June 8th, 2011 // 11:39 am @ Oliver DeMille
I recently wrote an article entitled “Eight Words for Education.” A few days later, I came across a similar list outlined by the sixteenth century scholar Roger Ascham (best known for tutoring the children of Henry VIII and navigating that turbulent court without losing his head).[i] It is an interesting list, and a good addition to the eight words I outlined last week.
Ascham gives us seven words on his list, each from the Greek writings of Plato (citing Socrates). Ascham uses the Greek words, but clarifies the meanings in English. All seven are important parts of a quality education.
Active seeking of knowledge, a “readiness of will, to learning.” This is an outgoing personality coupled with a desire to learn, an excitement and interest in knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Seeker.[ii]
A good memory. This can be natural or learned, but it must be used. If a person struggles with memory, it is important to strengthen one’s ability to memorize and retain knowledge. Memory.
Here is how Ascham himself described Philomathes in the 1560s: “Given to love learning: for though a child have all gifts of nature at wish, and perfection of memory at will, yet if he have not a special love of learning, he shall never attain to much learning. And therefore Isocrates, one of the noblest schoolmasters that is in the memory of learning, who taught kings and princes, as Halicarnassaeous writeth, and out of whose school, as Tully saith, came forth more noble captains, more wise counsellors, than did out of Epeius’ horse at Troy. This Isocrates, I say, did cause to be written, at the entry of his school, in golden letters, this golden sentence…if thou lovest learning, thou shall attain to much learning.”[iii] Love of Learning.
Having “a lust to labour, and a will to take pains.” This is the hard work of Scholar and Depth phases. Work.
“He that is glad to hear and learn of another.” Being open to learning from others. Humble and eager. Humility.
“He that is naturally bold to ask any question, desirous to search out any doubt, not ashamed to learn of the meanest, not afraid to go to the greatest, until he be perfectly taught, and fully satisfied.” This is a great trait, especially when connected with Philekoos (e.g. Boldness and Humility.) Boldness.
Humble to the right authority, seeking to please one’s father or true master. Trying to earn praise by doing the right things. Rightly Submissive.
This is a good list of traits for anyone who wants to be a great learner and obtain a superb education. These might be called characteristics of the true learner.
[i] From The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to be an Educated Human Being, edited by Richard M. Gamble, pp. 447-57. Selections from Roger Ascham, The Schoolmaster. The quotations below are from this selection.
[ii] I am not a scholar of Greek, but based on translations of Plato into English and of Ascham’s explanations of these words I’ve attempted to summarize the main points with the bolded English words. No doubt these are only approximations of the deeper and more nuanced meanings in the original Greek. Still, these English words (or phrases) are an excellent list of characteristics needed for great education: seeker, memory, love of learning, work, humility, boldness, rightly submissive.
[iii] Emphasis added.