An Interview with William Carey

A Lover of Latin and Math

When I met William Carey this past spring, I immediately liked him because he was almost envious of the fact that I had been able to engage my college students in a semester-long study of the epitome of ancient astronomy, Ptolemy’s Almagest. Then I learned he is an honored Latinist who also loves mathematics both ancient and modern, one of the few people I know qualified to read, understand, and translate mathematical texts originally written in Latin, a practice kept up well into the nineteenth century. He is currently enjoying a few years’ sabbatical from “the tyranny of the urgent that is teaching”, throwing himself into reading T.L. Heath’s classic work on Greek mathematics and Andre Beaufre’s An Introduction to Strategy, while helping 2500 Afghan refugees find housing and furniture.

William was accidentally introduced to the study of Latin by his father, a trial attorney who enjoyed reading books he was interested in to his 10 year-old son. In the midst of reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars, he mentioned that the work was not originally English but Latin. “Why aren’t we reading it in Latin?” asked his young son. Having no answer but ignorance, they worked through Jenney’s First Year Latin together, and then went through it again. This path eventually led his father to a Master’s in Classics, an adjunct position at George Mason University, and founding The Latin Library, an online resource of original texts. It led William to excel in Latin in high school and college, winning the prestigious Marian W. Stocker Prize for the best undergraduate Latinist at the University of Virginia.

But his grandfather, a chemical engineer, gave him a love of engineering and mathematics, allowing him to work on various instruments in his garage and teaching him to code Apple IIe computers. He began college as an engineering major, but hated the culture and pedagogy: tons of work ordered to crush the spirit and a grading system designed to foster intense competition (only a small percentage of students could get A’s). “When complaints were raised about engineering students regularly pulling all-nighters in the hallways of the building, the department supplied cots.” William quickly changed majors to Classics, though his love of history (“we read great and interesting texts”) led him to the verge of a double major.

He returned to mathematics as a teacher at the classical Christian school Ad Fontes Academy. Hired to teach Latin, he was asked to fill needs in calculus and logic. It took him a few years to feel comfortable teaching calculus, but he was struck by how disconnected it was from the spirit of the rest of the curriculum. “Our school prepares students to lead flourishing, essentially human lives. But contemporary high school mathematics seems ordered to the technological needs of the 1920s, producing human computers adept at transcendental calculus. It’s like ordering your entire history curriculum to give an intense understanding of nothing but World War I.”

But William also realized that his students had a whole toolbox that he didn’t, which they learned through their 9th grade study of Euclid. Learning to present cogent demonstrations, to field questions, to imagine alternative proofs made them excellent pre-calculus students. “I worked to bring those strengths to the other math courses. Less drill, more proof. I do need to drill them in some things, but this is so that they can engage fruitfully in interesting discussions and texts.” William believes that too many classical educators exempt mathematics from classical pedagogy. “Learning to read great texts, discussion, discovery, clear and persuasive reasoning should be as much a part of mathematics as it is in English and History.”

His students respond well to his methods. His best students become delighted when they learn that mathematics is not based on arbitrary authority; they become excited to discover, they insist on knowing rather than believing. “It becomes addictive, like a drug. In one discussion, a student asked with almost disbelief, ‘Mr. Carey, is this leading to the quadratic formula?’ That completely changed his expectations for mathematics.” His students never ask, “What use is this?” “I never pretend it’s useful, and they just enjoy playing with truth. Very few high school students are impressed by career-oriented learning.”

For further information on William Carey, click here.

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.”

An Interview with Winston Elliott III

"Where a Passion for Liberal Learning Leads"

Winston Elliott III has always been driven. From his youthful engagement in politics, to his passionate pursuit of money, to his devotion to promoting free market constitutionalism, Elliott has done nothing with less than 100% intensity. For the past 15 years, his passion for liberal learning has led him to a Master’s degree from St. John’s College, to organizing hundreds of Great Books seminars, to founding a successful online journal of public discourse, to the board of Wyoming Catholic College, and finally to teaching the books he has come to love.

Winston became a reader partly as an act of rebellion from a family that had no interest in books. He enjoyed reading beyond his grade level -- The Godfather was a major achievement during his elementary school years -- but he never dreamed of discussing them with others until his 9th grade teacher arranged for weekly Junior Great Books sessions. “I had a lot of first dates after that, because I would always bore them by talking non-stop about some book I was reading.”

Two of those books determined the early course of his life. Allan Drury’s political thriller, Come Nineveh, Come Tyre, led him at 15 to found a Young Republicans group to fight communism. Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead inspired him more profoundly. He picked up Rand because an idealistic Congressman featured in the Washington Post named her as a favorite author. Her ideals captured his soul.

Elliott is not the first I have known to have been challenged or inspired by the secular, libertarian visionary. Elliott explained the fascination. “Rand’s heroes are like secular saints. They are completely devoted to being rational and productive. In their own way, they are virtuous men and women of high ideals, totally committed to achieving success and happiness through productivity. They don’t let any ties of family or romance hold them back. Atlas Shrugged ends with the formation of a community of such heroes -- how could I not want to be a part of that?” Elliott became an atheist evangelizer, even getting himself invited to church meetings so he could proselytize Christians. “Thankfully, I never succeeded with people who really had faith, only with those who didn’t, or who felt they had been betrayed by Christianity.”

Elliott went to a liberal arts college, but he later realized he hadn’t been liberally educated. “I majored in history, but really knew nothing about other branches of learning.” Immediately after graduating, he drove to Houston, whose entrepreneurial freedom would provide the perfect environment in which to pursue his Randian dream of making billions. Ten years later, he was well on his way, having founded a multi-million dollar computer company with 40 employees, while simultaneously completing his MBA. “The MBA helped a lot with my business. But it also made me realize that I loved the theory of making money more than the 80 hour weeks necessary to actually make it.” So he sold the company.

After a brief retirement playing tennis and reading Austrian economists, in 1992 Elliott became President of the Free Enterprise Institute, where he organized large and small seminars aimed at promoting libertarian constitutionalism to teachers. Yet he found himself most interested by the speakers who stepped beyond the boundaries of free market capitalism into broader issues of history, literature, the liberal arts, and culture. He began reading Russell Kirk, whose conservative vision was formed by the likes of poet and critic T.S. Eliot and religious sociologist Christopher Dawson. At the same time, he was questioning his Randian ideals. “I began to realize that, if I died, I would not want anyone that I knew to raise my children. Free market libertarians are smart and often succeed, but they are not nice. Rand preached and lived the ‘virtue of selfishness’; the world beyond her heroes consisted of the enemies of heroes and the despicable rest.”

Elliott came to Jesus while reading the “Genius of Christianity”, a chapter in Kirk’s The Roots of American Order over breakfast at Denny’s. “I freaked out when he described Augustine’s conversion. Tolle lege! I stumbled out into the parking lot, called Barbara (his future wife), and said, ‘You know that whole prayer thing you do. Can we do that now?’”

Kirk continued to form Elliott intellectually. “I hope our conservatism will be... a conservatism illuminated by the wisdom of our ancestors and inspired by a revived consciousness of the moral nature of society." Elliott began reading more broadly in the great books pointed out by writers like Kirk. Gradually he became convinced that discussing great books was the most effective way to learn. “As head of FEI, I brought in the best lecturers available. After 15 years, I realized I was just providing intellectual entertainment. So often, the more appealing the lecture, the less anyone remembered its content.” So he turned FEI’s programs into great books discussions. “Not only does the participant benefit from the reading, but through discussion its impact is felt and remembered long after they have returned home.”

Reading and discussing has had a great impact on Elliott himself: “To paraphrase the historian Will Durant:  We study great books as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists,  poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach, carve, and sing.” Elliott evidently delights in passing that on to others, through FEI seminars, The Imaginative Conservative journal he founded in 2010, and now teaching his favorite books, like The Acts of the Apostles, at the Honors College of Houston Baptist University. “I make my students face the radicality of the ancient church. They don’t like that the early Christians sold everything and tried to live communally. But they need to see that Christians need to be 'all-in' on Christ.” Elliott certainly is.