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Remembering, the Trivium, and Educating for the Future

Some reflections on "Beauty in the Word"

When asked what my favorite new book on education is I only have one answer: Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty in the Word. I just love it so much (said in my best Holly Hunter accent). I love it so much I am rereading and blogging through it this summer. Nine posts in and I am only part way through Chapter 2.

Modern Christian and Classical education has been highly influenced by Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”. Sayers is one of my favorite writers and I have nothing against her essay except that I wish some people hadn’t read it. What has been done in the name of Grammar is shameful.

Caldecott throws us a line and saves us from drowning in our own modernity because that is where the trouble comes from, doesn’t it? Sayers tries to describe something medieval to an audience who has been severed from the past. We have no way of understanding the medieval mind. We have Google. Dorothy is as incomprehensible to us as the Southern Agrarians who we don’t understand because we have no past. All we have is a vast technology stretched before us.

Enter Stratford Caldecott. In one deft stroke of the pen Caldecott reimagines grammar as Remembering. The stars align, the picture comes into focus; we are free:

“Memory, then, is the mother both of language and of civilization. This is what gives us our link between Remembering and language.”

What does Caldecott mean by “remembering”? It is not a vapor, although we have to think hard to understand exactly what he means. He says, “The ideas are in us, or we could not recognize them.” Remembering is bound irrevocably to truth and because of that love.

Where does this love come from?

“Tradition joins the generations together in a community of anamnesis that transcends time. The contemporary dissolution of the family is also the dissolution of tradition, because it can only be passed on within the community whose identity it helps to define.”

Caldecott says that our “….Technology also tends to eliminate tradition, and with it the possibility of a truly human living in time.”

We live in a time and it is connected to the past. We are not drifting in the universe alone unconnected to time or each other. Our grammar is our language and it is how we connect to one another. It is how we connect to what came before. Grammar is our Rosetta Stone connecting us to those who came before and it also connects us to those who follow unless we break the stone tablet.

Have you seen the trailer for the movie Gravity? I have not seen the move because the trailer absolutely terrifies me. There is something oddly claustrophobic about being alone in the universe, adrift, disconnected. Caldecott says that “Sin is the misuse of freedom.” Some freedom is too terrifying to face and yet that is exactly what our culture is trying to sell us.

Charlotte Mason writes extensively about the idea of attention. Without attention there is no education. We have confused teaching with learning when we forget about attention. Caldecott connects education, to “waiting on God” because in prayer we give our attention to God.

But what if we have no attention to give?

That is a scary thought because I believe that is exactly what modernity is stealing from us. The Internet, through our phones and devices, is one giant siren call grabbing our attention and stealing it from us. Our children are being trained to be inattentive to those around them, to the task at hand, to the road ahead. The results of texting and driving are just a metaphor for where we are headed.

When Caldecott discusses memory he uses the Greek word anamnesis by this he means more than just rote memory. In its Platonic use it means we are remembering things from tradition or an inferred past. We are not remembering what we have learned already but what went before us.

This is the antithesis of technology because technology in principle is looking forward without looking back. Technology makes history “external to ourselves.” Therefore, in a technological society, the highest goal becomes consumerism. Education becomes the consumption of information. We become greedy for more, more, more like a fat man at a pie-eating contest.

Technology looks forward without looking back whereas,”tradition requires the initiation of persons into a living world that is RECIEVED AS a GIFT AND CALLS FOR GRATITUDE”.

Enter the Covenant, the Lord’s Supper, the community.

I hope you are able to grasp the meaning of all of this because it has everything to do with how we plan our school year and how we view our children. We are not or should not be consumers of education. We are receivers. Grateful receivers. That should make a difference when we are looking at those catalogs. It should help us remember that the tools we use are not the things themselves.

” . . . As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18)

Caldecott reminds us that “remembering is inseparable from knowing and loving….”

Augustine says that education is not about the trivium of remembering, knowing, and loving ourselves but rather education is the trivium of remembering, understanding, and loving God.

“Thus by speaking of Memory or Remembering we are really speaking of the foundations of attention, of the integration of personality, and of the road to contemplation. We are also speaking of ‘conscience.'”

Wow!! This is it. This is why we are educating. This is what we are educating. James Madison’s famous quote tells us that “conscience is the most sacred property of all.”

The problem is that there are no shortcuts to this sort of education. The development of the conscience is a delicate matter which can be easily derailed by over-zealous educators as Charlotte Mason warns us over and over again.

Caldecott is telling us that we have a tool to shape the conscience: not memorization but remembering.

What does all this mean? I would like to share a probably controversial story of how it has had an impact on me.

I hate getting to a baseball game in time to hear the National Anthem. It is a painful song to listen to. It does not really stir the emotions. I went through a stage where I did not want to put my hand over my heart during the Anthem because my allegiance, I reasoned, was to God not country. Then it hit me. Alex, my son, was always by me-watching me. What good could come of debunking my country? What good could come from teaching him not to care? I hear James K.A. SmithDescription: in my head saying that I am making nationalism my religion and I get that. Putting my hand over my heart is very similar to raising my hands to hear the benediction at church. In fact, Alex always looks over at me during that too. And there’s the rub. Apathy is also religious. We can trade in our patriotism but the 10 demons that take its place are terrifying to me as a mother. So for now, as awkward as it is, when I stand for the Anthem I put my right hand over my heart. I do it because it matters. I do it because I have my son’s attention. I do it because I remember.

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