Saturday, April 24, 2010

Norms & Nobility, chapter 2, II and III

I said that I would write more about the logos, and so I must. The rest of chapter 2 is devoted to explaining how logo and mythos (which, according to Hicks, resolve themselves in a “dialectical unity of opposites”) are essential to normative education. Words have definitions, but they they also connotations, and emotional content which add layers of depth and understanding which definition alone does not provide.

Unfortunately, the modern scientific rationalism insists that denotation alone is all that is valid, and so words with connotations and normative qualities (such as “valor,” “shame,” “sacrifice”) are ejected from education in favor of concrete, utilitarian objects. David Hicks mentions distributor caps, but I am going to say things like “nouns” or “prepositions,” because we so often want to treat our words as if they are no more than objects.

David Hicks says, “At the heart of classical education is the word: the complete mastery of its shades of meaning, of its action-implicit imperatives, of its emotions and values.” That is the heart—-the living, beating, vital part-- of classical education, and not any sort of dry, life-killing reduction of words to mere grammatical constructions. There is a place for both—-the emotional, atmospheric words that fire the imagination, and the disinterested analysis of their meanings-- but the imaginative side has the preeminence.

Charlotte Mason understood this so well. She knew that ideas were necessary for the mind to grow on, and that those ideas were best conveyed in literary language. You cannot simply say, “lying is shameful behavior” as a bald fact. Instead, truth and deceit are conveyed through stories and examples (mythos) that make the virtue of truthfulness a desirable goal, and educate the conscience to be ashamed of speaking a lie.


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