In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain have chosen the word “piety” to represent the beginning of their classical paradigm. They know this isn’t a popular choice (“Piety is a word nearly lost on our contemporary culture.”), but it represents a vital aspect of the liberal arts tradition that truly underpins all the rest. This is how they define it:
Piety signifies the duty, love, and respect owed to God, parents, and communal authorities past and present.
I know I sound like a broken record (if you remember what that sounded like), but doesn’t that remind you of Charlotte Mason?
Have we then no rights ourselves, and have other people no duties towards us? We have indeed rights, precisely the same rights as other people, and when we learn to think of ourselves as one of the rest, with just the same rights as other people and no more, to whom others owe just such duties as we owe to them and no more, we shall, as it were, get our lives in focus and see things as they are. (Ourselves, Book I, p. 139)
The motto of the PNEU was “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” That word “ought” is the same as the word “owe”— we owe something—duty, respect, obedience, reverence—to our family, friends, country, and God. Charlotte Mason didn’t use the word “piety” often, but never doubt that it was foundational to all that she hoped her educational methods would accomplish. Without it, life becomes a cramped and selfish business.
Why do we not all honour one another? Because our vision is blinded by a graven image of ourselves. We are so taken up with thinking about ourselves that we cannot see the beauty in those about us, though we may be able to admire people removed from us. Conceit and self-absorption are the Dæmons which hinder us from giving that honour to all men which is their due. (Ourselves, p. 147)
When I see that Charlotte Mason criticized her own culture for conceit and self-absorption (which hinder piety/respect toward others) I positively quail. What would she think about ours? Clark and Jain discuss piety at length, and link it to love, which I find very interesting. Linking duty and love reminds me of the way that Charlotte Mason links justice and love, which I believe is a distinctly Augustinian point of view (at least, that’s where I remember encountering that particular pairing—there might be another source).
If piety shapes who we are and orders our loves, then it clearly affects one’s relationships and actions.
This takes the form of good manners, among other things. Jain and Clark suggest that the “culture” of a school educates a child in these things, as much as any curriculum, which puts me in mind of “education is an atmosphere.” Some things are better “caught” than “taught,” and piety is probably one of them.
Very few educators begin the approach to education with anything like piety. This is a bold and brave thing to put forth in the 21st century. The authors lament that, “Modern civilization, having lost all sense of obligation, is brought up against the fact that it does not know what is due to anything.”
If you’re a Charlotte Mason educator or if the classical tradition is important to you, you won’t be letting your students continue in that ignorance. Piety. Duty. Reverence. We have to walk in that path ourselves if we expect our students to find the way.
Charlotte Mason said that man who knows his duty and does it has integrity—that is, he is integrated—he is a whole man. A man with piety?
He has said to himself, ‘I owe it to my parents’—or my teachers, or my employers—‘to do this thing as well and as quickly as I can; what is more, I owe it to myself.’ (Ourselves, p. 170)
If you want to know more about piety in The Liberal Arts Tradition, you won’t want to miss Brandy’s thoughts about it at Afterthoughts.