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    Educational Philosophy

    Habits Breed Dispositions

    January 23, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    I really thought that Smith was saying something new about habits. I know I said he sounded like Charlotte Mason; most of us noticed that, I think. But still, we also know he hasn’t read her, so I thought that it was new, in a way. But I suppose some ideas are too true to get buried for long, and I’m finding that what Smith has said is what has been said for quite a long time.

    Habits Breed Dispositions

    Smith writes:

    [H]abits are inscribed in our heart through bodily practices and rituals that train the heart, as it were, to desire certain ends. (p. 58)

    Imagine my surprise when I looked up habit in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary and found this definition:

    A disposition or condition of the mind or body acquired by custom or a frequent repetition of the same act. Habit is that which is held or retained, the effect of custom or frequent repetition. Hence we speak of good habits and bad habits.

    What is interesting to me is that the habit here isn’t the repetitive action itself but rather the disposition or effect caused by the repetition. Somehow, over the decades and centuries, the word has been reduced to mere repetitive behavior.

    I also find it interesting that the first definition of habit referred to clothing. It is something we put on. And the deliberate formation of habits is like that, isn’t it? We’re putting on a new behavior.

    So I titled this “Habits Breed Dispositions,” but now I’m rethinking myself. Maybe it is more apt to say that habits are dispositions?

    All of this has me thinking back to my favorite book of 2103, Laurie Bestvater’s The Living Page. As she talks about the habits of keeping notebooks, she is really talking about dispositions. She sees the act of Keeping as a disposition in and of itself. She reminds us that all of the great minds have kept notebooks of various kinds, and that Keeping puts us in that tradition. It actually lends us the disposition of a student, of a pupil, of, shall I say, a disciple.

    This is why Bestvater wrote:

    [T]he Living Page offers us a posture of humility.

    The Nature Notebook, for example, seats us at the foot of the Creator and His creation. In seeking to draw or describe an entry, we develop eyes to see. We receive a spirit of wonder as we peer closely and discover something new.

    I’ve noticed that the very act of keeping a Commonplace Book has changed me. I read more attentively. A copied passage becomes my possession; I remember it for a long time after writing it down. And in writing it, I cannot help but meditate upon it. The Book changes me.

    It changes me from the inside out, and also from the outside in. This is a great mystery. The habits seem external, but they do something to the mind, to the soul. I think this is why Bestvater calls the notebooks Paper Postures. She’s pointing us to the disposition. The act of Keeping is a means of change for us. It actually creates the atmosphere we need on the outside in order to have the contemplation of a true student on the inside.

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    2 Comments

  • Reply amy in peru January 25, 2014 at 3:49 am

    whoa. these are the thoughts i’ve been thinking and talking about thinking lately, only i’ve been thinking about habits in regard to heroism. but the same thing: physical habits that change us in non-physical ways. it is SO interesting.

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