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.

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.

Training the Heart

Our task is to set before these young students a robust diet of virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty, and let them feast.

 

Our theme for the year–“Love. Think. Speak.”–gives us three areas to focus on as educators: the heart, the mind, and the mouth. As noted previously, these three areas line up nicely with the classical trivium’s grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. In C.S. Lewis’s autobiographical works and in his writings on education we can glean some further wisdom for understanding how to train the heart to love what God loves, how to train the mind to think in ways that reveal His truth, and how to train the mouth to speak in ways that glorify God.

First, Lewis’s accounts of his childhood give us an example of a typical grammar stage child’s habits of heart. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis says that as a child he had an ongoing imaginative project: he created a fantastical imaginative world called Animal-Land with talking animals and he wrote stories about “chivalrous mice and rabbits who rode out in complete mail to kill not giants but cats.” Lewis says that these stories were inspired by the types of stories that he read as a child, which were also filled with talking animals or chivalric knights. He was doing what all grammar-stage children naturally want to do: to recreate what they discover and learn through imitation. He says that he enjoyed this creative project because he was a “systematiser”—he wanted to create an ordered world, with defined characters, systems, codes of conduct, histories, and legends.

Young children have this propensity to imitate. Even when they are embarking on a highly creative project, like Lewis’s Animal-Land, they are really imitating what they have already encountered, and mimicking new information helps them process and retain it. It’s the way young children are wired to learn—their hearts already have a natural inclination to appreciate and emulate the world around them.

And Lewis says we should feed this natural love with that which is true and good and beautiful. In The Abolition of Man, Lewis explains that setting things which are admirable and beautiful before the young student helps her develop a preference for goodness and beauty. As he puts it, “The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.”

He points us to St. Augustine, Aristotle, and Plato for further advice:

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.…In [Plato’s] Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who…would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’

The young student is not ready to reason—to exercise the mind in challenging, analytical ways—but he is ready to exercise the heart. He is quite capable of loving that which reason later reveals: “righteousness, correctness, order,” virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty (Lewis, Abolition of Man).

This is why our grammar stage students memorize scripture; it is why they read and digest the morally infused Aesop’s fables, why they learn to discern the virtuous heroes from the detestable villains in literature and history, and why they copy lines of beautiful poetry. It is why we want them to memorize math facts and learn that the orderly relationships between numbers never change, and it is why we want to show them the constant laws that govern the universe and help them explore as much of God’s incredible creation as possible.

Our task is to set before these young students a robust diet of virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty, and let them feast. If we do this well, then when the grammar stage student reaches the logic stage, exercising the heart well will be a habit, and he will be able to focus on exercising the mind.


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


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

Love. Think. Speak.

This phrase reminds our students that they bear God’s image well when they love, think, and speak in ways that honor and glorify God.

The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare. And gradually a change came over them. The smaller ones—the rabbits, moles and such-like—grew a good deal larger. The very big ones—you noticed it most with the elephants—grew a little smaller. Many animals sat up on their hind legs. Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand. The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees. Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak.”

—C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew


Last summer, we challenged our families and students to read two books by C.S. Lewis during the summer break. This was in preparation for our C.S. Lewis inspired theme for the 2016-17 school year: “Love. Think. Speak.”

In The Magician’s Nephew of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, Aslan the lion sings Narnia into existence. He then brings forth the creatures who will bear his image as conscious, intelligent beings, and he calls them to these three actions: “Love. Think. Speak.” This phrase reminds our students that they bear God’s image well when they love, think, and speak in ways that honor and glorify God.

It also provides us a nice framework to think about classical education and its overall structure. The grammar stage could be defined by loving the things that God loves. The logic stage could be defined by thinking in a way that reveals God’s truth. And the rhetoric stage could be defined by speaking God’s truth to the world.

THE GRAMMAR STAGE: Love well

In the grammar stage, our main goal is to build a groundwork for future learning. We want to model for students a love for the things that God loves. For example, our God loves order, so in our classrooms we emphasize routine, orderliness, and neatness. Students walk in straight lines, tuck in their shirts, and raise their hands to speak because we want our students to understand the difference between order and chaos so that they delight in the way God has ordered the universe. Our God also loves language. He used it to speak all creation into existence, and it is one of the unique capabilities that He has given us to delight in. So, therefore, our students study English and Latin grammar and learn the basics of how language is structured and functions. They build reading and writing skills through routine exercises like copywork, and through the stories and poetry they read and enjoy. The study of science is first born out of the acknowledgment that God loves his creation; in the grammar stage years we show students as much as we can about the world and the way it functions in their science classes. And our God loves his people, so our youngest students learn the stories of humanity from Creation to the present day. These students sing memory songs for history, geography, and science; they recite scriptures, catechisms, and great speeches; and they drill chants for Latin, English grammar, and math facts. Through these exercises they learn the kinds of memorization strategies that will help them learn information quickly and easily when they are more independent learners later.

Our overall goal during these years is to mold students’ affections. We want them to be drawn towards things that will in turn point them towards God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. This is not hard to do, because young students already delight in orderliness and routine. They intuitively know that this is the way things are supposed to be! They delight in singing their memory songs and repeating those chants again and again. In the grammar stage, we acknowledge that natural affection and use it deliberately to teach students how to begin to pursue knowledge and virtue.

THE LOGIC STAGE: Think well

If the grammar stage is defined by love, then the logic stage is certainly defined by thought. It is during these years that we start asking students to learn and think in new ways. The goal of this stage is for students to start to form a cohesive worldview that supports a love of truth, goodness, and beauty.

To accomplish this, our classroom techniques change significantly. Because students have learned to promote order instead of chaos by following all the rules, we can start to entrust them with more responsibility in this stage to exercise good judgment in their classes. Students participate in discussions in which they directly address each other, instead of having only a question-and-answer interaction with the teacher. They are also responsible for more preparatory reading and thinking before class. At this point, our students have a firm grasp of the English language, so they are ready to take on the study of the great works of the literary canon and primary sources from the great minds of history. In all of this, the goal is to understand and critique the ideas and arguments of the authors they read. They also begin to formally study the Bible instead of just memorizing scripture. They learn how to interpret the Bible and begin to encounter and think about the great truths of scripture through hermeneutics and theology. In science, Logic stage students continue to study God’s creation, but they do so with much more analytical thought now. They can now actually apply the steps of the scientific method song that they learned back in the Grammar stage, and they can use those steps to discover for themselves the laws and principles which govern the universe and the intricacies of the creation that they have learned to love. Most importantly, they begin the study of informal and formal logic and debate. This helps them develop the critical analysis and discussion tools they need to engage in the thinking work that the logic stage requires.

Logic stage students are perfectly suited to this kind of learning during these years of their lives. They are ready to take the reins of their own education more and more. They come home with more questions to talk through even after hours of discussion with their tutors and peers in class! They need wise adults in their lives to be sounding boards for their ideas and thoughts because they are at a critical time in their lives when they are forming their worldview—one which we hope, by the grace of God, will be one that not only reveres the things that God loves, but one that can rationally defend and support that love as well.

THE RHETORIC STAGE: Speak well

After several years of critical analyses, debates, and discussions, classical students will begin to become aware of how they are influenced by the ideas they encounter. Likewise, they will become more aware of how they can influence others with their own ideas. At this point, students are ready to learn how to speak God’s truth to a broken world. We therefore challenge rhetoric stage students to complete the entire learning process with every new topic they encounter. They gather and absorb foundational information, they determine truth through critical analysis, they consciously think about how this truth changes or supports what they believe about the world, and then they attempt to communicate it well. The most important area of study in this stage is rhetoric, which helps students become articulate, winsome, and skillful communicators.

And, as in the other stages, rhetoric stage students are perfectly suited to this type of complete learning process. They are in the last years of high school, considering what they will pursue next, and what direction they want their lives to take. They are getting ready to engage with the world; all that we do in rhetoric level classes is designed to help these students speak thoughtfully and lovingly to a broken world.

Like the creatures of Narnia, we want to bear the image of our creator well. We do this when we love what God loves, when we use the intellects he has given us to honor him, and when we speak his truth to the world. Every Granite morning this school year we have dismissed chapel with this charge: “Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak.” Our prayer is that what we accomplish at Granite would equip our students to take those image-bearing actions not just into their classes this year, but into the world long after they graduate.


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