I was rereading the Definitions of Terms over at the CiRCE Institute recently. I find that knowing definitions really grounds me — it not only tells me what something is; it tells me what something is not. Whenever I start to feel that wandering, slipping feeling in regard to lessons, I start to review my basic principles, and one of the ways I review is to read the aforementioned definitions page.
I was reading through the sections on the four sciences, because I’ve had cause to think long and hard about science lately. I came across the reminder that a logos is a central organizing principle. I’ve written about the idea of logos here and also here, to name two, so I won’t go into the idea very much.
CiRCE tells us that each science and subscience has a logos (think -ology to see that it is even in the English language). For example, in regard to the natural sciences:
Biology is ordered by the attempt to know the causes of being and change within and among living things. Physics is ordered by the inquiry into the forces that bring about change in the physical realm. Chemistry is ordered by the inquiry into the elements of which physical things consist.
Or in regard to the human sciences:
Ethics asks the question, how does a human being fulfill its potential (i.e. how does it attain excellence or its own flourishing). In a word, how does a human become virtuous. … Politics asks the question, how can a human community enable its members and itself to fulfill its potential, to attain excellence, to flourish? How can a human community cultivate the virtue of its members?
My point here is not to get into science, but rather to think a little bit about the idea of logos. The sciences increase in importance as they climb the ladder to theology, which is the Queen of the Sciences. This is why Charlotte Mason tells us that education is the “handmaid of religion” — because theology is the Queen. CiRCE reminds us:
The goal of theology is to order all knowledge to that first cause.
“First cause” meaning God Himself, of course.
So the ultimate logos brings us full circle to John chapter 1, which tells us that Jesus is the Logos — He is the central organizing principle.
Even when we’re not teaching theology, we have to keep this in mind.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
We’ve all had that teacher that seemed impossible. Our goal as students of said teacher became to “give her what she wants” (mine was female, but it’s not beyond a male to be this sort of teacher, of course). We students know that this teacher doesn’t care about our thoughts and opinions, or even about appeals to absolute truth in the form of the divine revelation found in Scripture — even though this may be a teacher from a Christian school!
What the teacher wants is for you to give her exactly what she’s looking for. Regurgitate, people! She told you stuff in class and your job is to cough all of that back up in the form of essays and test answers!
Now let me ask a question: When this happens, what is the central organizing principle of that classroom? What is its logos?
The teacher, right? The teacher has set herself up as the organizing principle of the class. These sorts of teachers can occur in any type of study, so whether she’s teaching fourth grade or college-level chemistry, the fact remains the same, and normal learning and inquiry is derailed. Once the student realizes that they have to perform for the teacher, the teacher is the logos. Nothing else matters.
Of course, there are always those poor, dear souls who don’t get it. They are naive enough to think that they are allowed to think, or at least let a book think for them. These students give answers they found outside of the teacher, and so they get marked down for that. All that thinking might contradict the teacher!
It is so very easy to condemn this teacher.
But then I look in the mirror.
Sometimes, like today, I am tired. And when I’m tired I become hard to please. And when I’m hard to please I bet my children start organizing themselves — their learning and behavior — around me.
It is so easy to set ourselves up as logos, isn’t it?
The problem is it’s also wrong and sinful. Desperately wicked and all that.
So today is a new day — though it’s feeling rather old since I’ve been up since 5:15. I resolve to keep Self out of it. I’d rather organize around a better cause — the First Cause.
Listen to this post as a podcast:
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.