Back to School?
Early 20th Century One-room School

Back to School?

Lent is a particularly good time to consider the virtue of humility. We all know that pride comes before a fall. So with this in mind, let me give you a little quiz to see if I can help you develop humility. All you have to do is answer the following questions. Here we go!

  1. Do you know what an ablative absolute is?
  2. Can you recognize a passive periphrastic?
  3. Can you parse a gerund?
  4. Can you recite the first lines of The Odyssey –in Greek?
  5. Can you recite the first lines of The Aeneid — in Latin?
  6. Do you know what Virgilian dactylic hexameter is?
  7. Just before he was murdered, who said, “Don’t disturb my circles”?
  8. Do you know who Tycho Brahe was?
  9. Who put pebbles in his mouth to improve his speaking skills?
  10. Do you know the Syllogisms of the First Figure?
  11. Do you know what the Trivium is?
  12. Do you know what the Quadrivium is?
  13. Who said “The un-examined life is not worth living”?
  14. Who said “We ought not to speak as though we were asleep”?
  15. What is a asymptote?

I suppose you want the answers, but I’m not going to give them–for two reasons. First, this essay would be extremely long, and, second, you would miss the opportunity to learn something by yourself.

However, let me make a confession. If someone had given me this quiz a couple of months ago, I would have missed all but one. And I was a high school teacher for thirty-six years, and I hold bachelor and master degrees.

Sure, I have studied and read The Odyssey, but my Greek is limited to Kyrie Eleison. I studied Latin for three years in high school and know a lot of Latin words because of the Tridentine Mass. And although I have studied and read The Aeneid, I could not recite the first lines of that classic in Latin if my life depended upon it. I also know that Virgil wrote The Aeneid, so I might have gotten partial credit for question six because I am fairly sure that I would have known what a hexameter is. But my only claim to fame as far as the quiz is concerned is that I can parse a gerund.

So, if you failed the quiz, you might be thinking, Well, only some of the greatest minds in the world could get these questions right, so who cares? Okay. Fair enough. But what would you say if I told you that several young ladies under eighteen, all from the same family, could answer a lot, and perhaps most, of the questions correctly? Intrigued?

A little background. After Donald Trump’s shocking victory on election night, a few journalists, actors, and other lefties wrote letters to their daughters, trying to soothe their broken spirits and affirm their “snowflake” status. Here is the closing paragraph of such a letter from Alan Sorkin, Oscar-winning screenwriter, to his fifteen-year-old daughter:

The battle isn’t over, it’s just begun. Grandpa fought in World War II and when he came home this country handed him an opportunity to make a great life for his family. I will not hand his granddaughter a country shaped by hateful and stupid men. Your tears last night woke me up, and I’ll never go to sleep on you again.

Mark Langley, a teacher and founder of The Lyceum, a small private school, found these letters laughable. In his blog Lion & Ox (, which promotes the benefits of a classical Catholic education, Langley penned a lengthy letter to his nine daughters. With tongue firmly in cheek, he begins his letter thusly:

I am sorry that you live in a world where an authentic Liberal education is not the norm. I am sorry that the beauty and necessity of such an education is not obvious to everyone you meet. It can be frustrating to have to always be defending and explaining liberal education to almost everyone, can’t it?

You have spent years studying Latin, chanting forms, memorizing principal parts and acquiring vocabulary. You can spot a passive periphrastic and parse a gerund. You know all about the supine (mirabile dictu!) and the ablative absolute.

And so it goes for several pages, mentioning many of the names, terms, and quotations found in the quiz above. Now Langley admits that, depending on the ages of his daughters, not all of them know this information at the same time. However, he expects all of them to know it by the time they turn eighteen.

Langley concludes his letter thusly:

But through your efforts, through your liberal education, you have disposed yourselves towards the working of grace. You have disposed your hearts toward the worship of God in spirit and in truth. And this is the end to which all our efforts find a happy conclusion. This is the natural end of a liberal education . . .

The reader will have to look far and wide to find an educational objective like that in another school, which goes a long way toward explaining why we are experiencing a cultural crisis in our country.

As for me, I have a lot of learning to do. Time to hit the books.

(Mr. Langley’s entire letter can be found on his blog site, along with several other very thoughtful articles. I encourage the reader to visit the site.)

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Written by
Thomas Addis
  • I had a high school social studies teacher, Br. Tom, who boldly declared on the first day of school, to the bewilderment of budding college-bound boys, that one objective of his class was to learn how to think. My “useless” college major was history, with an equally dubious minor in English. But, long before I graduated, I discovered that I had to keep learning how to learn. Well into adulthood, philosophy and theology classes at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit officially solidified my belief that critical thinking and the pursuit of truth, not merely the acquisition of knowledge, are essential to a well-rounded education. In a world where developing the ability to think and learn seems of secondary importance to acquiring degrees and certifications, where “getting an education” is valued more than “learning”, I applaud any parent or teacher who appreciates the training in humility and critical thinking that naturally results from the genuine pursuit of wisdom and truth. Thanks for writing this article. Humility compels me to confess that I could not definitively answer any of the questions you posed.

  • Great Article! Next time I enter my bath I will check for Romans with gladii. I will have my wine taster check for hemlock in the vinum. I will stand with President Trump to defend the government OF the people. I will make sure my pebbles are in place before I give My oration against Meidias (Soros). I practice my grammar, logic and rhetoric on a daily basis. Andra moi enepe moussa. My 10 years of Jesuit education finally paid off. Sempre adalante!