Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rambling About Ideas and Facts. And Reality.

According to David Hicks in the prologue _Norms and Nobility_ (p. 4), the classical model of education emphasized the Ideal Type, while the modern model of education emphasizes facts and analysis.

Facts are not good or bad. They just are. As some are fond of saying, you can't argue with facts.

I think you probably can on special occasions. But I digress.

What is an idea?

A live thing of the mind, seems to be the conclusion of our greatest thinkers from Plato to Bacon, from Bacon to Coleridge. We all know how an idea 'strikes,' 'seizes,' 'catches hold of,' 'impresses' us and at last, if it be big enough, 'possesses' us; in a word, behaves like an entity... There is but one sphere... in which the conception of an idea is curiously absent, and that sphere is education! Look at any publisher's list of school books and you shall find that the books recommended are carefully dessicated, drained of the least suspicion of an idea, reduced to the driest statements of fact. (CM Vol. 6 Bk. I Ch. 6)

I realize that modern education, indeed, modern life, has strayed far, far into the realm of Facts Alone Are Wanted In Life. This is a grave error. Although facts themselves aren't bad or good, seeing only the material to the exclusion of the spiritual or unexplainable is a lopsided and evil view of life.

But we mustn't make the opposite error and wander into the land of starry-eyed idealism. (Modern thinkers, in rebellion against the materialists, have strayed far into this camp, too.) We are still living in a material world.

I can't believe I just quoted Madonna, but there it is. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I love noble ideas. I am a romantic at heart. I get tired of people who never look up. But I also think facts are very important. They are the things that keep us grounded and show us which of our magnanimous aims are possible in this low ground of sin and sorrow. Crusty old Brother So-and-So whose straightforward logic dampens the enthusiasm of the young whippersnapper is actually reminding said young person that facts must be consulted.

One of the reasons we admire "Sully" Sullenberger is because he combined the noble ideals of courage and duty with practical knowledge and skill, and the result was that every person walked off that plane alive.

Ideas are so important. We mustn't leave them out when we are educating children. And the younger children are, the more they need organizing stories that illuminate an Ideal Type. I think this is different than idealism or romanticism.

We have to have both facts and ideas. George Washington Carver needed an amazing amount of facts in order to teach farmers better ways to farm. But without being taught magnanimity, what would he have cared? He knew better than to give a man a fish: he taught men to fish, or to farm, rather, in ways that were healthy for the soil and more productive. He wished to help the poor; he wished to heal the land; he used skill and knowledge he possessed to act on his noble ideas. But the noble ideas came first.

I am totally rambling at this point, but what I'm trying to say is that we need both. Ideas and facts. Poetry and technology. Synthesis and Analysis. It appears that Hicks is going to focus on ideas because people get hung up on facts in education nowadays-- but I know we need both, and I think he knows it, too.

Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. (ibid.)

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