In much of classical pedagogy, from the school of Socrates to that of Confucius, the student would initiate a relationship with an admired teacher. The teacher would then fathom the moral and intellectual readiness of the student and engage in dialogue intended to awaken the student’s own intuition for knowledge. The educative institutions of the present operate on very different principles, but the hunger of the heart for knowledge, and the potential for love of wisdom to emerge in anyone, remain even in our culture of distraction. This blog exists to provide eclectic resources and meditations from my journey as a teacher in the social studies, developing a pedagogy responsive both to the needs of the present and our common intellectual and spiritual heritage as human beings.
The work done here is premised on two paradoxes. First, that the world, being pervaded by Divine Wisdom, is essentially meaningful, beautiful, and good. This means that everything of substance is worthy of interest and understanding. “Learn everything,” the master of St Victor instructed. “You will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous.”1 However, despite being rooted in the Absolute, the sensible world is an ephemeral creature whose florescence collapses continually into nothingness before our eyes. It is a chaotic ocean where matter coagulates around forms only to dissolve again endlessly. It is both veil and revelation, opaque to the eyes of flesh and translucent to the eyes of spirit.
Second, that persons are mysterious unities of spirit and body, mind and heart, intellect and sensation; and a proper education nourishes all these organs. For though many existing things are perceptible and in measure intelligible, nothing is exhaustible; both knowing and unknowing are indispensable modalities of the process we call learning. Interiorly, this process, as Shaykh Ibn Arabi explained, is the dialectic of reason and imagination, the “two eyes” of the intellect. We need imagination to receive the symbols that are the currency of thought and to mediate the communion of inner and outer reality; but analytical reason must everlastingly demonstrate the inadequacy of these symbols to comprehend the fullness and push us to find more perfect images.
This process at its most fruitful takes place in community. Teachers play a unique role as professional overseers of this process, feeding the imagination with true images while also providing reason the tools to move past them, drawing closer and closer to Wisdom. There is much that could be said about what a contemporary pedagogy built on this philosophical vision might look like; but that is the starting-point of this blog.
It is God who gives thee thy mirror of imagination, and if thou keep it clean, it will give thee back no shadow but of the truth.— George MacDonald
1. Hugh of St Victor, Didascalicon 6.3