Over the last half-dozen years, classical educators’ recovery of a more holistic practice of memory has permeated my own understanding of learning, pedagogy, and virtue. I have come to believe that what a student has learned is revealed in what she remembers, rather than what work she has done or what experiences she has collected over a school year. Accordingly, when I plan instruction, I strive for pedagogical practices that engage students in labor that forms their memories, rather than that which aims only to bring them to intellectual understanding.
Freedom is gained only through discipline. Discipline is regular, continual effort to enact self-governance in some way. Discipline comes in many shapes and sizes, from budgeting to exercise to reading. In each of these examples, one applies oneself to self-govern in order to enjoy a future freedom. We budget in order to enjoy financial freedom. We exercise to be free from health problems. We read to be free from ignorance. Discipline, though, is not easy.
As classical Christian educators, we place a high value on cultivating such qualities as wisdom, virtue, and piety in the students God brings into our care. A question that has challenged educators down through the ages has been how to effectively train students in these qualities. Do we put on the hard press, systematically breaking down their wills so that we achieve the kind of conformity one would expect of a military drill camp? Seems a bit extreme and dehumanizing. Do we create elaborate schemes of rewards and punishments?
In my previous two articles I discussed narration as a tool of learning and as embodying the classical principle of self-education. I bemoaned the departure from this principle in much of modern education. At the same time, it’s worth recognizing the value of modern research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, especially where it is confirming the validity of traditional educational practices like narration.
In my last article, I submitted Charlotte Mason’s practice of narration for consideration as another lost tool of learning. My main contention in its favor followed Charlotte Mason’s claim that narration is a natural gift of children as persons made in the image of our storytelling God.
For those coming late to the party, narration is a simple and elegant teaching tool containing two parts:
The concept of a tool of learning will be familiar to many from Dorothy Sayers’ famous essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” The underlying idea is derived from the medieval conception of the liberal arts as rational skills or practices that enable a person to fashion knowledge. Just as a skillful carpenter can use the tools of his trade to produce a beautiful and serviceable chair, so the master of the liberal arts can produce new knowledge by means of those arts.
“If a human being were a machine . . . the work of the educator would be simply to adopt a good working system or set of systems. But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power.”
The beginning of springtime, when the fleeting beauty of the outdoors sometimes overshadows the perpetual urgency of lessons, is a good time to be reading Charlotte Mason, who insisted that time spent outside is integral to the child's formation and education.
My view of classical education is far more concerned with the real thing than with the word "classical." So drawing from the very long Chrisitan classical tradition, I would include Charlotte Mason in that tradition every bit as much as any body else because she:
1. Was a metaphysical realist (which post Dewey progressives are not, and this is crucial).
It is jolly good fun to always be talking about truth, goodness, and beauty. In fact, the more we talk about it--the more metaphors we use--the more romantic it becomes. Warm blackberries, babies' breath, raindrops on roses, and all that. This is fine and dandy on the Internet, but when you sit down with young moms in your own home you begin to blush.