I just can’t get past this basic question. I don’t want to get past it. Coming back to center and “base” is fundamental to maintaining a sane position in a world whirling out of control. It is my attempt to overturn the notion that “the center cannot hold.” And as I am back in the classroom at least part time, it is necessary to keep asking this one question over and over. The “236” of the title is not literal, and both literally and figuratively is way too low a number. I have asked the question perhaps thousands of times by now.
In my own thinking, here is the outline in short form:
- Toward the objectives of wisdom and virtue (not to be distinguished so much as intertwined as really one objective = wisdom being shown by virtue, virtue informed by wisdom).
- As such then, it is the forming of proper appetites, or affections, or loves.
- The proper object of this love is God, found in all that is True, Good, and Beautiful.
- As love demands action (what the student does) as well as orientation (what his appetites lead to) I must distinguish and address what the student loves, knows, and is able to do.
- What a student is able to do is developed through the human “arts” (of which the Medieval educators were able to distinguish seven arts that lead to liberty, the seven liberal arts). What the student knows is circumlocuted in the four sciences.
- Therefore, while I must and am always concerned about the content of what my students are learning (that is important, accurate, clear, memorable, etc.) I must also be equally (?) or even more concerned about what abilities are being enacted in their lives (are they becoming better at thinking, reading, listening, speaking, writing, etc.?). And behind all this is the question of affection. While they are becoming wiser and more virtuous, how is the ethos of my instruction bringing them to the right affections and then helping them order those affections rightly?
- And finally, how does one assess all this in any way even approaching wisdom and virtue itself? At times it seems like all is going well until this last question is raised. How can one human benchmark wisdom and virtue in another, or even more importantly, as I am standing in at the request of a parent who is ultimately responsible for assessing the wisdom and virtue of their child, how can I the teacher approximately assess the attainment of wisdom and virtue in my student and then communicate that to the parent in any manner that is loving, humane, and clear? It is easier if we don’t insist upon it being “objective” or communicated through a “number.”
Whatever education is, it is not easy, quick, generalized, or for the faint of heart.