So far, in discussing the ends to which a classical education is aimed, we have discussed the purpose for man and his eternal need for God’s grace. But there are even more wonderful ends for us to pursue. The next one I would like to consider is that of ordering a human’s affections rightly. The hallmark of human capacity is the capacity to love. But I should not love my wife and pizza with the same kind of affection. There is a priority of loves incumbent in man’s purpose and a school should be helping to order those affections in a godly manner. In classical education this has been referred to as ordo amoris, or the ordering of the heart.
An excellent school is not satisfied with imparting information, but only really believes it is accomplishing something when its students begin to live differently. This being true, it is not enough for a school to tell its students the “right” order for their affections: “you should love this more than this other lesser thing.” What it really seeks to do is cultivate taste in its students so that they begin re-ordering their affections along the lines of these more highly cultivated desires and appetites. A major player in this taste cultivating enterprise is the student’s growing sense of beauty; his aesthetic.
This is incredibly important for a school to consider. It is not sufficient for a school to consider carefully the content of its teaching, but it must consider just as carefully the manner in which it is taught. Beauty must be present to awaken the soul to learn. I am growing in my concern that in a passionate desire to see our kids learn “stuff” we have set aside this consideration of beauty, while in their lives outside of school these students are barraged with ideas set in colorful, eye-popping, soul engaging, emotionally charged media, many of which seeking to set our student’s affections on things “below” rather than on things “above.”
All too often the solution set forth in this paradox is one of trying to eliminate the “bad beauty” rather than to step up and “out beauty” (I am inventing verbs all over the place here and beg your forgiveness) those opposed to the real and biblical tastes that an excellent school should be cultivating. This cultivation is a long process and requires faith, hope, love, and patience. It is so much more tempting to regulate and legislate, because the results are quicker. “Come into conformity with what we dictate as proper taste or we will send you away” can cause rather quick but quite shallow and impermanent results in either a school or a family.
At its heart, this end of ordering the affections is an apprenticeship. Parents and faculty must have rightly ordered affections in order to pass these loves along to the next generation. This calls for much contemplation, many questions directed at our own loves and priorities, and ultimately a great deal of prayer before our Lord, Who alone can rightly order our affections. May He give us this grace to love rightly.