Training the Mind

A classical education is designed to train not only the heart, but also the mind. As soon as students are ready, we ask them to think critically and deeply in every subject.

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In my last post, I looked at C.S. Lewis’s advice for educating the grammar stage student: feed the young child’s natural inclination to absorb and imitate with the true, the good, and the beautiful. By teaching the young student to love and appreciate truth, goodness, and beauty, we prepare him for the logic stage which will require him to defend that love.

When a child reaches the logic stage, he will no longer be content with merely exercising the heart. He will start to wonder why something he has learned as truth is, in fact, true. He will wonder what makes the beautiful aesthetically pleasing. He will wonder how we determine what is truly good. At this point, he is ready to exercise the mind to pursue these questions.

Again, Lewis provides us with a nice example of the logic stage mind. This passage comes from Surprised by Joy when Lewis recalls how he and his friends changed as they grew a little bit older:

“I can…remember from those days what must have been the first metaphysical argument I ever took part in. We debated whether the future was like a line you can’t see or like a line that is not yet drawn. I have forgotten which side I took though I know that I took it with great zeal.”

Logic stage students are marked by a desire to argue! They want to exercise their intellectual muscle in much more significant and challenging ways than they have before.

And in the scheme of a whole classical education, we recognize along Lewis that reason and rationality, when exercised well, will naturally point us to the true, the good, and the beautiful, and will thereby confirm what the classical student has already learned to love.

Lewis gives us several examples of what good teaching looks like in this stage. Though many of the teachers he describes were far from perfect, the ones he looks back on with appreciation nonetheless are those who trained his mind to reason and analyze.

For instance, though Lewis disliked math, he admits in Surprised by Joy that the man who taught him geometry “forced us to reason, and I have been the better for those geometry lessons all my life.” He describes his favorite literature teacher from these years like this:

“He could enchant but he could also analyse. An idiom or a textual crux, once expounded by [him], became clear as day… I began to see that the reader who misses syntactical points in a poem is missing aesthetic points as well.” (Surprised by Joy)

Lewis appreciates how this teacher could reveal the richness and subtleties of a piece of literature to help his students revel in the aesthetics and beauty of an intricately crafted work of art.

Of all his teachers from his early years, the one who perhaps had the biggest influence on him was the man he refers to in his autobiography as Kirk, whom he credits with teaching him how to debate:

“I loved ratiocination….Here was talk that was really about something. Here was a man who thought not about you but about what you said…taking it all in all, I loved the treatment. After being knocked down sufficiently often I began to know a few guards and blows, and to put on intellectual muscle. In the end, unless I flatter myself, I became a not contemptible sparring partner.”

A classical education is designed to train not only the heart, but also the mind. As soon as students are ready, we ask them to think critically and deeply in every subject. They have to back up their aesthetic judgments of a piece of literature with an analysis. They have to back up their assessments of historical people and events with sound arguments. They have to show how their hypotheses are true or false by carefully following the steps of the scientific method. They have to defend their interpretation of a passage from scripture with sound hermeneutics. We teach them to gather information carefully, to reason soundly and without fallacy, and to build their arguments logically so that they can defend their love of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

This is perhaps the most challenging phase of classical education; training the mind is no simple task! It requires both the educator and the student to think deeply and critically about every topic and to follow lines of inquiry rigorously in pursuit of truth. But in a classical education, we are willing to work through these difficult mental exercises because we recognize that the mind is the vital link between the heart and the mouth. A student who has learned to love truth, goodness, and beauty will naturally want to share that love with others, and she must be ready to use her mind in support of that love.


Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.


This post is the second in a three-part series based on a talk given at Granite Classical’s February 2017 Re-Enrollment meeting for parents. Read Part III here.

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