Saturday, July 31, 2010

Classical education is not, preeminently, of a specific time or place. It stands instead for a spirit of inquiry and a form of instruction concerned with the development of style through language and of conscience through myth. the key word here is inquiry. Everything springs from the special nature of the inquiry. The inquiry dictates the form of instruction and establishes the moral framework for thought and action...
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, p.18

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The wise, not the many...

A school is fundamentally a normative, not a utilitarian, institution, governed by the wise, not the many.
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, p.13
 This is why the sort of education that is good for democracy is not the kind of education most democratic citizens want... It assumes that there is such a thing as objective wisdom, and that some possess it while others don't.  This is downright heresy in our culture, but I find it true, nevertheless.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The purpose of education in this age or any other...

Modern man's inveterate tendency to supplant the normative with the operational-- to ask, What can be done? instead of , What ought to be done?-- characterizes today's educational policies...

[But] when we accept the tyranny of the real over the ideal, we deny the human spirit-- the better half of learning and the better half of man.  Instead, we concentrate on his Caliban half, making him a more efficient berry-gatherer, a more discriminating shell collector, or a more willing water-carrier. The notion of spirit we dismiss as mythological, out-of-date, and irrelevant; at any rate, the fact that it cannot be seen in space or under a microscope makes it, in the end, no longer a proper subject for instruction...

Our fascination with technical means, by the very nature of things, subverts the supreme task of education-- the cultivation of the human spirit: 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.

~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, pp.11-13

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mastery over nature but not over himself...

Indeed, [we ought to] ponder the difference between the man who was educated to believe himself a little lower than the angels and the man whose education permits him to ignore both angels and God, to avoid knowledge not of the five senses, and to presume mastery over nature but not over himself.
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education p.10

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lust for power, not truth...

Man's lust for power, not truth, feeds modern education.  But this fact does not worry the educator.
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education p.8
Last night, dh and i began watching an old movie entitled Gods & Generals, based on the book Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara.  In this movie (which at this point seems a bit stilted to me- and the beards are just terrible...) there is a very interesting quote from Stonewall Jackson.  He says in essence that Lincoln sending troops into the South was the mark of the end of freedom and the triumph of commerce over truth. I don't know if Jackson actually said that or not, but it resonates with this idea from Hicks. Oh, for the little cottage school and home school where funding and politics and power are not the source of curricular decisions! I really despair for the children of this age who are forced to navigate in such shallow waters, never learning better or deeper!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Did you know that in three weeks Ramadan begins?  Many around the world will be observing these holy days of Islam. If you are interested in praying for the Muslim world during the 30 days of Ramadan, I suggest this site.  I get their e-mails through Ramadan, and can pray for specific people groups every day during Ramadan.  Join me!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Prescriptive or descriptive?

Modern education really approaches the idea of man and his end differently than the ancients did.  And I don't think it improves upon them.  David Hicks agrees with me:

Now, the modern educator is apt to dismiss prevarications told in deference to an ideal Type, while he condemns the arbitrariness of a prescriptive understanding of man.  He presumes to have found a method for replacing it, at least initially, with a descriptive understanding...So, without much sober reflection, the early record is quietly dismissed as unscientific--therefore, error-ridden and useless.  In its place, the educator erects a sort of science without reason, random induction predicated upon gnomic utterances like those of Marshall McLuhan: "Data accumulation leads to pattern recognition."
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education p.3
I live in a scientific town, and am married to a scientist, and am surrounded by world-renown scientists.  But the best scientists I know are the ones who understand the limits of science, and when science ceases to be a descriptive tool, and tries to be a prescriptive one.  As Hicks says:
...[The ancients] themselves, would have agreed that of all creation, the unstable creature man most needed transformation.Thus, Democritus' theory of atomic structures did not start a scientific revolution in physics, but it did provide a theoretical basis for the Epicurean way of life...But modern science-- a phrase we cannot utter without wedding it to technology-- ignores these old warnings...
~David hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education p.6
It is hard to overstate the consequences of leaving behind the prescriptive in favor of the descriptive alone. One need only look at our current cultural chaos to see its consequences. And if every teacher understood this important distinction, education would be a very different animal!
The equation of truth with science is peculiarly modern, as is the assumption that the science of the ancients desired to be turned into technology "aiming to mold the future"... [This view of education] effectively excludes the normative aspects of all knowledge (the inquiry concerning what ought to be done) in favor of the operational (the inquiry concerning what can be done). It shuns the prescriptive in favor of the descriptive.
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education p.7

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Polemical magic...

Education at every level reflects our primary assumptions about the nature of man, and for this reason, no education is innocent of an attitude toward man and his purposes.  The writer on education who fails to state his view of man at the outset expects to perform some polemical magic.  He masks his premises and invites a gullible reader to judge his conclusions on the deceptive merit of a logical deduction. in fact, whether he wishes to or not, he presupposes an order of human values; his understanding of the nature and proper end of man determines the purposes and tasks that he assigns to education.
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education pp.3-4
What does the fact that the aim of most education in our culture is pursuit of money (vocational in nature) have to say about what our culture prizes and sees as the main aim of man?  How different would our education truly be if we believed what the Westminster Divines taught: that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever?

Sunday, July 11, 2010


To all of you who enjoy occasional rants about the inconsistencies of the English language, I offer this.  Hopefully, Gentle Reader, it will aid you in getting it "out of your system".

To all of you who tire of the edu-speak concerning self-esteem, I offer this. A little dose of Theodore Dalrymple should help.

And while we're talking about interesting ideas, how about this by Anthony Esolen?  Good food for thought.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Science in service to a prescriptive ideal...

...The expert's total reliance upon the methods of science renders him incapable of learning from his forebears anyway, for they cannot provide him with the hard statistical and clinical data alone with which he can work.  He is like the raw ensign on the bridge of a ship who, mesmerized by the radar scope, refuses to consult an experienced navigator in the fog. His revision of language and his ignorance of history afford him the comfortable delusion of not having to look back to get his bearings. Sure of the all-sufficiency of his methods and blinf to many of his own primary assumptions, he rejects charts that were made--he is convinced-- by worse navigators than himself, bu which he means by navigators whose methods antedated his own...
...I fear that the modern educator's inchoate understanding of science, his naive belief in its all-sufficiency, and his unwillingness to acknowledge its methodological limitations are leading to a reaction and revulsion against it. If descriptive science is to aid our schools and flourish in them, it must remain in the service of a prescriptive ideal.
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, pp.2-3

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Thinking about education...

In one of my favorite books on classical education, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, David hicks quotes another book that I enjoyed: The Rector of Justin: A Novel by Louis Auchincloss.  In that novel, the headmaster of a classical boys' school, Frank Prescott,  thinks about his philosophy of education. Hicks says:
Prescott's dream, no mere nineteenth-century show of "rugged individualism" or :muscular Christianity," embodies the teacher's ancient and perennial desire to connect the wisdom of the past with man's present and future actions: to educate the young to know what is good, to serve it above self, to reproduce it, and to recognize that in knowledge lies this responsibility.  But Prescott fails. [His school] refuses to produce uniform paragons of virtue, and Auchincloss leaves his readers to ponder some disturbing questions: Is Prescott's failure inevitable-- a flaw of conception, personality, or circumstance? What does his failure teach about the devastating influence of a materialistic and democratic society on education? What is the solution to the paradox between educating for the world's fight and for the soul's salvation?
~David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, pp.1-2

This reminds me a movie we recently viewed: The Emperor's Club (Widescreen Edition).  It also has no easy answers for the educator, because there is something intangible at work to secular educators: the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of students to bring change.  A teacher can only fulfill his or her calling before God and pray to inspire his students.

If you would like to think about the philosophy of education this summer, Gentle Reader, I recommend any or all of these resources for thoughtful consideration.  Hicks' book is my favorite on the subject of classical education, but no easy read.  The Auchincloss is an excellent little novel, fun if you want to ponder in a lighter way, and a good story.  And The Emperor's Club is not a great movie, but a good movie with lots of food for thought.