Faculty panel discusses “Educating Bees”

On Wednesday, Rick Kennedy, professor of history, presented ideas he wrote about in his article “Educating Bees: Humility as a Craft in Classical and Christian Liberal Arts.” Kennedy’s paper was published in the Christian Scholar’s Review in 2012 where it won the journal’s annual award for best article.

In the first sentence of my article I quote Alasdair MacIntyre affirming that humility, obedience, conformity, and faith in authority are essential practices of reading one’s self and into the Scriptures and thinking one’s self into a rational tradition. This quote guides the whole of the article, especially the notion that there are essential practices that should be taught in the General Education curriculum of universities. According to the long tradition of liberal arts, humility and obedience are taught as four stages of bee-like thinking and only after the reasonableness of this kind of thinking is understood, then students were taught to apply the individualistic dissection procedures of critical thinking.

In bee-like humblethink (a Greek composite-word used by St. Paul) the first stage of good thinking is the practice of faithcraft (a word that refers to the way Aristotle and others taught rules for thinking socially). Faithcraft recognizes that people have to trust each other, and trust the long-dead groups of people who through the ages have affirmed the truth of traditions such as Christianity. Paul, remember, tells the churches that he passes on to them what he learned of the resurrection of Jesus from the initial eyewitnesses. Those reports are then passed to us in the Bible.

The faithcraft of trusting people was foundational to classical and Early Christian liberal arts education for 2,000 years but has disappeared from the curriculum of schools and universities in our age that over-emphasizes what is called “critical thinking”. C. S. Lewis famously worried about this. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), one of his minor characters is a college professor disgusted that an essential practice of thinking—what in Aristotelian terms I call faithcraft—was no longer being taught in the curriculum learned by the children in his charge. Confronted by the two oldest of four siblings who don’t want to believe their trustworthy little sister about her story of entering a magical land of Narnia, the professor declares: “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” What for three hundred years was taught at Harvard in logic classes—the faithcraft that for a long time was called “The Rule of Reciprocation”—by 1950, when C.S. Lewis published his book, was no longer taught as an essential practice in the logic curriculum at Harvard.

But the logical methods of faithcraft are only the first stage of four stages of humblethink. The later three stages are tied up in history with honeybee imagery. Bees dutifully collect pollen from widely dispersed fields of flowers afterwards depositing and organizing their collection in a honeycomb. This is the ancient image that supported the creation of libraries. (In an allied image, flowers are picked and arranged in anthologies.) After collecting and organizing information in libraries, the third stage is to look for patterns of consensus, especially those passing through time as traditions. This second stage of humblethink encouraged students to think about their obligations to what was agreed upon by majorities of people. In stage three students are taught the reasonableness of submission. In political logic this is the foundation of republican government—citizens should, in general, submit to the will of the majority. In jurisprudence, this is the foundation that the whole court and society submit to the decision of a jury. In Christian history this is the foundation for corporately reciting the Nicene or Apostle’s creed in church—the church submits to Christian tradition.

The fourth and final stage of humblethink is that the hive mysteriously takes pollen and makes honey. The honey is authority. Long agreed upon decisions by juries have great legal authority and are considered “settled.” Collective agreement, rolling like a growing snowball through history, is something more than simply a collection of agreements—it is something more, pollen has become honey, with greater momentum comes greater authority as the reasonable thought of ages. For two thousand years students were taught this as the first part of liberal arts, but by the time C.S. Lewis wrote about his professor, students were taught instead to jump right into individualistic critical thinking and were not taught faithcraft or humblethink.

When I first came to PLNC twenty years ago—not yet PLNU— I was told in our new faculty orientation that were to encourage critical thinking in every freshmen. We were to teach them to question the faith of their parents and home church, and then, over the course of their education, help them construct their own stronger personal faith. I was encouraged to teach the incoming students to practice what is generally called “analysis and synthesis.” Students should first dissect their beliefs and assumptions, then later synthesize for themselves a better understanding.

This is bad educational practice according to liberal arts tradition. Encouraging analysis before humblethink often leads students to think themselves OUT of traditions rather than INTO them. In the long standing practice of liberal arts education, the first move of the general education curriculum at PLNU should be to teach the 4 steps of humblethink which will give a reasonable foundation for being a loyal citizen, a responsible church member, and an upholder of social justice. Only after the four stages of bee-like humblethink are understood, then students should be taught to apply the individualistic dissection procedures of critical thinking.

Kennedy is a professor of history at PLNU.