I never got around to writing a post about last week's reading (super busy week, followed by sick kids all weekend), so I will attempt to summarize the last two reading assignments here. Attempt being the key word, since there is a lot there. But, the nice part about running late is the fact that I've gotten a sneak-peak at some of the other posts on the first section already which has helped my own processing of this chapter immensely. J (Thanks for letting me ride your coattails, y'all!)
In the introduction, Smith made the proposal that our anthropology (view of what human beings essentially are) our pedagogy (teaching practice). In the first part of chapter 1, Smith describes two common anthropologies that underlay much of contemporary Christian educational practice: People as "Thinking Things" (we are driven by our thoughts, therefore Christian education aims to feed the mind Christian ideas) and People as "Believers" (we are driven by our beliefs and our worldview, therefore Christian education aims to help us develop a Christian perspective on ___). Smith dismisses both of these anthropologies as inadequate because they focus primarily on ideas and beliefs – things which are centered in the realm of the mind – and fail to take into account the whole person. In the second section of this chapter, he proposes an alternative view. He states that we need to "shift the center of gravity of human identity, as it were, down from the heady regions of the mind closer to the central regions of our bodies, in particular, our kardia – our gut our heart." He proposes that rather than being driven by ideas or beliefs, we are actually driven by love: "To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are." To flesh this idea out, he lays out a model with 4 parts:
Intentionality: Love's Aim
We can't just "love"; we have to love something. (Just like you can't just think, you have to think about something. Even if you are trying not to think about anything, you are still thinking about not thinking… This actually reminded me attending French language school last year – there are certain French verbs that have to take an object – you can't just leave them hanging. But perhaps I digress.) This love – what we desire above all else – drives who we are and what we do. Sin has knocked this off kilter and redirects our desires towards the wrong things, but regardless of whether our aim is in the right direction or not - or if we are consciously aware of what we are aiming at or not - we are all aiming towards something.
Teleology: Love's End
Teleology comes from the Greek word teloi meaning ends or goals. The telos of our love is our target – the object of our love to borrow from the French grammar example. Smith says that this target is "a specific vision of the good life, an implicit picture of what we think human flourishing looks like." This includes what 'flourishing' looks like in all things: relationships, recreation, work, family, social justice, etc. This picture is what "governs, shapes, and motivates our decisions and actions". He intentionally uses the word picture to describe this because it is a picture which captures the imagination, not a set of rules. (As a side note, this is why stories speak to us in ways that more factual, straight to the point presentations can't.)
Habits: Love's Fulcrum
So how does this happen? How does our vision of "the good life" get into our bones? Smith says it is by our habits, both good and bad. These are our natural default tendencies – the things which are so automatic that they seem completely 'natural'. But as natural as they seem, they are formed and trained into us. These habits are "the hinge that turns our heart, our love, such that it is predisposed to be aimed in certain directions."
Practices: Love's Formation
So, if these habits are trained into us, where do they come from? Smith says that, over time, they are formed by the rituals and practices of our lives. Just as a baseball player or pianist is trained to respond "automatically" by years of practices and drills, so are our desires shaped by the rituals of our lives.
As I read the first week's reading, I found myself with the niggling thought that perhaps Smith was dismissing the importance of the life of the mind and the way that ideas can feed our minds (and our hearts too, I'd say) a little too quickly. Charlotte Mason is often telling us about the necessity to feed our minds with living ideas. And even Scripture tells us not to be "conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine). Brandy explored the relationship between Charlotte Mason and her understanding of ideas with what Smith is saying in her post from last week, which I found very helpful in processing this potential disagreement. I also found it helpful to continue reading in this week's assignment. I could begin to see that perhaps the view he is proposing is not so incompatible with what Charlotte is always telling us. In fact, in some ways I felt a bit as if he should just come out and say that "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." Atmosphere encompasses the practices and rituals and rhythms of our daily lives. Discipline encompasses habits. And Life: in several places, he talks about how stories and pictures are more effective means of communication because they appeal to our imaginations and therefore help shape our vision and not just our brains. This is the same idea that Charlotte had when she promoted the use of living books and poetry and art and music and spending time in nature as key components of our education. Smith is proposing a vision of education that addresses the whole person, which was the same vision that Charlotte Mason had. (Once again I am amazed that she proposed all of this 100 years ago, and other people are just now 'discovering' what she already knew!)
The other realization that I had is that I don't know that I've ever defined what my vision for 'the good life' is…either what it is in reality (since I think we probably all have such a vision even if we've never thought about it), or what I think it should be. At least not in any intentional kind of way. I have the vague sense that the 'good life' means living for the glory of God, but I don't know that I've ever fleshed out what that might look like in all the various spheres of life. Nor am I really sure if the vision I think I should have on a head level really matches with the vision that my heart is actually pointed towards. (I guess perhaps that proves Smith's point that addressing the mind isn't enough? Sometimes what we know in our heads doesn't always match what we believe in our hearts.) And, following on from that: if I haven't even thought intentionally about what my vision really is, how can I know whether or not the habits and practices in our home are helping to point us in the right direction? (Although I do choose to educate in the way I do because I want my children to gain a vision of goodness, truth, and beauty...so perhaps we aren't too far off base.) Good food for thought, though.