Along with wisdom, the inculcation of virtue is the primary goal of a classical Christian education. But is virtue something you can teach? Barton Gingerich at the Acton Institute tells us how Russell Kirk, one of the great Christian political and social thinkers of the twentieth century, answers that question.
“Can virtuous citizens be formed by tutoring and other rational forms of education?” he asks. Kirk’s answer?
Moral virtue grows out of habit (ethos); it is not natural, but neither is moral virtue opposed to nature. Intellectual virtue, on the other hand, may be developed and improved through systematic instruction—which requires time. ln other words, moral virtue appears to be the product of habits formed early in family, class, neighborhood; while intellectual virtue may be taught through instruction in philosophy, literature, history, and related disciplines.
This does not exclude schooling, but it does mean that the family is the first and most important institution when it comes to teaching good moral habits. It should also be pointed out (though Gingerich does not mention it) that for those who come from broken families or families with other challenges, the discipline and habit formation they receive at school is all the more important.
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