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    Norms and Nobility: How is Virtue Taught?

    April 16, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I don’t have a ton to say about this portion because I touched on some of it in my previous post covering this subject. Needless to say, this section assumes what is discussed in the prior section, namely: that virtue can be taught. The discussion concerning how virtue is taught must take place within a group of people who believe that it is possible to teach it in the first place. Otherwise, the entire debate will be fruitless.

    Hicks writes in Section III:

    Can the knowledge of good, the love of beauty, the vision of greatness, and the passion for excellence be learned in a classroom? No notable or influential ancient, it is fair to say, ever answered this question in the negative.

    Looks like our modern assumption that virtue happens by accident is a bit peculiar, as far as the scheme of history is concerned. It is also peculiar, when one considers the scope of Scripture. I’ve got a smattering of verses that come to mind, a sampling which is not at all exhaustive. But let us consider:

    My son, observe the commandment of your father

    And do not forsake the teaching of your mother;
    Bind them continually on your heart;
    Tie them around your neck.
    When you walk about, they will guide you;
    When you sleep, they will watch over you;
    And when you awake, they will talk to you.
    For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light;
    And reproofs for discipline are the way of life
    To keep you from the evil woman,
    From the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
    Proverbs 6:20-24

    Here we see it acknowledged that the parents can teach something which has an impact on the child’s moral life. The combination of commandments, teachings, and discipline can spare the child from falling into the trap of the adulteress woman. And then we have:

    Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,

    But he who hates reproof is stupid.
    Proverbs 12:1-3

    This reveals a connection between discipline, which we assume has a behavioral aim, and knowledge, which we tend to assume has an intellectual aim. I think a comprehensive search of Scripture would reveal that, in the life of the wise, there is no dividing line between what one knows and who one is. A fool {who is synonymous with an unrighteous man} reveals he knows little of real importance.

    Another thought I have along these lines is that our society has it all upside down. The knowledge which makes righteous is a knowledge which is superior to other knowledge. That we focus on something other than the former in our schools reveals that we, who were born to aim for heaven, are aiming for earth, so to speak.

    Not that we want to run away from practical knowledge. I think this involves more the spirit of the thing and the aim of the thing than the thing itself.

    I am reminded of one more verse:

    For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

    Hebrews 12:10-11

    That discipline, which is a form of instruction, leads to virtue. The aim of the Lord when He instructs us, teaches us, and disciplines us is to “yield the fruit of righteousness.” He Himself is bringing about virtue. Because we are His followers, we can aim to do the same…but only in light of Christ. I wrote about this part of the chapter about a year ago, and I stand by most of what I said back then {my understanding of classical education has deepened a lot over the course of the year}. Children cannot be saved without Christ. Period.

    However, comma.

    The Lord Himself caused them to be birthed into a Christian home, and commanded that they be raised in the discipline and instruction {παιδεία} of the Lord. The fact that righteousness is impossible apart from Christ does not nullify God’s command in regard to the rearing of children {which, Biblically speaking, is an educational process}. Rather, I think we learn here that God uses parents as a primary instrument of bringing about that virtue. In other words, God works through us in their lives.

    With that said, I see one more thing in this section. Who the teacher is becomes extremely important. There is a saying that “more is caught than taught” and it is true. My children tend to have my faults! The ancient teachers sought to embody virtue before their students. {Jesus did this perfectly.} They were a living example of the curriculum–an incarnation, if you will. I am reminded again of how dependent on God we are for any sort of success in this endeavor.

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