Indiana Teacher of the Year Reviews the Primer UPDATED

Indiana Teacher of the Year Reviews the Primer UPDATED December 9, 2013

Steve Perkins is the 2014 teacher of the year for the state of Indiana. This accolade is most impressive to me because he teaches Latin. The very concept that a classicist can be honored in the present regime of schooling is a surprise and a sign of hope and promise.

He came across my book, A Primer for Philosophy and Education, at First Things, in Stephen Webb’s theological review, and has begun writing a series about it at his blog. Like all good book reviews, he adds to the book itself and makes powerful and interesting points that are his own.

He begins like this:

Ours is the age of the specialist, and long gone is the day of the educated amateur, the person of letters who who could paint, write, and serve in elected office, who could lead in battle and yet publish in science and compose sonnets.  The vapid dating line, “What’s your sign?” has given way to the even more insulting, because it is so limiting, “What’s your major?”

Read the whole thing here.

Perhaps even more rare and exciting is the fact that Mr. Perkins is not bashful about talking about religious thought in an authentic way. He shares this insight, as he locates my book’s unstated Augustinian roots:

St. Augustine wrote some of the greatest works of Christian theology while engaged in the work of a bishop.  Indeed, it was in response to pressing issues of his day that had practical relevance for his flock that he did his thinking and writing.  In his 1984 speech “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” which has since become a famous and foundational text, Alvin Plantinga proposed that Christian philosophers need not be bound by the limits of what their non-Christian peers set for philosophical discussion.

It is humbling and inspiring to see a recognized, erudite, and skilled classroom teacher find my little book — which has so little to do, directly, with schooling — useful and pertinent to the vital art of teaching.


Mr. Perkins has now posted two more reflections in his series.

The second post focuses on the craft of teaching and my own description of teaching as an art; his third post emphasizes the wildness of education, and includes a powerful confessional testimonial of his own growth as a teacher in relation to the magnificent risk of education. It, again, is very Augustinian:

I made the mistake early in my career of seeing the curriculum first.  A veteran teacher assigned to mentor me at my first school met with me to discuss opening week activities.  I wanted to talk about about how to approach teaching Latin grammar to eighth graders, but she wanted to talk about establishing the classroom environment.  In the brash omniscience of a newly minted undergraduate, I was sure I knew more.  I was wrong, and I discovered that, fortunately, rather quickly.

I am not sure how many posts he will compose, but I will link to them here as they come out.

Also, my wonderful editor at Patheos Catholic, Elizabeth Scalia, has posted her Christmas gift-list for books, and graciously included the Primer there, too.


Mr. Perkins has posted two more reflections, here and here, and his review series seems to be warming into a more homiletic tone, filled with self-disclosure. In many ways, Perkins is distilling the Primer into some very concrete and bite-sized practical recommendations. The whole series is highly recommended as a supplement, especially for school teachers.


The series has taken a slightly more critical tone, in a productive set of posts on credentialism and grades and another one on standards and distrust.


In this last post, Mr. Perkins offers a richly true and deeply moving reflection and summary of my Primer. If there is one essential reflection to read, this one is it.


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