How Can Teachers Bring Truth, Beauty, and Goodness into the Classroom?
“Moderns love techniques!” This was how Martin Cothran, the keynote speaker at the classical education conference, opened the first of three addresses to teachers. He went on to present a broad vision of the purpose of Christian, classical education in refreshing contrast to the current obsession with smartboards, computers, and the technological management of information. He spoke in terms of the transcendent qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty in relation to the Aristotelian rhetorical trio of Logos, Ethos, and Pathos and argued convincingly that an effective educator draws upon all three to teach and to inspire students. Firstly, a Christian, classical education begins first with the understanding that there is a metaphysical and coherent order to the universe that makes truth (Logos) possible. Cothran quoted Thomas Aquinas, who said, “That man is wise who orders things rightly,” that is, according to the order of the universe itself, and observed that students take comfort in order. They respond well to the orderly presentation of knowledge. Young children delight in memorizing and categorizing facts about mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects. Their minds are trained by studying Latin and Greek, and by the careful reading of literature and history. Secondly, classical education is concerned with goodness and virtue, both in the exploration of themes and character in literature and in the character or Ethos of the teacher. Students are inspired by large and heroic stories, calling for courage and strength. And they are drawn by the character and enthusiasm of good teachers who ignite their interest in learning. Cothran quoted Alastair McIntyre, who said that students need to see themselves as part of a greater narrative, a story in which we have been created to fulfil the purpose that accords with our God-given nature, bringing mind and soul into line with the cosmos. Finally, classical education that is rooted in truth and goodness finds expression in beauty of language or rhetoric (Pathos). Cothran says it is rhetoric that points the way to action. But, as an aside and a caution, Cothran made the observation that many presidential debates have been weak on truth and goodness, but strong on Pathos, which wins elections every time. This gives all the more reason for discriminating citizens to be schooled in logic and proper argumentation, as well as the ability to read character. In sum, Martin Cothran rejects the current obsession with educational techniques as the path to success. What is needed, he says, are students who have been trained to read the great works of the western canon carefully, to think and to understand, to act in accord with what is true and good, and to communicate effectively. This is the worthy undertaking to which we are called as Christian, classical educators.
Rachel Bloomquist is our grade four teacher and Senior Teacher for the lower grades (SK - 4). She has been teaching at St. Timothy's for 14 years and has contributed immensely to the development of curriculum and ethos of the school.