Monday, May 27, 2013

Educating Bees: Humility as a Craft in Classical and Christian Liberal Arts

Rick Kennedy, "Educating Bees: Humility as a Craft in Classical and Christian Liberal Arts," in Christian Scholars Review XLII:1 (Fall 2012): 29-42.

Rick Kennedy, A History of Reasonableness: Testimony and Authority in the Art of Thinking. Rochester, New York: University of Rochester, 2004.

Rick Kennedy uses the example of the bee to illustrate the craft of learning in the liberal arts tradition. Teresa Morgan describes the activities of bees: "Bees were widely used as an image of a model society. They are described as perfectly social creatures who subordinate their individuality to the harmonious whole. As such they are loaded images for educated man. They suggest that not only should he be busy, useful, and virtuous; he should also direct his activity to the common good and live in harmony with his society"(30).  Kennedy thinks this is a good illustration of the arts of learning. In this article he presents "four essential practices" to bee-like behavior.

The first "was a recognition that most knowledge is social and must be handled with rules of social obligation" (30). Kennedy discusses how the "classical liberal arts or paideia was foundationally focused on teaching the skills needed by scholar-bureaucrats and citizen-orators in political situations" (30). The emphasis was teaching the skills necessary to perform public duties in society. This also included being educated to carry out leisure activities wisely. Kennedy asserts that Aristotle's thought "affirmed that humans were bee-like political animals and a city found its purpose in being a fellowship of good people" (31). Plutarch taught that the ideal education was "supposed to produce a contented scholar and a fellowshipper" (31). Cicerco instructed his son that "the claims of human society and the bonds that unite men together take precedence of the pursuit of speculative knowledge" (31). This does not mean that Cicero thought speculative knowledge was worthless. He is emphasizing the importance of the common good.

Kennedy thinks that "the stability of the Roman Empire relied heavily on a widespread bureaucracy of civil servants, and it was into this scribal culture that God embedded the Good News" (31). Harry Y. Gamble speaks of this scribal culture in his book, Books and Readers in the Early Church. Gamble argues that "Christianity origins was not as "an oral or literary movement;" instead, it "was rooted in a humble Jewish-Roman scribal culture skilled in the craft of collecting, securing, and anthologizing sayings and testimonies" (31). Kennedy states that the responsibility for carrying out these duties were given to "a class of slave-clerks and household stewards" (32). Even Jesus mixed this image when he said, "every scribe/grammarian who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a household who brings out of his treasure/thesaurus/archive/storehouse things new and old " (Matthew 13:52). Kennedy states, "The scribal training in the liberal arts supported the ekklesia that were essential to both the empire and Christianity" (32).

Another aspect of this training was the teaching of topics as a method of remembering information. Kennedy states that the topics were "designed to support reasonable, information-based thinking" (32). Topics taught that the art of thinking was to be taught to the students or we might say the craft of thinking. In addition, "topics affirmed that much of good thinking concerned information known socially and used socially" (32). One can see that teaching and learning was a social practice.

Kennedy in his book and article emphasizes the importance of testimony and how to handle it. Testimony is basically information external to the thinker. The author states, "Presented information, the student looks first to the authority of the source of the information and only in the light of that authority does the student then critique the information" (33). The author writes that both "humblethink" and "faithcraft" emphasize the importance of "social obligations, especially obligations to a credible authority" (33). Kennedy mentions that there existed a conflict in the liberal arts "between rules of scribal practice and rules of philosophical practice"(33). Scribal practice "was more bee-like," the philosophical practice was not. Kennedy notes, "The primary goal in public education was not the production of philosophers: rather, it was the creation of citizens and fellowshippers skilled in making faith and the humblethink of appropriate submission" (34). The author in his book, A History of Reasonableness observes how since Kant there has been more an emphasis on the isolated scholar than on teaching the art of resonableness. This art teaches how to handle the testimony of others. Augustine thought that we "are helped in learning by a twofold force, that of authority and of reason" (34). The author states, "In modern Christian liberal arts we would do well to teach faithcraft and humblethinking as tools of proper obligation to authority distinct from modern critical thinking" (34). He thinks education should begin "with the skills of scribes and citizens before embarking on the skills of philosophers"(34). This makes much sense. One would think you need to understand a tradition before you set out to critique it.

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