I recently had the pleasure of formally answering questions posed by a group of men intimately involved with classical Christian education. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing my responses to their questions.
Express your thoughts on the essay, The Lost Tools of Learning and the book, Norms and Nobility.
The Lost Tools of Learning
I share Sayers’ concerns about the sad state of modern thought and education. It is apparent that the modern approach to education is insufficient to create careful thinkers, debaters, and citizens. If education is simply the transfer of information from subdivided subjects in forgettable lessons, the capacity to reason deeply is sure to disappear.
I also share Sayers’ hopes that returning to the medieval Trivium can help to revive our educational efforts. Her little essay has been extraordinarily helpful in identifying a weakness of the modern system of education and in offering an alternative. However, logical ineptitude is not the only ailment from which we suffer, and there is significant danger in imagining that Sayers’ essay is something that it is not. Her essay is brief, introductory, and pragmatic. If one were to approach it instead as a complete or holistic treatise on education, one would find her trivium methods just as unsatisfactory as more modern methods in this respect: they do not address the educational issue of rightly ordered affections. She does not address the question of whether virtue can or should be taught.
This, of course, does not make her essay useless, but it does significantly limit its usefulness as a tool for crafting a classical institution. In this essay she is more interested in “method” than in “content,” but classical education ought to teach men, not only how to think, but what to think. The classical academy will always be engaged in the work of teaching students what is beautiful and true and good.
Norms and Nobility
I find Hicks’ Norms and Nobility inspiring, and intend to continue pursuing the same kind of historic classical education of which he gives readers a glimpse.
Everything he has to say about academic rigor, discipline, virtue, curriculum choices, teachers, and administrators coheres beautifully in his expansive conception of classical education. The kind of education he espouses seeks the theoretic or contemplative life which teaches students to “contemplate the divine reality” and the “Supreme Good underlying it.” It is the way of ascension, sanctification, and perfection. Students on this path “strive to enter through the narrow door” by imitating their teachers, as they imitate the great men who came before them, as they imitate Christ. He proposes a classical education that is “grounded on a dialectic between pagan humanism and Christianity,” and this is the kind of education I want for my children.
Educators ought to strive to be what Hicks describes. We ought to grow in our desire for rigorous intellectualism for our students. We ought to refuse to be boiled in the water of “child-centered learning” or “childhood as a state of being,” but must cling tightly to the idea of childhood as a state of “becoming.” We ought to want to form adults and “teach the knowledge of a mature mind.” We ought “to discipline the unruly and discursive mind, adjusting its disorderliness through rigorous study to the order of logical processes found outside it in the subject matter.” We ought to
“[…] think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.”
We ought to aim to cultivate the health and goodness of human souls and love for the good things which last.
– Bobby McGee