In this third part in my series on Stratford Caldecott’s book Beauty in the Word, I’m going to look at Caldecott’s presentation of the second of the liberal arts: dialectic or logic. As always, I’ll explore what Charlotte Mason might add to the conversation he initiates.
This chapter in Caldecott’s book was packed with so much wisdom it’s hard to know where to start, so I’m going to focus on only one of the key points he made: there’s an intelligible order in the universe and the teacher’s job is to help a child figure that out for himself.
In my last post, I explained how Caldecott sees Grammar as bound up with our identity as persons made in the image of the Father. Language or Myth helps us become conscious of our Selves, so we can think and discern the truth. The full truth is found in the Logos:
“Language and myth, bound up with our sense of personal identity, destiny, and meaning, are rooted as we have just seen in Remembering, but as soon as we come to self-conscious awareness we are of course involved also in Thinking, or the mental processes by which we separate truth from falsehood. . . [W]e move from the realm of Mythos to that of Logos – from the realm of the Father to that of the Son.” 60
The Logos is an overarching, connected order in the universe which we can all discern. We are all philosophers; we are all seekers of wisdom, capable of discerning the connections between things and the amazing order in the universe which originates in God. “The search for truth, in the sense of an ordered, coherent view of the world and its meaning, is fundamental to our humanity” (64).
How Children Discover the Logos
Children think quite naturally – we don’t have to do anything special to help them think. But Caldecott says that a discerning, reflective kind of thought capable of penetrating the superficial to uncover the deeper truths of life requires the encouragement of a wise teacher. Children have a natural gift for philosophizing, but they are inexperienced. Teachers and parents can provide the right conditions that allow a child’s discerning wisdom to unfold.
What sort of conditions are these? First, he warns us about technology. In this digital age, kids are losing the capacity for reflective thought. They can’t read for very long or can’t stop to think about anything they are reading. “To think is not enough; you have to think about; you have to ponder, rather than just flit from one image or phrase to the other.” This is a meditative way of life that is difficult when a child is distracted from himself and his own thoughts with technology. Second, he says we should guide children towards subjects and topics that are “worth learning.” Of course, Charlotte Mason would agree with him: she believed some things are worth learning; then there is twaddle. A lot of kids gravitate toward twaddle, so we gently point them toward living ideas and books full of beauty and truth.
I found it interesting that Caldecott suggests we shouldn’t point out the connections for the child; we merely create the right conditions and “help the child make her or his own connection with this Logos [order].” I am not sure what kind of help he’s talking about – how much help? What should we do to help?
I know he believes there is a place for engagement between teacher and student, but he doesn’t believe kids should be sitting passively in their chairs while a teacher is lecturing about the Truth. He wants teachers and parents to be like Socrates guiding children to find the Truth for themselves, but to do that they need to develop an ability to recognize divine order and errors in logic and judgment (both in themselves and others).
Caldecott emphasizes the role of community and dialogue in our journey toward truth. While we all need time alone to contemplate, we will never find the full truth without others. “Truth is not a quarry that can be pursued without the help of others because our own thoughts have a tendency to run in circles. Our friends are given to us as helpers in this quest which ultimately leads to God” (81).
Charlotte Mason and Masterly Inactivity
How would this work practically in our homeschool lives? I can’t help wonder if Caldecott envisaged something like Charlotte’s masterly inactivity. Here’s how Bobby Scott explains Charlotte’s concept:
“Though the masterly inactivity of Mason does imply a master, it is the role of the teacher to get out of the way. The teacher is the master by planning the lesson, having available all the necessary resources, and then deftly guiding the flow. . . There is never a doubt to her authority, but she never lets herself get in the way of the learning. She is inactive in the sense that she lets the natural curiosity and interest of the students take its course within the confines of the discussion. Often ideas come that lead to connections with truths learned in other subjects, for which she is delighted as students make these transitions.” When Children Love to Learn, 83.
This is neither child-led nor teacher-dominated education. The teacher guides the flow of discussion, allows the child’s natural curiosity about a pre-selected topic (not any topic a child might think of, but living ideas, worthy books, the depository of received tradition and culture) to take its course, ensures that any resources the child needs are available, and lets the child follow his nose as he notices overlaps with other things he’s studied.
I know when I’m “teaching” my kids about something I know a lot about, I have a tendency to tell them what I know rather than lead them in discussion the way Caldecott and Mason suggest. I’ve been teaching my kids about illuminated manuscripts in our medieval history co-op and I’m falling over myself showing them my beautiful books from graduate school! But in those areas I’m less expert in, like the sciences, I tend to learn and wonder with them. Without the background knowledge, I have to work harder to find resources and create the right “environment” as Caldecott suggests, but I think the balance between wondering and analyzing is better.