Saturday, June 09, 2012

Norms and Nobility: Summary of Prologue I and II

“What is the solution to the paradox between educating for the world's fight and the soul's salvation?”

This question seems irrelevant in a society preoccupied, not with timeless themes, but current issues of policy. The jargon of experimentation and research suppresses questions of truth and judgment. The expert, secure in his newfangled science, rejects the timeless (and unprovable) wisdom of the ages.

The journalist, speaking in terms we understand, challenges the expert, who responds with more innovation or else advocates a utilitarian 'back to basics' approach. The question of the world's fight and the soul's salvation may be called classical education. Hicks wishes to respond to those who, while they sense the importance of classical education, cannot figure out how to fit it into an industrial society.

(prescriptive: concerned with norms/ideals)
(descriptive: facts without value judgment)

Our ideas about education flow from our ideas regarding man's nature and purpose. The ancients took a prescriptive view embodied in myth: the Ideal Type. This type, both unchanging and constantly refined, was used to instruct students in what they should do. To the ancients, the 'everyman' was an ideal to be attained rather than a random specimen to examine psychologically. They insisted on descriptions that conformed to the ideal, even when those descriptions did not line up with what actually happened.

For instance, it was customary at a Roman funeral for the son to tell idealistic tales of his father's and ancestors' virtues and successes (not necessarily accurate), thereby inspiring young men in the virtue of public service. The modern educator, disliking inaccuracies and denigrating the Ideal Type as arbitrary, rejects the old form of learning and puts in its place a scientific education concerned only with facts.

The ancients saw science as a useful tool in transforming the heart of man rather than as technology for improving quality of life. They believed man himself was responsible for his own folly and needed much more work than the material world, agreeing with Jeremiah that man's “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”.  However, modern scientists believe evil resides in things outside of man or outside his control, giving rise to the progressive notion that man will be good if technology alters his environment for the better.

The modern world has disregarded the idea of a moral imperative, perhaps thinking it too confining, or else fearing it excludes something important and necessary. However, rejecting the immaterial has narrowed the search for truth and free exchange of ideas in our schools, teaching students to consider only what can be done, rather than what should be done. Modern education, believing man to be a reaction to his environment, has excused him from responsibility for what he knows and focused him on functioning efficiently. The question becomes “How can man get along in this complicated modern world?” and students are taught to desire power rather than truth.

The prescriptive pattern of truth spanned thousands of years and crossed cultural boundaries (Christian, Jew, Roman, Greek), whereas the descriptive pattern is a recent development that excludes non-empirical wisdom and reduces man's thoughts and actions to a reaction against his environment.

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