

It allowed them more time to engage in recreation and entertainment on the weekends, often ignoring family, relationships, and service to neighbors, and expanding into long weekends which monopolized the traditional Sabbath for non-Sabbath day activities.

MA4By the 1990s we were thoroughly absorbed by a numbing consumerism, life had gotten pretty easy so labor saving was really no longer the goal, but keeping up with the “Jones,” and securing the latest fashions or gadget, or the newest car, or a bigger house was—this really exploded with the advent of computer technology, gaming, and home entertainment from the late 1990s to the present.

The latest chapter in our American LSDs story is resulting in skyrocketing obesity— 70% of all adults and 30% of children in America suffer from poor health and diseases not seen two decades ago.

According to Popular Mechanics (2011), every man should possess certain basic manual art skills.

They provided a list for men to become more manly, clearly an indication that males no longer possess these skills.

Removing anything on the list that was technology related, I am including the remaining 16 manual arts that the modern man has apparently lost:

1. Sharpen a knife

2. Patch a radiator hose

3.Frame a wall

4. Back-up a trailer

5. Build campfire

6. Use an ax properly to chop wood

7. Fix a dead outlet

8. Navigate with a compass and map

9. Fillet a fish

10. Get a car unstuck

11. Paint a room

12. Mix concrete

13. Clean a gun

14. Change oil in a car (and know that the filter needs to be changed too)

15. Paddle a canoe

16. Fix a bike flat

While writing this post, my 22-year-old daughter looked over my shoulder, saw the topic and stated that of her closest 15 male friends ( ages 20-30) only one had competency with all the items on this list. Things that four decades ago any self-respecting man did himself–only specialists can handle today.

3rd World farmer is just a game, but it gives you a taste of what reality can be like in some parts of the world.

3rd World farmer is just a game, but it gives you a taste of what reality can be like in some parts of the world.

Today there are 184 million active facebook users in America (that’s 60% of our entire population) spending more than two hours a week on facebook, but if you factor in all online activities (all social media, all gaming,  all youtube viewing and other online videos, etc) the percentage sky rockets to almost 25% of our awake time.

For the average American over the age of 16 that can be as much as five hours a day, every day or the equivalent of an entire work week per month. This does not include texting, and playing games on our iphones.

This is all time wherein we are distracted from our loved ones, our community and our social responsibilities.

How do we not see that this is a monumental waste of our national resource of labor, not to mention a decline of our national character?

We are so far removed from reality that we even believe that we can get a sense of the plight of the third world farmer through playing a video game!

LSDs and the specialization of the consumer age has not only made us inept to care for ourselves, it has driven the cost of living many times over what it was just fifty years ago.  Are our lives really better and more satisfying now compared to the 1940s?

Working as a youngster on a dairy farm in the mid 1970’s, I worked along side sixty year-old men who never had high cholesterol and very little arthritis. They had no weight problems (a little pudgy—they were in their sixties) and were active in every other way. They could put in a 12-hour day of hard farm work as easily as I could.  Yet today I see countless 30-something men who are overweight, soft, and would likely expire at the thought of hard physical labor.  What has happened to us?

We have forgotten the enjoyment of using our hands, the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from “doing it ourselves” and the security of self-sufficiency.  We have forgotten that human beings are still needed for the most basic necessities of life—food still grows in the ground and must be harvested, fruits still needs to be picked from the tree, cloth is still manually fed into the sewing machine, and fossil fuels and natural resources are still wrenched from the earth— by hand.

Not having personal experience in the manual arts is one level of losing our humanity and threatens civilization—not remembering that someone is practicing the manual arts right now—is a much deeper and catastrophic failure.

wheatWe believe that every congressman, every police officer, every corporate CEO, every surgeon, every diplomat, every teacher, every real estate agent; every American citizen would make better decisions, have better morals, and lead happier lives if they were more engaged in the manual arts. In fact, we challenge our reads to do just that– find ways to more deeply engage in the manual arts.

The manual arts are a natural cure for egoism, self-deception, and obesity.  The manual arts are an instinctive remedy for a troubled mind and eliminate the need for sleep aids. The manual arts will increase health, vitality, and improve your view of the world.  The manual arts enhance our powers of observation and appreciation.

Many of the manual arts involve dirt or soil or being outside in the fresh air—it is spiritually grounding and emotionally balancing.

Some of the least stressed and happiest people I know are masters of the manual arts.

*At the peak of Roman culture there were seven slaves for every roman citizen. The Romans had for the most part completely shunned the manual arts, becoming increasingly dependent on slave labor and the importation of their food supply. We have reached a similar existence.  We are becoming more and more dependent on exports and even the manual labor done in this country is emotionally and culturally relegated to a certain segment of our population.

** Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom



The Liberal Arts During Bondage: Part Two; How Do the Liberal Arts Help Us During Bondage?


Click Here to Read Part One

Bringing You Up To Speed

If you will recall from part one, for the past twenty years, we have taught that America was somewhere on the “pre-bondage” side of the cycle, between Selfishness and Dependence.


As we enter 2013, we have clearly entered the Bondage phase.  Just consider the events of the past 12 months:

  • NDAA 2012
  • Congress passed Obamacare and it was sanctioned by the Supreme Court
  • The national plunge over the Fiscal Cliff on January 1, 2013
  • The likely lifting of the “Debt Ceiling”– spearheaded by the president
  • 23 Executive Orders restricting the Second Amendment out of existence (in addition to hundreds of others the president has issues during his first term in office)

If this doesn’t spell BONDAGE then nothing does.

So now that we are in bondage, how do we get out?  The normal pattern of this cycle indicates that you don’t –you stay in bondage for about 200 years, then an event of significant magnitude catapults you out of bondage momentarily.  While you stand bewildered and blinking at the sun like prisoners from Plato’s allegoric cave, the power you just overthrew regroups and brings you back into bondage as you quickly circumnavigate the cycle to your original position.

However, all is not lost.  There have been a couple of times in history that men did not follow their worst nature and did secure a position in Abundance rather than Bondage and changed the course of history.  The 200 years of abundance of the Roman Republic is one of those times, and the 200 years following the creation the United States is another.

America, thanks to founders, has been very slow in working its way back into Bondage, but make no mistake, we are here. And now that we are in bondage, we do not know how long we will be here and that can be scary.  But we do know that the only way out of Bondage, the way both the Romans and the people of the American founding era got out was by becoming a people of high humility, high integrity, high literacy, and devotion to Deity—developing Spiritual Faith.

The natural consequence of a people in Bondage developing Spiritual Faith is the advancement of Courage.

Acting on that Courage leads to Liberty.  Liberty with such a people always leads to great Abundance.

This is precisely what the pre-American founding era did.  They left the religious and tyrannical bondage of England and Europe and removed themselves to the wilderness of America. That removal and subsequent hardship moved them to rely on God and develop Spiritual Faith, Courage, and Liberty in a way they may not have otherwise.

So our path is clear—to get out of bondage we must as a society develop spiritual faith or become a people of high humility, high integrity, high literacy, and devotion to Deity. How do we do that?  Let’s tackle these one at a time.

Humility and Integrity

The annals of history are full of accounts of people suffering and turning to Deity for relief.  The old adage, “there are no atheists in foxholes” is alive and well (a foxhole is a hole or indentation that a solider creates to avoid being shot on the battle field).  Humility is not a state of abject poverty or groveling. It is a deep and abiding acknowledgement that we are dependent on a Higher Power. While it may take sometime for the general populace to realize the predicament we are in, we as individuals and families, even communities can become humble, turn to Providence now and aknowledge His ever-protective embrace.

Integrity is a choice.  We do not have to go along with the prevailing culture of “take care of me first” or “it’s not personal, it’s just business” or “if they are dumb enough to fall for trickery, they deserve it.” Integrity is a decision to be honest 24/7.  This does not mean gullible or foolhardy, it just means being honest and fair, in all situations.


In a phrase – live your religion.  I don’t care what that is, just stand for something, declare your principles and live by them so that all can see your good works and praise God.


Literacy is always the beginning of liberty. From the 1845 Narrative of Fredrick Douglass we get the essence of the value of literacy. Falling into a rage of anger over the discovery that his young wife was teaching 10-year old Fredrick to read, Douglass’s master declared, (Douglass uses his master’s own words):

If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell (Old English  – 45 inches). A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as his is told.  Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.  As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.

These words [said Fredrick] sank deep into my heart, stirring up sentiments within, that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. . . I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man.

Masters and slaves come in all colors, sizes, and shapes.

This leads us to an in-depth look at literacy and the liberal arts.

What are the Liberal Arts?Ancient

In ancient Greece and Rome, the population experienced a natural segregation into two distinct classes; the slave class (those who were slaves or plebes who lived at the level of slaves limited by a slavish mentality) and a class we call, the Liber.

Liber is the Latin word used today for botanical purposes meaning the inner layers of tree bark.

In times gone by, when men had command of written language they would record their histories, laws, businesses transactions etc. on clay tablets, animal hides, papyrus, or even thin layers of tree bark. The creation of these records required a person to possess the skills of thinking, reading, writing, engaging in commerce, contract, and politics. We associate the word Liber with those freemen who possessed and used these skills.

There were varying levels and types of slaves and peasants, and likewise different types of Liber: from citizens to merchants to the aristocracy and royalty.  But the fundamental difference between slaves and Liber was the exercise of freedom.  It was not enough to be born into a free class, if a person did not exercise that freedom (through daily use of the above mentioned skills) there were plenty of political and ecclesiastical powers ready to snatch it up and exercise it for the free citizen, thus transforming him into a slave.

What is Liberty?

Liber is the root word for liberty.  It is also the root word for libro (book) and library.  Liberty is the state of being Liber.  There is a distinct and deep relationship between the holding and use of a library (especially a private library) and the state of liberty. Liberty is not just the absence of bondage, but the fitness of an individual to exercise the liber skills to be a free citizen (we distinguish freedom from liberty thusly, freedom is individual and liberty is a social or collective action).

The concept of liberty is all but lost in America today.  Being a society in bondage, the ability to see our way without government involvement and oversight has vanished.  The conception of having a voice and standing completely on our own is nothing but a shadow, eradicated from the modern role of citizenship.

Liber is also the root word for the phrase “Liberal Arts”, such as in liberal arts colleges; the arts in a Bachelor of Arts or B.A. degree comes from the term “liberal arts.”

imagesThe term Liberal Arts or better known as Artes Liberales during the middle ages (10th through 14th centuries) does not mean arts as we understand the word at this present day, but those branches of knowledge which were taught in the schools of that time.

They are called liberal, because they serve the purpose of training the free man, in contrast with artes illiberales, which are pursued for economic purposes.

Artes illiberales or illiberal arts where important but almost exclusively acquired via internships and residencies for good reason as modern employers are finding, regardless the degree a new hire possesses, they still need to engage in OJT to be worth their salt.

The aim of the classical liberal arts was to prepare the student not for gaining a livelihood, but for the pursuit of science in the strict sense of the term, i.e. the combination of philosophy and theology known as scholasticism.  This was a preparation for one’s philosophy of life, one’s moral perspective, a way to see the world and interact in it.

There are seven original or classical liberal arts arranged in two groups, the first comprising grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, or in other words, the sciences of language, of oratory, and of logic, better known as the artes sermocinales, or language studies; the second group comprises arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, known as the artes reales.

The classical liberal arts possess a special interest for historians, for in spite of modern pedagogical practices, here stands a two thousand year-old system, still active today, that challenges modern notions of education, surpassing them in both duration and in local ramifications.

But it is equally instructive for the philosopher because thinkers like Pythagoras, Plato, and St. Augustine shared in the framing of the system, and because in general much thought and pedagogical wisdom have been embodied in it.

Further, it is of importance to the practical teacher, because among the comments of so many schoolmen on this subject may be found many suggestions  that are of the greatest utility.  Aside from the ancients, there are authors such as Locke, Shaftsbury, and Turnbull who have commented greatly on these arts or skills for the development not of a career but of one’s personal moral philosophy, which of course dictates so much of what we do in the rest of our lives.

In our day, there are still two types of people—the Liber or liberal arts educated and the not Liber or not liberal arts educated.  A liberal arts education does not guarantee moral judgement or moral action, that must still be instilled from youth. But in general, those who are Liber (moral or not) are those who lead society because they know how to think. Those without this type of education, have no choice but to follow.

Other Liberal Arts

In addition to the seven arts cataloged above, over time other great thinkers and teachers have added to the list. Here are Aristotle’s considerations for a list of arts required to check the abuse of power and maintain the liberty of society:

  • Math
  • Science
  • Health
  • Biology
  • Theology
  • Philosophy
  • Religion
  • Ethics
  • Fine Arts
  • Political Economy
  • History
  • Jurisprudence
  • Literature

To be Liber, according to Aristotle was to have a serious depth of knowledge in all of these areas, not just one or two.  Today we have B.A. or B.S. degrees that focus in just one area, but originally the B.A. degree meant to have depth in all the arts of freedom.  We cover this in depth in another paper – The State of American Education.

images (1)Mortimer Adler the assistant editor of the Great Books of the Western World, a collection published by Britannica and the University of Chicago in 1952, listed the following as skills required to maintain freedom:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Observing
  • Calculating
  • Measuring
  • Thinking

Adler stated that, “Training in the liberal arts is indispensable to making free men out of children. It prepares them for the uses of freedom — the proper employment of free time and the exercise of political power. It prepares them for leisure and for citizenship.

Robert Hutchins, Adler’s partner in the project and president of the University of Chicago at the time declared, “I am afraid we shall have to admit that the educational process in America is either a rather pleasant way of passing the time until we are ready to go to work, or a way of getting ready for some occupation, or a combination of the two. What is missing is education to be human beings, education to make the most of our human powers, education for our responsibilities as members of a democratic society, education for freedom.”

Hutchinson continues, “This is what liberal education is. It is the education that prepares us to be free men. You have to have this education . . . if you are going to be an effective citizen of a democracy; for citizenship requires that you understand the world in which you live and that you do not leave your duties to be performed by others, living vicariously and vacuously on their virtue and intelligence. To be free you have to be educated for freedom. This means that you have to think; for the free man is one who thinks for himself.”

More Liberal Arts

In the late 1990s a number of prominent schools, Harvard and Princeton to mention two, published lists of skills they projected would be necessary to succeed in the 21st century. Some of these fit our criteria for maintaining liberty and so we include them here:

Harvard School of Law

  1. The ability to define problems without a guide
  2. The ability to ask hard questions that challenge prevailing assumptions
  3. The ability to quickly assimilate needed data from masses of irrelevant information
  4. The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one
  5. The ability to discuss ideas with an eye to application
  6. The ability to think inductively, deductively, and dialectically*

Princeton Undergraduate Program

  1. The ability to think, speak, and write clearly
  2. The ability to reason, critically and systematically
  3. The ability to think independently
  4. The ability to take the initiative
  5. The ability to judge what it means to understand something thoroughly
  6. The ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas, and cultures

In the year 2000, Oliver DeMille added his thoughts to those already mentioned and suggested 4 additional skills for the mix:

  1. The ability to understand human nature and lead accordingly
  2. The ability to discern truth from error regardless the source or the delivery
  3. The ability to discern true from right
  4. The ability and discipline to do right

The age we are currently experiencing is not only a bondage period of the Tytler cycle but it is also an alignment of the Tytler Cycle and the Saeculum or the Century Cycle. This only happens once in every 8 generations or turnings/seasons of the Saeculum. What we do during this “fourth turning” which means the next couple of decades, will have a dramatic impact on the next two centuries of American existence.

Next part in this series – The Liberal Arts During Bondage: Part Three; The Fourth Turning: The Opportunity of The Century

*Inductive reasoning or thinking is the method of processing information from detailed facts or observations to broader general principles or theories. Deductively reasoning is basically the opposite process, beginning the process from generalities and distilling them down to specifics.  Inductive reasoning is sometimes called “bottom-up” thinking and deductive reasoning is called “top-down” thinking.  While both methods of reasoning are used in science and elsewhere, induction is used to follow a hunch or dream up a theory, which may of may not be true, while deduction is used to meticulously prove out theories or ideas created by induction.

When thinking dialectically, the thinker will take two or more opposing points of view and pit them against each other, developing each by providing support, raising objections, countering those objections, raising further objections, and so on. Think of opposing attorneys in a court case or debaters.

Dialectical thinking or discussion can be conducted so as to “win” by defeating the positions one disagrees with — using critical insight to support one’s own view and pointing out flaws in other views or, if being fair and honest, by conceding points that don’t stand up to critique, trying to integrate or incorporate strong points found in other views, and using critical insight to develop a fuller and more accurate view.


The Fat Lady Begins To Sing

And so it begins…

jc505be0bdThe most recent national election declared the passion of the American people for the Nanny State.

Of the almost 127 million voters, a majority preferred a governing system that favors high taxes, a saturated welfare system, forced health care, and an abundance of government dependent workers.

Apparently we have learned nothing from the real-time occurrences in Europe, most recently in Greece.

splatSo here we go on the carnival ride of our lives. As Congress very predictably followed the president down the rabbit hole, we are in for the spending spree of the century.

As Oliver DeMille put it in a recent article, “Make no mistake. Whatever the pundits say, we fell off the fiscal cliff on January 1, 2013.

‘Until House Republicans stand up and simply say “no” to the Obama super-spending agenda, the Spendocracy will grow and a depression is looming.

Indeed, conspiracy theories aside, those who want government to grow are actually benefited by recession and depression because they gain even more demand for increased government involvement.”

There is no turning back; in fact, according to a recent Forbes article titled “Do You Live In A Death Spiral State?”,this government growth and spending frenzy is not just a national government phenomena; the state and municipal governments are joining the party as fast as they can.

Face it, with more than 20% of the states already upside down, this is our new reality; and the sooner we warm up to it and adjust our thinking, the better for us in the long term.

Quoting from the Forbes article:

Don’t buy a house in a state where private sector workers are outnumbered by folks dependent on government.

Thinking about buying a house? Or a municipal bond? Be careful where you put your capital. Don’t put it in a state at high risk of a fiscal tailspin.

DeathEleven states make our list of danger spots for investors.

They can look forward to a rising tax burden, deteriorating state finances and an exodus of employers.

If your career takes you to Los Angeles or Chicago, don’t buy a house. Rent.

If you have money in municipal bonds, clean up the portfolio.

Sell holdings from the sick states and reinvest where you’re less likely to get clipped. Nebraska and Virginia are unlikely to give their bondholders a Greek haircut.

California and New York are comparatively risky.

Two factors determine whether a state makes this elite list of fiscal hellholes. The first is whether it has more takers than makers. A taker is someone who draws money from the government, as an employee, pensioner or welfare recipient. A maker is someone gainfully employed in the private sector.

Let us give those takers the benefit of our sympathy and assume that every single one of them is a deserving soul. This person is either genuinely needy or a dedicated public servant or the recipient of a well-­earned pension.

tmBut what happens when these needy types outnumber the providers?

Taxes get too high.

Prosperous citizens decamp. Employers decamp. That just makes matters worse for the taxpayers left behind.

Let’s say you are a software entrepreneur with 100 on your payroll.

If you stay in San Francisco, your crew will support 139 takers. In Texas, they would support only 82. Austin looks very attractive.

Ranked on the taker/maker ratio, our 11 death spiral states range from New Mexico, with 1.53 takers for every maker, down to Ohio, with a 1­to­1 ratio.

The taker count is the number of state and local government workers plus the number of people on Medicaid plus 1 for each $100,000 of unfunded pension liabilities.

(Sources: the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and a study of state worker pensions done in 2009 by two academics, Joshua Rauh and Rovert Novy­Marx. Professor Rauh estimates that the shortage in pension funding is on average a third higher today.)

bankruptThe second element in the death spiral list is a scorecard of state credit­ worthiness done by Conning & Co., a money manager known for its measures of risk in insurance company portfolios.

Conning’s analysis focuses more on dollars than body counts. Its formula downgrades states for large debts, an uncompetitive business climate, weak home prices and bad trends in employment.

Conning rates North Dakota the safest state to lend money to, Connecticut the most hazardous. A state qualifies for the Forbes death spiral list if its taker/maker ratio exceeds 1.0 and it resides in the bottom half of Conning’s ranking.

A final word.

Ideas have consequences, and the consequences of the ideas that are shaping our fast approaching fiscal reality could not be any more obvious. Sure, go ahead, hope and pray that a miracle will occur or that government will come to its senses and stop all new spending and cut deeply into current spending (yes, that means real budget cuts such as reducing or stopping all non-vital services, no new construction projects, and pay raises).

And while you are waiting for that miracle or change of heart, you might consider entertaining the same steps that we have been suggesting for at least two years:

1. Read at least one of the depression books listed below within the next 30 days (no really, just do it).

2. Re-evaluate your current economic and family situation and make hard choices to re-position with a better strategy (down-size, more family time, grow a family or community garden, food storage instead of family vacation).

3. Get as liquid as possible and out of debt as soon as possible.  Fire sale opportunities will be on the rise over the next 5-10 years.

4. Start a mini-factory (develop multiple streams of income – home-based business, a cottage industry, enhanced education to shift to more flexible income, parallel incomes, CSA, Network marketing business, etc.) and be as creative and optimistic as possible.  These sentiments will soon be in short supply.

5. Create a culture and community of service

6. Create a family legacy. This means lay the groundwork for a multi-generational organization that unifies and protects your family — come what may (true happiness can only be found in family).

Take a look at this list of books to help adjust your thinking and position yourself to succeed during economic hard times at a level we have not experienced in our lifetime:

The Great Depression Ahead – Dent

America’s Great Depression – Rothbard

The Fourth Turning – Howe and Straus

The Third Wave  – Toffler

5,000 Year Leap – Skousen

The Cube and the Cathedral – Wiegel

The Servile State – Belloc

A Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens – DeMille/Brooks


P.S. Please be sure to do your own research.  I am ok if you don’t believe me, but for heaven’s sake, do not believe those who are saying “don’t worry, things are just fine.”  Get your own sense of truth by doing your own investigation.


The Liberal Arts During Bondage: Part One

[This series of posts are a continuation of the blog posted on January 1, 2013 at Shanonbrooks.com entitled Job Training Versus Character Education]

What does bondage look like?

One attribute of human nature is that we tend to acclimate over time to whatever condition we are experiencing.  We get used to the hot or cold weather.  We make the best of what foods are available.  We become accustomed to the system of governance in which we are raised.

Screen shot 2010-12-08 at 9.15.42 PMBecause of this acclimation–of getting used to even bad situations if we are exposed to them long enough–we have a hard time distinguishing between liberty and bondage.This only changes as education and character changes.  Perhaps the better question is, “what does liberty look like?”

To help identify what bondage is, let’s identify a few conditions of current American life that historically can be considered bondage (meaning that they are not typically in existence during liberty):

  • Automobile laws (seat belts, booster seats, no talking on cell phones, speeding citation system, etc.)
  • The Food Modernization Act of 2009 (which if enacted fully, literally controls all food distribution and consumption down to the tomatoes you grow in your backyard)
  • Business licensing (why do I have to pay to register my business with a municipality?  Why do I have to register at all?
  • Building inspection process (why should the government require me to pay them so I can build a house on my property?  Why should the government care how I build my house at all?  If I build a house unsafely and the government inspector misses it, which results in injury to human beings, can I sue the municipality?  Why not just let the builder bear that burden?)

A citizenry in a period of liberty would never allow any of these constraints on society.  That is not to say that these measures aren’t smart and don’t save lives, but liberty dictates that citizens have the right to be unsafe and not smart.  Let the culture move the people to better habits, not the government.


A bondage-citizenry, less trusting of themselves and others, will at the very least, point out that these constraints are only slight infringements on personal rights, and in the worst case scenario they will embrace them fully and tattle to the government regarding their neighbor’s violations.

As we are currently in bondage, seeing things from the perspective of liberty is nearly impossible; and only prolonged suffering under bondage and a change in education and personal character will open our eyes to the truth of our situation.

The only way out of bondage is to develop a people of high humility, high integrity, high literacy, and devotion to Deity—in a phrase, sound moral character (moral here means to do right even when you have the freedom to do otherwise)—which creates a people steeped in Spiritual Faith.

The natural consequence of a people in bondage developing Spiritual Faith is the advancement of Courage.

Acting on that Courage leads to Liberty.  Liberty with such a people always leads to great Abundance.

This is precisely what the pre-American founding era did.  They left the religious and tyrannical bondage of England and Europe and removed themselves to the wilderness of America.

That removal and subsequent hardship moved them to rely on God and develop Spiritual Faith, Courage, and Liberty in a way they may not have otherwise.

What does liberty look like?

If you will take a close look at America from 1776 to 1865, you will see what liberty looks like.  Imagine a life free from:

  • Taxation as we know it today (remember, the 16th amendment was passed with the promise of no taxation beyond 3% of income)
  • Licensure as we know it today (if you wanted to run a business, the market would determine in you were worthy and competent)
  • Dependence on government (instead of nearly 50% of the population either employed by the government or on some welfare program, 85% of Americans lived on semi- or completely self-providing farms and ranches)
  • Government/Business complex as we know it (sure, men will be men, but outside of big business, the average American lived as he chose with little or no interference or oversight from government)

That’s what liberty looks like.

images (1)The American fight for liberty and subsequent Abundance began in 1776 and died at the end of the American Civil War (1865), the beginning of the national government occupation of the south or what is known as Reconstruction.

To understand this in proper context, we have to first look at the construct of the federal government.

The form and substance of the government established by the American founders was called Federalism.

Contrary to common belief, the founders did not create the federal government and then model the states after it, quite the opposite.

The stars in this graphic represent the 13 original states that had existed as independent colonies or states in and of themselves for 150 years before the federal or general government came into being.


They had no desire to turn over their sovereignty to others, and outside of the powers listed in Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution—they didn’t.

Notice the direction of the power flow indicated by the arrows.  Who is the original source of power and authority here? Yes, the states.

The unofficial (the U.S. Constitution directs the states to ensure education in each respective state, not the general government) and non-federally funded American education system of the 17th century, 18th century, 19th century, and the first part of the 20th century, taught federalism as the proper form of government.

The Fed was given twenty specific powers–they are strictly identified in Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution, they are clear as a bell- a sixth grader can see them, it is that simple.  The Fed was given those powers and everything else remained with the states or the people themselves.

Amendments nine and ten of the U.S. Constitution are very clear on this point.  This understanding of governing principles was taught for 350 years.

Then from the 1860′s through the early 1900′s a new version of civics was promoted, experimented with, and then universally taught, literally replacing the old understanding within a few decades.

With the old understanding of governing principles gone, it was a simple matter of a generation or two of the new philosophy before contradictory laws could be passed to change our system from Federal to National. Now we live under a very different form of government from the one the founders gave us.

NATToday we have a national government that holds virtually all the power, delegating what it chooses down to the states.

Consider state budgets before and after this change.

From 1789 to the late 1800s  the federal government provided little or no funding to the states to supplement their budgets.

Today in my state of Utah, almost half of our $13 billion budget comes directly from the U.S. government. Utah is literally dependent on the national government for its very existence.

These graphics shows the states having the power and delegating some of their powers to the Federal government and then the national government holding all the power and delegating a little to the states.  You can see the difference can’t you?







These are two drastically different forms of government.  One is called Federalism.  The other is called Nationalism.  The principles of Federalism were taught to and lived by our ancestors from 1607 until about the 1930’s (350 years).  Nationalism has been taught for only the last 80 years.

Lincoln is attributed with saying: “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation, will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

Reconstruction (national governmental occupation of the south) was the beginning of the end of Liberty (and eventually Abundance) for the American people.  At this juncture, it is important to separate the Civil War from the policies of Reconstruction.

Lincoln-Bday-2012-APresident Lincoln was the leader of the nation during the Civil War but that does not mean that he was an admirer of “National” government.

From 1863 to 1869, Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson (who became president following Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, only 5 days from the end of hostilities) took a moderate position designed to bring the South back to normal as soon as possible.

It was the Radical Republicans who used Congress to block the moderate approach and prolonged the terrible aftermath.

So it is clear that the idea of secession was settled with the northern victory of the war, but Reconstruction was a whole new phase.

Remember what the issue of the war really was; state self-determination.  This actually has a long history going as far back as 1800.

The southern agrarian states believed (based on nearly 200 years of colonial history) that they had a right to live their lives as they chose.  The northern industrial states (who controlled Congress) agreed, as long as the south would supply them with cheap cotton.

The south (who controlled the Supreme Court) were rankled at this and either had the court to back them up or simply ignored congressional legislation, a process that came to be known as Nullification.  By the time of the Civil War, this nullification dance had been going on for over 60 years.

Many in the halls of Congress (now moving quickly away from a Federal philosophy to a National philosophy) used this victory and a superior status to punish the south for a half a century of Nullification.

Compared to what the American founders established in 1789, we have been living under a tyrannical government for the last century.  What an absurd statement, you might say—but remember, never having lived under the original system and being taught that what we have currently is what the founders created, why would we question?

The next part in this series is: The Liberal Arts During Bondage; Part Two: “How Do the Liberal Arts Help Us During Bondage?”

Funding Is Half Way There

monticello_college_largeLast month we sent out an email (The Right Idea At The Right Time) comparing the beginnings of Monticello College to other now well-known colleges and universities.

We showed you the simple solution used by many institutions of higher learning centuries ago and how it stabilized those schools to become the great educational pillars they are today.

We laid out our building plan and shared our initial funding goal for phase one of this campaign which is to secure 100 individuals or families who support Monticello College and are willing to donate at least $25 per month for 24 months.

imagesWe are happy to announce that many of you heard our appeal and have committed to help us.

To date 32 donors are providing monthly donations totaling $1,357 per month, just short of 50% of our goal. To those who are currently donating, thank you so much, we appreciate your sacrifice and support.

If you have thought about supporting us but haven’t done so yet, please reconsider and help us rebuild our American tradition of liberty and independence through Monticello College.

If $25 a month is too much, any amount would help, not only financially but, sometimes feeling the support of others buoys’ us up in ways that are not easily measured.

As we mentioned in our first email, our curriculum is in place, the campus property is completely paid for, the first building is completed and in use, three mentors are currently teaching classes and three more are in training. The administration and faculty have been carefully selected and are men and women who have dedicated their adult lives to be instruments in the fulfillment of our mission:

Monticello College is dedicated to cultivating an education and environment that foster public virtue, induce moral character, and emulate the courage and foresight of the American founding period, preparing our graduates to guard the principles of liberty.

liberty1Help us to establish a training ground for public virtue, moral character, courage and foresight to guard the principles of liberty.

Liberty is our legacy.

To join our monthly donation campaign, please go to Robert Morris Foundation. For other donations and to keep up with the Monticello Campus Building Project, go to Campus Building Project.*


* All donations to this campaign will/should be indentified as Robert Morris Foundation/MC contributions.  The Robert Morris Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) philanthropic organization that has partnered with Monticello College.Funds raised via this campaign may only be use to develop the campus of Monticello College.