Thursday, April 15, 2010

Narration: Preface, Norms and Nobility

David Hicks wrote Norms and Nobility near the beginning of his career as a teacher and administrator. Ten years later, although he still believes the ideas found in the book are valuable, he would change a few things: to distinguish more between the opinions of the ancients, rather than generalizing their thoughts on education; to recognize the work of other modern educational theorists such as Mortimer Adler; to try harder to find a proper place for science topics in the classical school; and bring to the forefront the idea that the teacher, rather than the curriculum, needs to be the focus of reform.

(Note to self: the idea that he would change some things makes this a very important preface to read-- a new lens through which to see his original writing.)

Many American educators have looked for a classical paideia (the process of educating humans into their 'true form', ie., virtue), and these ideas are found rather than invented. A rich context in which to put knowledge is to ask, "What should one do?"

This question elicits not only knowledge, but wisdom, and it draws the interest of the student into any subject, no matter how obscure or far removed from his day-to-day concerns.

Mr. Hicks' book differs from other modern education theorists' writings in that it honestly confronts the idea of dogma in education. Other theorists propose that the end of education is to master thinking skills and understand basic ideas in the intellectual tradition (Western or otherwise), but:

The aims of education... must express, not just ideas, but norms, tending to make young people not only rational, but noble. For this reason I have differed from many modern writers on education by insisting upon the necessity of dogma, by attempting to circumscribe the use of skepticism and analysis, and by emphasizing the role of teachers as what Edwin deLattre calls "practitioners of the art of learning."

Nowadays, skepticism and analysis are highly regarded tools in the classroom, often the centerpiece of modern education. However, skepticism tends to kill both imagination and acceptance, making it more difficult for students to embrace non-scientific truths (ie., beauty, loyalty, courage) and producing emotional detachment*:

How can science and mathematics remain at the core of the modern curriculum and contribute to man's search for objective truth and self-understanding without imposing a narrow empiricist agenda on the rest of the school? How can we teach science in a way that serves the technological needs of our society and the spiritual needs of our students? These are difficult and urgent questions.

*(Haha, like this emotionally detached blog post. I am just trying so hard to understand what he is saying. Maybe things will loosen up later. And I really like the point he made about skepticism and analysis. Reminds me of that section in Madam How and Lady Why when Charles Kingsley talks about how once Analysis has pulled everything apart, he cannot tell how to put it together again, because he cannot return life to something he has killed. And I like science and trying to prove things wrong and picking things apart, but I agree that we focus on it too much.)


Krakovianka said...

I think the synthesis/analysis chapter in Kinsley's book is an excellent way of understanding what Hicks means when he talks about dialectic. Glad you're joining the discussion.

Anonymous said...

David Hicks writes, "How can we teach science in a way that serves the technological needs of our society and the spiritual needs of our students? These are difficult and urgent questions."

Spiritual needs of students and society as a whole are inseparable. The spiritual guidance the student needs to perform good science and respond to technological demands is no different than spiritual guidance the grocer or handyman needs to adequately/honorably perform the tasks of these or any other vocation. Furthermore, spiritual guidance is necessary if the selection and priorities of technological demands are addressed in a moral way.

Spiritual needs can be met in a basic way where scientific exploration is concerned. It is to acknowledge that truth, absolute truth, in a factual sense does exist. It is empirically evident when the complex is traced back to simple singularity and also by the pattern of consistency of design and construction of all material things that together infer intelligent design. It infers there is a beginning and in the beginning a ONE. Scientific investigation suggests it is from this ONE that order appears to have proceeded; beginning with physical order which is proven by the sameness of all things created: the same order of creation as atoms, molecules, compounds, cells, etc..

However, limited knowledge and technology limit scientific investigation. As yet, not all truth can be explained by the scientific method. Science can prove only some elements of truth.

When science embraces these axioms prejudice never rises higher than the orientation of ones hypothesis. And theories are never presented as settled science. The presence of unknown truth is acknowledged; in fact, the theory itself will shine light in the direction of the unknown, so that others may build and add, or tear down and remove. This is intellectual honesty. The morality of true science is to freely admit where knowledge ends and theorizing begins. It is to clearly state what we know that tells us what may be and also what we do not know that may prove what is or is not. This is the healthy skepticsim of acknowledging the limits of our understanding. It is the morality of never relying on blind faith, however dressed-up it may be in fanciful theory, to claim as truth and therefore undisbutable knowledge, that which is yet unproven.


Katie said...

Dad, I think Hicks would agree with you that the spiritual needs of students are no different from those of grocers or businessmen. Also, from what I have read so far, it appears that Mr. Hicks is speaking of science in terms of truths that can be known empirically.

He seems to be addressing the idea of determinism as well as the limitations of empirical knowledge-- how certain questions that ought to be asked are not asked when people only consider empiricism-- rather than the late tendency of some scientists to treat science itself as a dogma or religion rather than as a way to prove rational truths.

It's a very challenging book. I'll post another set of notes on the Prologue soon.