Monday, February 24, 2014

Knowledge vs wisdom: Why you need the seven liberal arts

During a conversation about the difference between the liberal arts and the humanities, a friend sent me this article to read yesterday, called "The Great Books... Enemies of Wisdom."

At first, I was taken aback by the title. I glanced at it briefly.
I almost skipped it, thinking to myself.... yeah, yeah, yeah.
It doesn't take too many reads around the homeschool forums to realize that the most verbal advocates of a non-Great Books education actually love the so-called Great Books, and frequently teach/ use their authors.... in context.

But I read it, and I'm so glad I did. It was like the missing puzzle piece that I was looking for to help me connect the ideas in my mind about education, as well as the nail in the coffin for me when it came to other "classical" homeschooling ideas I watch mothers who home educate throw around.

Making a case for a true classical education in the Catholic tradition.... an education where the ability to THINK is the precursor to anything, the article points out so clearly what we homeschooling mothers keep trying to put our finger on when we grasp at "educating" our children. We don't like the modern education system because it is obviously a fact-dumping ground.
We want a "classical" education because it trains our children to think clearly.
We know and understand that great ideas are what counts.
We know they are to be found in books. But if we're honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that just reading these authors is only half the picture. Following a train of thought is one thing. Adding to it is another. Having your own, original train of thought? A feat that can't possibly be taught just by reading a booklist. (For those of you who do ambleside, you could compare this to teaching the booklist without teaching grammar, latin, arithmetic, etc. It's half an education, which is no education at all.)

That's because a Classical Education is a set of skills taught to the student-- reasoning skills that inevitably lead to seeing the world around oneself clearly.

Without these skills, the "Great Books" are only a shadow of the possibilities of a child's education. I know, because I'm married to a man with these skills. He studied philosophy, whereas I was raised on the Great Books. I "know" the humanities, but I don't always understand the ideas being shared without tremendous effort on my part.
My husband, on the other hand, understands whatever ideas come at him very clearly, and is able to use reason to quickly reject or apply these ideas on the basis of truth-- But he has less of a general knowledge of names and faces. Whenever we grapple with ideas, he sees the big picture, and I often see only what is right in front of me. I often know something is important, whereas he understands WHY it is important.

I wanted something better for my kids than the education I received, which though enjoyable and much better than what I saw others around me doing, was not thorough enough to help me be WISE, only knowledgeable.

I wanted for my children to experience the type of education that will help them to follow in the footsteps of their father, who is able to reason. Reason leads to truth, and if my greatest concern is that they know the truth and thus be free, then I need to teach them to reason, not just to know facts.

This is why a liberal arts education became so important to me.... but not a "liberal arts" education in the modern sense. I love a good book discussion, but only when the minds holding the discussion are sharpened tools at the ready.

The real liberal arts, of which there are seven (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music), are the instruments which sharpen the tool of the mind. Once formed, the mind can attack any idea and seek out the truth and effectively find it.

Back in 2008, The Classical Liberal Arts academy put out a similar article, titled "Why the Great Books Aren't so Great." I remember reading it and I would ask you, if you liked the above article, to read it yourselves.

I am now more convinced than ever that the CLAA is offering to students something which you cannot find anywhere else in the homeschool setting. I would encourage you all to give it a shot and see if it doesn't change the way your children think. After all, isn't that the goal?

1 comment:

  1. Philosophy is the head of the Humane Letters (not Liberal Arts). Philosophy, history, theology, literature.

    But yes, I felt the same way reading that article.


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