Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Norms & Nobility, chapter 3

As my internet time grows more limited, I think I'll post all my thoughts on chapter 3 at the same time.

Chapter 3 draws our attention to the role of the teacher in classical education. David Hicks paints us two pictures of "ideal" classical teachers--Socrates and Isokrates. Most of us are familiar with Socrates, and his method of question and inquiry, which is a good example of the kind of inquiry that David Hicks wants us to see. Isokrates, on the other hand, is...well, what? I never heard of him before reading this book, and I have been unsuccessful in learning much from the internet. Whatever he might have written, I haven't found that any of it has been translated and published for a long, long time.

Only recently did I realized that David Hicks primary source of information about Isokrates is probably Marrou's History of Education in Antiquity, in which he features prominently. And Marrou probably read Isokrates in the original Greek. I own a copy of Marrou's book, and it is on my "to be read" list, but it is so long and detailed, I fear it may be some time before I get through all of it (I have dipped in here and there).

In the meantime, I take Hicks word for it that Isokrates focused on training children to be adults, and that he understand that children value that knowledge which they perceive as bringing them closer to the world of adult-hood. From the teacher's vantage point, this is accomplished by taking his place as a fellow-learner who is a good bit further down the road than his pupils--he is there example, and the one who is able to ask the questions that will set them to thinking and discovering for themselves. The knowledge to be acquired--not the teacher, and not the child--is the most important thing.

I am reminded of something Charlotte Mason writes in Philosophy of Education:

The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding.
In this case, "books" should be understood to be the source of knowledge, and anyone familiar with her will know that real books, not textbooks, are needed.

I think that those of us who are homeschoolers, and who have not been classically educated ourselves, need to (humbly!) take our places beside our students and acknowledge that we, too, have a lot to learn. I am not Socrates or Isokrates, or Charlotte Mason, either. I fall way short of David Hicks ideal classical teacher, and for that reason, a knowledge-based education, in which both my students and I turn to excellent books as our teachers is very appealing to me. David Hicks recognizes this need for teachers, too, and his indictment of the trappings of modern education is that they are set up to conceal the teacher's lack of real knowledge.

Most of the time, I consider myself as much as student as my children, and I would love a classical teacher to lead us both.


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