Introducing Mr. Parker Gilley

Beginning in the 23-24 school year,
Mr. Gilley will teach Latin and Greek at St. Francis. He has a B.A. in Classics, English, and Philosophy from Samford University and an M.A. in Classics from the University of Kentucky, as well as a Certificate in Active Latin from the Institute for Latin Studies. He has taught Latin and Greek at the primary, secondary, and university level, translated dusty copies of unread Neo-Latin epic poems from the British Library, and declaimed Plato at Delphi. He farms when he can and writes when he should, and is thankful to be a country boy at heart.

What is Leadership Anyway?

Leadership is not a Classical or Christian Virtue

Lest we become confused by the modern obsession with “leaders,” let us remember that Herod’s leadership came to nothing because he was a fool, despite all of his wealth, political prowess, athletic and military training, people skills, and charisma.

The man vested with authority ought to imitate the one to whom all authority has been given. Because the image of Christ tyrannizes lesser authorities, “leaders” must do what Christ does: exhibit the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. The man vested with authority dies for his people, gives rest to his people, commands his people, feeds his people, heals his people. He upholds justice, condemns the wicked, and heals the brokenhearted.

-Bobby McGee

Primary Sources in Grade School

Primary Sources in Grade School


Trinitarian Theology, Egyptian Icons, and Capable Fourth Graders

“Take a look at the painting of Jesus Christ posted above. Notice that if you were to draw a line down the middle of the painting, Jesus’ facial and bodily features would look different on the left side and on the right. The painting demonstrates the two natures of Christ – a human nature and a divine nature. (His divine nature is portrayed on the left side with His hand up blessing humanity, and His human nature is portrayed on the right side with a larger, rougher body holding the Gospels.) Do you think the painter of this image would most likely agree with Nestorius, Pope Leo I, or Eutyches’ description of the two natures of Christ? Defend your answer and be sure to include what all three men believed.”

This assessment prompt turned out to be one of my all time favorites. My students had not seen this painting before the assessment, so the creative work of analyzing, summarizing, and connecting was entirely their own. It was given to 4th graders. 

After I passed out the assessment to my students, and they had a few moments to read over the prompt, a young man raised his hand and asked, “Mr. McGee, where is the monastery where this icon was painted?” “Egypt,” I said. He grinned and began writing furiously. His assumption that the icon’s origin in the East implied that the painter was a Nestorian was not entirely correct – but what a question! When I was in 4th grade, I never could have made that connection between the icon’s place of origin and the local church’s Christology, much less been able to answer a test prompt like this at all. 

So, what’s going on here? How can 4th graders actually be expected to competently answer such a question? And if they can, what do the students need to do in the classroom each week to learn and prepare for such a question? My answer: read primary sources. 

In my experience with Classical Christian education, the study of History in the lower grades involves either History cards that present a boiled-down snapshot with key names and dates for memorization or historical overview texts (like Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World) that offer thorough summaries of events and periods in simplified language. These sources are problematic if the study of History is limited to these cards and overviews. 

Here’s how it typically works: A school wants to teach fourth graders about Martin Luther using a history card. On Monday, when they read the card on Luther and the Reformation, students learn that Martin Luther was a German monk who wrote something called the 95 Theses which he nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. In these Theses, he criticized the Roman Catholic church for their corruption, especially the use of indulgences. Behold. Students now know Martin Luther. Can’t you feel it? Throughout the rest of the week they reread this card and memorize the information, filling out worksheets that guide them line by line through the six line card. Then at the end of the week, they are assessed with questions like: In what city did Martin Luther nail the 95 Theses on the door? For what did Luther criticize the church in his 95 Theses? 

My issue with this model is that it is approximately 2 cm deep. Students are only required to learn the most basic, platitudinous “facts” about Luther’s life and then regurgitate cookie cutter answers from the card that they already practiced on the worksheet. Even for fourth graders, this is an overly simplistic, dare I say insulting, model for teaching History. If a student’s study of History is limited to reading these resources they will be sorely short-changed. There is a disconnect between the practice of using overviews alone and a central tenet of classical education. 

Reading a text classically requires a mindset shift that we modern Americans find extremely uncomfortable. Reading classically requires dwelling in and with a text. We enter into a conversation with a text; we bring our assumptions and thoughts into the reading, and the text counters those assumptions, answering or confounding our questions. Texts have the power to move us, to shape us, to convict and inspire. This practice requires what the philosopher Paul Riceour calls “linguistic hospitality.” This is the Biblical concept of humility applied to words, of all things. When someone speaks, in order to hear them and truly understand them, we have to have the patience and self-control to be quiet and actually consider their opinions. Otherwise we are stranded on an island formed by our own limited thoughts. Classicists apply this concept of linguistic hospitality to every area of study. We read Plato, Euclid, Moses, Augustine, Dante, Martin Luther, Kant, and George Washington all with the humility to acknowledge that we need to be shaped by these great thinkers. We shouldn’t open a text like Machiavelli’s The Prince to analyze and condemn every proposition that we don’t like. Rather we should open The Prince willing to discuss, willing to be shaped by it with a linguistic hospitality, even while we hold the sword of Scripture as our defender. 

How does this apply to Susan Wise Bauer? There is a difference between fourth graders dwelling in and with a historical summary, and dwelling in and with the actual artifact. When you want to teach your child about tasty cheeses, do you hand them a Wikipedia article on Cheddar and Gouda? When you want your child to love beautiful art, do you hand them a two-paragraph explanation of Raphael’s ‘The Disputation of the Sacrament’? When you want your child to learn Chemistry, do you merely hand them a textbook and say, “Get to reading!” or do you hand them a textbook, a beaker, some goggles, and point them to the backyard with the chemicals? Learning requires spending time with the actual articles. So when I want to teach my students about Martin Luther, I hand them a copy of the 95 Theses. And we read them together. Believe it or not, fourth graders can understand Martin Luther and can read Luther’s own words! Students can read and wrestle with Luther all week long to actually see for themselves how Luther reasoned, how much vitriol he had for corruption in the church, and how deeply he wanted to be faithful to the Scriptures. 

When I wanted to teach my fourth graders about the Council of Chalcedon,  I handed them passages from Nestorius, Eutyches, and Pope Leo I. We wrestled with Christology for two weeks, and by the end they were able to competently interpret the painting shown above. This method of learning through Primary Sources allows teachers to help students with normative, life shaping questions that are far more than 2 cm deep.

Of course, there are ditches to avoid. First graders cannot work through Luther’s original texts. But they can look at art and listen to great music and study the Scriptures. The goal is not to shove eighth grade material down the throats of fourth graders. It would be unreasonable to expect 4th graders to undertake a graduate level study of Luther or of Christology, but young students can begin dwelling in and with portions of those great texts. They can learn how to take notes and underline and let the text shape them. It is remarkably rewarding to see young students wrestle with texts like this and comprehend them. Students love to be called to something higher. They want teachers to expect real work from them and guide them into intellectual maturity. Should we offer them anything less? 

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11.

-Collin McGee

A Fascinating Paradox

A Fascinating Paradox

As a classical educator, I often think:
“Won’t it be great when these students grow up to educate their own children and I’m out of a job.”

I look forward to the days in my students’ lives when they realize that what is commonly conceived of as education is not only somewhat odd, but even unnecessary, and their schools and homes primarily become places of production, rather than consumption.

When the students I teach grow up to be fathers and mothers, I certainly hope they are disenchanted with the terrible idea of funneling their children through a state run school. What’s more, I hope they are disenchanted with the idea of funneling the next generation through an insipid franchise classical school or private prep school.

How do we accomplish this? We teach our children like we mean it – show them how to die well. We give our children robust, traditionalist, Christian education and show them how to value the best and most beautiful things for their own sake, not as means to some other end. Students who are virtuous, intelligent, copious, free, passionate, happy, creative, funny, careful, devoted, idealists will not fail to produce beautiful things everywhere they go.

The mind is grist for the mill…

A curriculum is not grist for the mill of the mind;
the mind is the grist.

The good school does not just offer what the student or the parent or the state desires, but it says something about what these three ought to desire. A school is fundamentally a normative, not a utilitarian, institution, governed by the wise, not by the many. It judges man as an end, not as a means; it cultivates the human spirit by presenting a complete vision of man as he lives and as he ought to live in all his domains – the individual, the social, and the religious. It teaches the student how to fulfill his obligations to himself, to his fellow man, and to God and His creation. Its understanding of man, therefore, is prescriptive – and its curriculum and organization allegorize the scope, the sequence, and the vision that all men must recognize and accept as fundamental if they hope to grow to their full human stature.

-David Hicks Norms and Nobility


Florilegium Reading Program

The word “Florilegium” is a composite word from the Latin “flos” meaning “flower” and “legere” meaning “to gather.” In the medieval period, the word florilegium was used primarily in two ways. The Florilegium was a book of botanical illustrations or a literary anthology.

In the medieval period, books were expensive and difficult to come by. A reader who had limited access to a text he did not own might copy fine extracts from the work to preserve them for himself after the book departed for another reader. In both cases, botanical and literary, the florilegium was a carefully curated collection of beautiful things.

At St. Francis Classical, we make use of the term for our reading program. Our students will collect, not illustrations of flowers or literary excerpts, but beautiful books and summaries of those books. This program is designed to draw students into the Great Conversation by encouraging them to develop the habit of perpetually reading beautiful books and communicating with others about them.

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry

A Common reaction to Wendell Berry:
What then are we to do? We cannot go back to small town America in the mid 20th century.

Can’t we?
I should like every term in that proposition defined. Does “Go back” mean a retrogression in time, or the revision of an error? The first is clearly impossible per se; the second is a thing which wise men do every day. “Cannot” –does this mean that our behavior is determined by some irreversible cosmic mechanism, or merely that such an action would be very difficult in view of the opposition it would provoke? The 21st century obviously is not and cannot be the 20th or the 14th, but if “small town America in the mid 20th century” is, in this context, a picturesque phrase denoting particular communal and agricultural theories, there seems to be no a priori reason why we should not “go back” to it – with modifications.

(Modified from a section of Sayers’ “Lost Tools”)

The Theorist

The Theorist

“Idealism is only considering everything in its practical essence. Idealism only means that we should […] ask if an egg is good enough for practical poultry-rearing before we decide that the egg is bad enough for practical politics. But I know that this primary pursuit of the theory (which is but pursuit of the aim) exposes one to the cheap charge of fiddling while Rome is burning. A school, of which Lord Rosebery is representative, has endeavored to substitute for the moral or social ideals which have hitherto been the motive of politics a general coherency or completeness in the social system which has gained the nick-name of “efficiency.” I am not very certain of the secret doctrine of this sect in the matter. But, as far as I can make out, “efficiency” means that we ought to discover everything about a machine except what it is for. There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy: the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man. It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we need an unpractical man. Certainly, at least, we need a theorist. A practical man means a man accustomed to mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.

It is then necessary to drop one’s daily agnosticism and attempt rerum cognoscere causas. If your aeroplane has a slight indisposition, a handy man may mend it. But, if it is seriously ill, it is all the more likely that some absent-minded old professor with wild white hair will have to be dragged out of a college or laboratory to analyze the evil. The more complicated the smash, the whiter-haired and more absent-minded will be the theorist who is needed to deal with it; and in some extreme cases, no one but the man (probably insane) who invented your flying-ship could possibly say what was the matter with it.”

-G.K. Chesterton