Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Beauty in the Word - review

The following review and summary appeared in the journal First Things in December 2012, by Stephen Richard Turley, who teaches at Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle, Delaware, and at Eastern University.
Beauty in the Word, Stratford Caldecott’s sequel to his Beauty for Truth’s Sake, surveys not the historical outworking of the liberal arts tradition but rather the inspiration that lies behind it. Specifically, the author—the director of Thomas More College’s
Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford and editor of the journal Second Spring—raises the notion of an educational “Trivium” composed of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. This Trinitarian structure requires that we remember that we come from the Father, that we think in accordance with the Son the Logos, and that we communicate in the communion of the Holy Spirit. 
In the classroom, this scheme would result in a via media between the two teaching approaches that have tended to dominate educational theory over the last century, what Caldecott terms “romantic” and “classical” tendencies; educational projects that are either child-centered or teacher-centered. Both approaches err by failing to conceive of the child as a “person,” he says. 
Personhood, in contrast to individualism, “means the human being determined in his identity. . . by relationships both chosen and unchosen.” Thus, he sees the central dynamic of education as involving a reciprocal relationship between the student and teacher that manifests a third, namely, the Truth that is implicit in the relationship itself.

Caldecott suggests a curriculum grounded in the philosophy behind the Trivium but not limited to its three elements. The fine arts, for example, could associate grammar with music and dance, dialectic with the visual arts, and rhetoric with drama. He also pays heed to the role of the family in education, particularly in relation to the formation of the child’s moral imagination. The ultimate goal is an “education of the heart,” which “represents not merely a training of the emotions, but an integration of feelings and thoughts into a higher unity.”

This book provides a rationale for a liberal arts education that taps deep, even forgotten, arguments with a richness that well-intentioned slogans about the importance of cultural literacy cannot convey. Although Caldecott’s arguments sometimes meander, and each chapter would have been strengthened if he included an introduction of some sort, this is still a book that stands apart in its genre.

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