Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Humanist Educational Treatises

Humanist Educational Treatises edited and translated by Craig W. Kallendorf. Cambridge, MA, 2002. ISBN 0-674-00759-x.

M.D. Aeschliman, "Humanist Educational Projects." Review essay. Review of Humanist Educational Treatises edited and translated by Craig W. Kallendorf. Journal of Education. Volume 184, Number 3 (2003): 69-83.

W. J. Ong, New Catholic Encyclopedia. "Humanism." Gale, in association with The Catholic University of America, 2003. V.7, 187-193.

Humanism can be an "ambiguous" term. Many Christians associate the term, humanism, with secular atheism. Some recognize it as a movement in the Renaissance period that emphasized this world and humane letters. There is also a long tradition of what is called Christian Humanism.

This is how it is defined in the New Catholic Encyclopedia: "The term humanism has a number of more or less distinct meanings, all referring to a world view in some way centered on man rather than on the superhuman or the abstract. In its strictest sense, the word refers to a literary and intellectual movement, the 'new learning,' running from 14th century Italy through Western culture generally into the 17th century or, more vaguely, even beyond, and marked by devotion to Greek and Latin classics as the central and highest expression of human values. The term has been extended to comparable movements in the Middle Ages, notably to the 12th-century educational reform typified by the ideals of John of Salisbury (d. 1180) and to Carolingian scholarly activity centering around Alcuin" (182).

It defines Christian Humanism as "the view (and action based upon that view) that human culture and its tradition have value in in the Christian life to the extent in which they are subordinated, in some way, to Christ's teaching, to what is preeminent in the tradition of the faith and consequently in the tradition of the church" (193).

One might even say it is an emphasis on human things from a Christian world-view. It is based on God's creation and His affirmation that it is good. In addition, it affirms that humans are created in God's image. It also emphasized that this life is good and should be affirmed.

Humanist Educational Treatises were written during the period of history called the Renaissance. It includes four treatises: The Character of Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth (ca. 1402-1403), by Pier Paola Vergerio; The Study of Literature (ca. 1424), by Leonardo Bruni; The Education of Boys (1450), by Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini; and A Program of Teaching and Learning (1459), by Battista Guarino. Kallendorf has written an introduction to guide the reader in reading these four treatises. He provides information about each of the four authors and places them and their treatise in the context of their time. The author notes, "Humanist educators aimed to create a particular type of person: men and women who would be virtuous because they had read and identified with powerful examples of classical virtue; who would be prudent because they had extended their human experience into the distant past through the study of history; and would be eloquent, able to communicate virtue and prudence to others, because they had studied the most eloquent writers and speakers of the past" (vii-viii). All these authors emphasized the liberal arts and morality. They encouraged the study of Greek and Latin classics, including the Church Fathers and the Scriptures.

M. D. Aeschliman wrote a review essay of this book. The aim of his article is to define the term. humanism, and show how it means various things to different people. In addition, he critiques the humanist movement from a Christian perspective. Here are a few excerpts from his article:

After listing weaknesses of the Renaissance humanists, he notes, "Yet, the educational quest for norms and nobility' must be the perennial concern of decent educators as well as honorable citizens and dutiful parents. Synthesis of orthodox theistic religion and humanism is easy to mock, but impossible to do without if we wish to retain the very idea of the human person as rational, free, and worthy" (76). This is important because it seems to imply we cannot have the human things without the divine. We have seen in the modern world what happens when we divide the human from the divine, abortion and euthanasia.

Here is an excerpt how the Humanists drew from both faith and reason, divine and human knowledge: "It is no accident or folly that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Cicero, Seneca, Juvenal, and Vergil were so easily integrated into the Judaeo-Christian tradition over many centuries" (76). It seems to me that modern Christians can learn much from the example of the humanist how they drew from the best that Western civilization produced.

Their replacement has had destructive consequences: "And it is far from evident that their replacement in Western curricula with modern literature and audio-visual culture--whether expressive or merely utilitarian--and the ascendancy of science can safeguard the human essence that the last one hundred years of history have maimed, perverted, and destroyed in so many ways. The increasing proficiency of our means of communication seems in inverse proportion to the increasing triviality, brutality, and folly of much of what we express and communicate" (76). Is it time for a re-engagement with classical literature? I think it is. Our departure from Christian humanism has had detrimental consequences.

Humanist Educational Treatises provide much food for thought. One of the themes emphasized are the importance of educating the young. They teach the importance of cultivating the right habits early in life. Another theme is that students must have proper examples, both teachers and peers. Teachers are not only to lead by instruction, but also by example. A third theme is the importance of the liberal arts for cultivating the education of the whole person. Aeschliman notes, "every student would be well taught if he or she were in secure possession of grammar, logic, and rhetoric before beginning higher education" (77). He notes how these writers stressed "the right use of language--on both reading and writing well--and on elementary logical procedures were usually augmented by a concern for ethics" (77).

Other important themes were the importance of reading history and literature. Some of the authors defend the reading of Greek plays and poetry against those who would want to remove them for the curriculum. In addition, they give reasons for reading secular literature. Christian Humanism is rooted in the Bible, flowered in the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, and has been prominent in Twentieth Century writers like C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot. We also see the legacy of this tradition in the Christian liberal arts colleges and universities today. Reading the Humanist Educational Treatises will be beneficial to the modern reader.

No comments:

Post a Comment