Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Norms & Nobility, prologue IV

Cindy isn't letting the grass grow under her feet with this discussion, so I'm moving along at her pace.

For me, the most important question in this section is this:

"What is the connection between how a man thinks and how he acts?"

Much of the modern classical movement (as I have encountered it) is taken up with "how a man thinks." Developing the skills (mostly involving the use of language) that classical education made use of may have a value in and of itself, but so does learning how to reupholster furniture. However, the skilled use of words is no end in itself, and does not ensure classical education any more than the skilled use of a gun ensures a fine policeman. Both the sword and pen can serve evil as well as good, and it is only as education lifts the character of the pupil, so that he desires to do what is right, and has some clear sense of what is right (or at least how to discover right) that it deserves to be called "classical."

Classical education is an education of the spirit of man, not just his mind. Those who are distracted with techniques "resemble the farmer who tries to plow a field with his eyes on the plow rather than on that imaginary point on the horizon on which he must fix his gaze if he expects to leave a straight furrow." That imaginary point is the ideal, and if we deny that there is any ideal to strive for, David Hicks says we deny the human spirit.

He also says the supreme task of education is "to teach the young to know what is good, to serve it above self, to reproduce it, and to recognize that in knowledge lies this responsibility."

My own conviction is that anyone deeply committed to a Biblical education will find much about the classical tradition (as it really was) that resonates with scriptural truths. The need for humility as we seek to know, the ideal to strive for, the sense of duty and obligation that accompanies knowledge--all these matter to anyone who wants to raise Christian children, whether they have a professed interest in classical education or not.

And to give CM her chance, here is a quote from vol. 5, Formation of Character, which touches on the question of knowledge and action:

To know is not synonymous with to do; but we should not leave our young people to stumble on right action without any guiding philosophy of life; the risks are too great. We who bear the name of Christ do not always give ourselves the trouble to realise how His daily labour was to make the Jews know; how 'ye will not understand' was the reproach He cast upon them. Even with the example of our Master before us, we take small pains to make our young people realise the possibilities of noble action that lie in them and in everyone.

I'll definitely be quoting more from the oft-neglected Volume 5 later. I don't blame anyone for not working through it--there are a lot of extraneous, non-relevant things in there--but this volume of Charlotte Mason's is probably the one that best articulates the classical nature of her philosophy. She even quotes Plutarch on education.

What is the connection between how a man thinks and how he acts? As we say in Poland, zobaczymy (we'll see).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Norms & Nobility, prologue III

Without any explanation, or apology for the long silence (nearly a year!), I'm blowing the cobwebs out of the blog so I can use it to participate in the discussion of Norms & Nobility by David Hicks, that Cindy is leading from her blog.

I suspect my thoughts might get too unwieldy for the comments section, so I'm posting here and will link from there.

I've read this book before, more than once, and my copy is heavily underscored, with penciled comments in the margins. I talk to my books, and I had plenty to say to this one.

One of the particular points of this discussion (from my perspective, anyway), is to point out where David Hicks' vision of classical education intersects with Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education. In my opinion there is no better book for this job, because it was this book that gave me the first glimmering of how CM's ideas fit into the larger picture.

David Hicks begins to make his case for the importance of normative education, and notes that we have abandoned the normative question (what ought I to do?) for the operational (what can I do?). Anyone familiar with the motto of CM's schools ("I am, I can, I ought, I will") should notice the similarity of the words, and the order in which they occur. I am affirms existence, and I can indicates power to act, but I ought suggests that there are norms/standards by which actions should be governed, and I will is the most important of all--the determination to act, without which, all the previous steps are virtually nullified. All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men nothing. Classical education reaches to the level of "ought" in CM's motto, and attempts to touch "will," but (I'm leaping ahead) David Hicks is going to suggest that this was classical education's failure.

One of the points that Hicks makes in this section is that classical thinking cast man in the station of a servant--serving God, the state, self, something. The nature of his his position was one of service, and it was part of classical education to teach young people to cast in their lot to serve what was best and finest (and they did not always agree on what that was).

David Hicks also hints at something he is going to explore at length later--the analytical method as the exclusive way of thinking taught in modern schools. I would suggest to anyone joining this discussion that if you were educated in a 20th century school, secular or religious, this is the way you were taught to think, if you were taught at all. Since classical education as David Hicks presents it hasn't been implemented except in a few very isolated places, we are all hampered by our tendency to approach new things analytically (and I hear anybody reading this saying to themselves, "what is wrong with that?").

But this is just the preface, so I guess the real meat of any discussion on this point has to come later. I'm looking forward to it.

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