A 21st Century Boy’s Education
My plan for raising a son
I hope my 11-month-old son never loses that grand sparkle in his grey eyes.
Whether the two of us are playing on the floor, or his mother is astonishing him with shadow puppets, he is invigorated by life.
Although his extended family doesn’t want him to grow up too quickly, I find myself impatient to teach him to read. There’s an urgency, a sense I have to teach him how to grow into manhood in the right way.
It matters to me to help him learn how to conduct himself well. It matters that he become worthy of contemplating the greatest authors and statesmen that millennia of intellectual history have produced.
To this end, I want to outline my own general plan for his education, which, if presented correctly, can be applied to any young man.
One might ask at first, because of the frothing pieties of the day, why I would emphasize the young man.
The simple answer is that he’s a boy, I’m his father, and there is an essential gap were I to try to tell a girl how to grow into womanhood.
He needs to learn how to live, be useful to society, and how to die. And, while there is a reality to sex, I don’t think it’s absolute—please, dress how you will and enjoy your life, for where else but a land of freedom could someone defy nature out of individuality? Which, to take us back to the subject of education, is precisely what learning is: defying nature.
This is because children want to fly in all directions, eat everything, and stay up until they pass out from exhaustion. By segmenting the day, requiring a bedtime, and sitting down with them to look at little letters on paper, the little savage is being molded into what might one day be a human (gom jabbar optional).
He will be taught to be polite, reserved, and affable in whatever company he finds himself in. Any math we work on will be wholly practical: money, measurement, and building. I’ll raise him to enjoy physical activity through sports, and mental activity through writing. This all should result in sprezzatura: nonchalant excellence.
Myths and national history will be emphasized once he can start stringing sentences together. He needs to take in republicanism with the alphabet.
I find these two subjects to be complementary, since the former gives us a basis for adorning the latter with all the advantages of storytelling. Often, professional history is only based on the arrangements of facts and obsessive citation, and so lacks intonation and literary devices to take the reader on a journey. I’ve read enough historians writing for specialists, and I would sooner blind myself than have to slog through “The Literature” again (though Gordon Wood, for one, writes quite well). It is necessary that myths remain myths and history, history, though that will be harder with a text like the Iliad, but the exercise will strengthen his mind.
This distinction is one way to say I hate the tired tale of George Washington and the Cherry Tree, in which a future great man shows exceptional promise as soon as he’s catapulted from the womb. We find this in books like the Cyropaedia, and in the portents preceding a special event, hence John Adams’s belief that mythologizing would produce a history of the American Revolution where
Dr Franklins [sic] electrical Rod, Smote the Earth and out Sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrifed him with his Rod—and thence forward these two conducted all the Policy Negotiations Legislation and War.
That leads us to the question of which myths, and when.
I think that stories of talking animals, hobbits, and knights are invaluable. Fun and imaginative, with plenty of danger to thrill, my boy’s first several years should be full of fey, and some books can be reread later to find different themes in them, like Gawain and the Green Knight, which goes from being a weird story about decapitation to one about knightly conduct contradicting a promise of obedience. He’ll undoubtedly notice his namesake, Aesop, when we read The Song of Roland together, though the full meaning of its grim ending will take time for him to understand. Chivalry will be central throughout his rearing, especially with its emphasis on deferential conduct towards women.
This is mainly because I would rather he look to figures like King Arthur, Gawain, Lancelot, and Jacques DeMolay than just about any “masculinity” guru found online, and he will find their misogynistic ilk eventually. Here is a sampling of a perspective I hope he will rightly see as destructive:
“I am a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world.” — Gavin McInnes, Proud Boys Manual
“You dont get married for fun, or freedom. You get married to BELONG to and DEDICATE yourself to your man.” — Andrew Tate
“This is what happens when you give women the vote :)” — Jordan Peterson
McInnes’s invocation of the “modern world” is of course something he gets to define, and others must accept his definition or they are in the wrong. Tate’s model of marriage involves the woman being a tool for the man’s self-fulfillment. Although Peterson’s excerpt is the least objectionable of the three, I included because he knows his audience likes this kind of material, and any mask of irony is paper-thin.
Studying King Arthur, Gawain, Lancelot, and Jacques DeMolay will serve as a bulwark against that kind of self-centered man becoming a model to him, because the choice between the social media “influencer,” and the man who told his king and the Pope to stick it, and was burned at the stake, is an easy one.
I’ll freely admit I haven’t decided how to approach religion with him, but the Bible will be read as part of classical literature. Ramon Lull’s handbook, and Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, will be useful here, and there’s enough overlap between the chivalric virtues and Plato to serve as a bridge when he becomes old enough to understand the Socratic dialogues and parts of the Republic in his teens as he begins to consider adult questions about sex and the state.
That grand book, which I dislike reading, is one of the central educational tracts in Western history and serves as one large allegory for the educated man’s relationship to the state. To this, I’ll add a number of useful books all concerned with that permanent question of a young man’s education, and in particular I think Cicero’s On the Orator will be quite useful, and Machiavelli can help contrast what other authors claim politics is. There are, of course, further books on the subject to be found in the Enlightenment, but I find them too dry and lacking in spice, hence why I’ve never finished Rousseau’s Emile, and would prefer to skip reading Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education again, though his book on government will be indispensable when I teach government to him. It is worth noting that Cicero was the exemplar for the Founders, and so keeping his eyes on both Rome and America should serve well.
I also plan to raise him to be bilingual from the beginning, since Latin will give him an advantage at every stage of his life (I may also teach him some Greek). I have been personally enjoying Lingva Latina Per Se Illvstrata, since it lacks even a lick of English, and so takes a different approach from the Wheelock I learned from in college. This will give him an expansive vocabulary, a sense of style, and the confidence to put words together for a speech.
Altogether, he should have a love of play, literature, and be prepared to write well. Despite all this, Seneca’s opinion on the liberal arts (seven or otherwise) always looms: at best they prepare the ground for the good seeds of learning, and do not guarantee a good crop.
Eventually, I will have to let him loose at all of my books and movies to give him the freedom he needs to start developing his own taste. Dirty Roman poetry from Catullus or Ovid, the blood-streaked pages of a manga like Berserk, the monolithic Wheel of Time books, Conan, pulp like C. L. Moore’s, and even my books on finance will be open to him.
Over time, he will be ready for citizenship with all of the adornments of an education covering over 2,500 years, plus whatever modern advantages can be gained from public school. I’m considering teaching him at home for grade school, since that will give me free reign to prepare him for the wasteland of middle school, though I wonder if I really just want to show him old cartoons and swing swords with him in the back yard.
Time and God permitting, his grandfather will be able to teach him quite a bit of plumbing and how to work on a car, while I can teach him a bit about computers. The amount of money saved by cultivating a few of these skills could be substantial. He will be able to choose for himself what profession he wants to pursue, can give reasons for it, and can even demonstrate whatever financial advantages he’ll glean from whatever path he takes.
Having learned how to learn, he can pursue whatever he wants, and with that profession to sustain him, he can continue his own interests as he sees fit. This was a central concern of Woodrow Wilson’s when he presented the problems of making education a commodity towards the end of his academic career: how to keep a man from becoming a provincial of his profession, and to give him the perspective to look for the best outcome for all involved. We will continue to suffer from not taking his advice seriously, while the university he made first-rate will condemn him into the mists of time.
Perhaps most important will be the figure of Don Quixote de la Mancha once he’s several years into manhood. The world, in its petty pace from day to day, can easily bring one down and crush the spirit, which is what our ingenious knight errant and his faithful Sancho Panza encounter throughout their adventures. “Adventure” should always be before a man, the sense that one is coming upon something, much like our Advent calendars during December. Hoping to discover, crossing a mountain, embarking on an expedition—those kinds of ventures. I happen to think that it’s a quixotic interest which drives men to risk and ruin (as in business), only to rise from the ashes, phoenix-like, and try again. That spark of inspiration is passed into Sancho Panza at the end of the first volume of Don Quixote's adventures, while the knight recovers from a shattered shoulder. When asked what profit Sancho found in his squireship by his wife, he tells her that he doesn’t have a skirt for her or new shoes for their children, but something greater he can show at home. It’s difficult not to think that he means he’s learned something new about how to conduct himself.
I wanted a broad outline because there is so much material which could be covered, it would be all too easy to get lost, although the importance of the subject demands some details. The last few years should have demonstrated that men of restraint are needed, which is a central theme in Western literature. If I succeed and raise a studious young man, the kind Jefferson hoped for, then I will be able to say I performed a patriotic duty alongside the natural one of fatherhood: provide the country an independently-minded man.
To this end, the education I stumbled upon after surviving cancer will be his birthright.