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    Norms and Nobility: What’s it All About?

    April 7, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Yesterday, I announced my desire to have a book club this summer. I am announcing it this early because {a} I’m excited and {b} it gives you time to try and hunt down a cheaper copy of this not-so-cheap book. Today, I’m bringing you my sales pitch on why you should read along.

    Reading about education has transformed me in ways that most of my reading has not. I have become a better mother, a better person by studying this subject. I have begun to see the failings in my own education, and to seek a better education for my children. But this is not to say that all members of the “club” must be homeschooling moms. Teachers in institutional classrooms would definitely benefit. People who just like to think and don’t even have children {yet}–completely welcome here!

    This isn’t about homeschooing, per se. It is about thinking about our culture’s approach to education, discovering how it is different from, oh, about three thousand years of historical precedent (at least), and thinking about whether or not this difference is a good thing.

    Obviously, I don’t think the difference is a good one, generally speaking, but you don’t have to agree with me to read this book. Or read this blog, for that matter. I like to think with people, not necessarily get everyone to conform to my exact view of everything.

    Anyhow, this is definitely a college-level text. Please do not be intimidated if you aren’t used to the reading level. In fact, when I first started reading my favorite book, Poetic Knowledge, I remember feeling like I had gotten in over my head. It had been a while since I had read such a well-written work. So I read each page of the first two chapters or so approximately three times.

    By the end of that, I had raised my reading and comprehension level to the point that it matched the book.

    Consider reading difficult books a point of growth, then.

    I want to whet your appetites a bit. Here is an excerpt from the prologue:

    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. {emphasis mine}

    This blog presupposes that both the nature and end of man can be known. These questions are the foundational questions of existence, and were answered nicely by a number of catechisms. For instance, the Westminster Catechism asks:

    Q. What is the chief end of man?

    A. The chief end of man is to glorfy God and enjoy Him forever.

    Or, we have the Heidelberg Catechism saying:

    Q. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?

    A. Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

    And also:

    Q. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?

    A. By no means; but God created man good, and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him.

    Our modern minds find it quite natural to detach the questions {and answers} as to who man is and what is his purpose from the idea of education. And yet, for thousands of years, it was expected that education was a means of encouraging man to fulfill the purpose for which he was created. We have replaced this certainty with experimentation in cultural change, courtesy of the likes of Descartes and his heir John Dewey. In fact, Mr. Hicks would say that our patterns of thought, in which we divorce the reality of these monumental questions from education, are a result of the way we were educated. And so the relatively new way of educating is actually perpetuating a mindset about education itself. Mr. Hicks writes:

    The modern school, for example, has an established methodology of which it is more or less unconscious. Its method narrows the search for truth and the free exchange of wisdom by rejecting immaterial categories of thought, as well as the ancient notion of the mind’s participation in the object of perception. This method stamps students for life, establishing aprioric rules for perception, thought, and experience and inviting them to dismiss subconsciously the impalpable, the marvelous, the inexplicable. {emphasis mine}

    Traditional education, that which we call classical {which is not to be mistaken with reading of the “great” books, which may or may not be undertaken within a classical method}, was not as concerned with learning a certain number of facts {reaching standards is the contemporary way of saying it, I suppose}, but with producing a certain kind of person. I leave you with this final excerpt:

    The modern era cannot be bothered with finding new answers to old questions like: What is man and what are his purposes? Rather, it demands of its schools: How can modern man better get along in this complicated modern world? Getting along–far from suggesting any sort of Socratic self-knowledge or stoical self-restraing–implies the mastery of increasingly sophisticated methods of control over the environment and over others. Man’s lust for power, not truth, feeds modern education.

    Buy your copy and read along starting in June!

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  • Reply Brandy April 9, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Mrs. Owens! This would be great. I’ve been missing you lately. I’ve committed to meeting regularly with a group in person if I can get at least five ladies to say they’ll come. If not, I’ll mainly do it online, but those of us in the area will meet at my house once or twice. As far as childcare goes, I was considering trying to hire a sitter to referee children in my backyard while we meet in the house. Of course, little tiny ones would just stay inside. I can think of a couple girls who would probably be able to do this…for a price. But if we all split the cost, it shouldn’t be too much.

    Just an idea…

  • Reply mrs. owens April 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I would love to do this with you I have been trying to read a few books on education and am not moving quickly due to the lack of pressure. I think this would be a difficult read but good for my mushy mommy brain….I always look forward to great discussion with you anyway. Not sure how we would do the meeting but we can work it out later….

  • Reply Rahime April 7, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Ooooh, I like that last quote.

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