The Liberal Arts, Great Books, and Classical Christian Education (a video interview with Wes Callihan)

Liberal Arts, Great Books, and Classical Christian Education Wes Callihan

Back in the early days of online homeschool learning, I had the privilege of taking several liberal arts courses from Wes Callihan. Did your high school teachers recite the opening lines of the Iliad to you? From memory? In Greek? I bet not. No wonder his students love and respect Mr. C! When I began this Homeschool Conversations series, I knew I wanted to chat with Mr. Callihan and chat all things Great Books, Liberal Arts, Classical Christian Education, and more!

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Liberal Arts, Great Books, and Classical Christian Homeschool Education interview with Wes Callihan

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Who is Wes Callihan?

Wes Callihan grew up on a farm in Idaho and graduated in History from the University of Idaho in 1983. He has taught for thirty-five years in private schools, college and university settings, through recorded video lectures published by Roman Roads Media, and through online homeschool classes at Schola Tutorials. Wes and his wife Dani have 6 children and 15 grandchildren.

Wes Callihan homeschool interview

Watch my interview with Wes Callihan

Show Notes {with video time stamps}

Wes and Dani Callihan’s journey to homeschooling {1:35}

Wes Callihan grew up in the country in a family that encouraged a love of reading. The friends he made in college and at church following graduation also shared this love of books.

This was in the early days of homeschooling in the 1980s. Dani, his wife, was exposed to information from Raymond Moore and other early pioneers of homeschooling. Neither of them wanted to send their children to public school, and this home education idea sounded like a good option for their family.

Around the same time, he and his community of friends also became interested in learning more about the history of education, particularly Christian classical education.

Old Western Culture

Classical Christian Education {4:30}

Mr. Callihan said that his ideas about education have been refined over the yeras, but have not really changed.

“Classical education is focused on development of the imagination, of the soul, of the mind, of the spirit. It’s not about getting a job… Education is not vocational. Vocational training is good, but education and vocational training are different things,” he explained.

That’s why we read history and literature, and why we study languages.  

“At the center of [education] is the human experience over long stretches of time, especially as it came under the influence of Christianity,” Wes said.

We don’t have to over-complicate education, he reminded us. “A classical Christian education ought to be a fairly simple thing.

classical homeschol education Wes Callihan interview

Why study the Liberal Arts and the Great Books? {7:40}

The liberal arts, or the humanities, give perspective of where we are in relation to other times and people much like a map grounds us in where we are physically.

“Knowing where we are in space and time is a kind of wisdom,” claimed Wes.

He continued, “Our problem as humans is that we’re born narrow-minded, bigoted, and ego-centric…One of the main purposes of education is to teach us that we’re not God.

Studying the liberal arts helps us understand what people believe about being human.

More than anything else, we need to be human beings who understand the human condition.

(I shared a story about my husband’s perspective on this as a structural engineer who designs bridges. Watch the full video to hear all the details!)

Wes Callihan also reminded us that classical education is not about raising our children to become classicists, but is about raising them up to be humans.

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liberal arts, great books, classical education interview with Wes Callihan

Wes Callihan’s favorite books to teach {15:00}

Wes Callihan has always loved Homer. He jokingly admitted he has to be careful that he doesn’t read Homer more than he reads the Bible. He also loves teaching Augustine’s City of God and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

One of the books he especially loves teaching, however, is Eusebius’s history of the early church. Over time, Mr. Callihan has become more and more convicted that what ought to be at the heart of classical Christian education is the history of the church.

Church history is for Christians the history of our people. Thus, in our education? Mr. Callihan advised, “The study of the Christian church is absolutely central.”

Church history is incredibly relevant to us today. “So many of the questions that are still plaguing us now were answered back then,” Wes explained.

{You may also enjoy my post A Beginner’s Guide to Church History.}

Why Rhetoric? {20:26}

What is Rhetoric? Perhaps you could say it is the use of language and communication. Many people might say it is the “art of persuasion” or something like that.

Wes Callihan said that rhetoric is perhaps better understood as the art of effective communication. We aren’t always trying to persuade, but we are always trying to communicate effectively.

The classical rhetoricians observed, found patterns, gave them names, and described them as principles that we can study and apply.

Wes Callihan noted that rhetoric, like many things we learn and study, is actually much larger in purpose than merely improving in the subject area itself.

We go to the gym not ultimately so we get better at the gym but so that we are better equipped with strength and mobility for the other areas of our life.

In the same way, rhetoric is a very structured art. It teaches us how to see all the parts of an argument. You’re judging, weighing, and ordering.

Learning the habit of judging and ordering rightly is a kind of wisdom,” Wes said. Thus, this one art has application in every other area of our life.

(Have you noticed the theme of wisdom coming up repeatedly in this conversation?)

How do we start to reclaim our own education as parents? {28:22}

It’s never too late. It’s never too soon, either. But it’s never too late,” Wes encouraged.

Wes Callihan said that C. S. Lewis advises us to do a few things and do them well. In turn. Mr. Callihan encouraged homeschool parents to “pick a few important things and do them well. The art of doing something well will apply to other things… People don’t have to do everything, they really don’t.”

Don’t burden yourselves by trying to do all the things, or by trying to find the illusive perfect book.

“Don’t think that you have to get it all figured out now…be patient with the process, be patient with yourself,” Mr. Callihan encouraged.

  • Keep things simple
  • Be patient
  • Use trusted resources and mentors as a starting place

To begin recovering your own education? Read! Read a lot! Don’t wait to figure out the perfect place to start. “Just start reading,” Wes Callihan advised.

Just start reading. Wes Callihan

Read C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and the great books throughout the ages. “The more I study and the more I read … the more I realize how ignorant I am,” Mr. Callihan explained. None of us have arrived and finished our education.

(You may also enjoy my conversation with Dr. George Grant on Repentance and Discipleship in Christian Classical Education.)

What Wes Callihan is reading lately {36:47}

When we have trained our affections and tastes, Mr. Callihan explained, we can get to a place where we can feel free to read what we like. Here are a few of the books he is reading lately:

Find Wes Callihan online

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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