Creation: Humility, Harmony, and Hierarchy
How Classical, Christian Education Nurtures Humility, the Appreciation of Beauty, and the Cultivation of Biblical Virtues
by Kate Deddens
We have to be receptive in order to learn. We need to be open to instruction—to submit to those who teach us, to their ideas, and to the substance of what we are studying. These are characteristics of humility. In turn, humility leads us to understanding as we submit to deeper study. Greater understanding then helps us see the many facets of what we have learned. We notice how things fit together, how they can be well utilized, and how they form a harmonious whole. In addition, the appreciation of harmony helps us discern the most beneficial, balanced structure for what we know and understand; it helps us to see appropriate hierarchy.
Once we perceive this flow, we notice some parallels. For example, consider the trivium. Since humility encourages us to be receptive, it is invaluable in the grammar stage of any learning process; it helps us submit to the rigors of amassing information, of training our minds to notice, focus, and retain. As we accumulate this foundational knowledge, we begin to comprehend its meanings and implications, to integrate it, realizing that harmonious relationships exist in all we study. Through dialectic, we gain balanced comprehension and right discernment. Finally, as we perceive harmony we develop a sense for balanced partnerships and right ordering as we act in the world. This is a hallmark of the rhetoric stage—it is wisdom: judging and acting rightly.
In addition to the trivium, classical, Christian educators focus on another significant triad: truth, beauty, and goodness. If we acknowledge that truth can be accessed epistemologically, we see that humility leads us to truth through knowledge. If we see that harmony is aesthetically pleasing, we grasp that understanding opens the door to perceiving beauty. If we grasp that goodness is ethics, then we understand that right ordering leads us to justice— to valuing biblical hierarchy in which all things are structured appropriately and carried out according to God’s character and will.
What can we conclude from these parallels? That grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric are in balanced relationship with knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; that knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are in balanced relationship with truth, beauty, and goodness; and that truth, beauty, and goodness are in a balanced relationship with humility, harmony, and hierarchy. Thus, classical, Christian education is diffracted through intellectual characteristics into transcendent and aesthetic principles and into realms of virtue. Becoming educated through the classical model causes students to follow that trajectory in learning. This is why classical education hones the skills that produce the arts of the truly educated, free man.
We could pick any particular subject to examine how this is so, but let’s look at it through the lens of science, specifically through the study of science in the Classical Conversations programs from Foundations through Challenge IV.
- Data, Definition, and the Art of Learning: Foundations students cultivate humility by submitting themselves to the rigorous memorization of grammar information. As they acquire factual data, they amass a bedrock of truths across all subjects. They then begin to nurture their grasp of harmony through the dialectic process of recognizing the information as they come across it in their lives (identifying a Latin term in current usage, recognizing a geographical location, or linking historical events, for example). Here they perceive beauty in the great bounty of information that unfolds around them elegantly as they interact with others and with the world. And, as they uncover the real existence of what they have learned, they come to appreciate the natural hierarchies in the world. This allows them to see that being teachable helps them to interact wisely. In the excitement and delight that come from this process, young students learn to cultivate the virtue of becoming rhetorical, lifelong learners who love instruction. The mark of a truly great rhetorician is that he recognizes what he does not know and cultivates the art of seeking it.
- Natural Science and the Art of Stewardship: Throughout Challenge A, students cultivate humility by submitting to observation. By practicing grammar-stage observational skills in their studies of nature, they begin to dialectically perceive the artistry of nature: its harmoniousness, its beauty. Finally, they understand that appropriate hierarchy requires that they rhetorically practice the virtue of stewardship over the natural world. The rhetorician embraces the art of governance.
- History of Science and the Art of Discovery: In Challenge B, students humbly submit to the rigors of researching significant scientists. They thereby also learn from examples of brilliant scientists who have themselves submitted to disciplined thought—and, very often, a Christ-centered worldview—in order to revolutionize their fields of study. This grammar information reveals the harmony displayed by so many common characteristics in the thinking and methods of these scientists, and students recognize the aesthetic excellence in inquiry itself: they see how the dialectical process of exploring science well is beautiful, and through this they cultivate the virtue of the rhetorical act of intentionally incorporating the art of discovery into their lives.
- Physical Science and the Art of Analysis: Challenge I opens up the world of the laboratory, in which students submit to the scientific method in the research seminar and hone the grammar skills of experimentation, careful record-keeping in lab journals, and conscientious reporting in lab reports. This humility in the face of scientific procedure, which is in and of itself highly dialectical, in turn helps students to see the harmony in experimentation: how the scientific method, regularly applied to many different contexts, produces instructive and dependable results. Through this, students perceive the beauties of the dialectic in experimentation and cultivate the rhetorical virtue of disciplined, artful analysis.
- Biology and the Art of Loving Creation: Challenge II students learn humility in the face of the amazing character of physical incarnation. Through the microscope and in their dissections, they examine grammar material in detail and begin to perceive the harmonies in material substances, coming to appreciate through dialectical investigation the deep physical beauty and merit of creation. As a result, they develop an understanding that appropriate hierarchy demands not simply a desire to rhetorically steward nature but also an inclination to actively sharpen the art of loving creation.
- Chemistry and the Art of Loving Your Neighbor: Challenge III sees students submit to the rigorous application of mathematical principles to physical substance in their chemistry studies and lab experiments. They not only must humbly approach the rigors of the procedures they seek to master, but they will also perceive that chemistry is relentlessly harmonious: chemical and electrical interactions are intrinsically in balance. This helps students dialectically cultivate a sense of the beauty in harmonious relationships, which in turn helps them to grasp the virtue that biblical hierarchy demands not just loving stewardship of the creation, but also love of one’s neighbor. The best rhetoric is motivated by the art of love.
- Physics and the Art of Being Just: In the capstone of the Classical Conversations programs, Challenge IV, students study physics, submitting themselves to the rigors of mathematical concepts and applications that delve deeply into how our cosmos is governed by energy and forces. The harmonious system of forces at work brings students to the dialectical realization that balanced order is a hallmark of creation, and this brings students to perceive and value the natural hierarchies that abound, teaching them the virtue of the love of justice. The highest rhetoric is governed by a profound understanding of the art and application of justice.
For classical, Christian students, the study of the creation through science is a fruitful journey to producing humility, perceiving harmony, and practicing right hierarchy.