Friday, July 9, 2010

Today's Bread, Not Tomorrow's

You probably thought I was going to write a food post.... but no, this is about educational stuff.   I've been thinking about philosophy -- and trying to envision next school year....

I am a regular reader of Quiddity, the CIRCE Institute's blog, and I think their definition of classical education is the best I've come across since it sums up the essentials as I understand them:

Christian Classical education is
the cultivation of wisdom and virtue
by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty,
so that in Christ the student is better able to know, glorify, and enjoy God.
While I accept this definition, my puzzle has always been HOW? How do you cultivate wisdom and virtue? How do you nourish the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty? How do you raise a child to know, glorify and enjoy God?

Having some chancy success in raising children with at least decent characters and at least adequate intellectual equipment doesn't really help solve my puzzle. After all, I didn't do it. It wasn't me, and I KNOW that, and so do all of you who have raised children to adulthood and learned something along the way. We are all like Socrates: our wisdom is knowing that we are not wise. Our virtue is in knowing that we are not virtuous. So I can't point to what helped. And perhaps that IS the point, but I would really like something more to go on than that.

But when I was thinking that, I couldn't help thinking that it really, really is the point. It's up to God. It's easy enough to SAY that, but really acting that way -- skirting between the Scylla of over-activity and the Charybdis of lethargy -- is the task of a lifetime. It's up to God. Any virtue or wisdom that happened in our family came from Him. Very simple, but not easy. I want security, after all; which in this context is another way of saying that I want to be independent of the need to ask every day for what I need. 

I've also been thinking about something I read recently about the Lord's Prayer. Jesus tells us to pray "give us this day our daily bread." Louis Marie de Montfort explains it this way:
Our Lord taught us to ask God for everything that we need whether in the spiritual or temporal order. By asking for our daily bread we humbly admit our own poverty and insufficiency and pay tribute to our God, knowing that all temporal good come from His Divine Providence.
When we say BREAD we ask for that which is just necessary to live; and of course, this does not include luxuries.
We ask for this bread today THIS DAY which means that we are concerned only for the present, leaving the morrow in the hands of Providence.
And when we ask for our DAILY BREAD we recognize that we need God's help every day and that we are entirely dependent upon Him and for His help and protection.
If I can carry the theme over to the educational realm, this would imply that I should not be questing after some perfect system -- a perpetual-motion educational machine that would make it unnecessary for me to depend, to trust, to be careful and simple. The Israelites would probably have liked to store manna for tomorrow, but God would not let them. That was because he didn't want a safe, comfortable people but a people who could look beyond physical security to much, much better things.

Similarly, I think that when CIRCE talks about cultivating wisdom and virtue, about nourishing the soul on goodness, truth and beauty -- well, first look at the verbs. Cultivating is a gardening term and nourishing is a food-related term. They are both very down-to-earth -- gardening and eating are two of the most down-to-earth things you can do.... rather literally, in fact.  

But the objects of the phrases refer to immaterial things. Immaterial does NOT mean airy or insubstantial. Immaterial means things that are more necessary and more eternal -- things that remain when everything else is gone. When your food is gone, the nourishing effect remains. When your garden is cultivated, from small brown wizened seeds comes branches, flowers, fruit. Similarly, wisdom and virtue, beauty, truth and goodness are IN things but transcend them --- they are still there when the things themselves are gone.

When Jesus told us to ask for our daily bread, as it's been understood by the Church, He was talking about our physical needs but He spoke beyond that as well.    First of all, He was teaching us the habit of asking, of looking beyond our own gathering and preparing efforts to where the harvest comes from.   Second, when one talks about daily bread one isn't just talking about preventing starvation, though preservation of life is crucial, of course, but of growing, thriving, being strengthened.   Once again, it's what remains when the physical food is gone out of our system.  It is incorporated, literally, into us. 

If I am understanding it right, education is meant to do the same thing to our mind, heart and spirit -- not just keep them from starvation, but to provide what they need to expand and be strengthened.   It is incorporated, though the word doesn't seem quite right in the noncorporal context! 

I think of St Paul in his epistle to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
This, of course, suggests a model for education. It's not a recipe per se -- put in one tale of the virtues, 2 character lessons, 1 music study, stir and bake -- it is "cultivation" and "nourishment" -- growing what is good, carefully weeding out what is not so good. It's ongoing and radical, literally, "from the root".

So anyway, thinking this through seems to sort of answer my question, though it still "feels" like not enough security. I think that anything that depends on radical trust, hope and commitment is difficult for me because these are things you do and cross off the list but things you reconvert to moment by moment.   My tendency towards acedia wants to have the thing done once and for all so I can stop striving.  But at least knowing where my challenge is helps me to know better how to deal with it!


  1. THis is a very interesting post. This may sound strange, but I've had a feeling lately of being on the edge of something - so close to jumping off. It's as if I'm about to let go and land in God's hands. But I also have a feeling of holding back. I still want that security of knowing the plan. Homeschooling seems to be a difficult area for me to let go of the control of - or at least the illusion of control. To think of waking each day and asking for direction for that day and accepting however it goes is scary to me. Yet I do this often and it works. If only I could always keep my mind in today and not think so far ahead.

  2. I have the same problem of letting go. And I tend to drift without any plan at all, but I've been wondering if there is some balance there -- something comparable to having only a few necessary things around, rather than a bunch of stuff that doesn't get used. I think I end up distracting myself with "too much" and trying to do everything perfectly instead of just paying attention. But that's as far as I've gotten in my thought process!

  3. I distract myself with "too much" also. I'm willing to have only a few necessary things around, but which things are necessary? That is my question.

  4. I thought your point on your blog about getting rid of the complex things (art supplies, you were talking about) and staying with what you or your kids are actually likely to do was a good one. That is the direction my thoughts have been going, though I do not have the answer.

    Now suppose you get rid of things you don't use and find out they are important? Always a concern, but maybe it's better to come from a place of need and emptiness than a place of having something around that's so much mental clutter.

    I'm talking about materials here, of course, like curriculum -- but perhaps it applies somewhat to other things. For example, I have been wondering about complex schedules. I wonder if they are necessary.... talking about myself, of course, not about other families. This is just the direction my thoughts have been taking.

  5. Willa -- Thank you so much for this! I'm so glad I happened to be clicking around at just the right time to find this. I think a "perpetual-motion educational machine" is exactly what I have been trying to seek after; that and a perpetual-motion housekeeping machine, a perpetual-motion childrearing technique, a perpetual-motion life. Dreaming of systems so perfect that no one [me, especially] will have to be good [or care anymore, perhaps? or most especially, expend so much energy].

    I will be printing this out and adding it to my binder of homeschooling articles.

  6. I am laughing here!

    I just read through the Circe Institute's page where this quote is...I really LIKED that page...and feel sorry for my kids not getting what they need :)

    And, then, killing some time while a blanket is in the dryer...I peruse your blog to find we were thinking about the same thing.

    I guess I am not surprised ;)

  7. Chari -- yes, they are -- trust me : )!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!