Saturday, August 8, 2009

Quintilian -- Support for Schools

You remember I left off with Quintilian where he was discussing the arguments for home study as opposed to public schooling (not the government-sponsored form we have in the USA today, but "public" meaning at a building WITH other students, not private study with a tutor).

As has been traditionally done with the best arguments throughout history, he takes the "home study" proponents' BEST reasons for what they are doing and treats them with appropriate seriousness. Anti-homeschoolers of today would be well advised to learn from his approach, since the customary "set up a straw man and eviscerate him straw by straw" method so commonly seen nowadays by no means builds credibility.

Still, Quintilian definitely comes down on the side against home schooling. Since I'm trying to proceed through his book in an orderly manner, I don't want to skip this part. It would seem silly to hold him up as a voice of common sense in other matters and uncritically dismiss his reasoning on this matter. Plus, there are several places in Charlotte Mason's books where she makes quite similar arguments in favor of "building school", and Pope Pius in his encyclical on Christian Education makes the point that a family is a primary, but incomplete society. The family is the basic cell, and indispensable; but it needs a wider community to complete its development.

In the last post we saw that Quintilian thinks moral formation is of more importance than intellectual. It would be ridiculous to train a mind to be effective independent of goodness. That would be like making a weapon of mass destruction and tossing it out to be picked up by the first passerby. So he starts with this argument for home study, that it is better for the morals:

People think that morals are corrupted in schools; indeed they are at times corrupted, but such may be the case even at home.
He goes on to give support for the statement:

  • If the student is already prone to vice, he has as much range for vice in seclusion as in public.
  • If the tutor is vicious and immoral, home study is no better morally than public schooling.
  • At home, the student is in the company of slaves, who may well be just as immoral as the students at a school.
Some remedies he suggests for these dangers in a home environment:

  • Being vigilant and responsible parents who are careful to form a good disposition in their children.
  • Hiring a tutor of irreproachable character (I suppose for modern homeschoolers this would be equivalent to making sure the child's outside classes and texts were of the best kind)
  • Finding a faithful and well-born friend or companion to provide good socialization for the child (in our world, perhaps siblings and/or a small social circle, preferably when one knows the other childrens' parents).
Then he goes on to make a point which I think is good for all parents, no matter whether they send their kids to school or keep them at home:

Would that we ourselves did not corrupt the morals of our children!

We enervate their very infancy with luxuries. That delicacy of education which we call fondness weakens all the powers, both of body and mind. What luxury will he not covet in his manhood who crawls about on purple! He cannot yet articulate his first words, but he already distinguishes scarlet and wants his purple. 7. We form the palate of children before we form their pronunciation. They grow up in sedan chairs; if they touch the ground, they hang by the hands of attendants supporting them on each side.

We are delighted if they utter anything immodest. We hear from them with a smile and a kiss expressions which would not be tolerated even from the effeminate youths of Alexandria. Nor is this wonderful. We have taught them; they have heard such language from ourselves. 8. They see our mistresses, our male objects of affection; every dining room rings with impure songs; things shameful to be told are objects of sight.

From such practices springs habit, and afterwards nature. The unfortunate children learn these vices before they know that they are vices. Hence, rendered effeminate and luxurious, they do not imbibe immorality from schools, but carry it themselves into schools.
Now I suppose this description of Roman vice would need a little translation to fit into our modern society. You could probably use your own imagination. The basic problems, it appears, would be:

  • Raising the children to have fastidious tastes (I am thinking when he speaks of purple and sedan chairs that this translates to consumerism and attachment to trends and toys, in our country, the kids that get too much too soon)
  • Making light of children acting in ways we would not want leaders of our countries to act (swearing, mouthing cool comebacks at their parents, acting cynical). Some of the "impure" things he mentions reminds me of what we can allow in our house by way of TV, computer, game console and CD player or Ipod. Though we're a fairly electronics-heavy family ourselves, I do think some of the most dangerous things in the home environment, aside from actual real-life immorality, come from these influences.
And the bottom line is that children learn this sort of thing from us, if they learn it, according to Quintilian -- whether by our actual deeds, or our omissions in watchfulness. They drink from poisoned waters.

When he says "effeminate" I think he's talking in context of the antonym of the word "vir", man, from which the word "virtue" derives. Effeminate people, whether they happen to be men or women, are those that "need" lots of luxuries, that don't know how to deny themselves for a better cause, that are swayed this way and that by superficialities. They don't have the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance and fortitude, so they are easily swayed, self-indulgent, and weak.

This is getting very long, but I wanted to reiterate what I said in the last post, that as parents we have to choose between the best available options, and do our best to make the best option better. So if we are homeschooling, it's important to continue to "purify the source", to iron out those inconsistencies between what I profess and what I practice. I notice that kids can do fairly well in seeing the sincerity of parental EFFORTs to continue to do better, even if they continue to fail. And we're talking in secular terms here -- I know I appreciate the ability to pray to fill in the gap betweeen what I'm capable of and what my children need.

I guess I didn't really get to the actual case for public schooling. This is the middle ground here -- why home might not necessarily be any better than school in preserving morality. His cautions may serve to remind us that homeschooling per se is not a fail-safe method of keeping a morally germ-free environment. Many homeschoolers who went in believing that have been disillusioned as time went on. In my case, I was way too doubtful of my own abilities as moral hygienist to have any such false confidence. This turned out to be a useful survival trait because I knew my limits and the ubiquity of sin and have always homeschooled in this awareness.

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