classical education

The Place of the Virtues in a Classical Education Curriculum

1 December 2022

3.3 MINS

On September 26, a Classical Education Seminar was held in Melbourne. Dr Paul Morrissey, president of Campion College in Sydney, delivered the following address, which bears the subtitle, Educating the Whole Person.

___

As current education debates centre on falling standards and teacher education, it is heartening to see an increased interest in classical education.

The current focus in our school curriculum is piecemeal and too often caught up in ideology. It lacks coherence and a telos (an end, a purpose), and is unmoored from tradition.

Classical, or liberal, education is more than just a curriculum in the narrow sense of intellectual development — it is an education in freedom properly understood, where our liberty is ordered to truth and goodness. Freedom is not just the liberty to do what I want, but the liberty to do the good.

True freedom is the freedom to flourish truly as a human person, to pursue the good in truth. Thus, a liberal education is necessarily an education in virtue.

Virtues are a disposition of character learned through instruction, imitation, and practice. They incline a person more willingly and ably to do good and to avoid evil.

According to the ancient Greeks, there are four key or “cardinal” virtues that are essential for true liberty: wisdom, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Classically, education, whether it be in a formal or informal setting, had at its core an explicit instruction of the virtues.

In contemporary progressive education this is also true, although the virtues upheld have changed (for example, the modern curriculum will teach notions such as sustainability, self-worth and assertion, tolerance, and diversity as crucial “moral virtues”).

Human Formation

The history of education in the West has developed from the Greek idea of paideia, a holistic philosophy of education centred on the human person rightly understood as a rational and cultural animal. Knowledge was important, but even more important were the required virtues needed to ensure that the higher faculties (intellect and will) and the lower faculties (emotions, physical desires) were ordered and integrated.

Thus, education was a moral as well as an intellectual task. The Greeks also understood that education, the life of the mind, was not limited to sensate or scientific knowledge. The mind could grasp higher truths and thus great metaphysical questions could be addressed on a rational basis.

Greek paideia did not disappear with the arrival of Christianity, rather, it was assimilated, not without struggle, by many of the Church Fathers. Especially important figures in this assimilation were those Fathers classically educated, often before their conversions to Christianity: St Justin Martyr, St Ambrose, St Jerome, St Augustine, among many others.

What Christianity added to paideia was a universal purpose or “end” for the human person: eternal life in and through Christ. The result was a “marriage” between Greek wisdom (Athens) and religious truth (Jerusalem), a union that would reach its highpoint in the high Middle Ages and the founding of the first universities based on the liberal arts (the trivium and quadrivium) with philosophy and theology as overarching disciplines.

Moving to today, a classically designed curriculum should be inspired by this rich tradition and look explicitly (and implicitly) to teach the virtues. And just as virtues help to reintegrate the fragmented moral life of an individual, they can also help repair the increasingly fragmented approach we have to education.

Eudaimonia

A curriculum should foster integration by providing unifying themes: such as wonder, truth, goodness, beauty. The virtue of wisdom is particularly important for this, as the wise person is one who can bring together that which seems disparate into an integrated whole.

Unfortunately, today knowledge and skills have been increasingly divorced from wisdom.

Seeking wisdom has always been at the heart of classical education. Wisdom, in the classical sense, is an intellectual virtue that helps a person to know and choose that which is true and good.

An education in wisdom integrates the various paths to truth, unifying them through philosophy and theology. For example, in demonstrating the intrinsic relationship between faith and reason, a Catholic integrative approach to education underlines the “symphonic” nature of truth, whether it be in science, mathematics, history or religion.

Furthermore, the beauty that is intrinsic to art, literature, and music is intrinsically ordered to philosophical and religious truth. A key word, then, is the three-letter conjunction, and: faith and reason, nature and grace, science and poetry, music and mathematics, etc.

However, the other cardinal virtues are also at the heart of a classical education. The virtue of justice orders our choices so that we give what is owed to the other, including in our life of learning — what we owe to our parents, teachers, and to God.

To flourish as a student, we need the virtue of temperance, especially so as to repudiate those things that may distract us from our studies. And to thrive in our studies, we need fortitude to withstand the challenges, distractions, and temptations that can weigh us down as we seek the truth (in modern parlance, this is called resilience).

These virtues need to be explicitly taught so students can live them and, through experience, become freer: free to seek the truth, to do good, and develop lives of moral, intellectual, and creative excellence.

___

Originally published at News Weekly. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko.

SHARE >

We need your help. The continued existence of the Daily Declaration depends on the generosity of readers like you. Donate now. The Daily Declaration is committed to keeping our site free of advertising so we can stay independent and continue to stand for the truth.

Fake news and big-tech censorship make the work of the Canberra Declaration and our Christian news site the Daily Declaration more important than ever. Take a stand for family, faith, freedom, life, and truth. Support us as we shine a light in the darkness. Donate today.

DONATE

One Comment

  1. Kaylene Emery 1 December 2022 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    This is such a hope filled and integrity driven article. Thank you so much for your work.

Leave A Comment

Recent Articles

  • 3 February 2023

    7.3 MINS

    We are living in an era where social breakdown and moral decay are drawing heavily on the state's resources and collective wisdom. The elucidative bankruptcy of the state’s ‘wise men’ is being exposed, as surely as it was in the ancient empires of Egypt and [...]

    READ MORE
  • 3 February 2023

    9.8 MINS

    If you’re anything like me, there are news items that just blow your mind; you think, ‘How could this be?’ I’ve had a few of these days recently. Many of you can relate, I’m sure. Do you, like me, shake your head in disbelief when [...]

    READ MORE
  • 3 February 2023

    3 MINS

    I didn’t answer when my friend called the other day. I wasn’t ready to hear her apology. I was still angry and in a strange way, I was prepared to stay that way. While I was really missing the fun we shared, angry me had [...]

    READ MORE
  • 3 February 2023

    5.4 MINS

    This new volume offers us plenty of help in dealing with various difficulties found in Scripture. If you are familiar with key contemporary Christian apologists, you would know of Paul Copan. I happen to have 22 of his books, and he has written more than [...]

    READ MORE
  • 2 February 2023

    15.3 MINS

    When I was looking in the wrong place for enlightenment and peace, God gently guided me to Himself and granted me the gift of faith. I was born in Melbourne, the only sister to my three brothers. My father was a farmer from Cowra, New [...]

    READ MORE
  • 2 February 2023

    5.7 MINS

    The Northern Territory’s Labor Chief Minister says she will not back any “race-based” intervention in besieged Alice Springs, despite the town’s two Aboriginal MPs demanding alcohol bans to curb out-of-control violence and calling the crisis a bigger priority than the Voice referendum. After weeks of [...]

    READ MORE
  • 2 February 2023

    7.6 MINS

    This is the central reality of Christianity. There are of course millions if not billions of words written on the greatest event of human history: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus to try to offer just a few moving quotes out of so [...]

    READ MORE