Back to School Looking for Beautiful
One of the reasons that students go back to school year after year is to learn what is beautiful and to grow in their appreciation of true beauty. As Plato once said, "The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful." But Plato wasn't the first to say this. This truth comes to us from the Word of God. The apostle Paul instructs us to set our minds on that which is true, noble, just, pure, lovely; we are to meditate on those things which are of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
That means that a classical and Christian school ought to have particular duties in this regard. We understand that the loveliness and nobility enjoined by the apostle involve more than just spiritual truths, and that our duty as a school includes the discipline of aesthetic education, or learning what is beautiful.
God contains within Himself all ultimate loveliness and beauty. As His creatures, therefore, we are to serve and worship Him in all that we do in the beauty of holiness. He has created us in His own image, and requires us to strive to imitate Him in all that we do, and this includes the duty of understanding our responsibilities of appreciating and creating objects of loveliness.
In education, therefore, there can't be aesthetic relativism. It can't be true that everything is equally beautiful in all respects. It can't be true that there are not also some things that are ugly, the opposite of that which is beautiful. But at the same time, we need to recognize our limitations as creatures. This means that in any work of art containing true beauty, only God knows exhaustively all that is beautiful about the work, while we see the beauty only partially. Because different human observers see different parts of the beauty within a work of art, this creates an illusion of subjectivity for us as observers. Because our vision of the beautiful is only partial and never exhaustive, we seek to instruct our students to make all aesthetic judgments in humility. At the same time, we want to train them on their responsibility to make grounded and informed aesthetic judgments, rejecting all forms of principled ugliness or aesthetic nihilism, or nothingness.
First Baptist Classical Academy of Kamloops seeks to teach the importance of aesthetic standards in all activities associated with the school, striving for that form of excellence suitable to each activity. This obviously includes a strong emphasis throughout our curriculum on the fine arts—music, painting, drama, poetry-with the attendant responsibilities of the students including study, meditation, and memorization. However, our emphasis on aesthetics also extends to more mundane matters—the cleanliness and decoration of classrooms, student dress, athletic competition, handwriting, etc. In all this, we aim to teach our students the reasons for what we require, and not just impose the bare requirement.
How do we do this? The standards we use in determining what we consider to be aesthetically valuable include, but are not limited to, conformity to the standards of Scripture, historical durability and the approval of many minds over generations, a balance of complexity and simplicity, dignity, metaphorical strength, harmony, subtlety, the power to evoke love of truth and goodness, the art of concealing art, acuity or craftsmanship, an ability to work against standards while honoring and employing them, avoidance of formulaic clichés, and wisdom.
So as you prepare to send your child back to school this September be sure to give some consideration to what they're being taught about beauty.