For a while, in 2002 and 2003, I published an “e-zine” called Magnanimity. This slightly-edited article appeared in the first issue, to explain the name. A dozen years later, I am astonished by two things–that I feel exactly the same way about education now as I did then, and that I feel equally in need of improving my own.
WHY “MAGNANIMITY” ?
Why call a newsletter by a name that’s difficult to pronounce and probably
hard to remember as well? The title was the suggestion of a friend and
associate, but it perfectly conveys the spirit behind this venture.
“Magnanimity” is composed of two roots. “Magna” means “great or large,” and
“animus” means “life” or “spirit.” Thus, “magnanimity” refers to a “large
spirit” or “greatness of life.”
In his essay Of Education, John Milton (best known as the author of
Paradise Lost) wrote that the goal of education should be to act “justly,
skillfully, and magnanimously” in all areas of life. Charlotte Mason was
particularly inspired by Milton, and refers to his essay, and this word
particularly, on more than one occasion. “…We feel that Milton was right in
claiming magnanimity as the proper outcome of education.” (Philosophy of
Education, p. 268.)
Magnanimity implies that education is not only about the mind or intellect,
but about broadening and strengthening the character, enlarging the heart
and soul, as well as the mind, of man. This “greatness of spirit” recalls
to mind John 10:10, where Jesus said, ” I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Man is not only a physical creation, but has a spiritual, non-material side
as well–this is true even of non-believers. There is more to life than
physical well-being, and “magnanimity” is a reminder of the side that we
most want to grow and mature. Those of us who are educating our own
children are seeking the means of bringing magnanimity into their lives. In
the process, we desire it and seek it for ourselves.
Here a little and there little, line upon line, and precept upon precept, we
learn and grow and stretch ourselves. “A mind once stretched by a new idea
never regains its original dimensions,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Charlotte Mason tells us that the “mind” is spiritual (meaning non-material),
and a classical education seeks to develop this spiritual mind as well as
inform the intellect. What I write can be no more than one small impulse,
but mind and spirit are hungry, and I hope that what I have to offer will
serve as a stepping-stone to wider reading and spirit-growth for each
reader–not only in a religious sense, but growth of that non-material
“mind” with which God has endowed us.
“Magnanimity”–greatness or fullness of life–begins with a love of virtue
and a desire to attain it. Milton says of his pupils that he wanted to “win
them early to the love of virtue.” It does not happen all at once, but high
ideals must be considered. It is too easy to lose sight of the higher goals
if we keep our sights set only on the rough ground at our feet.
Alfred North Whitehead, noted philosopher and educator, reminds us that “at
the dawn of our European civilization, men started with the full ideals
which should inspire education, and…gradually our ideals have sunk to
square with our practice.” Rather than thinking about the hearts and
character of our children, we look myopically at the number of books read,
the workbooks finished, the diplomas collected.
Lift up your eyes for a moment from the curriculum guide, teacher’s manual,
math problems, and state-imposed guidelines. Look at the high goal of
education–a virtuous man or woman who loves the Lord–an individual who
thinks rightly and acts righteously. This is not the work of day, or a
week, or a year. Progress is not measured by checking off a finished
assignment. Though we must give attention to the details of the journey, fix
your eyes on the goal as often as possible, though you can do no more than
take one step at a time.
Even when you know you have far to go, and have not attained, the sight of
your goal is there to inspire you and encourage you. The journey itself is
the important thing. Anyone can stand far off and look at a mountain, but
only those willing to make the climb will achieve the height. The journey
itself will increase your ability to go on. If the peak is never reached,
we may still climb higher than we would have done if we had never begun at
Physical muscles atrophy when they go unused, and so do spiritual and mental
ones. A book that seems too hard today may not be hard at all next year or
in five years, if you are making that journey to grow and strengthen your
heart and mind. Maganimity is a grand-sounding word, but it is a grand
education that we want. We will not be satisfied, but ever-hungry for more
knowledge, more strength of spirit, more greatness of mind.
For further reading:
A Philosophy of Education, by Charlotte Mason, pp. 266-269, or better, the
chapter entitled “Liberal Education in Secondary Schools.”
Of Education, by John Milton