Friday, January 15, 2016

Norms and Nobility - Dialectic

This is my 4th post about Norms and Nobility and the thoughts it is stirring in me.  I am sad that I can't make the Circe Conference where David Hicks is speaking.  It's not too far away from me. Alas!

Today I want to look at his idea of dialectic.  That is a word that we often hear but may not "get". This definition gets at the crux at the issue while still being simple:

We have already seen that Socrates identified dialectic as the form of the activity of thinking - the mind's habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating in itself or in the other minds and of engaging in a desultory dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved. (emphasis mine) 

Hicks argues that we should teach about the dialectical process because

by making his students conscious of their dialectical thinking processes . . . his students deliberately took on the dialectical form of mental activity, learning became possible.  Man could now visualize and oversee his own mind at work.  The very form of these conversations provided Socrates' students with a model for how their minds ought to work. (emphasis mine)
He is arguing that a questioning conversation is learning how to think. This reminds me of Charlotte Mason (principle #19 of her 20) who argues that one of the main things we should teach our children is what ideas to accept and reject.

Principle 19 - Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. 

Here, Hicks posits that the classical way to train people in the acceptance or rejection of ideas is through conversation and questioning.  You can see how Hicks and Mason are similar because he insists that

Classical education, therefore, cannot hope to achieve its lofty aims without laying great emphasis on the development of the conscience in the student.  The emphasis begins, as we have seen, in the normative study of myth, from which the dogma of the Ideal Type emerges. 
Hicks, by this point in the book, has clearly defined what he means by the formative power of myth.   In CM she discusses laying a banquet of the best thoughts, through literature, before our students to help inform their thinking.

When we hear "dogma" we associate it with an unthinking acceptance of someone else's truth.  In our culture it is seen as a problem.  However, Hicks is arguing it is fundamental to good thinking.  It isn't created by a list of rules; but rather, by a gathering of stories and ideas passed down through culture that informs our decision making. He asserts:
Dogma is to dialectic what doubt is to analysis: one cannot begin the one without the other. 
Dialectical learning requires that he accept a dogma before he rejects it. 
To truly engage in learning we need to have a firm belief in something and be willing to question it. We need to be involved in these issues and seek resolution for them - this is not just mental assent - this is transformational belief.  So what is the role of a teacher?

The connection between dogma and dialectic defines the master-pupil relationship.  The master's life displays what it means to accept and to live by a dogma, and the pupil's imitative acceptance of his teacher's dogma affords him an insight into his own life and studies that eventually corroborates, refines or invalidates the dogma.  
See - imitation again!  They are watching us (mentor, teacher, parent) to see what dogma we really live by and if it "works".  This is why being a teacher or parent is such a weighty role!  We know they are watching and we are constantly falling short of what we believe.  It leads to a life of constant repentance!  We are afraid that our life is "invalidating" our dogma.  Is it??

Finally, these comments help put dogma back into it's proper place.
Dogma, from the Greek meaning - "that which seems good" - are his (the student's) hypothesis. 
Once he receives a dogma, the student of dialectic begins in his life and learning to verify it. 
We must help our students form a firm "hypothesis" about what the good life is through story and example when they are young.  As they grow, we need to allow them time, questions, conversations and help them to discover if their dogma or hypothesis is really true. They need to read the stories of the good, the bad and the ugly to help them think about these characters and ask those big questions. Dialectic is the process of thoughtful questioning that leads to a firm conscience; not blind acceptance, but hard won truth.

My kids are still young so we are still "forming dogma" while trying to avoid preaching.  Giving them stories of truth, beauty and goodness to develop their appetite.  I am pretty sure we will be in for a wild ride once our oldest really starts questioning (more) but I need to remember that this is the way he is learning and the only way it can become his own truth "which seems good" - not just "mom says".

There are no promises, but I need to be faithful to my part of sharing and living what "seems good" in front of all my children and teaching them how to question and therefore think so that they can verify this "good life" on their own.

No comments:

Post a Comment