Being Educated; Being Human

May 4, 2016

Historically, education has been the means to cultivate the human-ness of the student. People believed that there were distinctly human abilities and potentials that were good because they were human, and it was the duty of a community to see to it that those talents and abilities were developed. 

Those abilities include music, the fine arts, logical reasoning, rhetoric, mathematical skills, language skills, the sciences, etc.

The last century has seen us turn to forms of education that seek to replace the human abilities and talents with various short cuts and substitutes. We have forgotten that the purpose of human life is to ensure the well-being of human beings who fulfill their purpose. We call that love - or at least we used to.

Here's an example of what I mean:

Handwriting is a uniquely human ability. No other animal has ever been able to imitate it, much less come up with it. That makes it wonderful, but since it used to be ubiquitous we lost our appreciation for it.

Nevertheless, in a world that values things because they are human, as opposed to efficient, empowering, or whatever, one doesn't need anything more than the principle of human-ness to defend a human ability.

We no longer live in such a world. Therefore, we no longer value handwriting. Therefore, we don't diligently train our children in handwriting.

During the 70's and 80's, we started letting children hold the pencil any way they wished (note that artists and musicians aren't allowed to do that, but we failed to see the wonder of the artistry of handwriting. Instead, we saw it as simply a utilitarian tool, and utilitarian tools are always less appreciated and more ready to replace - servants instead of queens).

During the 90's, those children became teachers and parents and they let children print because cursive was too hard.

Now we let them use a keyboard.

A community that valued human-ness would have resisted.

Look, for example, at the letters formed on a keyboard. What is missing?

Personality.

Look at the movements of the fingers across a keyboard. What is missing?

Grace.

The result:

Young men and women who have to write essays by hand can hardly handle the workload because they can't hold a pencil correctly, they press too hard, and they have to think about the letters they are forming. It hurts, it interferes with their thinking, and it doesn't look good. 

Their ability to express their human-ness is diminished.

Certainly there are other ways in which they can do so, but that's not the point. The point is that a society that values human-ness does not even have to think about matters like this. When the human-ness of something is diminished, such a community rejects the "advance."

In fact, the practical consequences I listed above are minor. There are much more significant ones, but they are indirect and varied. They boil down to the fact that a human being whose human-ness is diminished (i.e. whose ability to express what it means to be human) is a person who thinks less well, acts less wisely, and makes less creatively.

As a Christian, I believe that mankind is the Image of God. There is no other reason needed to cultivate the human-ness of a human being in any way possible. If you want to glorify God, it is good to say things about how wonderful He is. It's even better to be like Him.

But even if you need utilitarian reasons, if you need to know how to make the world a better place or whatever Utopian dream you are pursuing, or even if you just want to fill seats in your school, understand this: humans whose human-ness isn't cultivated aren't going to make the world a better place.

 
We need wisdom and love and other uniquely human qualities to do that. No technology that replaces or diminishes a human ability will give us those things. They will all, if not met with and ordered to virtue, undercut the wisdom and love that can make the world a better place. 
Andrew  Kern

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the founder and president of The CiRCE Institute and the co-author of the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America

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