Beyond Information and Skill

Caldecott WordNow that the school year is over, I have the time to think through changes for classes in the fall.  I recently tracked down my copy of Stratford Caldecott’s The Beauty of the Word.  Written from a particularly Catholic perspective, the book is a nice gloss on the classical trivium and Dorothy Sayers’ “Lost Tools of Learning.”  It’s a good resources for me as I look to tweak some language and articulations of curriculum.

One of the educational assertions made early in the book has to do with the very purpose of education.  From Caldecott:

… education is not primarily about the acquisition of information.  It is not even about the acquisition of ‘skills’ in the conventional sense, to equip us for particular roles in society.  It is about how we become more human (and therefore more free, in the truest sense of that word).

Books like Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed spend time articulating this from a political standpoint, particularly the idea that education is meant to set you free from things like the self and certain systems.  In a commencement address from 2011 titled “Dream Small,” James K. A. Smith told graduates from King College in Bristol, TN that

The measure of your education is not what you know, but what you love. And as Saint Augustine never tired of saying, what you love is what you enjoy. Your teachers have not just tried to inform you about the world; they’ve tried to pass on to you a love for corners of God’s world that you perhaps never saw before. They have invited you into the nooks and crannies of God’s creation—into the fascinating complexity of the brain or the mournful cadences of Bach, in the play of poetry or the dazzle of digital media. You’ve been invited to wonder, to be perplexed, to puzzle, to discern, to critique, to take delight. To enjoy. Your education hasn’t just equipped you for a career, it has trained your joy.

It’s no small or easy thing to rethink, to “retool,” an approach to learning.  But it’s something that I want to try to do as I prepare for the next school year.  It is good to have guides who have gone before you, who have done some digging and dirty work and now invite you in as part of it.  I’ll probably do some similar reflections over the next couple of weeks as I work to wrap up one school year and prepare for another.

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