The following is an excerpt from The Phases of Learning
by Oliver and Rachel DeMille

candle-canstockphoto7282099“… a mentor insisted that the most important lessons of Western Civilization were to be found in its stories, literature, poetry and art.

“At first Oliver resisted, even to such an important mentor, but the mentor held firm. Oliver reluctantly started re-reading all the great literary works, this time looking closely for what the mentor called the ‘real lessons learned by Jefferson, Madison and the other great statesmen.’

“It did not take long to reach Dissatisfaction, and Oliver returned to the mentor sure that he had good reasons why these works were inferior.

[As a side note: There are undoubtedly those reading this who, having heard Oliver lecture on the importance of literature in the last [twenty] years, may gasp or sputter with incredulity. We nonetheless affirm that this is absolutely the unadulterated truth. This is evidence that we all go through the phases; even those we consider our mentors were once where we are now, and we can certainly progress to where they are.]

“The mentor was not fazed. Instead of listening to Oliver’s wonderful arguments, the mentor did what all great Liberal Arts Mentors do when a Scholar or Depth student comes in Dissatisfaction: he gave him a very hard assignment. In this case he was to read a list of ten key literary classics in a very short time period and return to report.

“Oliver, doubting the mentor’s words, but trusting the mentor, set out to accomplish the task. The first two books were valuable; he learned a great deal and wrote a few notes to supplement lectures on other non-literary works. Then he read Les Miserables.

“Rachel drove to a Mexican restaurant (it was date night) while Oliver sat in the passenger’s seat finishing the last few pages.

“As she turned into the parking lot, she glanced over and noticed that tears were trickling down his face.

“By the time she pulled the car to a stop a sob had escaped, and by the time the ignition was turned off he was hunched over, weeping.

“Neither of us remembers much of what we said as we talked there in the parking lot for over an hour about life, tests, trials, Christ and the atonement, real leadership, family, truth, love, honor, justice and mercy, paying the price of greatness, much more.

“We covered it all. But we both remember very distinctly how it felt. We never did eat Mexican food that night, but we certainly had a feast.

“Yes, literature was about ideas; deep and moving and profound ideas. Yes, literature was also passionate and feeling.

“Yes, literature was actually better at teaching the principles than the other type of writing (the mentor had been right, as usual). Yes, both types of writing were important. Indeed they powerfully complemented each other.

“Yes, God must have inspired both, and on purpose. Yes, the arts, sciences, math and other fields would be studied as well and no doubt they would be equally important.

“But it was much more than this.

les mis“These new lessons and values, albeit very important, paled to the real lessons of this book.

“This was not a book about Jean Valjean, Cossette or Javert, this was a book about Oliver and Rachel, about little Oliver and Emma, about the 1990s and the coming 2000s (then just a vague image of something far away), of world challenges and healings by the 2030s, of new forms and statesmen who stood and said “no” and swayed the course of history, of documents written and liberties purchased at an incredible price and millions freed to live and love.

“It was a book about equations with new mathematical symbols where tithes and offerings factor in returns of ten- and hundred-fold, of math that shows why mom staying home significantly increases the bottom line, of plays on stages and oils on canvas eclipsing the masters of old, of children with children and grandchildren of their own and smiles on their faces.

“Les Miserables was about our mission, and yours—about our children, and yours. And it still is.

“So is A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, A Merchant of Venice, Principia Mathematica, Guernica, Starry Night, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Laddie, Little Britches, The Weight of Glory, “MacDuff” (the actual title is Macbeth, but this title makes more sense to Oliver), Faust, Smetana’s “The Moldau,” “Finlandia” by Sibelius, and so on.

classics“Classics are about more than they are about. They are about each new reader and what God wants to communicate to him, if he will listen.

“As we build on the shoulders of the greats, God continues to inspire greater and greater things.

“We believe that the very best the world has to offer—in literature, art, science, math, government, family, in everything—is still ahead.

“It will come precisely as we move outside of our personal comfort zones and push ourselves into the unknown, as we ‘put our hands in the hand of God and step out of the light into the darkness.’

“That experience with Les Miserables communicated on so many levels, but the most basic and enduring lesson is that we must trust our mentor and venture into the hard stuff. It is truly worth the sacrifice.

“We are so optimistic about the future. In this time when so many people seem to be full of anxiety, we are thrilled to be part of the future that is coming.

“The lessons and cycles of history leave no doubt that the future will bring challenges, troubles and struggles. But of one thing we are certain: this generation and those ahead will rise to meet the challenges and build a better world, with God’s guidance, than anything we have yet seen.

“We believe that every person has a mission that can make all the difference. We want to see each person get an education to match their mission, and for that to happen parents must step up and create Leadership homes which mix the ingredients in the unique way best suited for that home.

“This will create the leaders of the future. You are the expert on your home, and as you mix these and other ingredients into your recipe, as you pay the price to inspire, you will, in Gandhi’s words, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.’”

—from The Phases of Learning by Oliver and Rachel DeMille

For more on the Classics: