Monday, May 21, 2018

Norms and Nobility--prologue

As part of my continuing teachers education I'm taking a course next year through Circe Institute's Atrium program. We will be working through the book, Norms and Nobility by David Hicks. This book on offers a compelling argument in favor of classical education and how true education involves so much more than the small areas we have relegated it to in modern thought. Education involves the whole person, not just a body of facts that must be learned over the course of 12 or so years.

I'm going to try blogging my way through the book, chapter by chapter (or, likely, section by section. It may not be entire chapters at once) over the course of the next year. I'm starting my read through a bit early as I find that I have a bit more time on my hands for reading now than I had expected. (More on that in a future post, possibly.) So, without further ado, here is my summary-with-thoughts of the Preface

 Norms and Nobility--Preface

Written ten years after the publishing of the book in 1981, David Hicks seems to have mellowed a bit. I found it interesting that he said, if he were to write this book again, he would make fewer sweeping claims for the ancients. They did not have all the answers, and the answers they had were not unified. They did not all come to the same conclusions. Rather, Norms and Nobility is "about an ancient ideal expressed as "classical Education" against which the modern school is weighed and found wanting."

The ultimate aim of education, he goes on to say, is not thinking but acting. It isn't knowing what to do, but doing it. "The sublime premise of a classical education asserts that right thinking will lead to right, if not righteous, acting." Children do not just need to be trained into rational, logical thinkers. Facts are not enough. They need to be able to act in a wise and noble way.

From my commonplace:

Those who believe as I do that teaching students to reason well is not enough threaten, Alder would argue, to turn education into indoctrination while placing a greater burden on the teacher and his lesson than either can bear. Yet it seems to me that the difference between indoctrination and education is more one of degree than of kind, and my teaching experience has lead me to believe that unless my aims are more broadly defined than to make my students rational thinkiers, I will surely fail to achieve even that. Education must address the whole student, his emotional and spiritual sides as well as his tational. The aims of education, the teachers methods, the books and lessons, the traditions, and regulations of the school--all must express not just ideas, but norms, tending to make young people not only rational, but noble.
 This is why the high value that modern methods of teaching place on skepticism is, perhaps, misplaced. In modern thought, dogma is bad but skepticism is good. Students are encouraged to accept nothing, question everything. These adolescent students are, as yet, untrained and inexperienced and yet they are expected to have the capability of being able to distinguish for themselves right and wrong. Skepticism rejects the idea that anything deserves our wholehearted allegiance--everything must be questioned.

The emphasis placed on skepticism and analysis has likely come from those who watched these tools used in the field of science, and saw the wonders that were discovered as a result. The tools were taken and applied to the areas of traditional wisdom and morality to grave consequences. Surely it is possible to both accept that there are certain areas that are simply right or wrong, and other areas where the use of skepticism and analysis is a useful tool.

Perhaps, though, it is not the schools curriculim, but rather the teachers themselves that are most in need of reform. A teacher must first be a student, and as soon as a teacher stops learning he or she can no longer truly teach. The greatest value in the curriculem he proposed, David Hicks continues, "is that it sustains and nurtures teachers as practitioners of the art of learning while discouraging nonlearners from entering the profession."

Only a school (and by extension a curriculum) that encourages teachers to be always learning will keep its teachers fresh and fearless and its students happy and motivated in their studies, ready to test their lessons against life. 

I have to admit, as I enter my fourth week of first grade homeschooling my oldest, I am so excited to read this book. As I see her eyes light up as she comes into contact with the Great Books and makes her own connections makes me fully believe that this is true. There is so much more to education than passing a series of tests.

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