Do you think Charlotte Mason ever read Plutarch’s other writings? She had her students study Plutarch’s Lives slowly and carefully over the course of years – perhaps she also respected his opinions on education? He did have some.
The introductory comments to the entries by Plutarch in The Great Tradition summarize Plutarch’s opinion: “he presents poetry as preparatory to the study of philosophy.”
Sounds like Charlotte Mason, doesn’t it? But he was a product of the classical era, part of the classical tradition.
Of course, so was Miss Mason.
Above all these things, get wisdom. Whatever you get, get insight.
Plutarch starts off his treatise on education with a passionate rebuke for fathers who do not take pains to secure not just any education for their sons, but education under good teachers.
Why in such deadly earnest about making money, while troubling so little about the sons to whom you are to leave it?
Many fathers go to such lengths in the way of fondness for their money and want of fondness for their children, that, to avoid paying a larger fee, they choose utterly worthless persons to educate their sons, their object being an inexpensive ignorance.
I think this might be my new favorite quote on the current state of education, as well.
His conclusion for fathers is just as passionate:
It would be fairer to regard me as repeating an oracle than as giving advice – in the matters the one and essential thing, the first, middle, and last, is a sound upbringing and right education. It is this, I say, which leads to virtue and happiness.
He warns of the results of trusting education to the hapless or foolish or ignorant, and then tells us why a real education matters:
Culture is the only thing in us that is immortal and divine.
Now, this we might quibble with, of course, but if we consider his (unchristian, classical) perspective, we can see what he means and agree with his sentiment at least. Culture is religion externalized, says George Grant. What we create, how we think, what and how we worship is what defines as image-bearers of God – we are culture-makers. It matters. It reflects our true loves and beliefs.
When again war comes like a torrent, tearing and sweeping everything away, it is of our mental culture alone that it cannot rob us.
Education – enculturation – makes our minds a worthwhile place to spend our leisure. This is a consistent refrain of classical thinkers.
As farmers put stakes beside their plants, so the right kind of teacher provides firm support for the young in the shape of lessons and admonitions, carefully chosen so as to produce an upright growth of character.
Apparently Elizabeth Krueger was not the first to use the metaphor of tomato-staking for parenting (it’s my favorite parenting book).
Having thus established the primacy and priority of education, Plutarch will next go on to develop exactly what a sound education – an education worth having, a mental culture – is and how to attain it.
Tune in next time, as they say.
My Book Bag
- The Great Tradition by Richard M. Gamble
- The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts by Joe Rigney – reading with a friend and in preparation for a future Scholé Sisters episode
- The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer (on audio)
On Sunday I began and finished N.D. Wilson’s latest, Outlaws of Time, wherein he tries his hand at time travel. I enjoyed it, although it wasn’t as compelling as his Ashtown series. One of Nate’s themes is certainly that some causes are worth death, that spending your life – even to the point of death – for the sake of other’s, is noble and beautiful. His powerful characters, his Gandalfs, are all ones ready to sacrifice everything. That was a very strong theme in this book – there is a lot of death. Lots and lots of death, but none of it graphic. Those who want power for power’s sake kill and enjoy it. Those who have power and love die themselves and gladly, if it means others may live.
If you don’t think kid lit should have death, you won’t like it. But it’s a good story and worth the reading.