By now, there is little point asking teaching candidates to write a personal philosophy of education. Anyone who has spent ten minutes browsing classical school websites can cobble together an adequate series of statements about virtue, the “image of God,” and the seven liberal arts. When a teaching candidate shows up on campus to teach a sample lesson, administrators should want to know two things: whether students will listen to the fellow in question, and whether they should listen to him. There’s no point in having one quality without the other.
The 21st Century and 16th Century are more alike than one might think: both are times of unprecedented change. Change is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can be problematic. It can have a whirlwind of unintended consequences that do more harm than good. And that harm isn't always attributable to the change that brought it about. Looking back on change, especially from a conservationists perspective, can lead one to the sometimes dangerous habit of monocausal thinking, wherein one tries to identify that sole thing that led to the downfall of the current society.
This year was my first year teaching 8th-grade boys. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” For the majority of my teaching career, I would say this rings true, but this year, I was cutting down jungles. I had a wildly curious and enthusiastic group of 8th-grade boys. Now, do not be deceived. I did not say, wildly hardworking and disciplined. But rather, curious.
Student: We need to talk. Look, my handwriting is naturally messy. I can’t help it. It isn’t fair that you graded me down on this week’s essay simply because my handwriting was messy. I can’t help it. Besides, don’t my ideas matter more than my handwriting?
Gibbs: What do you mean your handwriting is “naturally messy”?
Student: No matter how hard I try, my handwriting is messy.
Gibbs: That’s not true. Sometimes your work is legible. Flip back through your composition book and have a look for yourself. Your handwriting isn’t always as sloppy as it was this week.
In my previous two posts, I contended that human nature gives rise to three forms of education, which I then presented examples of in the US, Judea in the time of Christ, and ancient Greece. You can see the same pattern played out in China, India, the Muslim world, and any other civilization that lasted more than a couple of generations.
I ended my last post by claiming that something happened to classical education such that today a renewal is needed. So what happened?
A liberal education, sometimes equated with a classical education, is an education for all. It is, to borrow David Hick's phrase in Norms and Nobility, an education that can "ennoble the masses." While long being accused (and in some instances rightly so) of being elitist, it is not an education that is for the elite, further dividing them from the proletariat; it is, rather, an education that creates the elite. This line of argumentation is problematic from the beginning because of the baggage that the term elite carries with it.
The following is a review of How to Innovate, translated by Armand D’Angour.
We’ve got Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Jennifer Doudna. Why do we need Aristotle and a few more dusty throwbacks telling us how to innovate? What could they possibly teach us? By themselves, perhaps less than we might notice, let alone appreciate. But through the efforts of editor and translator Armand D’Angour, much indeed.
I ended part 1 of this series suggesting there are three forms of education in all but the most temporary societies. I added that without all three, a society can't survive.
In this post, I want to introduce the three to you and give three historical epochs when they can be seen rather vividly.
Father: Raiden has been struggling with his grades, as you know, and there are probably some things his mother and I could do on that front, but I think there’s a bigger problem with your class.
Gibbs: What is that problem?
Father: Well, Raiden is convinced that you don’t like him.
Gibbs: I see. And why does he think that?
In 1180 John of Salisbury published The Metalogicon, a treatise written in defense of the Trivium. In it, he answers those who objected to the need for educators to cultivate eloquence in speech. The two most important objections reject first the possibility and then the value of becoming more adept in the art of eloquent expression. John’s defense of eloquence is important today because most non-classical schools pay little to no attention to the acquisition of eloquence.