An Interview with Paul Boyer

"It Changed My Life!"

State Senator Paul Boyer (R-AZ) attributes his introduction to liberal education to politics -- in a very accidental way. The day he was sworn in as a state representative was the day, according to Arizona’s Constitution, that he had to resign from his much higher paying job as spokesman for Mesa Public schools. Teaching remains the only exception to the Arizona ban on public employment for elected officials, so Boyer began teaching at Veritas Preparatory Academy, the first of the Great Hearts Academies network of liberal arts schools whose motto is “Where ancient books live and breathe”. Boyer was hired to teach the tenth grade Humane Letters course – 500 years of modern European history integrated with daily two-hour seminar discussions of authors ranging from Plato to Mary Shelley to Rousseau to Dostoevsky.

Boyer had never encountered anything like this course in his own education so he had to spend hours and hours reading to prepare for the discussions. “Thankfully, I had some reading time built in – state representatives never stop talking until each one has said everything everyone else has already said. So I spent much time reading great texts in the Members’ Lounge rather than hear the same floor speeches several times.”

Though his first year was tough, he discovered he loved teaching. He also noticed that the more he read great authors, the more he led discussions of them, the better he became as a legislator. The daily process of asking questions, listening attentively, and looking carefully at difficult texts developed habits of mind that carried over into investigating challenging policy areas, conversations with lobbyists, and speaking persuasively. Recently Boyer has been working to address Arizona’s pressing water concerns, collaborating with Mexican officials to work out details of a possible multi-billion dollar desalination plant in the Sea of Cortez.

In 2017, Boyer entered the University of Dallas’s Masters of Classical Education program. “I have gained much greater depth in my understanding and practice of liberal education. The professors have helped me begin to see the layers of meaning in the texts of master teachers like Plato and Augustine I would never have arrived at on my own. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave made me wonder how much of what we discuss either on the campaign trail or in the chambers of the Senate itself are merely shadows of artifacts, three times removed from reality, and thus inconsequential. So I always attempt to focus on things that matter.” With success -- a September article in Arizona Central credited Boyer with three of 2021’s most impactful pieces of legislation.

Boyer says he thinks much more clearly now because of the training he received in the Trivium course. “I had never diagrammed sentences before; now I can provide a complete grammatical analysis of Shakespeare’s St. Crispin Day speech!” Boyer’s study of rhetoric made him understand that persuasive power must always aim at educating in truth. He discovered that education should turn the inner eye of students to reality, so that they will become free and capable of governing themselves.

Boyer is not hesitant to encourage Veritas graduates and others blessed to have had a serious liberal education to enter politics. “We need good people in politics that have the courage that made Socrates vote against popular but unjust convictions. Not only has my UD program made me more articulate in how I communicate ideas in committees and during Floor debates, but it’s also helped me to place an emphasis on the true, the good, and the beautiful, giving me more conviction as I argue for timeless truths in the public arena.” He himself is going in another direction -- he plans to devote himself to full-time teaching after the end of his current term. “If Plato and Aristotle are right about how democracy morphs into tyranny, then we’re in trouble as a nation unless we make some major changes, I think starting with our approach to K12 education in particular as a country.”