Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Word - Mythos and Logos in education

My thoughts on 'Norms And Nobility, A Treatise on Education' by David V. Hicks. Ch. 2
Reading 'Norms and Nobility' is like eating crab legs. It's a lot of work to get to the meat, but when you finally get it in your mouth, it is sweet and salty and you are glad you made the effort. Honestly, It takes me a half hour to try and digest 2-3 pages, and then I have to go back and re-read the things I underlined and make sure I understand it. Much of what he writes I have understood intuitively, but I have to re- frame some as I don't believe he is coming from an entirely Christian perspective. If I can sort it out enough to write about it, then I will really understand it.
Chapter 2 is called 'The Word is Truth'. The basic idea of this chapter is that the mythos is necessary in order to give order to society and to give meaning to our words (logos).
Sect. 1. Socrates taught that objects were neither good nor evil, it was how they were used that gave them that appearance. He also taught that "it is worse to wrong others than to wrong yourself". This was a brand new thought to his culture. It was the collision of several ideas. The stories of ancient times or mythos were man's attempt to explain himself and the world around him, as well "as his belief that an explanation was possible". Every culture presupposed that reason existed before the world began (I would argue that this is strong evidence for there being a God). These myths were a way of explaining the puzzling world around them. It helped "man in developing rules for ordering his thoughts and behavior in accordance with the... reasonableness of these realities." Words took on the meanings and the complexities of these myths. The word became a way of communicating man's imaginations. Mythos was used to help man find his way through the "uncharted wilderness" Two examples Hicks uses is John Bunyan moving Pilgrim through his wilderness, finding his way, and Moses coming down with his tablets and leading the children of Israel 40 years through their wilderness.
I struggle with Hicks putting Biblical teaching in the exact same sphere as Greek and pagan mythology. The points he makes are still valid, as far as the development of words and their meanings and the importance of students learning these mythos (Biblical ).
Hicks says, " A good myth is like a good map, helping the wanderer to survive or even flourish, in the wilderness. Classical education ...carefully preserves the best myths within its tradition and insists that each new generation of students learns these myths." Once learned, Hicks explains that the myths help the student to realize that they are not alone. The things they are feeling have a context and have been seen before. He uses the examples of the Song of Solomon showing a way to see our own passions refined and clarified. Job shows us a better perspective on our sufferings and how to deal with them. Mythos (Biblical teaching) acts as the "skeleton of our civilization. Remove it and watch all the flesh of political stability, scientific invention, and social sophistication collapse". Biblical teachings (Mythos) "inspire men to perform great and selfless deeds by assuring and warning them that their actions are not individual, but symbolic." As the student learns these stories he is able to participate in his own imagination and is transformed in his behavior and I think in his heart. He gets a vision of himself and how he fits into society and how his behavior may impact it. (Think Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah vs. Daniel in Babylon).
Sect. II deals with how logos and mythos intertwine. I will try to simplify his thoughts without losing them. "Language is value-ridden." I like his example of 'cholesterol'. Cholesterol is a fatty alcohol and is composed chemically of C25H45OH. The scientific definition will do nothing but make you yawn. However, when you say that word today, people become uncomfortable, fearful and defensive. The mythos in the press has attached an emotional connotation to a scientific term. Language changes and words grow new meanings (ex. gay). Yet, Logos uses mythos to define itself. How do you teach a child what words mean? A milk carton is easy, you show them the item. But how do you teach them what 'valor' or 'sin' is? You need a story. A friend of mine was talking to her three year old about sin, and the definition Judah thought up was 'if you shoot an army entirely composed of good guys, that is sin'. (Yes, his daddy is in the army.)
If we eliminate mythos we lose the ability to communicate in anything other than concrete language without feeling or color. Today schools teach only in scientific terms. Words like love and valor slip away as our understanding of them is lost as a society. People have no common culture as a basis for their behavior and communication. We start to teach things only in regards to their function rather than their inherent value. We have no shades of meaning, no way to communicate emotions and values. God spoke the word and out of nothing the world was formed. John 1 talks of Christ as being the Word. He was the creator and yet he became flesh and dwelt among us. Hicks says, "Christian faith shares this mystery with language: it is impossible to ascribe a beginning to the word that is not at once denotative and connotative, material and immaterial, temporal and eternal, finite and infinite." I believe that God created language among Adam's abilities. He walked and talked with Adam in the garden teaching him the mythos that was His story. God taught Adam about his soul and his purpose on this earth as well as about Himself (God). Modern man is trying to rely solely upon himself rather than acknowledge a creator. He denies man's soulfulness and teaches scientific rationalism. He tries to eliminate the mythos and the logos for he denies the eternal and sees himself as deity.
Bottom line: As parents we must teach our children the Word of God and give them familiarity with powerful stories that exemplify godly character and right living. They can be fiction or biographical, or even some mythological. We need children that can express their thoughts and feelings in a godly way and make right choices no matter what the cost. Memorizing a list of words and their definitions on a page does not exemplify word meanings. We need to teach the words in their richer context.

1 comment:

  1. I like it! Thanks for reading this so I don't have to! We are teaching more than logic and rote information. Stories, in whatever form, go to the heart of what it is to be human and communicate more than just information.It is interesting that Jesus Himself used parables and stories in reaching the people around Him.