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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education, Mother's Education

    How to Break Out of the Materialist Mindset

    July 6, 2022 by Brandy Vencel

    Last week, we talked about having better conversations. Our main focus was on freezing up because we have difficulty explaining ourselves. Today’s post will naturally have an effect on conversations, too, but it’s more than that. This gets personal because we aren’t just confronting a materialist mindset when we are Out There in the World. We were raised in the world and we imbibed not only its good things, but also its poisons. That includes the materialist mindset. It’s inside of us.

    What is Materialism?

    Put simply, the materialist walks into the room assuming that what we can see — what we can perceive with our senses — is all that really exists. You may think you are in love, or that justice is a thing, says materialism, but it’s all an illusion. That is just your neurons firing, your neurotransmitters making you feel and think a certain way.

    But what we can measure? What we can see with our eyes, touch with our hands, hear with our ears? That’s the real stuff of life.

    In materialism, matter and energy (energy only because Einstein informed us matter and energy are related) are ultimate. There’s nothing more, nothing beyond, nothing else.

    The world we see is all there is and, by extension, this life we live is all there is.

    Signs of Materialism

    I used to assume that because I’m a Christian, I’m not a materialist by definition. This is true, but also false.

    It’s true in the sense that my deepest belief is that there is a reality beyond what we can see, feel and touch — a reality beyond the senses.

    But it’s false in the sense that having lived my whole life in a materialist culture means I often live and act and talk like a materialist. If I’m not careful, if I don’t renew my mind, I live as a functional materialist.

    Every time I forget God, every time I fall into a secular mindset, I’m a functional materialist. It’s a battle all of us have to fight because this is the substance of the atmosphere around us.

    So what does materialism have to do with homeschooling?

    Well …

    Why do you think the very first question asked when someone has decided to become a homeschooler is, “What curriculum should I use?” Why do you think we struggle with the need to produce evidence that learning has happened? (This is why worksheets are so satisfying — it produces the kind of evidence we like, that which can be weighed and measured.) Why do you think we have to struggle with suspecting that a more classical approach — good books, songs, crafts, talking, writing, and thinking — aren’t “enough”? Why the obsession with memorizing facts? (And why the corresponding impatience with memorizing poetry?)

    It’s materialism.

    Knock Knock. Who’s There? Aristotle.

    In the Consider the Cause Live event (first session is next Tuesday — !! — so register quick … and yes, there are replays), we’re going to be delving deeply into Aristotle’s Four Causes. We’ll be learning how to use the Four Causes to:

    • Build our philosophy
    • Compare and contrast curricula
    • Think deeply about individual subjects

    Ultimately, this is a way of breaking out of the materialist mindset.


    Well, let’s briefly list and describe the Four Causes (these are in the order I’ll be presenting them and not the order Aristotle presents them in):

    • First/Formal Cause: formal refers to the shape of the thing. In regard to education, this is where we ask the question, “What is education in the first place?”
    • Final Cause: final refers to the end of the thing. In regard to education, this is where we ask questions like, “What is education for?” and “What is the ultimate goal of the education we are giving?”
    • Efficient Cause: this is traditional cause-and-effect, the way we tend to think of it. I do something and because I do it, something else happens. I cause an effect to happen. In regard to education, this is where we ask questions like, “How do I teach this?”
    • Material Cause: material refers to the matter involved. It’s the physical trappings of the thing. This is where we ask questions like, “What curriculum should I use?” or “What school supplies do I need?”

    Do you see why I say we are materialists at heart? We jump straight to the material cause — we are most comfortable dealing with the physical trappings of education, what we can see and hear and measure — because that is what the culture around us concerns itself with and we have been tutored in its ways.

    Aristotle gives us the fast track to breaking out of materialism.

    The material cause is a real cause. All you have to do is misplace your math curriculum to know it’s difficult to make education happen without the material trappings you need to get it done. (I once misplaced a grammar curriculum for a whole year. Ahem. The struggle is real.)

    Asking material questions isn’t bad or wrong. It’s just incomplete.

    Curriculum isn’t the sum total of education. Getting through it is not the purpose of what we’re doing. It only feels like the Most Important Thing Ever because we’ve lost the art of thinking more broadly.

    Half the time, we don’t even know what questions to ask!

    Aristotle’s Four Causes teach us the right questions, the deep questions, questions that strip back the material to look at the ultimate, questions that affirm the material while not denying the existence and importance of the immaterial.

    In Consider the Cause, we’re going to teach you the framework for breaking out of this material mindset, and give you a guidebook to guide your thoughts through these important questions. We’re going to give you the tools, and then we recommend you revisit them over and over, going deeper and deeper as you naturally will by revisiting this broader, fuller, deeper view of the world and everything in it.

    Materialism offers us a very small world. It’s time to break out and enter into the big, wide, refreshing world. Click here to register and join us!

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  • Reply Amber Vanderpol July 8, 2022 at 9:05 am

    Interestingly, I was having a long conversation with my daughter about education, educational philosophy, and the four causes while we were visiting before fireworks on the 4th. She’s at a Liberal Arts college and has actually read Aristotle, whereas I have only read Adler’s Aristotle for Everybody, so it was helpful to talk through the ideas with her. I was approaching it from a slightly different direction than you did though (with my short answers in parenthesis)—My first cause question was “what is the nature of man?” (Made in the image and likeness of God) And my final cause question was then “what is man’s true end?” (Union with God, through knowing, loving, and serving Him), my efficient cause question was, “How do we educate man to bring him to God” (Through the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty so he grows in wisdom and virtue), and my material cause question was “what materials do we use to effect this education?” (Music, worship, prayer, good books, good discussions, leisure, time outdoors)

    It really is a helpful framework for considering education and what we’re trying to do as we educate ourselves and our children—fascinating, clarifying, and edifying to contemplate.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 8, 2022 at 4:22 pm

      This cracks me up because my oldest came home from HIS liberal arts college ready to give me a lecture on Aristotle. 😉

      I consider the nature of man a prerequisite question. He’s not (to my mind) the cause of education, but rather the object of it — the object being acted upon by the 4 Causes. Aristotle would call this the first principle consideration, I think.

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