Monday, April 26, 2010

N&N: That Which One Thinks is True

David Hicks uses the word, 'dogma', in his book. I keep bumping up against it in an uncomfortable way. What exactly does it mean? And in what sense does he use it? And why am I uncomfortable with that word in the context of education?

1. tenet, a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof
2. a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative.

1 a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet b : a code of such tenets c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2 : a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

The word is from a Greek root meaning, "to seem good, think". Hmm.

Here are some quotes from N&N. I think Mr. Hicks is using the word in the sense of 'authoritative code of beliefs':

"I have differed from many modern writers on education by insisting upon the necessity of dogma..." (p. vi)

"Both an elaborate dogma and a man, [the Ideal Type] defied comparison with any man, yet all men discovered themselves in it." (p. 4)

"Like the thinker whose brilliance we universally acclaim, Alfred North Whitehead, we have cultivated a perverse form of modesty and self-deception that, in the absence of dogma (the working yet scientifically undemonstrable hypotheses of the old civilization), has allowed us to forget who we are and what our purposes are, as well as to neglect to teach those lessons to our children." (p. 10)

"Classical education presents the right way, not with the intention of stifling future inquiry, but as a necessary starting point for dialogue. In this sense, dogma can resemble art: it confronts man with some truth about himself, a kind of truth that might have taken him a lifetime of error and misdirection to arrive at for himself, but ultimately, a truth he must test in his own experience of life if he is to appropriate it for himself and benefit from the confrontation." (p. 19)

So-- Mr. Hicks believes dogma is necessary in education. The Ideal Type is dogma. So were the "working yet scientifically undemonstrable hypotheses of the old civilization". Without it, we do not know who man is, and what his purposes are. And dogma can behave like art.

I think I am uncomfortable because I do fear indoctrination, especially if we are talking about education in a larger sense than what I am doing at my house with my own kids. Obviously, I think dogma (Christian dogma, to be specific) is a necessary component of education-- one of the reasons we homeschool is because we have strong convictions regarding "what we think is true". But who picks the dogma for institutional schools? The parents? The school board? The state or national government?

Can dogma be broad enough to be universal and not infringe on religious freedoms when the state runs government schools-- and yet still be that spirit that confronts us with who we are and what we ought to do?

C.S. Lewis, in his book, _Mere Christianity_, talks about certain laws that are accepted by almost every human culture, even the remotest. The fact that so many different cultures have such similar principles, Lewis says, is proof (in the sense of classical inquiry rather than scientific) that a universal code of ethics exists. This is why we can use Greek and Roman myths, African "Anansi" legends, and old European fairy tales as 'organizing stories' for our young folks-- these stories embody universal values.

Could this code be used to form dogma for education, even in a nation in which the definition of 'religious freedom' is being debated? I know some folks have tried (William Bennett comes to mind). Is that what Mr. Hicks is talking about? Is it enough?

Update: It occurred to me as I woke up this morning that CM's student's motto and 20 Principles are dogma, although she did call on the science of her day as proof for some of her principles. She had tremendous respect for and hope of science, it seems. And she also understood the educational necessity-- indeed, the human necessity-- of addressing the questions, "What is man? and what are his purposes?"

"I am, I can, I ought, I will." This was the motto she gave us. I am a human being, one of God's children; I can do right by my fellowmen and by myself; I ought so to do and God help me, I will so do. Is this not a great message she has given us?

--Michael A. E. Franklin, one of Charlotte Mason's students; from In Memoriam


Anonymous said...

You wrote: "Update: It occurred to me as I woke up this morning that CM's student's motto and 20 Principles are dogma, although she did call on the science of her day as proof for some of her principles." Exclusivity is what makes CM's motto and 20 Principles a dogma. Despite the fact that individual components of the principles are based on scientific fact, from the whole body of scientific facts available to her, CM limited her expression of educational philosophy exclusively to facts that support her motto and 20 principles. She excluded all others as not relevant to the particular truth she wished to convey in her statement of education philosophy. A dogma not only expresses the accepted values as truth for those who embrace it, dogma implies ones willingness to be governed by the values, to conduct one's self according to the philosophy its values together form. However, a caution regarding dogma: If the dogma is limited to one truth, or one area of truth, is specific rather than general, and can be reasonably scrutinized for accuracy and relevance; and as a tool for expressing A TRUTH may be useful. A dogma that is general,broader in its scope and assertions is less efficient because it tends to leave the impression of defining THE TRUTH rather than A TRUTH. This is a problem in particular where religous dogma is concerned; and points to an intrinsic problem with lenghty and detailed religous credes or Articles of Faith. Their complexity and comprehensive nature causes folks to view them as dogma. Yet, they do not contain all scripture, or for that matter all scriptural knowledge. Therefore they cannot be THE TRUTH. Rather, the best a crede can do is identify truths and point readers to scriptures which explain and substantiate specific truths. For this reason credes are fundamentally inadequate and therefore always fall short of adequately explaining the truth they identify. The same is true for all dogma. The broader a dogma is in scope and more detailed its explanations the greater its potential to convey error as truth.

Katie said...

See, I knew there was some reason the word, "dogma", bothered me. I'm going to have to think more about this.