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    Beauty as Home

    July 24, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    If you’ve ever wanted to tear the timeline off your schoolroom walls and replace it with one large reproduction of a classic painting, you might be more classical than you think.

    That desire for the schoolroom to have a more timeless quality? That’s a desire for beauty.

    Now, if you’re anything like me, out of the famous trinity of education (goodness, truth, and beauty), beauty is the one you most easily push aside. Truth is indispensable, of course. And goodness? Well, goodness is a moral quality, so who am I to question its importance?

    But beauty? Beauty gets me. Beauty appeals to the senses, but I like to live inside my head. And beauty costs money, right? And I’m not that great at decorating. Also, doesn’t the Bible call it vain?

    It wasn’t until I was introduced to St. Augustine that I came to understand that beautiful things are actually echoes of God. Augustine wrote:

    But what is it that I love in loving Thee? Not physical beauty, nor the splendor of time, nor the radiance of the light — so pleasant to our eyes — nor the sweet melodies of the various kinds of songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers and ointments and spices; not manna and honey, not the limbs embraced in physical love — it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet it is true that I love a certain kind of light and sound and fragrance and food and embrace in loving my God, who is the Light and Sound and Fragrance and Food and Embracement of my inner man — where that Light shines into my soul which no place can contain, where time does not snatch away the lovely Sound, where no breeze disperses the sweet Fragrance, where no eating diminishes the Food there provided, and where there is an Embrace that no satiety comes to sunder.

    Confessions, Book X, Ch. 6

    This is akin, I think, to the Platonic idea of Forms. Ultimate Beauty lies in God — God Himself is beautiful. And what is more like Him? To allow ugliness to invade our space? Or to do our best to create beauty where we go? When we experience all these things — beautiful sounds, beautiful smells, beautiful tastes, beautiful sights — as both the handiwork of God as well as the echo of His own character, it becomes easier to see beauty’s importance.

    But how do we apply this to the schoolroom?

    The educational philosopher Charlotte Mason probably made the best practical application of this concept. First, she confirms our hunch that there are better things for children than bulletin boards covered in paper, florescent lighting, and all the other eyesores that most classroom teachers have to deal with on a daily basis:

    When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.

    Philosophy of Education, p. 94

    We’re in luck, it seems, because she goes on to again lift up the naturally occurring home atmosphere as an ideal:

    School, perhaps, offers fewer opportunities for vitiating the atmosphere than does home life.

    Philosophy of Education, p. 97

    So it seems that a step in the right direction is keeping the schoolroom more in line with the home in general.

    It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense. {Philosophy of Education, p. 96}

    Philosophy of Education, p. 96

    The natural home atmosphere is the perfect atmosphere for educating children, and Miss Mason suggested that we’d go far to simply keep things nice. Clearing out broken objects and stained linens, giving them real furniture, and keeping their possessions tidy (see Home Education, pp. 125-127). We can add to this the sounds and smells of beauty — pleasing music and the fragrance of something wholesome baking in the oven and the taste of a well-earned meal — and we see that beauty is not an impossible ideal like we once thought. In fact, it flows very naturally from a well-managed home.

    Why is beauty important?

    We have to continually return to our first principle (that the goal of education is to produce virtue) in order to understand why these subsequent principles matter. Augustine once defined virtue as “rightly ordered love” (City of God, XV.23). Because goodness, truth, and beauty all flow to us from God — because they reside in Him and all the lesser examples we find around us here in this life are for us to love in a fitting manner — then exposing a child to beauty, that he might grow to admire and eventually love it, is a noble part of what it means to educate our children. The nice part is that we don’t need to think of beauty as a big, expensive project.

    The tiny flower, the warm smile, all of these serve to support the formation of virtue.

    Read more Scholé Sisters posts here.

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  • Reply Kelly Black October 23, 2015 at 6:36 am

    What a wonderful post! We don’t have a dedicated school room because we are lots of people in a small house. Our dining room doubles as our school room and it is decorated like a dining room. We do have one corner that houses a bookcase with all of our current books, a few supplies, and an icon of our homeschool’s patron saint, St. Basil the Great. Circe’s conference next year is “A Contemplation of Home” and I can’t wait to see how the various speakers relate their talks to the theme.

  • Reply Lucy Howard October 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Thank you for this. This is so very encouraging and helpful in providing a beautiful atmosphere.

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