1. Student Virtues
Augustine described education as essentially teaching students to “love that which is lovely,” following on Plato’s idea that affections and taste must be cultivated. The classical and Christian traditions have emphasized that it is critical to model for students the love for the true, good, and beautiful, and by various means to cultivate and stir up a love for them. C.S. Lewis makes this case persuasively in his little book The Abolition of Man. He tells us that we need to cultivate not only minds but also chests (the visceral, affective part of us), especially since presently our modern schools neglect the cultivation of affections, rendering us as “men without chests.” He comments that modern students are not so much “jungles to be cut” as “deserts that need to be irrigated.”
Even the word “student” suggests this. The word “student” is derived from the Latin word studium which mean, “zeal,” “fondness,” and “affection.” Thus, etymologically considered, a student is someone who is zealous and eager for truth, goodness, and beauty—that is, for knowledge. Is it not true that there are many students who are not really students? Until we have a child before us who is seeking and zealous for knowledge, we really don’t have a student before us; instead we have someone who we must force to do academic work, usually by means of the carrot and the stick. Such a “student” will be generally uncooperative and resistant (even if passively so), and will quickly forget what he is forced to “learn.” Teaching such “students” is no fun at all. By contrast, once a child becomes eager to learn, to know, is in fact “in love” with math, history, language or logic—then teaching is a joy.
Great teachers know instinctively that they must cultivate this studium, this zeal, in their students. Naturally, parents play the most vital role in this development, and in education a partnership between parents and teachers is required for true success. So what are the key student virtues that we need to cultivate in our children? What are the corresponding vices that they must overcome?