Tuesday 29 May 2012

Dan Dare

Having written about American superhero comic books last time, I can't resist mentioning some rather different English comics many of us grew up with in the 1950s and 60s (reprinted in various forms ever since). These were immensely popular. The first issue of the weekly Eagle in 1950 sold nearly a million copies, and it ran for 991 issues. Frank Hampson's exquisitely realized drawings of spaceships and alien worlds in the Dan Dare serials no doubt inspired many a future boffin, adventurer, and artist. To find out why, explore the links. Dare was intended to be an explicitly Christian hero, in fact had originally been "Chaplain Dan Dare of the Inter-Planet Patrol", before finally appearing as the ace pilot of futuristic (and very English) Space Fleet. Eagle was founded by an Oxford-educated Anglican clergyman, Rev Marcus Morris, with its name inspired by the symbol of the Evangelist on a church lectern, and this and its sister papers Swift and Girl contained comic-book versions of the adventures of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and sundry modern missionaries, as well as sporting heroes and explorers. An education for heart, mind, and eye.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Comic book salvation

… Stand up and keep your childishness:
Read all the pedants’ screeds and strictures;
But don’t believe in anything
That can’t be told in coloured pictures.

Chesterton would not have liked many of the stories told in coloured pictures by American comic books, which these days tend to dystopia and sado-eroticism – an all-too predictable reflection of the present state of our culture. But some he would have liked, and I dare to think I could show him my own comic collection without (much) embarrassment.

My personal golden age of comics was in the late 60s and 1970s, when I would roam the streets of London looking for the latest American imports: Batman or Green Lantern, The Fantastic Four or The Mighty Thor, and a dozen other titles, illustrated by such artists as Neal Adams, the Buscema

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Recent additions

Tow recent additions to the links column on the left: under our "Useful articles and links" see Mathematics as Poetry, and under "Fun and educational" see Learn Chemistry through comics! Thanks to readers for these tips.

Monday 7 May 2012

Announcing a new book

BEAUTY IN THE WORD, published by Angelico Press (see Facebook page for this book), offers a new Catholic philosophy of education, completing the retrieval of the seven liberal arts begun in Beauty for Truth's Sake by examining the language arts, the "Trivium", which Dorothy L. Sayers made the basis of Classical Education in her famous essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning". But this book tries to go further than Sayers. Order from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

New opportunities for school reform and the creation of new schools encourage radical thinking about education. We need a philosophy that can guide us as we found these new schools, or enrich and improve existing schools, or attempt to design a curriculum for teaching our children at home. Catholic educators are particularly concerned with the question of what constitutes a "Catholic ethos."

The curriculum has become fragmented and incoherent because we have lost any sense of how all knowledge fits together. What kind of education, based on what understanding of the human person, would enable a child to progress in the rational understanding of the world without losing a sense of the whole, or a sense of the sacred? We must make an effort to overcome in ourselves false ideas inculcated by the education that we ourselves received, before we can understand the elements that would make a better education possible for our children.

Ethos of a Catholic School
Language of Faith 1
Language of Faith 2
Remembering the Present

Here are some comments on the book:

J. Fraser Field (CERC): "Speaking as a former Catholic teacher, this book has been a revelation to me. I wish I had read it before embarking on my teaching career. Beauty in the Word should be required reading for anyone aspiring to teach in a Catholic school as it should for anyone considering teaching their children at home."

James V. Schall SJ: "Everyone recognizes the centrality of education, of introducing what is known to the one capable of knowing. What is often lacking is some sense of the whole, of some orderly way to think about the whole. It is not that we do not have a tradition that looks after the basic things and their order. It is that we have replaced what we need to know with a methodology that is based on a narrow concept of what constitutes knowing. In this insightful book, Stratford Caldecott has presented a way to understand education in a sense that includes philosophy, theology, the arts, literature, the studies of beauty and truth and what is good. It is a rare book that understands the unity of knowledge and what we want to know. This is one of those rare books."

Aidan Nichols OP: “Beauty in the Word is the fruit of a lifetime's thinking about the relation between faith and life by a cultural entrepreneur who is also a parent and knows what, educationally, can actually work. Most Catholic education has been confined not only externally, by State regulation, but also internally, owing to an inadequate philosophy of the human being in the full (and I mean full!) range of his or her capacities and needs. Now that successive governments in the UK have freed up the institutional constraints, those responsible for new initiatives in Catholic schooling have a chance to recreate the inner spirit of education and not just its outer frame. They will not easily find a programme more inspirational than the one presented here.”

Anthony Esolen describes the book's purpose as laying the foundations of "an education that penetrates the heart and the mind with light." The Trivium represents the first or foundational stage of the liberal arts, understood broadly as an education for freedom. It gives us grounding for greater freedom and responsibility in three ways; that is, by developing our ability to imagine, think, and communicate. The child needs to grow in these three dimensions to be fully integrated with society. If any of the three are lacking he or she will be cut off from society and become an isolated and rather lonely particle, frenetic or depressed; one lost fragment of a broken puzzle.

In educational wisdom, the traditional "arts of language" (Grammar, Dialectics, and Rhetoric) have a key role to play.To discover this role, we need to penetrate into the deeper meaning of the "three ways" (trivium = "place where three roads meet"). As Anthony Esolen says, these reflect the three primary axes of Being: "of knowing, that is to say giving; of being known, that is to say receiving; and of the loving gift." I have referred to them under the headings of Remembering, Thinking, and Speaking, corresponding to MythosLogos, and Ethos. John Paul II described "the incandescent centre" of all educational activity as "co-operating in the discovery of the true image which God’s love has impressed indelibly upon every person, and which is preserved in the mystery of his own love." The whole educational process comes reaches its consummation in the liturgical act, the act of worship.

This all sounds very theoretical, no doubt – and so it is, in the original sense of theoria as "contemplation". But I have tried to show that it can be eminently practical as well, by showing how these ideas can be used to construct a curriculum. I refer in passing to the St Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, Maryland, whose "Educational Plan" (available online) has a very similar inspiration. Sequels to Beauty in the Word will include practical resources for parents and teachers, and we are looking for collaborators and advisers to join our working group in the coming months.

To read about the companion book on higher education, go to Beauty for Truth's Sake.
For a complete list of my books, go HERE.