The Greco-Roman Liberal Arts: When Students were more than just Numbers

Part 2 of Series: The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts: The Future of ‘Two Handed’ Higher Education

The liberal arts vision of flooding society with a steady stream of virtuous, truth-seeking leaders has fallen on hard times, but Plato and Aristotle would remind us that educating the mind without cultivating the heart is no education at all. 

by Gary David Stratton, Ph.D. • Senior Editor

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Plato and Aristotle in Raphael’s “Philosophy” (c. 1510)

The goal of educating two-handed warriors—men and women committed to both the life of the mind and the life of the Spirit—is really nothing new. Much of the best of Western society is based upon a classical liberal arts approach to education that is far more “two-handed” than most colleges and universities today. Founded in the fifth-century BC, the liberal arts tradition grew out of the Greco-Roman ideal of developing the life of the mind in a soul-nurturing relational environment. In fact, a popular aphorism commonly attributed to Aristotle accurately captures the spirit of the liberal arts tradition: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

So how did they do it?

Liberating Minds for a Life of Leadership

Bruce M. Kimball (1986, 2002) discerns two distinct streams in the liberal arts traditions—the philosophical and the oratorical. 1) The Greek philosophical tradition was consumed with the pursuit of truth. It was birthed in the life and teachings of Socrates, as recorded by Plato (c. 427-347 BCE) and refined by Aristotle. In the philosophical tradition the liberal arts function as “liberating arts” in that they were designed to “free the mind from traditional beliefs accepted uncritically.” Their aim is to examine “our opinions and values to see whether or not they are really true and good” (Hoeckley, 2002b, p. 1).

2) The Roman oratorical tradition focused more on leadership development. It’s founder, Cicero (c. 106-43 BCE), never lost sight of his dream that education was about “training citizens to be leaders of society” (Taylor, 2001, p. 1).  In the oratorical tradition studying the “liberal arts” meant that students were “liberated” from the pragmatic concerns of merely learning a trade. They were learning to think, so that they could lead their culture toward the good, the beautiful, and the true.

The two streams developed in tension with one other and eventually converged in the Middle Ages with the establishment of a curriculum rooted in the Trivium—Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, and the Quadrivium—Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, and Astronomy (Cobban, 1975, p. 10; Hoeckley, 2002a, p. 1).

A Deeply Relational Connection

The Seven Liberal Arts

More importantly for our discussion, both traditions fostered highly collegial learning environments that were “spiritual,” at least in a relational sense.

Education and what we would call “discipleship” were virtually synonymous. Michael J. Wilkins (1992) notes that the master-disciple relationship was the key to education in the Greco-Roman world. “We find an early relationship between the noun mathetes (disciple) and the verb ‘to learn’” (p. 72). Philosophers and orators alike attracted students and/or were hired by parents or city-states to train young men in apprenticeship-like relationships (p. 73).

Socrates specifically rejected the Sophists’ more distant and “academic” student-teacher relationships, branding them educational mercenaries with little or no concern for the souls of their students. The Socratic method of instruction necessitated intimate relationships in tight-knit learning community (p. 74). Socrates and his student, Plato, called their disciples “friends,” precisely because they “wanted a relationship that was characterized by shared community” (p. 75).

Aristotle’s experience with Socrates and Plato led him to assert that virtue and friendship are the inseparable foundations of education. He believed that it is impossible for a student to learn from a teacher who is not also his friend (Kraut, 2005). The relationship between virtue and discipleship was so critical that the “imitation of the conduct of a human master became a significant feature of a disciple of a great master… and involved a commitment that affected the follower’s entire life” (Wilkins, p. 77, 76).

The Liberal Arts Today

It really isn’t all that difficult to imagine what Socrates would make of the distant, academic, and often mercenary approach to education that dominates twenty-first-century colleges and universities. While numerous historical, economic, and pragmatic factors led to most twentieth-century American colleges gradually abandoning the liberal arts tradition of friendship and virtue (even in many liberal arts colleges), the impact has been devastating.

The liberal arts vision of flooding society with a steady stream of virtuous, truth-seeking leaders has fallen on hard times. Julie Reuben’s (1996) The Making of the Modern University traces the tragic decline of relationally-based moral education and the corresponding decline in morality in American society. It is a difficult thesis to refute.

Whereas Plato and Aristotle interacted with their students as friends, the depersonalized modern university student is often little more than a number. No relationship means no moral transformation, at least not for the good.

Perhaps its time to consider going back to the future. It seems highly unlikely that twenty-first-century educators will ever be to cultivate two-handed warriors without a radical reexamination of the student-teacher relationship. Whatever the twenty-first century higher education might look like, whether on residential campuses or online communities, we cannot assemble two-handed warriors in educational assembly lines. They need to be nurtured in tight-knit learning communities.

The Greco-Roman tradition provided an algorithm that has really never been improved upon—the deeper the student-teacher connection, the deeper the impact. Whether you are teaching students to pursue truth, and/or developing them as cultural leaders, relationship is key. Smaller is better. Apprenticeship is ideal. Mentoring is life or death.

After all, 2500 years of transformational education can’t be all wrong,

Next post in the series, click: Rabbinic Higher Education.

 

Notes
Cobban, Alan (1975). The medieval universities: their development and organization. London: Methuen.

Hoeckley, Christian (2002a). “Introduction to Bruce Kimball’s, Interpreting the liberal arts: four lectures on the history and historiography of the liberal arts.” The Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Hoeckley, Christian (2002b). “The Liberal Arts Traditions and Christian Higher Education: A Brief Guide.” The Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Kimball, Bruce A.  (1986). Orators and philosophers:  a history of the idea of liberal education.  New York:  Teachers College.

Kimball, Bruce A. (2002). Interpreting the liberal arts: four lectures on the history and historiography of the liberal arts. The Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Kraut, Richard. “Aristotle’s Ethics.” The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2005/entries/aristotle-ethics/

Reuben, Julie (1996). The making of the modern university: intellectual transformation and the marginalization of morality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Taylor, James E. (2002). “Christian Liberal Learning.” Summer 2002 Faculty Workshop, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Wilkins, Michael J. (1992). Following the master: a biblical theology of discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

The Greco-Roman Liberal Arts: Education with Friendship and Heart, by Gary David Stratton, PhD

Part 2 of Series: The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts: The Future of ‘Two Handed’ Higher Education

The Greco-Roman tradition provided an algorithm that has really never been improved upon—the deeper the student-teacher connection, the deeper the impact.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

garydavidstratton
Is it possible for a student to truly learn from a teacher who is not also his friend? Aristotle didn’t think so.

The goal of educating two handed warriors—men and women committed to both the life of the mind and the life of the Spirit—is really nothing new. Much of the best of Western society is based upon a classical liberal arts approach to education that is far more “two-handed” than most colleges and universities today. Founded in the fifth-century BC, the liberal arts tradition grew out of the Greco-Roman ideal of developing the life of the mind in a soul-nurturing relational environment. In fact, a popular aphorism commonly attributed to Aristotle accurately captures the spirit of the liberal arts tradition: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

So how did they do it?

Liberating Minds for a Life of Leadership

Bruce M. Kimball (1986, 2002) discerns two distinct streams in the liberal arts traditions—the Greek Philosophical and the Roman Oratorical. 1) The Greek Philosophical tradition was consumed with the pursuit of truth. Birthed in the life and teachings of Socrates as recorded by Plato and refined by Aristotle, the liberal arts functioned as liberating arts in that they were designed to “free the mind from traditional beliefs accepted uncritically.” Their aim is to examine “our opinions and values to see whether or not they are really true and good” (Hoeckley, 2002b, p. 1).

2) The Roman Oratorical tradition focused more on leadership development. It’s founder, Cicero never lost sight of his dream that education was about “training citizens to be leaders of society” (Taylor, 2001, p. 1).  In the oratorical tradition studying the liberal arts meant that students were “liberated” from the pragmatic concerns of merely learning a trade. They were learning to think, so that they could lead their culture toward the good, the beautiful, and the true.

Gradually these streams converged in a Medieval curriculum rooted in the Trivium—Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, and the Quadrivium—Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, and Astronomy (Cobban, 1975, p. 10; Hoeckley, 2002a, p. 1).

Education = Friendship

More importantly for our discussion, both traditions fostered highly collegial learning environments that were “spiritual,” at least in a relational sense. Education and what we would call “discipleship” were virtually synonymous. Michael J. Wilkins (1992) notes that the master-disciple relationship was the key to education in the Greco-Roman world. “We find an early relationship between the noun mathetes (disciple) and the verb ‘to learn’” (p. 72). Philosophers and orators alike attracted students and/or were hired by parents or city-states to train young men in apprenticeship-like relationships (p. 73).

Socrates specifically rejected the Sophists’ more distant student-teacher relationships and their charging students “tuition,” branding them educational mercenaries with little or no concern for the souls of their students. The Socratic method of instruction necessitated intimate relationships in tight-knit learning community (p. 74). Socrates and his student, Plato, called their disciples “friends,” precisely because they “wanted a relationship that was characterized by shared community” (p. 75).

Aristotle’s experience with Socrates and Plato led him to assert that virtue and friendship are the inseparable foundations of education. He believed that it is impossible for a student to learn from a teacher who is not also his friend (Kraut, 2005). The relationship between virtue and discipleship was so critical that the “imitation of the conduct of a human master became a significant feature of a disciple of a great master… and involved a commitment that affected the follower’s entire life” (Wilkins, p. 77, 76).

Back to the Future

Socrates and his student, Plato, called their disciples “friends,” precisely because they wanted a relationship that was characterized by shared community.
Socrates called his students ‘friends’ because he wanted a relationship that was characterized by shared community.

It really isn’t all that difficult to imagine what Socrates would make of the distant, academic, and often mercenary approach to education that dominates twenty-first-century colleges and universities. While numerous historical, economic, and pragmatic factors led to most American colleges gradually abandoning the liberal arts tradition of friendship and virtue (even in many ‘liberal arts colleges’), the impact has been devastating.

The liberal arts vision of flooding our culture with  a steady stream of virtuous, truth-seeking leaders has fallen on hard times. Julie Reuben’s (1996) The Making of the Modern University traces the tragic decline of relationally-based moral education and the corresponding decline in morality in American society. It is a difficult thesis to refute. Whereas Plato and Aristotle interacted with their students as friends, depersonalized modern university students are often little more than numbers. No relationship means no moral transformation, at least not for the good.

Perhaps its time to consider going back to the future. It seems highly unlikely that twenty-first-century educators will ever be to cultivate two-handed warriors without a radical reexamination of the student-teacher relationship. Whatever the twenty-first century higher education might look like, whether on residential campuses or online communities, we cannot assemble two-handed warriors in educational assembly lines. They need to be nurtured in tight-knit learning communities.

The Greco-Roman tradition provided an algorithm that has really never been improved upon—the deeper the student-teacher connection, the deeper the impact. Whether you are teaching students to pursue truth, and/or developing them as cultural leaders, relationship is key. Smaller is better. Apprenticeship is ideal. Mentoring is life or death.

After all, 2500 years of transformational education can’t be all wrong.

 

Next post in the series: Rabbinic Higher Education: The Life of the Mind and the Word of God.

See also:

Who Killed the Liberal Arts? And Why We Should Care

Notes
Cobban, Alan (1975). The medieval universities: their development and organization. London: Methuen.

Hoeckley, Christian (2002a). “Introduction to Bruce Kimball’s, Interpreting the liberal arts: four lectures on the history and historiography of the liberal arts.” The Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Hoeckley, Christian (2002b). “The Liberal Arts Traditions and Christian Higher Education: A Brief Guide.” The Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Kimball, Bruce A.  (1986). Orators and philosophers:  a history of the idea of liberal education.  New York:  Teachers College.

Kimball, Bruce A. (2002). Interpreting the liberal arts: four lectures on the history and historiography of the liberal arts. The Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Kraut, Richard. “Aristotle’s Ethics.” The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2005/entries/aristotle-ethics/

Reuben, Julie (1996). The making of the modern university: intellectual transformation and the marginalization of morality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Taylor, James E. (2002). “Christian Liberal Learning.” Summer 2002 Faculty Workshop, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA.

Wilkins, Michael J. (1992). Following the master: a biblical theology of discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

4 Keys to Finding The Perfect Mentor You’ve Always Wanted

A good mentor is hard to find. Here’s where to start your search.

by Margaret Feinberg

Over the years, I’ve found some incredible mentors in my life—people who have spoken words of wisdom and guidance into our marriage, finances, personal life, and ministry. These people have left me wonderstruck by the richness they’ve added into my life.  But to be honest, finding such people hasn’t been easy. At times, I’ve reached out to people I hoped would become mentors who didn’t respond, didn’t have time, or didn’t particularly connect with the idea. Other times, I’ve waited for people to reach out to me, even dropping hints along the way, but the relationship never developed.

Here are four keys I’ve discovered to finding the perfect mentor…

Continue reading

*Photo courtesy of here

 

Human Knowledge in the Age of Watson: What Does IBM Computer Besting Jeopardy Champs Mean? by Sam Helgerson, PhD

Wisdom and Knowledge in the Age of Information

 “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”                       —Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law

In 2006, chess champion Vladimir Kramnik was defeated by a computer in a match, two games to four. It was not unheard of for computers to win at chess—since the late 1960s, chess was an ideal programmer’s challenge because of the simple rules and complex strategy. But the 2006 match was unique: it was the first time that a computer had beaten the reigning world champion.

 
Watson

Mankind’s Dominance in “Jeopardy”?

Mankind has an odd relationship with its technology. Our goal, it appears, is to make a machine that can best us. The recent “man versus machine” match on the game show Jeopardy is a case in point. The show’s producers brought in its two greatest champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, to compete against Watson, an IBM computer programmed to understand—and respond in—spoken natural language. Watson won, handily.

In the first day’s casual get-to-know-the-contestants segment, the program featured video of some of the early test rounds. Some of the results were, well, not promising. But, as they demonstrated the development process, Watson correctly responded to an obscure question during a test round that required a logical connection between Shakespeare, history, and popular culture. The response of the developers was telling: “How did he know that?”

Well, in the words of my old friend Greg: “Don’t anthropomorphise computers; they hate that.”

Wisdom versus Information: The Goal of Education

The simple question “how did he know that?” brings up an important question: What is the nature of knowledge in the age of Watson? Indeed, can a computer—any computer—know anything?

One of my roles as an educator is helping people to understand the complex nature of the learning, leadership, and knowledge economies. I try to break down information into a meaningful structure, consisting of 1) Data, 2), Information, 3) Knowledge, 4) Learning, and 5) Wisdom.

Data

A typical taxonomy of information begins with data: raw, factual content, apart from any details that would provide hints as to its interpretation. An example is “1273”—factual, accurate, and meaningless apart from this: How many words are in this article?

Data, by its nature, is insular and cryptic. It demands interpretation, and while that is important, it also explains why there is truth in the old maxim that “figures lie and liars figure.”

Information

When data is contextualized, it becomes information. One of the wonders of our nature, as created beings, is that we are able to turn data into information so quickly. Information is generally made up of large domains that help us frame it. Whenever we utter the phrase “do you have the data on . . . “, we’re actually asking for data that has already been categorized and become information. Information carries with it additional interpretive details—location, cultural setting, source, usefulness, and so on.

Knowledge

Having information, however, is not enough. In the taxonomy, Watson still holds the advantage up to this point. But what Watson cannot do is know. Information applied becomes knowledge. We add further contextualization and personalization of the information, and in doing so, we give it additional value—not in an economic sense, but in its overall usefulness and connection to the concerns of the individual, organization, or community. Watson may mimic this, but it cannot truly know.

Learning

Every student knows this by experience. There is a big difference between having information and knowing. Information allows one to cram for an exam just to get through that required course. Knowing happens when one seeks to understand and integrate complex subject matter and make that not only part of our thinking, but part of the fibre of who we are. We inherently understand that learning lurks in the transition between information and knowledge.

Wisdom

Finally, learning will yield to wisdom, which has two main characteristics. First, it places knowledge and learning in light of the eternal; second, it creates a set of general principles by which future events can be interpreted. In other words, wisdom allows us to learn in ways beyond experiential. I believe that two Biblical ideas—”He has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10)—mesh together to give us new ways of thinking.

Watson’s Core Problem

The problem with Watson is that it is an artifact—a testimony to the creative impetus that God has entrusted to humanity. No doubt, this is an important technological accomplishment, and I don’t want to minimize its significance. Even so, Watson will never understand that knowledge is situated. Calvin Seerveld’s concept that we are a people not only of a specific time, but a specific place, applies to this scenario. Watson, as an artefact, inhabits a place and a time toward a specific purpose, but lacks the creaturely ability to adapt to new times and new places.

Sense Making

Daniel Schwandt introduced the idea of sense-making to the field of human learning. Sense-making means not only making logical connections and drawing rational conclusions, but aligning those logical insights with our values, feelings, and emotions. People cannot make sense of life unless we can understand it rationallyand emotionally.

We learn by making sense of expressed, tacit, theoretical, and practical information, by framing that learning in a creational context. In other words, information is useless apart from its place in creation and apart from mankind’s circumstances as beings created in the image of God. Watson’s ability to make logical connections may be impressive, but it is not intellect. It is not wisdom.

Transformation

Ultimately, education is about transformation: Shaping our understanding so that it changes the way we live. We must be intentional about this, or we cede our God-given role as ministers of reconciliation. T.S. Eliot warned against information apart from wisdom in his poem The Rock, when he wrote:

Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.

Discipleship

In a Christian sense, education and discipleship are one and the same. Eliot struck a theme that recurs throughout the Bible: our call to constantly move from information to wisdom. Paul warned Timothy about those who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7), and Proverbs reminds us that “the beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Proverbs 4:7).

Here, Watson meets its limits: It may handle information, but it cannot get wisdom. The gift of wisdom is granted, for the asking, to humanity alone.

The Image of Man and the Image of God

Behold, we are creating Watson in our own image. But that image cannot include the heart—the spiritual aspect of our being. Perhaps considering the works of our own hands ought to awaken us all the more to our amazing place in creation: created by God, in His image; fallen into sin, the image broken; and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, by grace through faith.

Watson may accurately handle data and occasion statistically sound interpretations of that data, but it will never rise to the level of knowledge. Knowledge, ultimately, is grounded in life, in faith, in transformation, in community, and in relationship with God. We cannot understand the place of Watson—or any other technological advancement—apart from a proper understanding of the nature of man as created being, bearing imago dei.

 

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Leslie J. “Sam” Helgerson, PhD, seeks to equip, delight, and encourage leaders in their day-to-day life of faith. He serves as Program Director for the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership at Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, USA, and as a writer, speaker, and consultant with Great Ridge Group (www.greatridge.com). He and his Proverbs 31 wife live in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. Used by Author’s permission. See original format in Cardus.