Friday, August 07, 2009

Priming the Pump, II

I first read The Abolition of Man some years ago but since I know my tendency to not grasp Lewis's profound ideas the first time around and also my need to be reminded of truth once grasped, at least in part, I decided to read it again a few weeks ago.

The Abolition of Man, How Education Develops Man's Sense of Morality

And now, after 19 years of raising children I am coming closer to articulating one of the fundamental truths for affecting the lives of my children. Just in time, as a friend and mother of four small children is coming over tomorrow to ask me about child-rearing and home education. And, about time: it takes me a long time to synthesize and articulate my own philosophies so I am thankful for clear thinkers such as Lewis, who do the hard work, giving words to my intuitions and daily practices. And because there is nothing new under the sun, I am glad to consider the view of the ancients, as does Lewis, in his essay, "Men Without Chests".

In his critique of modern education, Lewis laments that in our attempts to protect children from propaganda by fortifying their minds against emotion and with mere knowledge that we famish their natures. Says Lewis, "the right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments". (p.24)

Lewis cites examples from ancient wisdom:

~"St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections"--or, ordering of affections--" in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it."

~"Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought."

~"In the (Plato's) Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of a gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her."

It is this proper ordering of sentiments/emotions which give men chests:

Again drawing from Plato's Republic: "As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. The head rules the belly through the chest--the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. (Italics, mine)

And thus, it is this proper ordering of affections, learning to love what is love-worthy, which should be our greatest goal as we raise and educate our children. An online friend who has been living this and writing about this idea for some time recently summed it up like this, per her notes from a recent conference:

"In his reflections on classical education he (John Hodges) makes the point that education is not just To Know something but rather To Love something. Education is the shaping of the sensibilities (Ordo Amoris). Truth, beauty and goodness cannot be separated. That is a pretty cool idea, no?

So, where to begin? As a Christian parent and educator, I begin with God's Word:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things..." ~Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Do we know, perfectly, what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise? I don't think we do, which is probably a good thing or else someone would write a curriculum or textbook about it. But we are not lost in the cosmos: God's revelation of Himself, the perfection of all these qualities as given to us in His Word and His Son, Jesus, provide the perfectly veiled clues which lead to discovery for those who humbly approach Him; It is His Word which leads us in the joyful 'work' of making these discoveries of truth in community with others and, particularly with our children as we seek to teach them to love all that should be loved and in its proper order.


Lori said...

My thoughts exactly!

desert mom said...

I knew there was a reason we get along so well : )

j cowles said...

What most stood out to me in your discussion was the idea of teaching a form of self-discipline to children. Perhaps that's not the exact meaning of ordo amoris -- but that's what it sounded like to me. Teaching children, or even just ourselves, to order our affections rightly. That's the meaning I have always taken from that quote in Philippians -- that we must TRAIN our minds to think upon the true and lovely, as it is not our natural state.

The other thing that stood out was the quote "the right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments." This strikes me as truly profound and reminds me of a discussion I had with a youth worker a few years ago. He believed teenagers could not stand against the onslaught of college with "mere" truth -- they needed experiential spirituality that no one could take away from them. At the time, and still today, this sticks in my craw. If Christianity is a "mere" experience of life-enhancement, then we should let kids try whatever they want until they stumble upon what's best for them. If we believe Christianity is truth, however, the best defense against everything false that surrounds us is to instill what is true.

desert mom said...

Maybe instead of looking at it as 'mere truth' vs 'experiential spirituality' look at it as merely knowing the truth vs knowing and loving the truth. You're right, experiential Christianity at it's best would pre-suppose a knowledge and love of the truth but I think in this day and age that is a huge presupposition to work from. Often that foundation of knowledge and love of truth hasn't been sufficiently laid.