teaching living ideas

At the heart of the Christian classical curriculum and methodology is the presentation of living ideas. The soul feeds on ideas, and its health is determined by the quality of those ideas and the life found in them.

When we teach children about butterflies, we do not begin by showing them dead butterflies pinned to a board. We show them living butterflies in their natural environment.

When we teach them about moral habits, we do not begin by memorizing definitions of the virtues. We present living virtues by modeling them ourselves and providing vicarious experiences through literature, music, and the arts. This does not mean that we reduce stories, music, and the arts to moral lectures; rather, we concentrate on human works that are excellent themselves (the artist was virtuous in his performance) and that embody the virtues in the work (e.g. heroes who model courage, rhythms that are temperate, color selection that is appropriate).

Sometimes students need to learn things that are not “natural” but are man-made, such as letters and digits. In cases like this, an additional difficulty arises because these man-made conventions do not have a “natural” state. They are symbols for other things. In this case, the children simply need to learn the conventions (the man-made symbols). However, before learning the conventions, they will experience as much of the natural thing as possible (e.g. the sounds that go with the letters and the numbers that are represented by the digits).

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