Adler on liberal arts and religious education

Adler uses the word Catholicism, but I’m substituting the word Christianity because I believe the principle applies regardless and because he used that word partly, at least, because he was speaking to Catholics. But this needs to be thought about:

The truth of [Chrsitianity] in religion and philosophy, for example, is no warrant for the efficacy or intrinsic excellence of the way religion and philosophy are taught in [Christian] schools. Only the liberal arts can provide the standard for judging excellence in teaching, for measuring the efficiency of educational means, or for inventing others; and the liberal arts are neither pagan nor Christian, but human.

From Reforming Education,  chapter 13 The Order of Learning (1941)

What do you think? Is he overstating? Simplifying? Right on? Then so what?

John Gatto on Where Our Schools Come From

John Taylor Gatto begins this video by pointing out that when we send our children to schools we are giving them up for adoption. Take a look at this video because Gatto continually forces people to think about obvious things that people don’t want to bother reflecting on. “The master creates the lesson; the teacher administers the lessons.”

How a Teacher Can Imitate God: Incarnational Teaching

Another thing that came out clearly while I was in Austin at Veritas Academy was the central role of ideas in classical education. Mortimer Adler showed that when we teach we always teach one of three things: content, skills, or ideas. Each is taught differently. If you want someone to know content you give it to them or at least tell them where to get it. If you want someone to learn a skill, you give them coached practice. But why bother with skills and content?

In the Christian classical tradition, the answer has always been, because they give you access to ideas. All Christian classical instruction revolves around ideas: contemplating them, being transformed by them, and imitating (applying) them. When the idea was lost, the Christian classical – the western – tradition was lost.

In short, teaching communicates an idea from one soul to another. So one might reasonably ask, “How is that done?” The answer is surprisingly simple: “By embodying the idea.”

We all know this from common experience. If I am trying to explain something to you and I confuse you, what will you say? Probably, “Can you give me an example?” In other words, can you embody this idea you are trying to help me see.

Let us suppose that you want to teach your students the idea of justice. How woud you do that? I don’t want to sound trite, but the first and most important thing is to BE just – to embody justice in your own treatment of the students. Failure to do so will lead to confusion on your student’s part, no matter how clear your lessons are.

Yet, none of us attain that perfect wisdom that enables us to be perfectly just. So what do we do? First, injustice demands a correction. If you are unjust, apologize. It will restore order to your soul as well as to the classroom. And second, you don’t have to carry the full weight of the burden of justice. Tell the children stories about just people and just acts. These stories will embody justice and it will draw out their souls with its beauty.

In each case, you are incarnating the idea of justice. It’s the only way people can learn, no matter how good a text book or curriculum.

By restoring the Idea to its central place in our teaching and in the curriculum, we can truly see the vision of classical education restored in our classrooms. By incarnating ideas, you imitate God, who revealed Himself to us in the Incarnation!

To learn more about how to teach classically, give us a call. James Daniels, Debbie Harris, and I are available for in house teacher training for your school or organization. Also, come to the CiRCE conference this summer. Only 100 seats are available and we’re offering a huge discount for people who register in January (only $200/person), so don’t hold back. Click HERE to learn more or HERE to register.