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06 November 2015

On Classical Education: Cultivating Godly Character

classical education for godly character traits

This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character (this post)
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

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4)

What is man, that thou shouldst magnify him? (Job 7:17)

One need not grope for answers to these penetrating questions ... “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). “Ye … are … a spiritual house, an holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5).
-Thomas S. Monson, April 1988

Our little ones are no less than the Children of God. What education is suitable for God's children? What kind of education awakens and nurtures their divine spark, enabling them to obey the Savior's injunction to be perfect, and grow toward their potential as joint-heirs with Christ?

Given this view of the students, it makes perfect sense that the development of godly character should be the true aim of education. Knowing why provides the motivation, but there still remains the question of how best to go about offering this sort of education to my children. It will not, I think, be merely adding "character" classes to the lineup, alongside the math, history, science, and so on that we are already studying.

So, I began to ask myself, "How does one develop good character, and how can education be a tool in this process?" The first step is to reintroduce God to education.

“[T]he knowledge of God is the principal knowledge, and the chief end of education.
-Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education

"Our children should be indoctrinated in the principles of the Gospel from their earliest childhood. They should be made familiar with the contents of the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. These should be their chief text books, and everything should be done to establish and promote in their hearts genuine faith in God, in His Gospel and its ordinances, and in His works."
-Wilford Woodruff (source)

Wherever possible, scripture should be introduced into education. Handwriting practice can include verses from the Standard Works. Memorization of scripture, poetry, and other uplifting materials is appropriate for students of all ages. (The Scripture Memory System has been invaluable in our home for this.) Sacred history can and should be reintegrated into the study of history, and the hand of Providence, so often evident in the history of the world, should be discussed whenever it is noted. Current government school practice has made it the norm to divorce education from faith in any and every way, and to belittle, demean, or simply to ignore (as if He was of no consequence) the role of God in history, science, and all other areas of study. This tendency must be resisted. Doing as Wilford Woodruff suggested, and making scripture the first, chief, and most lasting textbook will go far in moulding our own character as well as that of our children, because it will impress upon us and them who they are, what their potential actually is, as well as cultivating the ability to perceive the active hand of our Father in shaping the fate of men and nations.

[T]he development of character comes only as we focus on who we really are. 
-Russell M. Nelson, Living by Scriptural Guidance

From a foundation of scripture, we then must seek for other ways to help our children grow into men and women of good character - and to help them understand why we are guiding them on this path, so that, when they are grown, they will continue along the same lines. Classical Education has a long history and well-worn paths, proven as effective methods of accomplishing these goals. Andrew Kern, quoted in "Classical Paradigm" said this: 

"Classical Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue through meditating on the good, the true, and the beautiful."

So we put the good, the true and the beautiful in front of our children at every opportunity. One way we can do this is through the use of high quality literature. Indeed, in times past, one of the principle reasons for learning Latin and Greek was to be able to meet the great literature of these cultures in its own language. But even without such accomplishment in foreign languages, there is a wealth of high quality literature available. And when we spend time reading it, all kinds of wonderful things happen. We are exposed to ideas that might otherwise be absent from our circle. And we meet personality types we might not otherwise meet as well. This can be a significant assist as we teach and prepare our children for the wider world, beyond the shelter of our home.

I think, with books, I can warn my children against certain character types long before we actually meet any of them without encouraging a judgmental and critical spirit, and without exposing them to personal unhappiness in the process.
Charlotte Mason, in common with many classical educators, suggests reading good books for their moral lessons as well as for their literary value. The better the literary quality, the more likely it is that the reader will gain something of moral value from his reading. Miss Mason thought that children should be put in touch with the great ideas, with information clothed in literary language provided by great minds. Good books - meaning well-written books - contribute good material for moral growth.
-Wendi Capehart, Books Build Character

I am delighted by this idea that we can use these fictional characters to discuss persons and personalities - all without using specific real world examples, so as to avoid pointing out others' flaws (always a hazardous and questionable occupation) or potentially hurting somebody's feelings. How useful! I think we've already done this, to a certain extent, but now I want to watch our stories not only for the good behavior they may inspire, but also for the less desirable behavior to discuss and ponder. It is a whole class of teaching moments that I hadn't fully recognized in both literature and scripture.

"We know that the pillar of Classical Education is classics. ... A classic is a book, or a work of art or music or anything, which you can read or appreciate again and again and again, and get more out of it each time. ... It's particularly apropos for Christian educators, because implies what is the great classic? The Bible. Which you could read an infinite number of times, and get more out of it each time." -Andrew Pudewa, "What Are We Really Doing Here?"

There are, of course, many other areas of character development. Family work - the process of teaching kids to participate in and value work - is also hugely important.

Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. I don't know that, classically, educators would have had to explicitly include learning to do physical in the curriculum, but in our day, with so many labor-saving devices, and the overly indulgent attitude towards childrearing  that has become prevalent, I find that it is helpful to specifically include work in our educational routine. And this also serves the ends of a Classical Education:

Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God.
-D. Todd Chirstopherson, Reflections on a Consecrated Life

Including household chores in our routine serves to break up the day, keeping everyone from getting stale from sitting around doing the same thing all the time, it teaches necessary life skills, and is one aspect of how we can teach our children to work hard.

“All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness. Labour, wide as the Earth, has its summit in Heaven.”
-Thomas Carlyle, quoted in Reflections on a Consecrated Life

This idea of climbing toward a heavenly summit is really the basis of what happens in a Classical Education. In that process of climbing toward the divine, we are likely to see such fruits as jobs and citizenship, but those things, worthy as they are, are not the end of education in themselves. The education of God's children is much, much more than mere training for a transitory mortal job. It is setting their feet firmly on the path toward their Eternal Home.

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