I recently joined the Ambleside Online forum. Those women are stretching me to think and grow as we read and participate in book studies. I love it!
One of the ladies recently started a thread asking how she should define virtue – a valid question since the goal of a classical education is to instruct a person in virtue and wisdom by teaching them truth, goodness, and beauty. Defining virtue will actually help us develop our educational plans because as we understand WHAT we are aiming for, our choices of HOW to accomplish that goal will naturally become more focused and selective as the path we’re on becomes clearer. After reading the thoughts on the forum, I decided to do a bit of research myself.
Karen Glass, in an article posted at The Well Trained Mind, said:
“David Hicks, in Norms and Nobility, reminds us that the primary goal of the classical educators was to instill virtue in their pupils—not merely to provide them with rigorous, intellectual training. He discusses the ancient’s “Ideal” — the hero, the man of virtue, whom they aspired to imitate at great length. This was an education of the spirit — not a practical, utilitarian education by any means, but an education intended to teach man to serve something other than self. This kind of education does not teach a man how to fulfill his desires — it teaches him what he ought to desire. Intellectual development was only a part of the process.
The goal of classical education was the attainment of virtue. David Hicks asks the question, “Can virtue be taught?” and he tells us that all of the notable ancients answered, “yes.” It sounds remarkably like Charlotte Mason’s contention that the chief end of education is the formation of character. David Hicks says, “The sublime premise of a classical education asserts that right thinking will lead to right, if not righteous, acting.”
I liked the definition my church gave virtue:
“Virtue is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.”
I’ve decided that the dictionary is my friend lately so I looked up the definitions of virtue and moral – because I think that often I “know” the meaning of something – but then with a clearer definition I realize I am missing a bit of the bigger picture. Sort of like looking at a picture and thinking “that’s nice” and then finding out the title and all of a sudden it fills you with all sorts of emotions and ideas from the artist.
Dictionary.com defines VIRTUE as:
1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
2. conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
3. chastity; virginity: to lose one’s virtue.
4. a particular moral excellence. Compare cardinal virtues, natural virtue, theological virtue.
5. a good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one’s weaknesses.
6. effective force; power or potency: a charm with the virtue of removing warts.
7. virtues, an order of angels. Compare angel (def 1).
The definition of MORAL from dictionary.com:
1. of, relating to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes.
2. expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct, as a speaker or a literary work.
3. founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom:
4. capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct: a moral being.
5. conforming to the rules of right conduct (opposed to immoral ): a moral man.
6. virtuous in sexual matters; chaste.
7. of, relating to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or character: moral support.
So, virtue could be an effective force relating to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or character (Will) that is founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom; however a virtuous person would certainly live within the boundaries of good moral laws.
As Charlotte Mason taught, we as parents and teachers are to help our children learn the fundamental principles of right conduct through their personal relationship with God, by letting them read the books that let them experience virtuous living and the results of non-virtuous living, teaching them those good habits, by prayer, etc. A pattern takes time to follow, which is why we will always pursue virtue as a worthy goal. Since none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes, forgiveness and grace will play a big part in this – both from us as parents and from the Lord (for us as the parents and His children). I am, I can, I ought, I will.
We’ve all read books where the main character did something he knew was right, usually at great personal cost, especially for the good of others. Sometimes it is a matter of faith, sometimes it is a matter of earthly cares, but it’s those kinds of characters that I think of when pursuing virtue, usually because I end up hoping that I could be like them when faced with those dilemmas. Probably why Charlotte Mason wanted us to let a child connect with the ideas themselves, right?
As I woke up this morning still thinking on this subject, I thought of the 13th Article of Faith, which states:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Doesn’t this sound exactly like what a Classical Christian Education is all about?