Where Virtue is the Goal

Where Virtue is the Goal

What is the ultimate purpose of education? What are we trying to accomplishing in our homeschools and our schools? In the final analysis is education about “the assimilation of facts [and] the retention of information”? Is its goal to achieve “knowledge of external nature”? Or is it more about the heart than the head? Is the proper purpose of education “the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows”?

The answer to this profound question begins to take shape when with Charlotte Mason “we begin to see that education is the elected handmaid of religion.” Then the purpose of education becomes not too different from the purpose of church, and even the purpose of life. Listen to hear reflections on what happens when virtue is the goal:

Click here to read the full text of this episode, including references.

3 Replies to “Where Virtue is the Goal”

  1. A very timely podcast for me as I have been asking some questions of myself. Is the chief aim of a parent guiding a child through an education the same as the chief aim of life. – “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. I remember you writing about how Stalin may have had an education very alike to a CM one. But ultimately a change never happened in his heart (we assume). As parents we know we cannot guarantee this aim comes to fruition for our children. So should our goal be slightly different to education with the realization that many of us have -that a CM approach is the most simply the most reasonable hope (in terms of educational philosophy) we have as parents to help our children toward that chief aim of life? For me the distinction is important because it reminds me that they are a person and I can no more choose this aim for them then I can choose how they will react in a given situation. But I can provide an atmosphere where I try to remove hindrances to the work of the Holy Spirit. I can lay a feast that provides as much fodder for the science of relations. I can guide in the work of habits that may strengthen the will for better (or for worse I suppose). I don’t want to become obsessed win my role as curator though so it is important to keep my eyes on a loftier goal than simply curating and on the hope that as Mason says, they grow in self-governance and true strength of will. At the moment I am inclined to differentiate the chief aim of life from the chief aim of education.

    I also have a question about the role of these classical stories – whether Greek, Roman or Norse or whatever. What purpose do they have in your homeschool? I have known for a while now that they are different than the gospel message, parables, and even stories of the saints. However they are still precious to me and my children. They see how poor Loki gave into the despair of suffering, and they shiver. They see how his brother instead wanted humanity to have a chance to take this suffering and choose something different. When my own child narrated these thoughts to me on her own I knew they offered us something. Stories in their own right? Pictures of the condition of man as he fumbles along waiting for that ‘bridge’? Why have they always spoken to us?

    I also have been asking those immersed at a scholarly level in the classic writers like Plato and Aristotle and they have, across the board, said that they never, in fact, said that virtue was the end, whatever Hicks now says. Does that place CM with them then? I still don’t think so. These scholars have various thoughts on what they thought the classical writers and philosophers thought education was, based on primary sources. In my own reading of them in college it seemed it was a ‘well-ordered society’. ‘Well-ordered’ to them was a far cry to what Christ saw as rightly ordered as we all can see how he raises up the lowly for starters.

    Anyway, these are some of questions and musings as I read here at CMP. Thank you always for continuing to foster thought and consideration of Mason’s works.

    1. Marlon,

      Thank you for sharing these reflections. We want our children “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” but as you say, “as parents we know we cannot guarantee this aim comes to fruition for our children.” Nevertheless, Charlotte Mason points to the sacred role of parents. The Holy of Holies is the chamber of Mansoul where the child meets with God. Amazingly, Mason writes that ”the keys even of this innermost chamber are placed in the hands of parents, and it is a great deal in their power to enthrone the King, to induct the Priest, that every human spirit cries for” (Home Education pp. 341–342). It is not a guarantee, but it is a calling.

      And it is a calling for which we are equipped. Charlotte Mason writes of “the solemn and sacramental character of education” (PR24 p. 563). It is “the outward and visible sign of [an] inward and spiritual grace,” and as Christian educators, we should settle for nothing less than this form of spiritual ministry.

      You ask what purpose classical stories have in my homeschool. I have no problem reading classical stories, and we have spent countless hours reading Plutarch. But reading Plutarch does constitute classical education any more than reading the Bible as literature constitutes Christian education. We are warned and inspired by the classical stories, and we cherish some of the incidents they relate. But ultimately they are not our stories. We are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

      David Hicks is not alone in saying that classical education is essentially virtue education. I highly recommend Joshua Gibbs’s important article “A Classical Education Is Not About Being Saved, But Being Good” which clarifies the intent of “modern” classical education. Do some scholars think Plato taught something different? Perhaps a kind of civic virtue — a “well-ordered society”?

      That view is taken up in Sir Fred Clarke’s monumental article in the 1936 Parents’ Review entitled “The Conflict of Philosophies.” Yes Plato wished to establish a civic virtue from the outside in. “It is here that Plato and Rousseau part company and we follow Rousseau,” wrote Clarke. I believe that is Mason’s view as well. It is certainly mine.


  2. Thank you Art! Your responses once again provoke a lot of further considerations on my part. I do think is is important to distinguish the new classical educationalist’s goals from the ancients but I appreciate there may be many similarities. The conflict of Philosophies article requires many readings on my part for increased understanding.

    I appreciated your further thoughts on the goal of education. It lines up so much with this quote from Mason’s Formation of Character that I wrote down when I was reading through it last November:

    “We cannot make a child ‘good’; but, in this way, we can lay paths for the good life in the very substance of his brain. We cannot make him hear the voice of God; but, again, we can make paths where the Lord God may walk in the cool of the evening. We cannot make a child clever; but we can see that his brain is nourished with pure blood, his mind with fruitful ideas.”

    -Formation of Character “Parents In Council”, pg. 142.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *