He was called the gadfly of Athens for good reason, pestering 5th century Greeks with endless questions. Ultimately, they shut him up by causing him to drink hemlock, ostensibly for polluting the minds of Athenian youth. But his quest for wisdom remains and is embodied in anyone who admits ignorance in order to find truth.
Imagine Socrates having a conversation with a college student on the campus of a contemporary American university. Author Peter Kreeft envisions just this scenario in The Best Things in Life. Here we pick up in the middle of a conversation between Socrates and college student Peter Pragma:
Socrates: What do you need money for?
Peter: Everything! Everything I want costs money.
Socrates: For instance?
Peter: Do you know how much it costs to raise a family nowadays?
Socrates: And what would you say is the largest expense in raising a family nowadays?
Peter: Probably sending the kids to college.
Socrates: I see. Let’s review what you have said. You are reading this book to study for your exam, so that you can pass it and your course, to graduate and get a degree, to get a good job, to make a lot of money, to raise a family and send your children to college.
Socrates: And why will they go to college?
Peter: Same reason I’m here. To get good jobs, of course.
Socrates: So they can send their children to college?
Socrates: Have you ever heard the expression “arguing in a circle”?
Peter: No, I never took logic.
Socrates: Really? I never would have guessed it.
Peter: You’re teasing me.
Peter: I’m a practical man. I don’t care about logic, just life.
Socrates: Then perhaps we should call what you are doing “living in a circle.” Have you ever asked yourself a terrifying question? What is the whole circle there for?
Kreeft, through the voice of Socrates, is exposing a great flaw of modern thinking about education: pragmatism. A pragmatic philosophy of education puts people on the hamster wheel of passing tests to pass classes to get degrees to get jobs to make money to have children who will start the vicious cycle all over again.
There is certainly a practical dimension to education. We need jobs that will pay bills, and our children need them also. But something we need more than jobs and money is an answer to Socrates’ question: “What is the whole circle there for?” And that is precisely what classical Christian education brings to the table.
The wealth of wisdom bequeathed to us from the Great Tradition and a robust Christian worldview show us the way. And when children are immersed in the wisdom and virtue and worldview-shaping influences of the Great Conversation, their real humanity is not only acknowledged but is honored.
“What is the whole circle there for?” We strive to take this question into account every day as we educate children at Regents Academy. We are glad to partner with you to do so.