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    Norms and Nobility: Chapter One Distinctions {Entry II}

    June 3, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Before I begin, I’d like to invite you all to continue praying for my very ill husband. My son bounced back almost immediately from our doctor’s treatment, but my husband’s response faltered a bit in the last 24 hours due to his inability to keep down all of the pills he needs to take. Tomorrow will be day six of his being bedridden.

    Today during naptime I was required to sit for a while and read aloud to Si. These chapters are short enough that I read all of chapter one in a single sitting, and aloud at that. It is nice to have something elevating and challenging to consider during this time.

    This post is my attempt to distance myself a bit from some of what Hicks is saying. I want to make clear that not everything Hicks writes is exactly what our family believes, nor does studying a book together imply anyone’s whole-hearted agreement with it.

    What I am concerned with is something discussed near the end of the chapter, which I will explain shortly. But first, let me mention that there are ways in which Christian classical education is and should be distinct from classical education found in ancient pagan cultures. There is one sense in which classical education is merely descriptive, in that it explains how children best learn and develop over the entirety of childhood. However, there are distinctions in application of these principles which will vary based upon theology, which is the mistress science.

    The key question being asked in chapter one is, Can virtue be taught? Hicks makes the point that it can, and also that it is only recent in human history that any culture ever doubted it. So the ancient educational debates were not concerning whether virtue can be taught, but rather how it should be taught.

    What ties into this is the idea of the quality of the soul, whether it have capacity for good, whether it be naturally good, and so on. Hicks explains that Plato believed that no one purposely chooses evil, but that evil is merely an expression of ignorance. So if, for instance, one were to think through the consequences of evil acts, one would be awakened in such a way that one would be inspired to live the virtuous life.

    Hicks contrasts this belief with the ancient rhetoricians who believed that virtue was not innate, but rather acquired. Hicks sets this up by writing:

    Either man is by nature good and becomes corrupted by society or he is born flawed, and society must save him.

    This is where I must plant a flag and say that Christian classical education must take a third path, and that is the delicate balance between the knowledge that our children are born sinners, for Scripture tells us that all have sinned, and the knowledge that children born into Christian families are somehow holy.

    Scripture compels us to recognize the fallen nature of our children, as well as the responsibility of Christian homes to raise virtuous children, not in a pagan sense, but in the sense of children who become adults who honor God and live righteously. In other words, to paraphrase Hicks, some may believe that man is by nature good and becomes corrupted by society or others that he is born flawed, and society must save him, but Christians believe that man is born flawed, and Christ must save him.

    I am not sure exactly what Hicks believes, for he is merely explaining the ancient battle between Plato and his followers and the rhetoricians, but I thought this distinction worth making before I really discuss chapter one.

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  • Reply Willa June 3, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Oh! and I meant to say, but my 6 year old was talking to me, that I hope your husband starts getting better soon! And I’m glad you’re going to be blogging this book.

  • Reply Willa June 3, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    As a Catholic Christian I agree with what you say about Christ.

    At the same time, I think it’s possible that Hicks is talking from the point of view of an educator — what is the role of education? If society can help make children virtuous (and in some ways further Christ’s work), then it is important to work actively to educate the child in virtue (even though that is not enough in itself). If society can only harm a “born good” child, then obviously educators have a very different role.

  • Reply Mystie June 3, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Ok, a quick Google search shows this biographical sketch, which suggests Hicks is Episcopol:

    He also had an article in an Anglican journal.

    He has previously been president of this school

    Both schools linked above are “prep” schools, neither are even nominally specifically Christian schools.

  • Reply Mystie June 3, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I’m still in the middle of reviewing the first chapter, but I remember having difficulty — especially by the third or fourth chapter — of figuring out where Hicks was coming from religiously. I had a guess by the end simply from reading, but I haven’t researched to see if my guess is confirmed or denied anywhere. 🙂

    It might be worth looking into. I’ll do that.

    “Good behavior” and “right thinking” can be taught, but true virtue — true goodness that is pleasing to God — only comes by faith. However, it seems something in the way non-Christian children are educated should preclude the prevalence of school violence and utter disrespect for authority. Common decency should be common, and can certainly be common amongst unbelievers as well as Christians. I think Hicks has good insight into what is missing in general (not specifically Christian) education that is bringing about the rise in violence, disrespect, despair, etc.

    However, perhaps because of the current darkness in the educational system, true Christian education has the opportunity shine all the more brightly and present itself as the answer.

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