The Liberal Arts: Imitation AND Reason

One of the ancient maxims in education was “imitation precedes art.” An art could only be attained from an extensive foundation in action and imitation forming cultivated habits. Thus to learn the art of the blacksmith, one would have to imitate a blacksmith for a time. To learn the art of the lyre one had to practice it imitatively as a precursor. But an art required more than simply imitation. An art arose only when imitation was joined with reason.

The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education, by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain

This idea that imitation precedes art underlies many of our methods of teaching at Paideia.

In math, students imitate by memorizing math facts, singing skip counting songs, and factoring numbers. But it is only when imitation is joined to reason–when students have achieved “number sense” about how the tens system works, when they can enjoy and predict the patterns in the multiplication table, when they can cancel factors out of fractions as second nature–that the art of arithmetic is achieved.

In the fine arts, students imitate by learning shading, and foreshortening, and grid drawing on the picture set out by the art teacher, with the goal that they will eventually join these imitative skills with reason and have the ability to replicate what they see in God’s world and in their mind’s eye. In composition, students copy out sentences, retell fables, and paraphrase quotations–they imitate until they have the skills of writing which will allow them to reason out their own thoughts with fluency and grace.

The student who attempts to learn the “reason” of a liberal art while bypassing the “imitation” will ultimately be frustrated in his endeavors. We can see this in the algebra student who “gets” the concept of algebra but perpetually multiplies his numbers wrong. We can see this in the writer who has a vision to express but has no cultivated habits of writing to bring forth her reasoned thoughts on paper.

There is of course a danger on the other side–the danger of assuming that imitation is enough, the danger of never leading students down the path from imitation to reason. Some students will gladly take to imitation but never strive for more. Other students will bridle against imitation, preferring the realm of reason without the cultivated habits that imitation brings. And that is something we, as parents and teachers, must continually guard against, seeking instead to lead our students from knowledge to understanding, and understanding to wisdom.

Jesus: City of Refuge

Our 7th, 8th, and 9th grade curriculum is a survey of the Bible. During those three years, students will read through the whole of the Bible.

One of the excitements–and struggles–is getting a junior high student to see Jesus in the Old Testament, to see how Christ is shown forth in the stories, ceremonies, and laws of the Old Covenant.

Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening for the Evening of February 4th spoke to me today as a wonderful way of interpreting an Old Testament passage Christologically:

That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood. – Joshua 20:3

It is said that in the land of Canaan, cities of refuge were so arranged, that any man might reach one of them within half a day at the utmost. Even so the word of our salvation is near to us; Jesus is a present Saviour, and the way to him is short; it is but a simple renunciation of our own merit, and a laying hold of Jesus, to be our all in all.

With regard to the roads to the city of refuge, we are told that they were strictly preserved, every river was bridged, and every obstruction removed, so that the man who fled might find an easy passage to the city. Once a year the elders went along the roads and saw to their order, so that nothing might impede the flight of any one, and cause him, through delay, to be overtaken and slain. How graciously do the promises of the gospel remove stumbling blocks from the way!

Wherever there were by-roads and turnings, there were fixed up hand-posts, with the inscription upon them–“To the city of refuge!” This is a picture of the road to Christ Jesus. It is no roundabout road of the law; it is no obeying this, that, and the other; it is a straight road: “Believe, and live.” It is a road so hard, that no self-righteous man can ever tread it, but so easy, that every sinner, who knows himself to be a sinner may by it find his way to heaven.

No sooner did the man-slayer reach the outworks of the city than he was safe; it was not necessary for him to pass far within the walls, but the suburbs themselves were sufficient protection. Learn hence, that if you do but touch the hem of Christ’s garment, you shall be made whole; if you do but lay hold upon him with “faith as a grain of mustard seed,” you are safe.

“A little genuine grace ensures
The death of all our sins.”

Only waste no time, loiter not by the way, for the avenger of blood is swift of foot; and it may be he is at your heels at this still hour of eventide.


Spurgeon on Prayer

spurgeonOn the importance of prayer:

It is true that Satan seeks to flood the fair garden of the heart and make it a scene of desolation, but it is also true that many Christians leave open the sluice-gates themselves, and let in the dreadful deluge through carelessness and want of prayer to their strong Helper. We often forget that the Author of our faith must be the Preserver of it also…. He who built the world upholds it, or it would fall in one tremendous crash; he who made us Christians must maintain us by his Spirit, or our ruin will be speedy and final. Let us, then, evening by evening, go to our Lord for the grace and strength we need.

(Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, November 15: Evening)