Citizenship and Plutarch: A Rational Patriotism

Citizenship and Plutarch 

I recently gave a digital session on Citizenship and Plutarch, and it was one of the most robust talks and subsequent conversations that I have given and had. We were able to dive deep into the ideas of nuanced perspective, the coexistence of gratitude for freedom and knowledge of the sins that helped secure that freedom. We discussed the complexity of human character, and the depth of understanding that it requires to see each human with nuanced eyes, neither reviling nor idolizing them. We not only discussed the importance of these ideas, but we discussed how to impart them to our children. 

While I can't possibly replicate that discussion (the Session Recording is available for sale, should you wish to partake in the real thing), I will lay out here the Principles and Practices that I laid out during the Session, and my "Program of Citizenship". 

Principles of Citizenship: 

  • Citizenship's foundation is laid in tales, fables, and biography. 
  • Citizenship is motivated by the character necessary for being used in God's work by being used in the world. 
  • Loyalty to integrity is more important than loyalty to a nation. 
  • A valuable citizen benefits society by being of intrinsic value, not by way of profession or social class. 
  • Being able to evaluate perspectives and determine the Truth is the outcome of a study of Citizenship. 
    "There are few better equipments for a citizen than a mind capable of discerning the Truth; whether it lie on the side of our party or on that of our opponent." ~Mason 
  • People are handicapped when relying on current political culture to inform their political ideals. 
The essence of a good citizen was defined by God: 
Seek Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly 

"It is not too much to say that a rational, well-considered patriotism depends on a pretty copious reading of history, and with this rational patriotism we desire our young people to be informed rather than with the jingoism of the emotional patriot." ~Mason

A Program of Citizenship 

1x weekly 
20-30 minutes 
Cultural Studies, Occasional Basic Civics (in context of history) 

4th Grade 
Children's Plutarch 

5th -6th Grade 
Add Plutarch 

Middle School 
Add Ourselves (Book 1) 

*At this point, Citizenship can take on 2-3 "Streams", with 2-3 weekly lessons of various types 

High School 
2x weekly (at least) 
30 minutes each lesson 
Civics/Government, Ourselves, Plutarch 

Principles of Plutarch 

  • Primary, early sources of history and biography are best. 
  • Plutarch= foundation for study of Ancient History 
  • Plutarch refrains from moral commentary. 
  • Plutarch is a study in history, literature, character, and citizenship. 
  • Children ARE capable of digesting Plutarch 
    "We read him his Tanglewood tales and when he is a little older his Plutarch, not trying to break up or water down, but leaving his mind to deal with the matter as it can." ~Mason 

    "Instead of worrying about the hard words in Plutarch, let's celebrate the richness of our language! We have an opportunity to explore the ideas behind words, the reasons behind names, and the fact that the English language is a flexible and growing thing." ~Anne White 
  • We should draw children UP to Plutarch, rather than pulling their study of history and citizenship down to where they currently are. 
  • The only way to expand the child's horizon, in regards to the understanding of human nature, is to actually go about the work of expanding the child's horizon. 
    "His announced intention [Plutarch's] was not to write a chronicle of great historical events, but rather to examine the character of great men, as a lesson for the living. Throughout the Lives, Plutarch pauses to deliver penetrating observations on human nature as illustrated by his subjects, so it is difficult to classify the Lives as history, biography, or philosophy. These timeless studies of humanity are in a class by themselves." 
    ~Wilmot McCutchen 

Benefits of Plutarch 

  • Moral instruction as opposed to moralism
  • Extensive exposure to words (the best of the English language, along with Shakespeare) 
  • Trustworthy historical commentary 
  • Requires attention and engagement 
  • Direct portrayals of human character 
  • Broadens understanding of ancient history 
  • Meet the minds of great men 
  • Greater understanding of other historical works and works of literature 
  • Connects history of entire world to Rome and Greece 
  • True, relevant moral literacy 
  • Understanding of policies and government 

    "If we are to understand why people think as they do, act as they do, or feel as they do; if we are to understand the foundations of our institutions, the tenacity of our traditions, or the precariousness of our own policies then we need to have substantive background information. Plutarch's Lives has been the primary lens through which western intellectuals, educators, artists, musicians, dramatists and historians have viewed the Greco-Roman world. If for no other reason than to grasp the significance of that influence, the Lives are vitally important." 
    ~George Grant 

Basic Practices of Plutarch 

  • 1 Life per term 
  • Start slower- 1 life during your first year 
  • Start with Publicola 
  • Read small portions- narrate communally 
  • Identify proper names and vocabulary 
  • Discuss at length 
    More Discussion > Faster Reading 
  • Use your freedom to read widely (prioritize Plutarch, but not above everything else)
    "Civics takes place as a separate subject but it is so closely bound up with literature and history...and with ethics (every day morals)...that the division is nominal." ~Mason 
  • Keep a Plutarch Journal- include character sketches, narrations, vocabulary, diagrams, t-charts, drawings, etc (highly personal) 

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