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    CiRCE Talks: John Hodges’ Principle of Cultivation

    October 1, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    The longer version of the title of this talk is The Principles of Classical Education: The Principle of Cultivation. I was about to say that this talk is one of my favorites from the 2010 A Contemplation of Liberty Conference Set, but I am beginning to realize that I can say that about more than half of them! And some of the others were eliminated not based on content, but on the fact that the poor sound quality hasn’t found in me a patient ear (yet).

    John Hodges is a lot like Andrew Kern in that his talks tend to be filled and overflowing with ideas. I counted my notes: six full pages! So, once again, though I can’t delineate everything, I’ll pick the ideas that struck me, and we’ll hope that Mystie picks up the slack.

    I’m just saying.

    The Thesis Statement

    Unlike Mr. Kern, who likes to say “this is my thesis,” it took me until about midway to grasp Hodges’ primary point. But he does eventually tell us: he is trying to show the connection between internal and external freedom, that external freedom flows from and is dependent upon internal freedom.

    Before he said this (or something like it), he had defined his terms:

    • External Freedom: This tends to be the only definition of freedom in use today. This sort of freedom is political in nature–our freedom to conduct business, for instance, without government intervention.
    • Internal Freedom: Hodges tells us this is freedom in the classical Greek sense (and the Christian sense, I might add). The person who possesses internal freedom has a properly ordered soul. He, unlike someone still trapped in sin, is able to choose the good. He has been freed into a life of virtue.

    Hodges asks us this question in the latter half of his talk:

    Without internal limits, what can be done but to force these virtues through the government courts or through taxes?

    This doesn’t mean that Hodges is in favor of a heavy-handed, meddling government. May it never be! It means that he is, first and foremost, in favor of an ordered soul, which is the only true means of freedom.

    Education’s Task

    When we understand that political freedom is only possible for a people who possess this internal freedom, we have to fear for our future. No matter how many Tea Parties there are, at the end of the day, we need a people with ordered souls in order to be free. This is what sets our modern tax protests wholly apart from its namesake, the Boston Tea Party.

    In order to prepare a free people, then, education’s task, says Hodges, becomes not just teaching our students the things they need to know (though of course that is part of it), but more importantly teaching them what they should love about it, what’s Good about it. The school that Hodges helped found has as part of its motto the phrase “to learn to love that which is worth loving.”

    This is why we cannot just push through the material, why we mustn’t focus on just covering what we need to cover (the “3 R’s” for example): knowing without properly loving is dangerous and detrimental.

    The Principle of Cultivation

    It would actually have been easy for me to skip over this part because I was so drawn to Hodges’ compelling political criticism, but since it is the title of the talk and, ultimately, the reason for all the other commentary, we’ll focus on it. To put it simply, Hodges compares cultivating the souls of our students with cultivating a garden. So, he says, in a garden we plant, water, weed, prune, and, at the right time, harvest. With the soul, we plant Truth, water with wholesome books, teaching discernment to help them distinguish between the healthy plant and unwanted weeds, and sometimes we prune even good branches in order to produce the greatest harvest. The harvesting, though, is left to the Lord.

    Let’s talk about that pruning part for a moment. I want to apply it to our small lives. This pruning issue is very difficult in a world where parents are expected to provide endless structured activities for their children. To stand up and say that children need long hours of almost completely unstructured time outside in the sunshine (as Charlotte Mason does, and many of us follow in her footsteps) can sometimes cause families to be criticized. Amongst my friends, I have found this to be especially true when they have a relative or family friend who has bought into the myth that children are best socialized within a completely homogenous group of peers engaged in activities carefully planned in advance in order to advance specific goals imposed upon the children by an outside authority.

    I’m not saying that outside activities are all bad all the time. On the contrary, many of them are good, no? This is why it is so hard for us to choose to prune them when they are becoming detrimental, especially when others outside the family emphatically believe that we are wrong, that the activities are not detrimental and we are just being picky.

    It’s a lonely road sometimes, hm?

    Well, here is a litmus test, courtesy of Hodges, upon which we can stand: does the activity properly order the affections? Does it cause the child to love that which is worth loving? To see what is Good and adore it? If not, the activity is, at the very least, a candidate for pruning (regardless of how “good” it seems at first blush).

    We have pruned a number of activities for this reason (though I never articulated it so well as Hodges), and I always felt a little guilty. But I’d feel more guilty keeping my child in an environment which purported to teach him to love God, but where the actual effect was to cultivate his appetite for the world and the shiny distractions it offers–video games, television, junk food, and general self-indulgence–me me me mine mine mine I want I want I want.


    I will stop on this one for the time being. Suffice it to say that you cannot woo a soul to the Lord by holding up a shiny object and encouraging it to indulge its sinful flesh in a “safe place.”

    Speaking of Greed

    Long story, but Hodges traces the impact of wrong worship. Because, at the cultural level, our faith is Darwinian naturalistic materialism, we do not properly worship the Creator. We do not recognize that God created a real creation with a real design, he says. We forget that God is separate from his creation, that we were created in His image, and so on and so forth. The result is not an immediate plunge into grotesque sin, he says. It’s a slow slide (we’re sliding now), and in the meantime, two things happen: first, we elevate and isolate certain virtues from “the constellation of virtues” (Hodges has a way with words sometimes). Instead of having them work together, we pit them against each other. So for instance, we pit justice against freedom, though they are meant to exist in harmony.

    He also believes we forget the seven deadly sins. He applied this politically and it was fascinating. Truly, this is a must-listen-to speech!

    For instance, he says that we have forgotten envy. So, for instance, it used to be that if Mr. Smith saw Mr. Jones with something and he wanted it for himself, he was reminded that he was being envious, that the world is not “fair” in that way, and that his job anyway is really to store up treasures in heaven. We have turned this on its head, though. Mr. Smith’s envy is now considered indicative of that travesty of travesties, inequity. And because inequity has become (wrongly) synonymous with injustice, we turn to the government for redistribution of wealth, for instance.

    The primary assumption here is that this life is all there is and since this is so, we should all get our fair share.

    This is secular Marxism.

    On the other hand, we have also forgotten gluttony. There is a time, says Hodges, that enough is truly enough. He gives the example of Boaz, following God’s law and leaving some of the crops in the field for the gleaners. But these days, if Mr. Jones is approached and someone explains to him his responsibilities to the poor and all the good he could do, the response is often that

    …he will do what he pleases with his property and his business, and to ask him to do differently is to trample on his God-given liberty.

    Hodges tells us this is secular libertarianism.

    Chesterton defined liberty as the freedom to become what we were meant to be. Mr. Smith was not created to be envious. Mr. Jones was not created to be gluttonous. “God-given liberty” is the freedom to be virtuous and, ultimately, to be in relationship with God Himself.

    Hodges says that what we have in our culture is two sinful parties blaming each other, and a cataclysm of these opposing sins is fast approaching. (He suggests the Bolshevik Revolution as an example of history.)

    And then Hodges explains that he is a Christian conservative for two simple reasons. He believes that government is necessary–especially for defense and justice–because men are fallen. He also believes that there should be very strict limits upon the range and authority of that government–because men are fallen.

    Salvation and discipleship–that cultivation of the soul–are the only things that will result in liberty for our students.

    Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

    II Corinthians 3:17

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  • Reply Mystie October 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    I figured you would pick out the political side, so I left it for you. πŸ™‚ It was a fascinating discussion.

    Good observations about pruning. Recently John 15:2 jumped out at me. Even good branches need pruning to increase their fruitfulness and pruning is cutting, which hurts!

    Freedom being defined as a thing being what it is meant to be was enlightening to me. Good ol’ Chesterton. Sometime I will have to actually read him. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mystie October 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Ok – finally posted! πŸ™‚ Now I’ll be back here later today and hopefully also post on Laura Berquist’s talk this afternoon or tonight as well. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts October 3, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Mystie, No worries. πŸ™‚ That is one of the reasons I wanted to post these on Fridays–so that we really have Fri through Sun for this. I look forward to reading your thoughts when you’re ready.

    Trisha, You are welcome! I hope they eventually give this audio away for free…it was great.

  • Reply Trisha October 1, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share from these talks. It’s so helpful!

  • Reply Mystie October 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    I didn’t read yours yet, and I am 3/4 of the way done with my post, but the next few days might be crazy enough already that I won’t get a chance. We’ll have to see how things go, but I do have 3/4 of a post, so I’ll get there! πŸ™‚

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