Sunday, September 07, 2008


From this History of Jesuit Education:

A second featre is the concept of the humanities that formed the central disciplines studied in a Jesuit college. The word humanitas translated the Greek word paideia, which had come to mean both the process and the studies that developed moral goodness, devotion to truth, and a disposition to act for the civic good: languages, poetry, history, rhetoric and logic, along with mathematics, the sciences, and philosophy of nature. For the humanists these were the subjects that opened the mind, sharpened wits, deepened human sympathy, developed clarity of thought and force in expressing it. They gave students an adroitness of mind in meeting new questions, a foundation from which to explore the more important questions they would come to later in their studies.

That was very interesting. I hadn't known that "humanitas" was a translation of "paideia". The passage reminds me of David Hicks' argument for an integrated curriculum with history as the integrating force.

This Catholic University as Promise and Project (I can't necessarily vouch for the whole book; unfortunately, Jesuit sources vary in orthodoxy nowadays, but I have no reason to doubt the factual information) it says that "humane letters" (history and literature and language) were to be taught from approximately age 10 to 13; arts and natural sciences ("art" meant philosophy) from 14 to 16; and theology (I presume this means systematic theology, not elementary catechesis) from ages 17 to 21, or 23 if the student was to take the doctorate. This source says that the actual ages were often somewhat older, because their background circumstances often differed.

The Ignatian curriculum was based on mastery, so you didn't go on to the next stage until you had become proficient in the last one. But since the stages built upon each other, they weren't like the locked compartments of subjects nowadays. As David Hicks says, history and literature are natural foundations for philosophy, and philosophy (which included logic -- traditional Ignatian education introduced students to philosophy through systematic logic, and this is how my son started his philosophy studies at Thomas Aquinas Colllege) is a natural prerequisite for formal theology.

This post should be subtitled "A Practicum in Reading Sentences with Multiple Parenthetical Interpolations". Sorry about that! LOL.

From the above-linked History of Jesuit Education again:

The third distinctive feature was the integration and order that Ignatius envisioned among the subjects to be studied, leading from lesser to more important ones, culminating in the study of theology. At Paris he had learned that subjects should be studied in an orderly way, languages and humanities preceding the sciences and philosophy. And he was part of that tradition that had for centuries seen theology as the enquiry that was the culmination of the intellectual enterprise and that integrated all the parts of the intellectual life. This principle flowed out of the central theme of his spirituality, that the whole world discloses God at work. All the academic disciplines, therefore, contribute to the intelligibility of the world in their own proper ways and play a key role in making theology intelligible. Theology, focusing on the questions at the center of the mystery of God's self-disclosing activity, completes and integrates the knowledge developed by all the other disciplines of the university.

The reason I am looking this stuff up is that one of my projects for this weekend is to plan my 7th grader's history studies for the next few weeks. He is up to the Renaissance right now. It is close to impossible to study the Renaissance without finding oneself integrating. The age itself manifested as an integrative endeavour, and indeed, of course, Ignatius was a Renaissance man. I have been thinking in terms of seedbeds recently -- how John Senior and those he influenced recommended an analogous composting and soaking in literature and real life before undertaking further studies. Even the grotesqueries of some of the folk tales and indeed of narrative history evoke that:

this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


lissla lissar said...

This isn't on-topic, but if you have time, I was wondering about your thoughts regarding government regulation (or not) of homeschooling? We've had two very different conversations with friends about it in the past couple of days- one with a friend who was abused as a child, and is now a social worker who has worked with abused and street teens and kids, and who's a member of our Child Protective Service, and yesterday with a friend who's a far-right libertarian and was himself homeschooled, and despises government meddling in private affairs.

I'm torn. I don't want the principle of subsidiarity interfered with, but I do recognise that there are people who probably unfit to take care of, let alone educate, their children, and I am highly allergic to the few stories that our social worker friend has told us about varieties of abuse.

Anyway, this might be more suited to email (assuming you have any time), but I'm interested in your thoughts.

Willa said...

This isn't exactly on the topic you are asking about, but Pope Pius's Divini Illius Magistri makes good reading on the subject of the State and parent in matters of education. You've probably read it already! but here are some excerpts:

The family ... holds directly from the Creator the mission and hence the right to educate the offspring, a right inalienable because inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth.

The function therefore of the civil authority residing in the State is twofold, to protect and to foster, but by no means to absorb the family and the individual, or to substitute itself for them.

It also belongs to the State to protect the rights of the child itself when the parents are found wanting either physically or morally in this respect, whether by default, incapacity or misconduct, since, as has been shown, their right to educate is not an absolute and despotic one, but dependent on the natural and divine law, and therefore subject alike to the authority and jurisdiction of the Church, and to the vigilance and administrative care of the State in view of the common good.

The vexed questions obviously are:

1. How much does the government have the right to regulate HOW the child is taught -- does a parent have to "get with the program" and teach the child to read at age 6, take biology at age 14, etc? Clearly, in Divini Illius, the parents are shown to have the right to choose what kind of education their children should have.

2. How does the State determine when and in what way parents have fallen down on the job, and not met a proper standard?

I do not know how it is in Canada -- from talking to my sister in law it sounds a bit different than the US in how hsing is treated. But it seems that there needs to be a certain presumption of "innocence until proven guilty" in family cases just as in regular criminal cases. Presently in the US a neighbor can report anonymously with no grounds for the accusation and a big file is opened and the accused family has to go through all sorts of procedures, some of them invasive to the children. I've had no such experience personally, but friends have been brought up on things like their kids being "too thin" (when the parents themselves have exactly the same lightweight frame) and "older siblings supervising younger ones outside" (where it's a case of a 12 year old supervising a 3 year old, for instance).

Here's one story

The DHM has been reporting on various CPS cases

What you get now when the system does not work is children being taken from their parents for insufficient reasons. Forceful and well, violent, separation of this sort is a trauma for the little ones in itself.

Nat has no doubt spoken vehemently to you of his reaction to even normal, healthy, temporary, non-coercive separations from his attachment figures.

In a climate where one's children might be taken away on small pretext -- a calamitous event for the family -- it is no wonder that many homeschoolers are quite defensive about their parental rights.

Obviously this is all very superficial.... no way to do more than scratch the surface. In a way I think there are two issues.

1, the homeschooling one -- educational neglect is hard to define -- what standards are to be used?

2, the abuse one -- which is separate from the homeschooling one, but is sometimes used as a way to curtail or inappropriately oversee homeschooling. There are many abused children going to school and the vast, vast majority of homeschoolers are not abusive.

In an ideal world the Church, the State and the family would have compatible goals with respect to the physical and educational well-being of the child. The State would respect its boundaries and work alongside the Church to support families in their primary duty to educate their children. This is what Pius describes carefully as the healthy model, but we don't live in a healthy world ;-).

Anonymous said...

I sympathise with the parenthetical statements thing. I find myself doing this a lot and have to consciously try to make my prose more linear.

I find this bit about humanities quite interesting having had to ruminate on the nature of the humanities (and how they differ from the social sciences) for other purposes in the past.