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26 September 2015

On Classical Education: Character is the True Aim

"Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting." -David O. McKay. Art by Peter Paul Rubens - "St. Simon"

This post is part of a series: 

Character is the True Aim (this post)
Cultivation of Godly Character
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many
Ordered Affections
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Repetition and the Habit of Attention
Embodied Learning (part 1)
Embodied Learning (part 2)
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

We've been attempting to do a Classical Education for several years, now, but in all that time, I've struggled to put it into words what it is, or why it's desirable. With the reading I've been doing recently, and the podcasts that I've been listening to, this is starting to change. I've come across a number of articles dealing what the purposes of education are, and what is it that makes Classical education distinct from progressive (public) education, and what makes the former a more desirable type of education than the latter. This reading is helping me develop a better vision of where we are going. Classical education is less about covering topics, (though obviously topics are covered), but more about learning to prize Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. It's less using the mind, and more feeding the mind, with an eye toward the growth of the soul. Classical education helps the child move from wonder - it's inborn in us all - to worship, and from there to wisdom. All the standardized testing of the typical progressive education is obsessed with the facts that the student can rehash on demand, but classically, education is more than that: education is about formation of character.

A man may possess a profound knowledge of history and mathematics; he may be an authority in psychology, biology, or astronomy; he may know all the discovered truths pertaining to geology and natural science; but if he has not with this knowledge that nobility of soul which prompts him to deal justly with his fellow men, to practice virtue and holiness in personal life, he is not a truly educated man. Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end. Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting. True education seeks, then, to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men, combined with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love-men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life."
-David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, pp. 440-441, emphasis added

Character is the true aim. The aim of this type of education is not mere accumulation of knowledge, however useful. It's not a checklist of facts that ought to be learned at certain ages or stages. True education prepares our children, not just for profitable employment, or other knowledge-based activities, but to become their best selves, and to practice at being that best self in the quiet times, so that in the times of stress they will be able to act with integrity and according to virtues that have become a part of them. 

Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is used. Character is woven quietly from the threads of hundreds of correct decisions (like practice sessions). When strengthened by obedience and worthy acts, correct decisions form a fabric of character that brings victory in time of great need. ... Righteous character is what you are. It is more important than what you own, what you have learned, or what you have accomplished. It allows you to be trusted. It opens the door to help from the Lord in moments of great challenge or temptation.
-Elder Richard G. Scott, Trust in the Lord, April 1989 Conference

Education isn't really about careers, making a comfortable living, or even being a productive member of society, though those things will typically be among the effects. True education is more than just bringing our children to light and truth, even: it is teaching them to prize light and truth to such an extent that they will continue to actively seek them out, not only while "in school," but throughout their entire lives.

Knowledge of truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem. 
-Joseph F. Smith

This reverence for truth doesn't happen by chance or by accident, any more than a beautiful painting creates itself. And it doesn't happen in an atmosphere that is "tolerant" of all "truth". The Holy Ghost is our guide to all truth, and we need him involved in our educational efforts! His job is to testify of all truth - not just the critical, but narrow, slice of truth we typically encounter in Sunday School. We need his assistance in learning the mulitplication tables and history, just as much as we need it in learning the Gospel.

The Holy Ghost is a revelator. He is the Comforter, who teaches us “the truth of all things; [who] knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.” The Holy Ghost is a certain and safe guide to assist all mortals who seek God as they navigate the often troubling waters of confusion and contradiction.
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "What is Truth?"

Not so incidentally, it is character that enables us to have and to keep the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The more we practice making correct choices, the more it becomes part of our nature, our character, to do so -- and the more we qualify for the Lord's assistance in finding the additional truth and knowledge that are the more visible results of our educational efforts.

Dr. Christopher A Perrin of Classical Academic Press outlines nine principles of Classical Education in a series of videos they have shared. He suggests that there are many ways to look at Classical Education, including looking through the lens of the Trivium, composed of the Grammar Stage, the Logic Stage, and the Rhetoric Stage, such as is suggested by Susan Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind. This book was my introduction to Classical Education, but I've come to the conclusion that the vision that I came away with, though it has served us well so far, is more narrow than it ought to be. Bauer suggested that the Trivium is a way of understanding how kids learn - little ones learn the basics in the Grammar Stage of education, middle school kids learn to see connections, patterns, and themes in their studies particularly history as they progress through the Logic Stage of their education, and in high school they bring it all together in the Rhetoric Stage, order to be able to speak and write persuasively about the areas of study that most interest them. But the reading that I've been doing recently makes me think that, while that is good (I am definitely still going to be referencing The Well-Trained Mind as I plan our studies!), there is more that Classical education has to offer.

Rather than grammar being a piece within every subject area, as it is usually expressed in the Dorothy Sayers model, Clark & Jain showed how the grammar school taught what a student must know to read The Aeneid: Quite a lot of basic understanding about not only reading, but also the world, geography, and society. To read The Aeneid with understanding requires not only Latin in a technical sense, but simply all those experiences and relations that children develop over years of learning about the world and people.
-Simply Convivial: What is the Point of Learning Latin

This type of education is bigger - more human - than I had realized at the outset. Another way that Dr. Perrin suggests is you could focus on how this type of education is designed to teach an appreciate Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. In his introductory video, he talks about how well these ideas dovetail with the Christian Ideal, and I found myself drawn back to the Thirteenth Article of Faith - but applied to education, an application I had never before considered.

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Over the next few weeks - months? I don't know how long it will take to work through these ideas - I want to look at Dr. Perrin's suggestions and other elements of Classical Education, and ponder them in light of revealed teachings about education and the gospel.


Rozy Lass said...

I wish I'd know all this when I began homeschooling, instead of after the fact. We did begin with the idea that we wanted our children taught the truth, rather than the philosophies and political agenda of men. I believe our children have turned out well in spite of my deficiencies. But I could have done so much more. More power to you!

Ritsumei said...

I can't take any credit: when every Pinterest link that caught my eye for a week straight was from the Afterthoughts blog, stuff like this, and the Read Aloud Revival Podcast I listened to that week (I don't usually listen to any) was right up that same alley, AND I "happened" to pick up the Classical Arts Press catalog (the one that's been gathering dust on my counter for months) and read a thing that had those principles of pedagogy, and they wouldn't leave me alone until I had called and asked where the promised videos are (they're now linked in the post)...

I decided that the Spirit was speaking to me, and I'd best listen up. Bad things happen when I don't listen up. So I started reading. And after that, writing. But I can't take much credit for the ideas. Hopefully, writing about them will also help someone else to find them and think about them!

And starting with the idea of going after Truth - that's a pretty big deal.

Anne Chovies said...

Some really cool thoughts there.


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