Classical Education’s Map (Norms & Nobility Notes, ch. 2 I)

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Part of an ongoing, slow series through David Hick’s Norms and Nobility.

Summary Narration of chapter 2, section I

Classical education is formed by the past and transforms the future. It does so through its connection to myth. Myth raises our attention and affection above ourselves toward ideal, eternal, and communal values.

In the first section of chapter two, Hicks introduces us to another productive paradox of values in classical education: mythos and logos. However, most of this section reminds us why mythos – the part we as moderns are most likely to ignore and dismiss – is essential to having a culture at all.

The logos is dialectic, focusing on rational reasoning and seeking objective truth. It is also necessary and formative, but it comes after mythos, both historically in Greek philosophy and also developmentally in cultures and people.

Mythos is the base worldview a culture passes on to its children through the power of story, even bizarre, irrational stories like myths and fairy tales.

However non rational myths were, they betrayed man’s urge to explain what he found in himself and the world, as well as his belief that explanation was somehow possible.

Humans want meaning. Humans were created with and for ultimate meaning. Will the education they receive teach them and give them meaning? Will that meaning be true?

Meaning is communicated through myth, which is one reason Tolkien referred to Scripture as true myth.

Though myth cannot be analyzed into rational explanation, it is also not opposed to logos, to reason. Rather, we need both mythos and logos, together. Not one attacking the other, but both living side-by-side in fellowship and harmony.

No one exists who does not in some measure possess these complementary defenses against an unintelligible and hostile world.

These two elements are distinct and both necessary.

The mythos represents man’s imaginative and, ultimately, spiritual effort to make this world intelligible; the logos sets forth his rational attempt to do the same.

These two elements are distinct, yet they work together. Logos takes mythic wandering and turns it into applicable meaning.

A good myth, like a good map, enables the wanderer to survive, perhaps even to flourish, in the wilderness.

We are not left to create our own myths or our own logos. We have been given both because we need both, so we should pass on both to the next generation.

To this end, classical education, like Hebrew education, carefully preserves the best myths within its tradition and insists that each new generation of students learns these myths, imprisoning them in their hearts.

When a society passes on its myth, it gives not only individual meaning, it also gives community.

one’s chances of survival in the wilderness are greater when one is not alone.

And that community is united in purpose.

In this regard, classical education’s emphasis upon the mastery of a common psychological inheritance ensures a social and psychological cohesiveness in the world.

Without myth accompanying us and uniting us to others, we wander alone.

Myth brings forth nobility.

Myth allows many individuals to share an epiphany, a vision of truth granting them a basis for accepting certain normative standards for which there are no clear or convincing proofs.

Let us remember to give ourselves as well as our children poetry, fairy tales, folk tales, myths, fables, and – of course – the entirety of Scripture, which remains supreme.

Myths inspire men to perform great and selfless deeds by assuring and warning them that their actions are not individual, but symbolic.

This is a significant part of the education we give, and one that is much more important than a test score, scholarship, or income potential. It is an education for eternity.

Norms & Nobility - Myths inspire men to perform great and selfless deeds by assuring and warning them that their actions are not individual, but symbolic.

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