Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tending the Heart of Virtue...

Vigen Guroian is one of the keynote speakers this year at the 2015 Charlotte Mason Education Conference sponsored by the Charlotte Mason Institute.  I have never attended the conference, nor is it likely that I will have the opportunity any time soon.  However, I was curious about Guroian's book, Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination and found a copy through our local public library. 

In Tending the Heart of Virtue, Guroian explains the importance of using fairy tales and fantasies to educate the moral imagination, beginning with young children.  Guroian walks you through a wide range of literature/stories including, but not limited to: Pinocchio; The Velveteen Rabbit; The Little Mermaid; The Wind in the Willows; Charlotte's Web; Bambi; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and Prince Caspian, to illustrate his point.  In the opening chapter, he says,
The great fairy tales and fantasy stories capture the meaning of morality through vivid depictions of the struggle between good and evil, where characters must make difficult choices between right and wrong or heroes and villains contest the very fate of imaginary words.  The great stories avoid didacticism and supply the imagination with important symbolic information about the shape of our world and appropriate responses to its inhabitants.
I believe this is right on point with Charlotte Mason's view on the use of living books
In Form I, children begin to gather conclusions as to the general life of the community from tales, fables, and the story of one or another great citizen.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 185)
I was very intrigued by Guroian's writing on "The Deception of Values in the Contemporary Debate over Education and Morality".   Guroian purposes:
"Values" is the chief buzzword of the contemporary educational scene.  The word carries with it the full burden of our concerns over the decline of morality.  Teaching values, whether family values, democratic values, or religious values, is touted as the remedy for our moral confusion.  Of course, this consensus about the need for stronger moral values immediately cracks and advocates retreat when the inevitable question is raised as to which values should be taught.  I do not think that the current debate over values lends much promise of clarifying what we believe in or what morality we should be teaching our children.  Values certainly are not the answer to moral relativism.  Quite the contrary, values talk is entirely amenable to moral relativism. 
Guroian cites German philosopher and atheist Friedrich Nietzsche's famous essay, Beyond Good and Evil, as being the beginning  of our modern use of the word "values" in our moral vocabulary. 
Nietzsche used "values" in this new way, not as a verb meaning to value or esteem something, or as a singular noun, meaning the measure of a thing (the economic value of money, labor, or property), but in the plural form, connoting the moral beliefs and attitudes of a society or of the individual.  In his turn of the phrase "transvaluation of the values," Nietzsche summed up his thesis about the "death of God" and the birth of his new "noble type of man."  Nietzsche described this new kind of human being as "a determiner of [his own] values" who judges right from wrong on the basis of what is good or injurious to himself.  Thus, the values of conventional morality were false values bound to be replaced by the self-made values of the truly autonomous and free individual.
Apparently, Nietzsche's new spin on the term "values" didn't take hold immediately.  However, Guroian purposes that in our modern "consumerist society", Nietzsche's new use of the word has come to fruition in the contemporary man's notion that he can pick and choose moral values to suit his tastes and desires as a "material commodity".   
As a society, we are learning to regard morality and values as matters of taste and personal satisfaction. 
In the final pages of the first chapter, Guroian uses the essays of G. K. Chesterton as an argument for his response to the contemporary debate over moral education.  
In conclusion, I want to review what Chesterton had to say, thus bringing this conversation around full circle to the claim I made at the start - that stories, especially fairy tales, are invaluable resources for the moral education of children. 
In subsequent chapters, Guroian uses the literature pieces referenced above, as well as others, to illustrate the teaching of classical moral virtues such as courage, faith, humility, and honesty, especially as they are understood in traditional Christianity.  Guroian is a Professor of Theology and Ethics at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland.  I would love the opportunity to hear him speak! 

Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish Tending the Heart of Virtue, as my library copy was beyond renewal.  However, Guroian's book is one that I would like to obtain for my personal collection.  I think it's a great resource and testament to Charlotte Mason's method of education...   
'Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.'  By this we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere), should train him in habits of good living (discipline), and should nourish is mind with ideas, the food of the intellectual life (Vol. 3, School Education, p. 216-217)

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