Sunday, May 27, 2007

Classical Quantities and Qualities

This, from Drew Campbell's blog, reminded me of what Melanie at Wine Dark Sea said when commenting on John Holt's book. I'm quoting some of Melanie's post:

Part of the problem seems to be in Holt's definition of curriculum; indeed, in his definition of knowledge. He seems to be thinking of a series of facts crammed into a child's head. But a curriculum, properly speaking, means a course of study (it comes from the Latin word for race course). A curriculum isn't, or shouldn't be, so much a set of facts to be learned as a series of disciplines to be explored.

I do like John Holt's books very much, but Melanie puts into words one of my main complaints with his point of view.

Similarly, Drew Campbell, quoting Neil Postman's Technopoly:

In consideration of the disintegrative power of Technopoly, perhaps the most important contribution schools can make to the education of our youth is to give them a sense of coherence in their studies, a sense of purpose, meaning, and interconnectedness in what they learn. Modern secular education is failing not because it doesn't teach who Ginger Rogers, Norman Mailer, and a thousand other people are but because it has no moral, social, or intellectual center. There is no set of ideas or attitudes that permeates all parts of the curriculum. The curriculum is not, in fact, a "course of study" at all but a meaningless hodgepodge of subjects. It does not put forward a clear vision of what constitutes an educated person, unless it is a person who possesses "skills." In other words, a technocrat's ideal - a person with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketable skills.

Speaking of classical education -- not that I was, at least not explicitly : ) --- Mary Daly wrote a post on the Love2Learn blog "What is a Classical Education?"

Quiddity encapsulates the answer to a similar question into a nutshell:

The fundamental shift from classical Christian thought to conventional thought is that from the qualitative to the quantitative.
Fr Stanley Jaki comments on the pursuit of quantification in The Biblical Basis of Western Science:

Nothing which is non-quantitative is the business of science. But everything which is quantitative is its business. Non-quantitative aspects of existence, such as purpose, freedom, design, honesty, cannot he handle by science because they are not quantitative propositions. But every bit of matter is quantitative and therefore the business of science. Does not the Bible say that God “disposed everything according to measure and number and weight”?

Please note that the Bible does not say that measure, number and weight, or quantities in short, are everything. But the Bible says that every thing has measure, number, and weight or quantitative properties. Wherever there is matter, quantities are present. This is what gives science its unlimited competence in everything material, whether living or dead. But this is also the reason for the radical limitation of science to what is material insofar as it can be measured.

Still talking about class ed: Classical School blog run by the owners of Eide Neurolearning has a post on Classical Education for Visual Learners.

One question raised by parents about a classical education is whether it is too "verbal" for some of their children, and the verbal demands of reading classical history or texts can't be underestimated.

But like great thinkers in all historical times, they come in many different sizes, shapes and varieties.
( I sometimes wonder if Socrates wasn't a visual/spatial thinker).

I also liked Eide Neurolearning's recent post on The Art of Exploratory Thinking, with this quote attributed to TS Eliot):

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
They go on to say:

It's interesting to think about exploratory decision-making as a necessary step for successful decision-making in real-life. In traditional education, discovery-based learning, when it happens, is rarely strategic - or at least the teaching of strategic approaches to discovery is rarely practiced or modeled...but isn't that too bad?
For some reason that reminds me of John Keats' On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer-- doesn't Keats seem a bit like a visual/spatial thinker?:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Love2Learn also discussed Catholic homeschooling yahoo groups recently, which might be the reason why several new people recently joined the Catholic Classical Education group I've been moderating for the last nine years. It is very nice to have some newcomers as well as the tried and true members who have been on there for years and watched each others' kids grow up. When I first started moderating the list, my oldest was twelve. How strange. Now my fifth child is eleven!

OK, I guess this turned into my Sunday Six : ). Or maybe it's turned into Seven, or even eight. Quantifications and qualifications before coffee; perhaps not a good idea.


Beate said...

Ah, but there is a huge difference between the actual defintion of curriculum and what is taking place in the schools. Here in TX, it is all about teaching tidbits of info to be regurgitated on a test :-( I believe that is what Holt is railing against. Of course, I haven't read the posts you are referring to, so I'm just adding my shoot from the hip opinion ;-)

melanieb said...


Thanks for the link.

Interesting post. It's going to take me a while to digest everything.


Actually, I think it might be the other way around. I think the chaos we find in our schools is the result of the disdain Holt and others like him have for the idea of a curriculum.

It seemed pretty clear to me in the final chapters of How Children Fail that Holt's disagreement was not only with the status quo in schools but also with the very idea of a "coherent vision" of education.

It is pretty clear that in his opinion there can be no such thing and should be no such thing, that no one can agree on what course of study might constitute a coherent education and that any course of study determined by anything other than the child's interest would be doomed to failure anyhow.

Like Willa, I like Holt and find his books valuable; but was disappointed when I got to this section because I think he's throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Kaber said...

two of my favorite quotes:

1- Swallow No Man Whole


2- Don't throw out the baby with the Bathwater

Willa said...

I think Holt and others were reacting to the industrialization of the school model back around the turn of the century. So I very much enjoy reading his books as an antidote to some of our modern assumptions (ones I seem to have picked up by osmosis through my secular-schooled years, even though when I examine them I do not agree with them).

One good book to read in this regard is Graves of Academe by Richard Mitchell. Some of John Taylor Gatto's writings cover the same history, and I think that Charlotte Mason's books, particularly A Philosophy of Education, were written against the utilitarian model of education -- trying to reclaim a liberal arts understanding of curriculum as a set of disciplines and modes by which to explore reality.

I could probably go on and on -- it is an interesting topic!