Socrates conceived that knowledge is for pleasure,
in the sense, not that knowledge is one source,
but is the source of pleasure.
I ‘m not going to pretend that we aren’t born sinners and that some little children (initially, at least) refuse to learn or to even entertain the idea of learning. Now, of course even these children do learn. The vast majority of them really do become adults that walk and talk — most of them even read, more or less (usually less). I also think some children are born with an insatiable desire to learn whatever they can about anything in front of them, or maybe even anything that comes across their minds.
Regardless of what sort of child sits before us, learning to love and pursue knowledge for its own sake is the ideal. We shoot for the ideal, knowing that we may never reach it, because we are better people for having aimed at it rather than mediocrity. The ideal does not crush us or discourage us; it challenges us to be more than we currently are, to be more of what we ought to be.
St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.
It must be trained to feel.
Let’s think about that for a moment.
We live in a culture in which our feelings are considered completely subjective. If you feel, you just do, and nothing can (or even should) be done about it. That is the general sentiment, right? Out of this is sometimes born a philosophy of child-led learning. My concern about this philosophy is never that a child is studying what he likes, but that I have encountered children who are not required to study what they don’t like.
If a child rejects the subject at hand, the tendency is to panic. Or, at least, that is my tendency.
Now, we’ve talked before about readiness, so I’m going to assume that little Johnny is quite ready and simply doesn’t like memorizing his Latin charts or doing his math or what have you.
Charlotte Mason’s fourth principle of education is this:
These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
In other words, we are not allowed to manipulate our students into learning using threats (empty or otherwise), emotional ploys, grades, marks, prizes, etc. etc. etc. the list goes on and on and on. In this modern world, we do a lot to try and get children to learn. Actually, we do it to get them to move through the material and pass standardized tests at the end. How much they actually retain and learn is debatable and varies widely among graduates.
In my local Charlotte Mason study group, there are a number of former classroom teachers that tell me that this is what they were taught in teacher’s college: how to “encourage” students to learn by attracting them to other things — by playing upon their natural desires.
By cultivating the flesh.
I knew a family once who paid their child to obey. Who gave their child a prize for everything he struggled with. Over time, he became the child who thought adults owed him for every minor triumph … and he didn’t know how to enjoy his successes for their own sake.
When you’ve be educated using a thoroughly modern educational philosophy, it is easy to read Charlotte Mason for the first time and think that she was revolutionary, or that she was thinking original thoughts. I would say that she was conservative in that she was conserving things that came before her, and I number her among our greatest Afterthinkers, because she was thinking and rethinking and translating into her own culture the best thoughts that had been thought about education throughout history.
She said that knowledge should be loved for its own sake — that it could be loved for its own sake.
And so did Euclid…two millenia before her.
What is the point of studying mathematics? The question was posed long ago to Euclid, an ancient geometer who could properly be called the Shakespeare of mathematics. In one of the few surviving biographical fragments about him, we have an answer to the question. After having learned the first geometrical theorem, a pupil inquired of Euclid, “But what shall I get by learning these things?” Euclid called one of his slaves. “Give him a coin,” Euclid ordered, “since he must make a gain out of what he learns.” Unfortunately, we do not have recorded what effect Euclid’s stinging words had upon the student, so we do not know whether the student blushed from embarrassment or was simply stunned by incomprehension. either way, the point of Euclid’s remark is that the study of geometry is intrinsically good and needs no further justification. While it may have practical uses, these are accidental to its true merit, the peculiarly human joy of gaining knowledge about mathematical things. Flipping the student a coin was a way to chastise him, marking him as one with an attitude unworthy of the study of mathematics for its own sake.
The authors of A Meaningful World go on:
[T]he attempt to justify the teaching of Euclid or Shakespeare in terms of material gain is not far removed from the attempt to reduce the works of Shakespeare or the works of Euclid to some material cause.
The truth about human nature is that humans take immense joy in knowing for its own sake.
And when our children do not do this, they are behaving less than human. This is why we teachers must humanize them. We must help them become what they were created to be but which, because of the fall of man, they are not.
We must aim for the mark.
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