by Robert Laramey, founder of The Classical Dad
We often consider our children to be little cups that need to be filled up. They start out empty, and we pour into them. We input on end to fill the vessel as much as possible. We do our best to ensure that we give only what is good and filter out the bad. It seems that there is little to argue with in that brief description of parenting. This is a content centered view: if I put in the good, good will come out.
Is that all there is to the bringing up of a virtuous human being? Perhaps not.
Socrates believed that all knowledge was recollection, that our infinite souls had all the information and that education was a process of rediscovery. As odd of a statement as that sounds, it was understood that there is a unity between the soul and knowledge. This served as the basis for Socrates’ teaching method of asking questions (dialectic) rather than simply telling facts.
The inaugural text read by the TCA Men’s Book Club this year was Plato’s Meno. In this short text, Socrates and a prominent young visitor named Meno attempt to figure out whether Virtue is something that can be taught. Frustratingly, this question is never explicitly answered. Instead, readers are encouraged to muddle through this difficult topic as a means to enlightenment. In other words, the answer is revealed in the labor of pursuit. Socrates asks questions on end as the reader delves further into his own soul to discover the truth.
Socrates is saying that the pursuit of truth is not an issue of content per se, because truth is already present, written into the heart. Teaching is a matter of forming the individual to discover what is true, good and beautiful. Not that those things themselves are inherently within, but that the knowledge of them is intertwined with the soul.
What does this look like practically? Take, for example, music. We might think the end goal of our child’s musical education is to be able to play great classical works with excellence. On the one hand this is true. However, it is in the learning that we are formed. It is not the same person who picked up a violin on their first day of practice that plays in the concert hall. We only need a record player to hear great music. We need a musician to make it.
Consider your favorite book. Would your love for that particular book be provoked if you only read the synopsis online? The act of reading and being immersed in the author’s creation has formative effects beyond the mere narrative, theme, tone and character profiles. A measure of a great book is not only the work itself but the work it does in us.
Formative change is hard work, and it is through this hard work that Virtues are cultivated in the individual. Weight training is not just about lifting heavy objects, it’s about strengthening the body. Why do the hard work of studying this ancient language, Latin? It’s not that it is inherently useful, but rather it has been used for two millennia to strengthen the mind.
Ultimately, when we talk about raising our children to become Virtuous human beings, we need to see that the hard work of education is about forming them, not inputting data as if we could make them like a computer. After all, it is humanity which can strive toward Virtue. A computer is simply an ingenious tool for storing data. We want so much more for our children! Let us see education as the task of a lifetime, as a journey in which our children can join us as we seek after the Good, the True and the Beautiful.