In part 2 of our four-part series ‘Principles at work in the Classical Homeschool‘ I talked about two principles that can help us increase the harmony within our classical homeschools. First, Classical education is a spirit of inquiry, and second, classical education is the dialectical process of resolving tensions. Today we talk about two more.
This blog series is about several situations I have faced over the last few years and some of the things I have learned from them. Many of the things I learned and discovered about myself as a homeschooling mom and teacher are common temptations we all face as we seek to make sense of practicing the classical tradition in our homeschools. I am beginning to learn I am not alone, and I hope you know that too. It is a real struggle to feel like we are the only ones who screw up and get it wrong. Well, you are not, and neither am I (to remind myself).
In this post, I share some of the things I have learned about what art is, the importance of form, the danger of doing things alone, and the communal nature of education.
“Then I will proceed, and ask whether you also agree with me and whether you think that I spoke the truth when I further said to Gorgias and Polus that cookery, in my opinion, is only an experience, and not an art at all; and that whereas medicine is an art, and attends to the nature and constitution of the patient and has principles of action and reason in each case, cookery in attending upon pleasure never regards either the nature or reason of that pleasure to which she devotes herself, but goes straight to her end, nor ever considers or calculates anything, but works by experience and routine, and just preserves the recollection of what she has usually done when producing pleasure.” -Plato
In this quote, Socrates is contrasting two disciplines, medicine, and cookery. He is saying that cookery is a form of flattery ultimately interested in gratification, whereas medicine is chiefly interested in the patient’s highest interest. After I had read this, I was faced with a question. At first, I was not sure I was brave enough to ask it, but in the end, I did. “When I create art, do I create to gratify or heal?” “Am I interested in responses of flattery or am I considering the soul’s highest interest?” I had to be honest; I was practicing a form of flattery in service to myself. I was imposing rather that inviting others around to participating in something greater.
“The powers of language (or, in this case, pictures) are used illegitimately, to impose, rather than to elicit, the desired response.” –Wendell Berry, Standing by Words
These quotes changed everything for me. I have been creating art since I was 13 and was sure my way of relating to my art was as pure as any artist’s relationship to their art. Furthermore, I had never considered that there may be a right or a wrong way to relate to and create art.
The solution to this is found in what Socrates goes on to explain next. He says that all art has shared characteristics, and all flattery has common traits.
Art, according to Socrates: Attends to the nature of the recipient, has principles of action and reason, makes provision for the soul’s highest interest. In other words, it has form. Art honors the limits of its form and celebrates the possibilities as well. Classical education is no different.
Principle: Classical education is a form.
What do I mean by form? I think Wendell Berry may say it best.
“When understood seriously enough, a form us a way of accepting and living within the limits of creaturely life. … There are two accepts to these forms. The first is the way of making or acting or doing, which is to some extent technical. That is to say that definitions –setting of limits –are involved. … The second aspect of these forms is an opening, a generosity, toward possibility. The forms acknowledge that good is possible; they hope for it, await it, and prepare its welcome –though they dare not require it. These two aspects are inseparable. To forsake the way is to forsake the possibility. To give up the form is to abandon hope.”
In classical education, there is a form of instruction. This form gives us limits and possibilities regarding learning and teaching, supports the nature of the thing being taught, concerns its self with developing conscience, and is central to embodied learning. But we must be faithful and wait for it, almost as if she were a muse.
“There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say. “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form.” –Wendell Berry, Poetry & Marriage
The temptation in all this is choosing one muse or the other, choosing the prodigal son or the older brother. To forget the form has flexibility and possibilities, even though they may be hidden at first. Discovery of these things is the joy of the master and comes with time. Being a master at something is about sensing, knowing, and participating with the limits and possibilities of that thing. Until we are there, sometimes we are tempted to resent the form and try to work outside of it before we are ready, before we have discovered the limits and the possibilities. The other side of this is that one may be closed off to the possibilities. Enjoying the comfort of a form that dictates the next action. We come to a point in our learning where this too can become harmful.
Form, along with openness is the solution to imposing on ourselves, our children, and our students. Learn and practice the forms of teaching and continue to wait upon the Holy Spirit. I believe we will not be disappointed.
Resources for learning more about Form.
Book: Plato’s Gorgias
Conference Recording: Truth in Music: Form, Fashion, Flattery, Forgeries, and Fakes, by: Hank Reynolds
Article: The Great Paradox of Form, By: Joshua Leland
Article: Form, Content, and Human Connection, By: Joshua Leland
TRYING TO DO IT ALONE
I was raised in a single parent home. My whole childhood, it was just my mom, my sister, and me. I am ever grateful for her sacrifices and how she made a loving upbringing for us. However, in the process of learning to make it happen with less, I learned that I had to make it happen, not in a healthy way either. I learned that not many people were there for me. Because of this belief, I have lived my life acting like I can and should do everything all on my own.
Recently I was reading in 1 Corinthians, and I came across a verse I had read many times. The verse that says “We have the mind of Christ.” This time, when I read it, it hit me between the eyes and was new. WE have the mind of Christ, not I. I never noticed this detail before. We, collectively, as the body of Christ have the mind of Christ.
For the first time, I realized my ever present need for others. I just do not and cannot have it all, understand it all, or do it all. I was not created for either. What a relief. Education is the same way.
The very nature of education is communal. It involves one who is lead and one who is leading. We cannot lead ourselves, and we must have other to lead us. We need other to help us in our dialectical inquiries, we need others to imitate, others to encourage us, and others to pray for us.
Principle: Classical education is communal.
Depending on how we tend to be energized, whether in quiet alone time or around others, will tend to direct which temptations we lean towards as it relates to community in the realm of homeschooling. If we are introverted, we will tend to shy away from community. If we are extroverted, we will tend to allow community to distract us from important work.
All of us, man, woman, introvert, extrovert, adult, and child have a profound need for real community.
“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” – Wendell Berry
Resources for learning more about the nature of community in education.
Book: Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry
Book: Leisure and the Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper
Article: Real Community, by Brian Phillips
Article: The Kitchen Table, by Dr. Christopher Perrin