by Sara Osborne
One of the beauties of classical education is its aim to take students deep in the quest for knowledge. We live in a world in which “all that glitters is not gold” and students are bombarded by false messages masquerading as truth. Part of our task as teachers and parents is to prepare our students to mine beneath fancy rhetoric in order to pursue that which is true and good. This idea is not new.
Plutarch emphasizes the importance of training students to engage messages critically in his essay “On the Student at Lectures”:
“Let us then strip aside all this empty show of language, and make for the actual fruit. It is better to imitate the bee than the garland-maker. The latter looks for the bright-colored fragrant petals, and, by twining and plaiting them together, produces an object which is pleasant enough, but short-lived and fruitless. Bees, on the contrary, frequently skim through meadows of violets, roses, or hyacinths, to settle upon the coarsest and bitterest thyme….So a student who takes his work in real earnest will pay no regard to dainty flowery words nor to showy theatrical matter…he will probe with keen attention into the sense of a speech and the quality of the speaker. Therefrom he will suck such a part as will be of service and profit.”
So our task as educators is to train students to “probe with keen attention into the sense of a speech and the quality of the speaker”. For classical Christian educators, this should sound familiar. We might recall more modern descriptions: careful reading (or listening), linguistic awareness, analysis, discernment, logic, critical thought, understanding of worldview, ability to articulate a position of response. Such skills are invaluable for the student (or teacher!) who would be a bee.
As classical Christian educators, our task is to train up students who will not easily be won over by the garland-maker. To that end, we must teach our students to be careful thinkers, wise listeners, and articulate responders. These skills will enable them to continue the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness wherever the Lord should lead them.
Plutarch, “On the Student at Lectures,” in The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being, ed. Richard M. Gamble (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2007), 146.