Let’s begin with a definition, shall we? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of crank is “an annoyingly eccentric person; also : one who is overly enthusiastic about a particular subject or activity.” A crank is something Charlotte Mason spends a bit of time railing against and her complaint of this type of person is found throughout her curriculum. Sorry I don’t have a light-hearted New Year’s post for you, but if you’ll give this some attention I think you’ll be glad you did.
|The Last Days of Socrates: Euthyphro; The Apology; Crito; Phaedo (Penguin Classics)|
Mason’s chapter from Volume 5 called “Better-Than-My-Neighbor” is a new favorite for me. (And we all know that Volume 5 needs more supporters!) It begins with a discussion of Euthyphro (Youth-i-fro), one of Plato’s dialogues that takes place just prior to Socrates’ death. This was one reading (along with Phaedo and Crito) that Mason had her older students read, write, and think about for the subject of citizenship.
So the really exciting thing for me in this chapter is that here we have Mason reading, narrating extensively, and thinking about this passage – and she lets us in on it! (Am I the only one excited by this? I know I was at our discussion group…if you’ve had your high schoolers read and write on this, you’ll know why.)
Often times the discussion after one reads Euthyphro centers on the Euthyphro dilemma. Mason’s musings on it go in a different direction, even though related. The story summed up very briefly says that Euthyphro meets Socrates at the king’s court. Euthyphro tells Socrates that he is charging his own father with manslaughter because of his personal commitment to his definition of justice and piety. Socrates’ questions show Euthyphro the errors of his thinking, but he is too busy to be bothered and off he goes.
One of the things we learn about Euthyphro is that people like him are known as cranks and they are all around us. They are those who think that others should do as they do. Cranks are “one-sided, illiberal, unnatural, undutiful…he takes his own absolute conviction to be synonymous with truth.” (Mason, 5.406)
The remedy for cranks? First, an awareness from a very early age that our reason is the servant of our will – not an “independent authority within” us. Good people can have wrong opinions. Euthyphro held his idea of justice that pleases the gods above all else and failed to let love and duty to parents to even enter his thinking. A fixation on one aspect of a situation can cloud out everything else – including common sense.
Second is a wide and generous curriculum. I love this – leave it to Mason to take this piece of classical literature and turn it into a rallying cry for a liberal education for all. She reasons that if students understand that reason is subjugated to the will, they “would be eager to acquire knowledge were they brought to perceive that wide knowledge of men and events is a necessary foundation for convictions which shall be just as well as reasonable.” (Mason, 5.407)
Lest we think she is rubber-stamping Socrates definition of virtue, she concludes with these wise words:
In our readings and talk, qualities of heart and head must be emphasised, rather than all the good little virtues contained, so to speak, in our own skin. We may even be obliging and helpful, just out of virtue: really it should be possible to make children see that self-contained virtue bores other people, that kindness and service is of value only as it comes out of love, that industry and perseverance are good only when they are the outcome of duty, that there is no worth in the diligent doing of lessons unless we love knowledge. (Mason, 5.414)
There is so much more in this chapter. Lots of advice on education, life, and parenting. I wish you could read it and discuss it with me. We haven’t even touched on her whole discussion of prigs! I’ll let you discover that yourself.
From joy to joy,