[T]he Greek achievement in education found its abundant source in Plato’s question: Can virtue be taught?
To hold that virtue can be taught and that it is the chief duty of the school to teach it need not imply a belief in the perfectibility of man. Rather, it implies a belief in the ideal of virtue, as well as in the value of an education based upon the attempt to know and to emulate this ideal.
I can only conclude that our modern debate–if there even is one at all–is over whether there is such a thing as virtue in the first place. This is why, when we try and discuss what we are trying to accomplish in our lessons at home, we often feel like we’re hitting a brick wall. Why do others not understand us? Why do we feel like we are speaking a foreign language?
Because, for the most part, we are.
the gain of the girl’s whole education hitherto is at stake. She might as well have been allowed to play ever since she was born as to play uninterruptedly now. For the gain of her education is not the amount of geography, science, and French that she knows; she will forget these soon enough unless well-trodden tracks be kept up to the brain-growth marking these acquirements. But the sold gain education has brought her lies in the powers and habits of attention, persistent effort, intellectual and moral endeavour, it has educed.
Do you see? All of the subjects were the rigorous means through which virtue was formed in the soul. And the parents are undoing all of it through indulging the grown child. Mason explains why this is so:
[H]abits which are allowed to fall into disuse are all the same as though they had never been formed; powers not exercised grow feeble and are lost. The ground which has been gained in half-a-dozen years may be lost in a single one. And here we have the reason why many girls who have received what is called a good education read nothing weightier than a feeble or trashy novel, are not intelligent companions,and show little power of moral effort.
And this is such a disservice, for
if she is to recover the ground lost, she must begin all over again, and at an age when it is far more difficult to acquire habits and develop power than in childhood. Again the taste for parties of pleasure, for what may be called organized amusement, is an ever-growing taste, and dislodges the habit of taking pleasure in the evening reading, the fireside games with the children, the home music, the chat with friendly neighbours, the thousand delights that home should afford.
The Lord, incidentally, saved my husband and I from this. I was, to put it mildly, disappointed to find I was to be a mother so quickly after our marriage. We had plans. Most of those plans consisted of having a lot of fun. To indulge ourselves. To enjoy having extra money to spend on our pleasures. And so on. College is a great way to develop a taste for an indulgent life, a life where very little need be sacrificed for others. This was definitely the case for me, though many good things were gained from college as well. But I was intending to go from college to graduate school and marriage with more of the same. Emphasis on more. Marriage itself required little sacrifice on my part as we were kindred spirits.
Our intention was to spend many years playing alone together.
And we would have declined steadily into a life of self-centeredness, to be sure. I see this so clearly, and I know what my heart was like at that time. But God grabbed hold of our lives and our hearts and didn’t allow this. He Himself was our disciplinarian. Having a newborn forced us to learn to value the pleasures of home while forsaking that “increasing taste for organized amusement.” In a word, He did not allow any virtue we had gained to be undone, and also forced our growth. What better way to grow in virtue than to be granted a new life to raise, and also the heart, softened by love, to do that raising properly?
But I digress.
Mason, as I was saying, assumes that virtue can and must be taught. She assumes that it has been taught. She assumes that a single year can undo the lessons of a decade.
And I find myself more grave, and more desirous of being deliberate.
One last thing: her solution is not to forbid pleasures. She is very balanced. Her goal is to not allow the life to consist of so much pleasure-seeking that the soul itself is damaged.
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