We need to know what we’re after. – Xenophon on education

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If we start off on this homeschool journey with no idea what education is, why we’re doing it, or where we want to be at the end, we’ll flounder, frustrated and fickle. We’ll have no idea whether what we’re doing is working or if we’re doing a good job.

We have to have a measuring stick to determine if we’re straightened out and moving forward. A measuring stick has a beginning and an end.

Every Most Wednesdays here in 2016 I will be sharing a quote and a musing. I’d love to get some discussion going about what it means to be carrying on this tradition. Click here to see all the posts in this series so far.

CH057: A Teacher’s Attention

Going after broad-mindedness

I’m now in the section on Xenophon, who also wrote dialogs of Socrates back in the day. In fact, Richard Gamble says that Xenophon was the more popular source for Socratic teaching in the ancient world, whereas now we look to Plato and never hear of Xenophon.

“Furthermore, those who know what they do win fame and honor by attaining their ends.” (Xenophon, quoting Socrates, qtd. in The Great Tradition)

I had to write this sentence down because I saw three important pieces woven together concisely.

First, he’s talking about “those who know what they do.” Do we, as home educators, know what we are doing? Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. But this reminds us that taking the time to think through what we’re doing is essential.

Second, he calls out those who “win fame and honor.” Now, we might not care so much about fame, but the Bible does speak of honor. The Proverbs call out what it takes to achieve honor, to be honorable; the Bible honors certain people and commends them as examples; the Bible commands children to honor their parents. We should be people worth honor, whether or not we receive worldly recognition.

Third, how does that honor come? By attaining our ends. This assumes we know what our ends are. (Hint: it’s virtue) The ends come to those who know what they are doing. So we start where we are (know what we’re doing), move toward our ends, and if we stick with it, we’ll find that we are at least worthy of honor, we have been faithful, whether or not God sees fit to allow us recognition in this life.

Those who know what they do win fame and honor by attaining their ends. –Xenophon– We need to know why we're homeschooling

“Have you observed, then, that some who have very little find it enough, whereas others cannot live within their means, however large?” (Xenophon, quoting Socrates, qtd. in The Great Tradition)

I think we have all observed this general truth about man.

In the context of education, does it not cut straight to the heart of any perspective that makes economic gain the ends of learning? If we do school merely for a better job, for a bigger paycheck, that is no guarantee of happiness, or even ease of living, much less virtue.

It’s not about the amount you earn or have, it’s about knowing the right thing to do and doing it.

So whatever our children’s earning power or income bracket might be, we can teach and model contentment, perseverance, and living-within-our-means, all of which will serve them well whatever their economic standing when they are adults.

I’ve written about knowing our purpose before:

Learning what classical education really means from primary sources.

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