Classical & Contemporary Best Practices in Learning for Parents & Teachers

About 21CL

 This is the PAQs page (not FAQs – these are Potentially Asked Questions…) for the site


What is the basic idea behind the 21st Century Lyceum?

Schooling in Western civilization from about 2400 years ago in ancient Greece until just about a century ago was – with some variation – pretty standard and initially based on the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. The last few generations have seen a morphing of that standard curriculum, mainly to produce young people ready to join an adult world that has become increasingly industrial and technical. The time-tested educational practices, known as “classical schooling,” of learning to gather knowledge, analyze it for validity and truth, and then communicate with others about it through intelligent writing and conversation, have become largely the purview of either a more elite minority or those who are decidedly more curious than their peers.

The 21st Century Lyceum is a blog and discussion site meant to bring together adults who work with young people to help find ways to enhance their current educational environments to include elements of classical education that are still valuable in today’s society. 

How will the site do this?

Every week or so, I plan to upload a post that includes a video or other media session, a summary of the media, and some online resources to allow folks to dig a little deeper if they wish. The video will be a cursory examination of one or two topics I have identified that followers may want to incorporate into their teaching/childrearing/youth leadership/etc. And the resources are mainly to allow for further guided study at the viewer’s own convenience.

The most important aspect of the site, I think, will be its interactivity and chance for everyone to participate. Right now, that means using the Comments feature as a sort of primitive forum until I can find another way. Perhaps an open source LMS or something like Moodle, but we’ll see. Also, I am not the big expert on all this; I just have a lot of interest. So, one plan for the very near future is to invite the actual experts in for short interviews. I have quite a slew of teachers, professors, friends, colleagues, and mentors who can provide quite a bit of elucidation for all of us on how to incorporate millenia-old learning practices with those of more recent development. Stay tuned…

Who is this John guy? And who does he think he is, starting a blog like this?

During a recent visit from some beloved former students, they began grilling me about all the various jobs I’ve had through my adult life. I now suspect that was the primary (and possibly sole) reason for the visit, as they seemed very prepared for the “impromtu” interview. I have done lots of cool stuff in my life. I’ve been very fortunate to have sort of goofily stumbled into fun jobs and experiences that have illuminated my metaphorical path along the way.

Most of my adult life has been spent teaching music to kids from preschool age to high school graduates. I received my early education in the public schools of Union, Missouri, which, in retrospect, was an incredible opportunity due to the town having more master teachers per square inch than a little, rural midwestern town should have had in the 1970s and 1980s. My parents were two of those teachers and they, along with my grandmothers, had quite an influence on my love for classical schooling and everything it entails for learners. My undergraduate work was done at Southeast Missouri State University’s music department, with another incredibly talented and devoted group of professors. Their tolerance for the irresponsibility of my youth was monumental.

Once I started teaching, I worked for almost three decades for eight school districts in three states as a band director, music teacher, and – for a few semesters – a computer lab supervisor in an alternative school and math teacher when no one better could be found. In the early 2000s, I did my graduate work in Curriculum and Instruction Administration at Arkansas State University with perhaps the most effective group of Educational Leadership professors ever assembled. A few years ago, a sort of perfect storm of health issues forced me to leave teaching to work hard on recuperative efforts. The only possible bright spot to the agonizing decision to leave my students so abruptly was that I now had some time to read and study and think about ideas that I hadn’t had time for in the past thirty years.

At various times, among other things, I have also delivered pizzas, managed car dealerships, waited tables in a gourmet restaurant, trained sales representatives and customer service specialists, and spent a summer on a crew of eight washing down the entire Six Flags park in St. Louis with fire hoses – all night, every night. So, nothing special really, but just a set of experiences that gave me chances to study people, how we interact, and how we learn. That is all I bring to this project, in addition to the afore-mentioned time reading and studying and reflecting on how we can better help our young ones learn and think.

As for the, “who do I think I am?” question, I honestly feel pretty ignorant about a bunch of this stuff. But I do have a passion to learn as much as I can about it. I don’t really think I have much to say about it. I think it has much to say about itself. So, since I couldn’t find anyone else online leading the Great Discussion about melding classical schooling ideas with current ideas about neuroscience and learning research, I thought I’d do my best to take up the mantle of guide. We’ll be exploring this together, in other words. Thanks for meeting me somewhere in the middle…

What’s a lyceum and why can’t John just use regular words for things?

Let’s begin with the “regular words” part of the question. In short, possession of a deep and wide vocabulary is to the intellect as regular cardio exercise is to the physiological self. Why use a $5 word when a 25-cent one will do? Because you can, that’s why. English is such a rich and complex language that has never shied from borrowing new words from other languages. Even from its origins, modern English developed as a result of the interbreeding of Franco-Norman and Anglo-Saxon language, culture, customs, and, well, people. This is why we often have two or more words for the same exact thing, one of French descent and the other of Anglo. How exciting! How neat! And, how dare we not use that evolution of our vernacular to its fullest advantage? 

As for the “lyceum” part, many modern nations have appropriated the name for a variety of kinds of schools (a discussion of this can be found here on Wikipedia). But the original name is derived from the collection of buildings and the grounds on which they sit in Athens that were believed to have first been a temple to the Greek god, Apollo Lyceus.

Built outside the original city walls of Athens and containing lots of forested and landscaped areas, the property was used for worship, political activities, athletic training and contests, and philosophical and other intellectual pursuits long before 335 BC, when Aristotle returned from his stint as Alexander the Great’s private tutor and bought one of the then-numerous buildings on-site to house his academy. He lectured while walking the grounds with his students, leading to the nickname “Peripatetic (Greek for strolling)” for his school of philosophy. As the school grew in stature, more of the property was appropriated. Also, Aristotle was the preeminent book collector of the day and amassed quite a library at the Lyceum. His former student, Alexander, periodically sent exotic animals and botanicals back to Aristotle in Athens from his world travels, allowing the older man to curate an incredible zoo and gardens. Here is the Wikipedia article about Aristotle’s Lyceum if you want to dig deeper.

Even today, a quick glance at a  satellite photo of the forested grounds around the ruins evokes scenes of groups of men in togas wandering around having serious conversations. One can imagine how the stone buildings looked two and a half millenia ago from pictures of the site that are housed on Google.

For centuries, no one knew the exact location of the site. But in 1996, ground was being broken for the new Greek Museum of Modern Art when the foundation stones were uncovered. By 2009, archeologists had restored much of the site, definitively identified it as the original Lyceum, and engineered ways for the public to visit the ruins. (In case you were worried, the modern art museum has been relocated to another nearby site.) One of my favorite things about this story is that you can see the ruins bordered by modern buildings that house the National Conservatory of Music, Dance, and Theater, the National Children’s Museum, and the National Armed Forces Museum, all built there without knowing the original purpose for the property in ancient Athens. I think Aristotle would be happy with the irony.

So, the full-circle punchline of the answer to this PAQ is that, wanting to evoke the image of a timeless place in which teaching and learning could be continually discussed and improved, I chose the term “lyceum” to honor the idea that we would be digitally “strolling” around the internet together. In my imagination, this is exactly how Aristotle would set it up if he was alive today. What do you think?

If I think this blog is a good thing, what can I do to help out?

First, be sure to Follow the blog by clicking on the blue WordPress Follow button in the sidebar to the right. Not sure if it appears on mobile devices yet, so you may have to do that on a PC. Sorry; I’ll keep trying to figure these things out better. If you have suggestions to help my learning curve or you have a perspective that I’ve not pursued, please email or comment…

Speaking of Comments, please use the discussion section at the bottom of each page freely to join the fray about anything having to do with 21CL topics. Until I find a way to have real discussions online, this is our best bet. Thanks for keeping things ultra-civil on here.

Finally, please help me get the word out. Share the blog with anyone and everyone who you think would benefit and ask them to do the same kind of networking. Maybe you have found that  the 21st Century Lyceum is not your cup of tea, once you’ve spent some time here. But it may be exactly what some of your friends have been needing and wanting. Thanks in advance for helping make those important connections!

Who are the two guys in the picture at the top of the sidebar?

The one in the chair is Alexander the Great. Aristotle, his mentor and teacher until Alex left to conquer the world, is seated at his feet. I love the idea that the teacher sits at the student’s feet, rather than the other way around.

I think the caption for the painting should be, “And this, Alexander, is what we call your knee.” Take another look. You’ll see what I did there…


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