Saturday, April 10, 2010

Norms and Nobility

My dad gave me Norms and Nobility for my birthday! I feel like a kid who has just been given a proper shooting marble so I can join in the big games, lol. Not that I'll have any profound observations, but at least now I can read over the section in the book before reading others' comments, and put my own ideas out here.

Like the blind men describing the elephant, I often convince myself that I comprehend a thing when I have only explored one or two aspects of it. I am consistently surprised to realize there is something additional that I haven't considered. I don't know why this surprises me, but it does. Well, I do know why-- pride and laziness. So, note to self: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy." Don't forget!

This post is a round-up of blog posts different ones have written about the book-- a reference for myself and anyone else who could use it.

*A post written by the DHM in 2005 on Norms and Nobility. I think this was the first I ever heard of the book.

Favorite quote:

Learning occurs in the area between what we already know how to do and what we do not know how to do and cannot do. If nobody ever asks of us more than we think we can do, then we do not learn.

This reminds me of the business principle of having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Dave Ramsey likes this type of goal, too-- he says it is important for your goals to be just far enough out there that you can *almost* graze them with your fingertips if you jump your highest. Or, as a friend once told me when I was complaining about Churchill's Birth of Britain being so *hard*, "A great deal of education is about the struggle."

*Other Common Room posts with 'Norms and Nobility' in the body of the post.

*This isn't strictly about the book Norms and Nobility, but it is the same kind of ideas-- Mama Squirrel has been writing a series of great articles called, "A Month With Charlotte Mason". Mama Squirrel is so wise, and also so practical. I love reading her blog.

*Krakovianka has chimed in with some compare and contrast of CM and the ideas of David Hicks. Those posts can be found here.

In a post that actually talks about a different book, but references Norms and Nobility, Krakovianka writes:


This basic virtue is essential to true classical education, and I suppose it should not be surprising to find that a Biblical approach to education requires it as well. Humility is essential to inquiry and knowledge, because the learner must admit that he does not know something, that he needs to be taught, that someone else may know more than he does, and that such a person should be attended to. Without such humility, our minds are closed.

*Cindy has talked a bit about hubris in the world of home education:

...if we take a cursory look around we will see that Christians also seek after human approbation and glory as means to self-esteem. We could split hairs quite a bit at this point. I don't think this means that we shouldn't encourage our children when they do well and excel as in getting good test scores but the demon here seems to be that if we strive for good test scores that often becomes the means and the end. This may be something we want to discuss in depth.

How do we strive for excellence while protecting ourselves and our children from hubris?

Her blog is called "Ordo Amoris", which is Latin for "the ordering of the affections". I think that is a great focus for education, don't you?

As Charlotte said in Volume 3:

The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

This tells me a narrow scope or scant curriculum is not a proper option for the child of God-- a 'generous curriculum', as Charlotte says, puts the child in place to form relationships with the many orders of things, people, ideas, that God has set for us in this world (and the next). But the studying must not become an end unto itself. It is a vehicle into full relationships, and relationships imply action on behalf of the loved object. And, often, those 'objects' are people, which means if we are so focused on our books and our learning that we don't notice the people around us, we are doing it wrong. Actually, I'm not adequately expressing what I think. Let me think about it some more, and get back to the topic at hand.

*Cindy's Norms and Nobility posts are here. She is leading the discussion, so make sure to read the comment sections.

She quotes Hicks at length, and I am just going to grab it and post it here for reference:

"General curiosity, imagination in forming hypotheses, and method in testing them, then, mark the classical spirit of inquiry. This bent of mind allows the educated man to go on educating himself or extending the realms of knowledge for his fellows. In the process of asking a wide range of questions, of forming hypotheses and of testing their consisitency with known facts, the student learns about the nature of his subject and about the methods appropriate for mastering it. This process- because it is the indispensable tool for unearthing all human knowledge- is the only true basis for a classical, or universal education.

Only the person whose mental habits conform to this generous pricess can be said to be "educated" in a universal sense. This is the person who, as Aristotle writes in his essay On the Parts of Animals, 'should be able to form a fair off-hand judgement as to the goodness or badness of the method used by a professor in his exposition,' This is the person competent to judge what the experts say without being an expert."

*Andrew Kern is not currently writing about the book Norms and Nobility, but he has been focused on the 'nature' of things-- in other words, knowing the essence of a thing. I can't figure out a good keyword for pulling up his 'essence of things' posts, but if you cull through the posts that come up when you search for 'nature' or 'essence', you will get an adequate collection.

His most amazing post, which I think he must have written just as his thoughts on 'nature' or 'essence' were congealing, is called, "Thoughts on Knowing and the End of Education". In this post, he deals with pragmatic education, traditionalist education, and Christian education.

He comes from a CCE background, and discusses rote memorization of symbols quite a bit, but he seems to balance it with contextual learning. (I do think memorization is important, but if I have to choose between rote memorization and reading lots of great books, I am going to err on the side of the books and not the memory work. Also, I try to make sure what my students are memorizing is relevant to what they are reading.) I am going to quote Mr. Kern at length because he gets the idea of transcending a tradition without undercutting its principle-- operating from the why of grandma cutting the end off the roast, so to speak, rather than simply imitating grandma:

Only a master of the symbols can transcend them. The clearest example of this fact seems to be our Lord and his response to the Pharisees. He recognized that they were, in varying degrees, living off the traditions instead of living by them.

As a result, they began to contort the traditions handed to them to their own advantage and became wolves among sheep.

In our Phariseeism, we can forget how very easily we become pharisees.

But long before the Pharisees began to contort the traditions, they had come to see the traditions either as ends in themselves, or, worse, as means to other ends than what they pointed to.

The Sabbath, for example, was a tradition handed to the Jewish people through their covenant with God. It was meant to be a Holy Day of rest. As such, it pointed the covenant people to something beyond a one day/week religious experience.

Symbols, in other words, don’t refer to themselves. This is easiest to see when we look at words. The word “lamp” is a sound symbol. It does not refer to itself, but to an invention with which we are all familiar that can enlighten a room.


The goal is always to see what the symbols point to.

Knowledge, therefore, to the Christian classical educator is perception of reality.

The pragmatic educator is not content to “know” in this sense, because he does not believe such knowledge exists. He focuses on skills of adaptation.

The traditional educator at his best strives for this kind of knowledge, but he encounters so many temptations (especially honor from men who don’t see the reality beyond the tradition) that he rarely transcends the tradition.

And if he does, he’ll say something a little off kilter and offend the traditionalists around him, who will scapegoat or crucify him one way or another.

The Christian classical educator loves practical applications of his knowledge. But not as much as he loves the knowledge itself. Truth is the delight of his soul, the queen of his mind.

He does not demand of her that she step down and serve him.

The Christian classical educator loves the traditions on which he was raised. But not as much as he loves the truth and beauty embodied by that tradition.

The Christian classical educator takes the knowledge of the traditional educator and the skills of the Pragmatic educator and, guided by the good, weaves them into a beautiful tapestry of truth that nourishes the soul until the disciple has attained wisdom and virtue himself.

But only because he has come to see that knowledge is not mere power, nor is it mere recall of symbols and facts, but it is the perception and apprehension of reality itself.

This 'links' post is a lot longer than I thought it would be, but at least I have all these links in one place. I hope this helps someone thinking along the same lines.

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