Critical Thinking

From my book Saints and Scoundrels, page 302:

Saints and Scoundrels by Robin Phillips“In our era, young children are continually being pressured to engage in self-expression before they are shown how to think coherently, and they are pressured to engage in reasoning before they are given the facts with which to reason. The result is not intellectual freedom but enslavement, for someone that is never taught how to think is by default trained to be a bondservant to the latest fad or fashion.”

Father Seraphim Rose on the Formation of Moral Imagination

Father Seraphim Rose

Father Seraphim Rose

Last night my wife and I finished listening to a talk given by Father Seraphim Rose (1934-1982) on the topic of developing an Orthodox worldview. (The talk is available on Youtube while a transcription is available HERE.) He spoke about the challenges facing Christian parents in today’s world. He gave the talk in the early eighties so some of the end-times stuff towards the end is a bit dated, but if anything the general problems he diagnosed have become even more acute since then, making his message all the more relevant.

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Educational Reform and the Forgotten Virtue of Focus

In Part 3 of my interview with Graham Taylor on brain fitness, I talked about educational reform. I pointed out that sometimes our educational efforts are focused so much on content that we neglect to give adequate consideration to the skills that go into being an effective learner. For thousands of years thinkers have been developing techniques of memory and learning, yet modern education tends to neglect these techniques to focus exclusively on content. Here’s one of the points I made about this:

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Becoming Classically Educated

greek-statueThose of us who are involved in classical education, whether as writers, teachers, home-educators or parents, find ourselves at a disadvantage. How can you teach classically when you yourself have not been given a classical education? Perhaps you have struggled with that. Perhaps you are a homeschool parent who feels inadequate to the task of giving your children a classical education. If so, then there are four things you should do or keep in mind.

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Pragmatism and Literature

From ‘More than Schooling The Perils of Pragmatism in Christian Attitudes Toward the Liberal Arts‘:

Appreciating that some artifacts are good in themselves, and not merely because of what they do for us, is the first step towards a proper appropriation of the liberal arts. The best argument for teaching children to love Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Hopkins is simply that these authors wrote things that are beautiful. Just as the best reason for smelling a rose is that it has a lovely fragrance, so the best reason for learning Latin is that Virgil’s Aeneid is beautiful….

The exclusively pragmatic approach does a particularly great disservice to the teaching of literature since it orients us to adopt a didactic and utilitarian approach to texts. We may start to think that the value of a text lies in the worldview lessons we are able to draw out of it and completely overlook the aesthetic considerations. Many, for instance, have the idea that the primary purpose of learning Shakespeare is to understand allusions and figures of speech, or that memorizing poems is mainly good as an exercise to develop memory skills, or that the value of learning Latin is to understand word origins, and so forth. The idea that learning Virgil in the original Latin has a value not tied to any practical benefit strikes them as odd.

When students are trained to think in strictly pragmatic ways, they will find it difficult to enjoy, say, a Shakespeare play if they can’t derive a specific worldview lesson from it. They may become so over-active in finding worldview lessons that they discern some Shakespeare never intended. How much better it would be to get them to enjoy Shakespeare plays simply for their masterly use of language and compelling plots and characters. How much better for students to come to love things that are noble and praiseworthy even when they do not have a specific use. As Flannery O’Connor put it in Mystery and Manners, “The fact is, people don’t know what they are expected to do with a novel, believing, as so many do, that art must be utilitarian, that it must do something, rather than be something.”

A Teleological Odyssey: Homer’s Ethical Realism and Odysseus’ Emotional Labors

The implicit epistemology of the heroic world is a thoroughgoing realism.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (p. 129).

Suppose we were wanderers who could not live in blessedness except at home, miserable in our wandering and desiring to end it and to return to our nativecountry. We would need vehicles for land and sea which could be used to help us to reach our homeland, which is to be enjoyed But if the amenities of the journey and the motion of the vehicles itself delighted us, and we were led to enjoy those things which we should use, we should not wish to end our journey quickly, and, entangled in a perverse sweetness, we should be alienated from our country, whose sweetness would make us blessed.” Saint Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

Joseph Cooper with Murph

Joseph Cooper, acted by Matthew McConaughey, in the movie Intersteller

In Christopher Nolan’s recent science fiction epic, Interstellar, the character Joseph Cooper is confronted with two tasks that seem, at times, to be in conflict. On the one hand, he must remain true in his role as a father to his motherless daughter Murph. On the other hand, he must also fulfil his role as a human being tasked with the job of saving the human race.

The drama of the film occurs within the space where these two roles (and the goals attached to them) seem to be in tension with one another. Not only does Cooper’s mission involve taking a journey away from earth (and therefore away from his daughter), but he reaches a point of having to weigh the odds between saving only his daughter’s generation vs. saving future generations of humans who do not yet exist.

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School Deform

Salvo31I am delighted to announce that the Winter 2014 edition of Salvo is now hot off the press. My own contribution to the magazine comes in the form of a devastating critique of the Common Core curriculum. Condensing some of the observations I made in my earlier series of blog posts, I have tried to present a very succinct summary of the primary objections I have to the new curriculum.

Most of the articles for Salvo can only be accessed by people who purchase the physical magazine (click here to subscribe), but because we know that not everyone can afford a subscription (even at the phenomenal price of $25.99 for a whole year), we have made my article on Common Core available online for free.

My article, titled ‘School Deform: How 31phillipsCommon Core Promotes Cultural Engineering by Killing the Imagination’ argues that Common Core is essentially a neo-Skinnerist conspiracy to control the next generation through squeezing us into a pragmatic cast that kills the imagination in the process. To read my article, click on the link below:

School Deform: How Common Core Promotes Cultural Engineering by Killing the Imagination