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    Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

    Moral Philosophy: The Child in Community

    November 4, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]his section from The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain is so incredibly rich … and then there are the footnotes! They are a treasure unto themselves. I’ve been reading the section over and over, trying to get a grasp of it all, and I really don’t think I’m done. This is another chapter where I thought I’d have trouble making connections between what I read and Charlotte Mason’s philosophy {which is the goal of this series, if you recall}, and instead I was delightfully surprised that there was so much that it was hard to narrow it down for a single post.

    Examining how Charlotte Mason's 19th principle of education lays the foundation for the exploration of moral philosophy in the classroom.

    Before we get into that, though we need to define moral philosophy, and that gets a little sticky. The Liberal Arts Tradition tells us:

    [M]oral philosophy encompasses more, but not less, than contemporary social science.

    My first instinct was to get into the nitty gritty of how Charlotte Mason approached the teaching of citizenship using Plutarch, ethics using her fantastic masterpiece Ourselves: Improving Character and Conscience, and so many other fantastic readings, but I found that this was giving into the temptation to approach moral philosophy as social science. While I think there are a ton of connections there for the making, I decided not to focus on those in this post.

    Because The Liberal Arts Tradition goes on to say:

    Fundamentally, the focus of Christian moral philosophy is comprehending man as the image of God and his actions and relations within the human society he inhabits. The central question of moral philosophy therefor is anthropological. What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of man?

    There is an extent to which moral philosophy, at least as it is explained in the pages of The Liberal Arts Tradition, is a study of man’s ideal relationship to his community. So this includes all sorts of things — citizenship-via-Plutarch and ethics-via-Ourselves, most certainly — but also economics, and Clark and Jain suggest, the history of sociology.

    More importantly, Clark and Jain tell us that moral philosophy isn’t just about knowing, but also about doing. A harmonious community isn’t built on knowing about harmonious communities, but upon individual persons within the community living well within them — doing right by one another. In fact, the chapter ends by noting that this is the sort of thing implied by the American saying E pluribus unum — “out of many, one.”

    Man needs to be prepared in childhood to function well in community when he is grown. He isn’t going to automatically graduate and know how to play his part in the City of Man.

    I have a talk that I’ve given a couple times now on Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles as a whole — how they work together, rather than looking at any one principle in isolation. It’s not up yet in the shop because I’ve not finished editing it, but it covers what I’m going to talk about today and more.

    You see, I think Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles actually serves as a foundation for moral philosophy.

    First, we have the first principle: Children are born persons. Implied in this is the answer to what Clark and Jain tell us is the central question of moral philosophy: What is man? This is the childhood version — what is a child? As the principles progress, they tell us what a child is and is not. In fact, I would say that there is a sense in which the 20 principles are a moral philosophy — though I hadn’t thought of it this way until reading this section of the book. The 20 principles answer more questions:

    • What does it mean that a child is a person?
    • How are we {as parents or teachers} to relate to a child, and how is a child to relate back to us?
    • What are the tools of education appropriate to children who are born persons?
    • What is a child’s mind like, and what is it not like?
    • What is the curriculum appropriate to the mind of a child who is born a person?

    And on. And on. And on.

    The first lesson of moral philosophy, then, are taught organically, as the teacher interacts appropriately with the students, and the curriculum used is fitting for persons. These things are the lessons behind the lessons.

    I never understood how beautiful the 20 principles were until I had to present them all at once — suddenly, they astounded me!

    I think, though, that the oft-overlooked 19th principle is fitting to focus on for today’s post:

    Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

    Contextually, the “therefore” is connecting the 19th principle to the preceding principles, which focus on the way of the will — teaching the child that he needn’t be a slave to his passions, but that he can exert his will and do his duty — and the way of the reason — teaching the child that reason will often back him up on bad ideas he’s already accepted {that, essentially, reason is a good servant but a bad master}.

    When Clark and Jain say that children ought to study the history of sociology as a practical application of moral philosophy, what they are really saying is that children need to see how ideas change history — how new developments {both good and bad} came about as a result of the acceptance or rejection of certain ideas. Children can explicitly be taught that ideas have huge impact — and then they can apply that lesson to themselves. How is their own behavior a result of the ideas they have accepted or rejected?

    The acceptance or rejection of ideas is usually something that exists below the surface of a man. Most of us live the unexamined life, do we not? Here we are given the opportunity to be more deliberate about ideas, and to think about how ideas are connected with behavior within the context not just of the individual’s life, but within the life of the community, and even the larger circles of city, state, or world.

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  • Reply Anne White November 4, 2015 at 7:12 am

    “Much and varied knowledge, the habit of study (begun early and continued through life), some acquaintance with the principles of an ordered moral life, some knowledge of economic science, should help in the making of well-ordered, well-balanced persons, capable of living without weariness, and without a disordered desire for notice from other people.” CM Vol 5 p. 411 (Yes to economics plus morality!)

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