Paideia in the principles

In the final chapter of The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain spend some time examining the calling and culture of schools. I suspect most of my readers are homeschoolers, not schoolteachers, so I’m just going to mention that without discussing it. If you do work in a school, you’ll definitely want to consider some of their ideas in this chapter.

I’m going to springboard off of the word paideia. This Greek word is sometimes translated as education, but is more properly understood as enculturation. It’s not just about educating a child in the academic way, but developing his thoughts and behavior to make him the best person he can be. In Charlotte Mason’s terms, we might say that education is the formation of character. The word is even used in the Bible, when Paul writes in Ephesians that parents should “bring up their children in the paideia of the Lord.”

This central aspect of the classical tradition draws our focus to two of the identifying characteristics of that tradition: the development of virtue and the pursuit of wisdom.

According to Clark and Jain,

The basic idea contained in the term virtue was excellence with respect to practice.

In other words, virtue is expressed by action, doing something, and learning to do it well.

I’ve been meaning for a while to share the way these two classical principles (virtue and wisdom) are embedded in Charlotte Mason’s principles, and this seems like a good place to do it. The word virtue is linked to the idea of manliness, in the sense of power and essence. Charlotte Mason considers one of the most important things for a person to learn is how to govern one’s own will.

In principles 16-19, she links will to reason, and underscores how important it is to understand these aspects of ourselves and use them wisely. The will must choose the ideas that the reason will entertain, and so she writes:

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.

The will is not in itself good or bad—it can be used to choose a good course or an evil one. But making a choice at all—using the will—is the distinctive activity of a man (person).

To will  [is] the quality of a man. A king is not a king unless he reign; and a man is less than a man unless he will. (Ourselves, p. 140)

Having made this clear, Charlotte Mason also gives us a hint that this is, in fact, part of pursuing virtue. To use the will wisely and well is to act, and this is the how virtue is expressed.

The will is virtue, in the etymological sense of that word; it is manliness. (Ourselves, p. 139)

Besides the development of virtue, another distinctive of Greek paideia is the pursuit of wisdom. And again, this idea of wisdom is embedded in Charlotte Mason’s principles; in this case, it is implied by “Education is the science of relations. Actually, Miss Mason is quite explicit about it. I shared this quote earlier in this blog series, but I’ll repeat it here.

Now what is wisdom, philosophy? Is it not the recognition of relations? First, we have to understand relations of time and space and matter, the natural philosophy which made up so much of the wisdom of Solomon; then, by slow degrees, and more and more, we learn that moral philosophy which determines our relations of love and justice and duty to each other: later, perhaps, we investigate the profound and puzzling subject of the inter-relations of our own most composite being, mental philosophy. And in all these and beyond all these we apprehend, slowly and feebly, the highest relation of all, the relation to God, which we call religion. In this science of the relations of things consists what we call wisdom. (Parents and Children, p. 258-59, emphasis mine)

One thing I found fascinating is that Charlotte Mason, as well as Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain, refer to the childhood development of Jesus to underscore their assurance that these are the proper pursuits for education.

We are told that Jesus Christ “grew in wisdom and stature in the sight of God and man.” Clark and Jain suggest that this “stature” is a way of expressing virtue, that perfection of choosing (willing) to do right.

So, there you go—wisdom and virtue embedded in Charlotte Mason’s principles. I think she has a pretty good grasp of paideia, too.

A child should be brought up to have relations of force with earth and water, should run and ride, swim and skate, lift and carry; should know texture, and work in material; should know by name, and where and how they live at any rate, the things of the earth about him, its birds and beasts and creeping things, its herbs and trees; should be in touch with the literature, art and thought of the past and the present I do not mean that he should know all these things; but he should feel, when he reads of it in the newspapers, the thrill which stirred the Cretan peasants when the frescoes in the palace of King Minos were disclosed to the labour of their spades. He should feel the thrill, not from mere contiguity, but because he has with the past the relationship of living pulsing thought; and, if blood be thicker than water, thought is more quickening than blood. He must have a living relationship with the present, its historic movement, its science, literature, art, social needs and aspirations. In fact, he must have a wide outlook, intimate relations all round; and force, virtue, must pass out of him, whether of hand, will, or sympathy, wherever he touches. This is no impossible programme. Indeed it can be pretty well filled in by the time an intelligent boy or girl has reached the age of thirteen or fourteen; for it depends, not upon how much is learned, but upon how things are learned. (School Education, p. 161-62, emphasis mine)

I know that’s a long quote, but it’s the best I know for giving you a bird’s eye view  of how the wide, generous curriculum urged by Mason (and Clark and Jain) should produce a virtuous person.

Clark and Jain remind us as they conclude their book that we are called to raise our children in the paideia of the Lord. Our education—whether in school or at home—should be Christian first. It is only as the classical tradition serves that Christian focus that it deserves our attention.

This is the final post in this blog series. I’ve enjoyed this book very much and will doubtless refer to it again and again. I hope it will be read by many others—everyone who wants to understand classical education a little better.

I’ll be taking a break from the blog for a bit, but I’ll be back soon with some interesting new things—and I hope, a few surprises—to share with you.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass


Link to all the posts in the Liberal Arts Tradition discussion.