A Piece of Work

To prepare for the 2011 conference, may I suggest you read Hamlet and watch at least two versions of it. I like Brannagh, but it has useless and gratuitous and utterly distracting pornographic shots thrown in. Don’t watch it without some means to avert your gaze from their shame, as any gentleman or lady does when he sees it.

I also like Zefferelli’s Hamlet (Mel Gibson) but it leaves out pretty crucial elements and is overly Freudian in its interpretation.

Hamlet is a series of magnificent set-pieces, soliloquies and discussions that penetrate the inner chambers and ventricles of the heart while undulating the spectator between heaven and earth, none more, perhaps than the scene shown in the two versions below. “What a piece of work is a man.”

Zefferreli:

Brannagh

Compare this with 3:1 (To be or not to be) and 4:4 (What is a man) both of which you can see on YouTube. You can see a bit of a progression of Hamlet’s attitude to man, and therefore to action, but he’ll still rise and fall a few more times before his final fall (or is it a rise?).

As a devotee of Hamlet as the greatest play ever written, I crave your thoughts, reflections, and insights on these scenes.

Smart, Humble, and Natural: And Our Last Best Hope

Andrew Pudewa invited me to address his Writer’s Symposium this week at Wake Forest University. The attendees were devoted users of the IEW materials, especially his Institute on Structure and Style.

People told me nice things about the sessions I delivered (which will be made available by IEW in their catalogue if I rightly understood the contract Julie Walker shoved under my face in a hurried moment on the first night. Just kidding on the second part.), but the real highlight for me was watching and interacting with the attendees.

I’ve been watching the private school and home school movements for about 20 years now, and I have to say, it’s an impressive lot of people. The home school moms I’ve interacted with are smart, humble, natural people.

It’s quite a contrast from the professional women with whom I’ve interacted over the same 20 years. This is a generalization, a statement about a sub-culture more than about any individuals – maybe a statement about a temptation the modern professional woman has to deal with. But here it is. The typical professional woman, in my limited experience, is also pretty smart, but she isn’t as humble, and she certainly isn’t natural.

I will probably be eaten alive for saying that, but I do have a point that a third group of women would do well to think about, so I’ll go ahead and risk my reputation for their sake.

I’m talking now about the private school teacher. A question for you: Do you want to be more like the professional woman or the home school mom? Which one more closely approximates the ideal toward which you are striving?

The reason I have a glimmer of hope for America is that when God told Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah had become so wicked that they were a threat to well-being of other nearby communities and had to be destroyed, Abraham was able to negotiate God down to saving Sodom if only ten just people lived there.

Maybe God will preserve this Gomorrah because of the just people among us. Maybe he’ll find a proportion equal to ten in Sodom. If so, it will be the achievement of the home school mom.

There are many pretty good private schools in America, but I would contend that the Industrial model of education is so unnatural and contrary to the human spirit that the very structure of our schools blinds us to the things we most need to see.

But the home is a natural, God-created structure. In the home the highest human faculties and potentials grow as though in their natural soil.

So now I have a question for the Christian school leaders. Where do you look for your models? Do you want to be more like the corporate institution or the home school? Which one more nearly approximates the ideal toward which you are striving?

The home grows naturally into the farm and then into the community. The corporate business is often, in our day at least, a parasite, living off the fruit of the community, redirecting its energies, and doing very little to sustain it. The bigger the business, the more true this is.

That very little is a sauve to its conscience and becomes increasingly less valuable. Which does the school seek to emulate?

Home schooling moms are the last best home for freedom within this last best hope for freedom which was once our nation. Our nation having formally abandoned concrete freedoms for abstract rights, it cannot be counted on any more to defend freedom.

And here’s the main reason I’m encouraged and somewhat hopeful, though I do believe the next couple decades will be the hell to pay. Home schooling moms, in general, are smart, humble, and natural.

Most of them are college educated, a much higher percentage than the general population. But spending four years getting your mind conditioned to think in a disorderly way is not what makes you smart.

The proof of their intelligence is their willingness to challenge the status quo they grew up in. They are not passively allowing the same folly they learned to be infused into their children. I don’t think the establishment either appreciates that or recognizes the intelligence required to do it.

Another proof of their intelligence is the vastly higher scores their children get on the tests designed by that establishment.

However, home schooling is not what it used to be. Publishing companies have discovered the market and flooded it with stultifying, cheesy, soul-denying crap, along with some very good materials.

I am counting on the home school mom to apply her intelligence and independence over the next few years.

But sometimes her humility becomes lack of confidence and fear. And that is her biggest enemy. The world we live in has rejected Christ, rejected the Image of God, rejected the gospel, and spent 150 years trying to build a system based on those rejections.

It has not worked – and nowhere less than in education.

It has not worked.

Please, Mrs. Home School Mom, do not lose your nerve.

Yes, continue to be humble and teachable and eager for wisdom. But don’t seek the easy way out and don’t sell your children short.

Follow, instead, the counsel of Solomon. Let it be your guiding principle. Let it be the fuel that drives your instruction.

Get Wisdom.

After all, there is nothing your child needs more and there is no better source for him to get it.

It’s natural, just like your incomparable love for your child. And that natural, God-given love that you bear for your children is the last hope for freedom in this country in which God is looking for ten just people.

The Place of Logic and the Place of Philosophy

My pocket Aristotle includes these words in the introduction by Justin Kaplan:

[Aristotle] devoted his life to codifying and rationalizing what was then the sum of human knowledge.

Kaplan goes on to list some of Aristotle’s accomplishments and the obstacles he had to overcome to achieve them. Then this:

And underlying all these achievements was this: he was a logician of subtlety and strength, and a searcher after the knowledge that transcends and exists independent of all other knowledge. He called this knowledge “first philosophy” or “wisdom.”

May I draw your attention to two words in the quotations above? First, quotation one: the word “rationalization.” Then in quotation two, the word “and.”

I hope the word rationalization continues to maintain the meaning it expresses in Kaplan’s sentence in the days to come, because it is a hint to an ancient meaning that is more authentic than the modern meaning. To “rationalize the sum of… human knowledge,” is an impressive goal, but it does actually mean something.

Aristotle was attempting to bring all the knowledge he had access to into a harmony, a whole in which every part had its place and in which the place of every part served for the flourishing of every other part. His vision of reality was musical. Discord argued for error. How different from what we think of as “cold rationalism” today.

Aristotle saw truth as flames of fire enlightening the soul.

Thus my highlighting the word “and” in the second quotation. I was afraid, when I read the first clause, that it would be followed by a period, that Kaplan would suggest that the underlying force of Aristotle’s thought was his logical power.

And indeed, Aristotle was a logical genius of the first rank. His development of the syllogism (which Kaplan argues “now has little real function”) and his Organon make up the earliest sustainable handbooks for thinking the world ever saw. They remain unmatched in their breadth and depth.

But Aristotle was not a mere logician. He was a seeker after wisdom, a philosopher. The difference is significant.

Here is how I would seek to express the difference between a logician and a philosopher:

The philosopher seeks to PERCEIVE the essence of things, to know them according to their natures, and to treat them appropriately. He seeks, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, to rightly order and to appropriately judge. For the philosopher everything turns on what Plotinus, at least, and I think Plato and Aristotle as well, called “intelligible form.”

The form of a thing is its essence, the fishness of fish, the redness of red, the justice of justice, etc.. “Intelligible” means understandable, but much more than that in Aristotle. It means that the form or essence of the thing is perceivable by what came to be called “the mind’s eye.”

But the logician, inasmuch as he is a logician and not a philosopher, only has the tools of logic to work with. These tools support philosophy and assist the philosopher, but logic is not philosophy and can only deal with what it is given. Logic, in this sense, is not the same as reason either.

Logic looks for consistency in the statements or propositions with which it is dealing. It is valuable only insofar as the statements carry truth. Logic seeks validity in an argument, not truth itself.

In a way, logic is like a game. Or maybe it would be better to say, logic is the rules of the game. But then, a game is defined by its rules, so to say it is a game, is to say it is the rules of the game. Even so, baseball is a game defined by its rules.

But logic is not about perception. Sensory perception (what we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, etc.) is a starting point for logic, but by no means all it has to work with. Intellectual perception can also provide material to the logician, but this comes from an experience higher than the rules of the game of logic.

In short, logic is not the highest authority on reality, just a tool to help us think about it consistently.

That is why I can constuct logical nonsense, such as:

All Puddleglums are blue things
All blue things are foxtrots
Therefore all puddleglums are fox trots

Logical, yes, but meaningless except as the form itself carries meaning.

So while the philosopher’s foundational concept is intelligible form, for the logician that foundational concept is the universal.

While the form is perceived by the mind’s eye, the universal is more like a chess piece or a counter in a game. “All Puddleglums” is merely a thought. So is “all Rhinoscopes.” In fact, you could even say that “all foxes” is merely a concept in the head of the thinker.

But this is precisely where the great historical argument between the philosopher and the logician breaks out. The philosopher says, “Yes, all foxes may be merely a concept in the head of the thinker, but foxness itself is not. “Fox” is the form of every fox and is what makes the fox a fox.”

The logician, since as logician he cannot perceive forms or essences of things, says, “No, there is no essence of fox. Fox is a name we give to all the things that share the same characteristics because it is convenient and helpful for us to do so.”

This argument is often described as the argument over universals. I would suggest that that is a misnomer, almost certainly coined by someone who takes the side of the logician. It isn’t the argument over universals, but over form vs. logic.

And it only becomes an argument when logic attempts to do more than it is able to do, that is, to do philosophy or theology. Logic is a vice-regent with vast power. But it cannot be the emperor for the simple reason that it cannot see far enough.

Ironic things arise from the uprising of logic (which took place in the middle ages, especially under Peter Abelard and William of Ockham (Occam if you prefer)) including the rise of nominalism, the obsession with the particular that gave rise to empiricism and the scientific revolt, the breakdown of thought into disparate specialized subjects, and the neglect of philosophy and theology.

It’s strange, because the philosopher is a formalist who believes in a knowable reality within which men can be free and powers can be limited, but the logician rapidly bows to the empiricist or the rationalist who always ends up believing that reality is not knowable, there is no law above the state, and freedom is an illusion that they are unable to see.

This distinction between philosophy and logic is very difficult and precise, but very important. Had the logician never exalted himself so far, we wouldn’t have to climb up to remind him of his place. We could rejoice in the ability of the common man to see truth (the essence of things) because his soul is attuned to it (he usually calls it common sense) and he knows what freedom and justice are before his teacher comes and clouds his perceptions.

Teach logic and teach it well. Enable your students to learn its powers and its limitations. Just remember that it doesn’t see forms, it analyzes universals. It may well be the child who sees forms the best, so the philosopher is always trying to become like a little child.

Darwinian Parenting

My desires define me, and my group, and my people.

From Dr. Tingley’s lecture on Postmodernism

I flew from San Francisco to Orange County airport, seated in 6B. Across the aisle in 6C was a mother, and beside her, in 6D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big brown eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Nothing unusual there. Moms often fly with their children on airplanes and children at that age are generally cute. What was unusual was this: in 7C was another mother and beside her, in 7D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big blue eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Have you ever flown with two little kids that close to you? I was mildly worried about how it would go, but much more interested than worried. I had, I felt, a self-created laboratory. So I listened.

To understand the point of this post, you must know that the mothers were basically the same in their approach to their children. My wife has a little plaque she keeps in the kitchen that I always felt a little uneasy about. It says,

Raising children is like being pecked to death by chickens

Both of these mothers had mastered the survival technique that all mothers master to endure the pecking.

They tune out.

This is one of the great mysteries of motherhood to the young father (next to our wonderment at our wives lack of fervently expressed gratitude when we clean up after their morning sickness). We come home from a long day of brutal, back-breaking work (do you know how uncomfortable an office chair is?) to our wives and children, expecting large smiles and fervent 50’s-TV doses of affection.

Instead we see mommy half-seated, half-lying on the couch, legs extended, the free arm hanging limply off the couch, a vacant gaze filling the inch or two in front of her eyes – not unlike the look of St. Theresa in Ecstacy. Next to her is little Johnny (or David or Matthew or Katie) saying, over and over, “mom, mom, mom.” Just like that. Staccato.

Mom.

Mom.

Mom.

And here’s dad, exhausted from a day’s labor, incomprehensibly looking at mommy, thinking, and sometimes foolishly saying, “Why don’t you answer the child!?”

Karen has described this condition to me. She tells me that she’ll sit for a while not hearing anything, then after a few moments a distant sound will rise in the deep cavities of her mind, a sound that gradually works its way toward consciousness, staccato, not quite an echo, not even insistent, though certainly persistant, until finally it touches on the conscious mind and just a little light enters mommy’s eyes.

Calmly, as though David had only said “Mom” once, she looks at him for a moment and says, “Yes.”

“Katie cut off her foot at the neck.”

“OK, tell her to go back to bed.”

This is a womanly gift we men don’t have and thus fail to appreciate.

Part of the gift is the female capacity to contextualize the unconscious. The children in this my account, remember, were on an airplane. The mothers knew this.

Another trait of parenting, and this one is shared by fathers, though from what I can tell, not generally as fully developed, is the feeling of deep shame over every public manifestation of childishness by a child. Everybody else on the plane thinks the kids are adorable, but the parent usually seems ashamed, so they shush their child and get angry at them for not acting like adults, which is peculiar since it means that we parents are acting like children by being angry at our children for not acting like adults.

The combination of these two paternal gifts led these mothers to an interesting challenge with a simple solution. They didn’t want to their children to embarrass them, but they didn’t want to be pecked to death by the chickens. What to do?

Solution: bring the pecking to consciousness a little more quickly.

It was fun to watch.

Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.

Yes?

And this is where the paths diverge. These pleasant little, good-natured children were clearly brought up on different assumptions about what a human, and therefore a child, is. I could tell because of what followed when mom was brought back to herself and to her child.

From 6D: I want some water. I want to play so and so. I want to… I want…

Don’t get me wrong. This child was not particularly demanding or at all bratty, though he did let out three loud, manipulative wails. He was just a normal kid who had been brought up on the assumption that the appetites merit an awful lot of attention.

From 7D: I spy with my little eye… Look mom, the airplanes are playing follow the leader… We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader. We’re following the leader wherever he may go.

I’ve stood by while my wife raised five children (gave her advice on those rare occasions when I had something to contribute and she was willing to pay for it) and I have to tell you one thing I learned a long, long time ago. Most of what you do consciously and purposely as a parent has very little affect on your children.

What affects them is the things you aren’t aware of, the kind of person you really are (regardless of what you want to be, which they don’t take the trouble to figure out), the beliefs you hold in your subconscious and that express themselves in attitudes and tones and environment and games and pastimes and commitments.

But most parents are looking for clear parenting methodology, so they read books with the latest techniques for potty-training and watch videos explaining how to prepare your little girl for kindergarten or listen to lectures that show you how to make your child love reading or sports or cooking or single-sex parents or whatever.

There is no parenting methodology. There’s just struggling parents, hearts yearning toward their children, lacking in confidence to act on their principles and concentrate on character.

What matters most in a parent is who you are. And what matters second to who you are is what you believe your child is. I mean believe in your soul, not your conscious mind, believe in your heart of hearts, not by logical or empirical persuasion.

You might have worked out that he is the image of God, fallen and depraved. Or you might have resolved intellectually that she is as innocent as the spring flowers.

But what do you believe in your soul of souls? What do you think in your heart?

Do you raise them with fear and trembling. Probably not. The meaning of parenting doesn’t really sink in until it’s too late, because if it sank in while you were doing it you’d be so overwhelmed you’d be unable to parent.

But just a little fear and trembling is a good thing.

The child in 6D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was a cute animal, driven by appetites. The child in 7D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was something more, something with rational faculties worth cultivating, something that gained happiness from careful observation, intellectual activity, and gameful expression of his awareness to those around.

The first mother was a type for the practicing naturalistic materialist, internalizing the doctrines of Darwin. Most mothers today are – even, frankly, most Christian mothers.      

The second mother was a type for the practicing Christian classical supernaturalist. Her child did not begin intellectualizing the world that day. His rational faculties (the quest for pattern, for harmony, the delight taken in unity and surprise) had been cultivated, clearly, since he was very young.

One might well argue that he was not morally better. Just more human.

He might have been the best answer to post-modernism. He was not defined by his desires, or those of his people, but by his uniquely delightful and human faculty to reason. If you want to overcome the deadening impact of our culture on your children, if you want to push back all the arguments for the post-human world, remember what your child is: the image of God, a reasoning person with a will to cultivate.

Play follow-the-leader.

Man the Arts

Among the unique and extroardinary abilities of humankind, surely his ability to create ranks first or nearly first. I have concluded that a Mozart or a Rembrandt inhabits every neighborhood, just waiting to be cultivated and directed in the direction of their gifts.

Think of how many people you know with beautiful voices that go unheard, with a natural capacity to see that never makes it to canvas, with a grace of movement that never sees the dance floor. 

When you consider how many people do make it to the big time on the wings of parental or pedagogical vanity, imagine what we would experience if our wings were grace and devotion to the God who is glorified when Freddy Mercury sings or Picasso paints or, yes, Christina Aguilera dances.

And there’s the trouble. Our creativity is an expression of the Image of God within us; it is among our highest joys because it is in our creativity that we are most like God in His creativity. It is what we are made for.

But the creative genius continously finds himself drawn to himself, since this talent is within him and mysterious. Rather than honor His creator, his temptation is to feature himself and to honor himself first.

As a result gifts are misdirected, their value diminished, and the staying power of their products disabled. One hundred years from now, it is not likely that many of the current superstars will be remembered – though some will, because they are so extraordinarily creative that the impulse to watch their performance is satisfying in itself.

I think, for example, of Karen Carpenter, whose music style rarely does much for me, but whose voice is unmatched in popular recorded music.

Last night I was re-visiting the Susan Boyle phenomenon on YouTube, where I discovered that they did a show about her life in Britain. I was not aware that Simon Cowell had produced a CD of her singing and that it sold 4.5 million disks in the first two weeks of distribution.

Susan Boyle has a marvelous voice and she is able to express deep emotion and beauty through it. People like to say she is no Ruthie Henshall, which is so utterly beside the point that it shows that they don’t understand what is happening when Susan Boyle sings. Amanda: “It was  a complete privilege listening to that.”

The same thing happened with Paul Potts. Listen to his version of Nessun Dorma. If you compare it to Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Mario Lanza, or even Aretha Franklin, you might complain that they are all better. Well, except for the last two. But it doesn’t matter.

Susan Boyle and Paul Potts are great singers who are now learning to sing even better. It may well be that Paul Potts is now equal to Domingo if not Pavarotti. I don’t know. I have great respect for the years of training that goes into the creation of any great artist. So I can see why some people might even be offended by the very (naive, I am sure) suggestion that it is possible that Potts has attained so great a stature. I wish we valued the arts enough to train more artists more thoroughly, but when the Image of God goes, the arts go.

But Paul Potts is in Germany right now, astounding people with his gift.

There is something magical about a sincere and modest soul being discovered in front of everybody’s eyes. It vindicates some deep hope we all hold onto, that the human spirit really does have something incomprehensibly great about it.

Have you seen Andrew Johnston?

When we enter into glory, we won’t be directing all our attention, as we do here, to making sure we have another meal tonight. In glory, we’ll be consumed by the arts: singing our hearts out in a music so pure Bach would be jealous, beautifying, decorating, revealing, unifying, harmonizing, communicating – all in ways that transcend the power of the words we use here to express them.

Here, the arts give us a foretaste of that glory and joy. But just a foretaste.

These considerations lead us to two challenges:

First, we need to cultivate our children’s artistic abilities, of any stripe, with eagerness and joy and devotion.

Second, we need to learn how to think wisely about all of the arts, knowing that they move our souls and direct our cultures and sustain our communities.

In short, man the artist needs to man the arts with wisdom and virtue.  Our well-being depends on it.

Discovery

Michael Polanyi (Personal Knowledge) outlined the stages one goes through to solve a problem.  One begins with Preparation leading to Illumination, and concludes with Verification.  The original study of H. Poincare he is pulling from listed four stages: Preparation – Incubation – Illumination – Verification.

Coleridge begins his essay, The Education of Children, by stating,

In the education of children, love is first to be instilled, and out of love obedience is to be educed. Then impulse and power should be given to the intellect, and the ends of a moral being be exhibited.

The classroom principle both of these proposals hit on is the principle of imitation. Every individual learner (student and teacher) must go through the three stages of imitation: perception, absorbtion, and re-presentation.  In fact, the teacher must work through this process first before she can ever take the student through it.

The goal in education is to embody ideas.  But before an idea can be embodied it must first be seen (perceived), and secondly absorbed so as to in-form the soul.  Only then can the idea take outward form (re-presentation)–then can they be verified and “the ends of a moral being be exhibited.

Thoughts on the Imagination

The following five points are relatively undeveloped thoughts on the imagination, and may seem slightly cryptic and abstract.  I attempt to relate these thoughts to the teacher’s task in the classroom at the end.

1.  The imagination is awakened by admiration.

2.  Two powers associated with the imagination are the perceptive and the formative.  Once the imagination sees into the nature of any thing or person it works to resolve and bring harmony between the perceiver and the perceived.

3.  As the imagination is awakened we must first understand very clearly the works, or effectual powers, of the imagination.  The perceptive power enables one to directly see the nature of any thing or person.  the formative power gradually moves one toward the imitation of the idea perceived.

4.  While the imagination works between two disharmonic poles, it works from the lower to the higher, from disharmony to harmony; it restores order to chaos.

5.  It is initially awakened and driven by adoration — love.   We naturally love what is in accord with (our) nature.  The soul yearns for that which it was designed.  Only the sick soul looses sight of this.

I think that we do not need to grow too anxious as teachers over what to do, except to allow the imagination to work.  The weight of a teacher’s work is to show students the ideas, clearly present models, and let the student come into contact and perceive the disharmony.  The imagination begins its work at this point, and the best a teacher can do is to not manipulate the child’s imagination, but to relinquish control and guide the imagination toward its goal.

Once admiration directs the imagination toward its object, the desire to partake in the object propels the imagination through its formative course.

Weaver on Educational Gnostics

In Richard Weaver’s book Visions of Order, available through ISI, he includes a chapter called Gnostics of Education in which he demonstrates the parallel teachings of the Progressive educators who dominate American thought and the gnostics of the first two centuries.

For one who is opposed to the enemies of the human soul, this essay is enlightening, somewhat discouraging, and even invigorating. Here’s something:

First, we may turn to the objects of learning. Traditional education has always been based on the assumption that there is a world of data, a fixed reality, which is worth knowing and even worth reverencing. The content of education therefore reflected the structure of an antecedent reality. This in fact was education…. The world is there a priori [i.e. it comes first]; the learner has the duty of familiarizing itself with its nature and its set of relations.

Now all of this has been reversed. The main concern of modern educationists is not knowledge of an existent reality, but rather the mastery of a methodology. The aim of the methodology is to “grow through experience.” These are key terms requiring some examination.

Indeed they are. Here you see a pretty fair summary of progressive education compared to that which arises from the Christian classical tradition. Reality cannot be known, says the progressive, and people who try to make it knowable are a problem. Therefore, let us build a school system on the premise that reality cannot be known.

Read that last sentence again.

A Bloody Mess

Christian classical education is, to our age, a new wine being poured into old wine skins.

Christian classical education is a different kind of thing than conventional, especially progressive, education. When Christian classical schools imitate the industrial model in their classrooms, pedagogy, curriculum, and governance, they undercut their potential.

Two examples come readily to mind. First, industrial education (i.e. the conventional school) has replaced an apprenticeship mindset with certification. In other words, education by its nature is personal, involves the handing on of a tradition, and focuses on mastery of an art.

However, conventional education functions like a factory or a laboratory. The work of the teacher is so impersonal that she could be fired for touching a student. The teacher is trained in “theories” that begin with the denial of human nature and is taught not to look backward to the vast expanse of real human action but to look forward into the vast emptiness of the educator’s fantasy.

The teacher’s college is torn between its desire to create a new world of denatured graduates who enact their social theories and its obligation to produce students who can score well on a standardized test.

The goal is a certificate for the teacher so the school can be accredited so the student can get a diploma.

In short, conventional education is the realm of illusion. And no wonder, since the philosophers who gave us conventional education don’t believe reality can be known any way.

Thus the truly anti-human ideas of the early 20th century educators have assumed extensive influence over the souls of our entire culture and they have been able to do so because they created wineskins intended to hold their wine. They restructured education, or, as they still say, they “reformed” it.

The one room school house, for example, was replaced with the centralized mega-school. The age-integrated school was so thoroughly replaced with the age-segregated school that few people now can imagine how a teacher could succeed in the one-room school house.

Teaching methods replaced teaching and teachers became obsessed with the latest “research based” techniques, all of which have been developed and justified on the assumption that industrial management approaches are suited to the school – above all, perhaps, the assumption that “what gets measured gets done.”

The school has become an assembly line in which specialists use the most efficient techniques to construct a student, piece by piece, 50 minutes at a time in the upper school, with bells telling the product when to move to the next station.

It is, in short, the form of modern education that destroys the child’s soul – even more than the content, little of which they remember anyway.

Any truly penetrating and lasting education reform must, therefore, reject the old wineskins that are the form of this disaster called American education.

We must not any longer sell our students souls to the factory model of assembly and management in which there is no room for the human spirit, much less for the Holy Spirit.

We must return to something approaching an apprenticeship model,

  • in which the Wise mentor and equip the young,
  • in which teaching is an art, not a set of specialized techniques and methodologies,
  • in which the mature hand on the tradition in which the wisdom of the ages is found (but only by those who soak their souls in it),
  • in which the goal is to cultivate wisdom instead of merely to produce experts,
  • in which each class is taught according to its nature (known according to the degree of precision with which it can be known) instead of with a text book that honors neither the nature of the science/art nor the nature of the student, nor the nature of the teacher,
  • in which the beginning, end, and sustaining energy of teaching is love,
  • in which the modes of assessment sustain the soul rather than distracting it with vanity or bitterness,
  • in which our Lord is honored in the way we treat His children,
  • and in which He is discovered to be truly the One in whom all things consist, the One in whom the Father really does “make all things one” (including the curriculum), the One in whom students really could find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I believe with all my aching heart that the American Christian school has sold its heritage, its very soul, out of fear. The result is three generations of increasing numbers of graduates of the Christian school who go to college to become unbelieving fornicators because they may have learned the content of the faith, but they never learned the form of godliness, not to speak of the power thereof.

We have an eternally new wine, but we continue to put it in old wineskins. Do we not notice the bloody mess?

Saddles, Novels, and Coleridge

Approximately 200 years ago Coleridge argued,

The common modern novel, in which there is no imagination, but a miserable struggle to excite and gratify mere curiosity, ought, in my judgment, to be wholly forbidden to children. Novel-reading of this sort is especially injurious to the growth of the imagination, the judgment, and the morals, especially to the latter, because it excites mere feelings without at the same time ministering an impulse to action. 

This needs to be understood in the larger context of Coleridge’s essay on education.  He states at the start of this essay that the aim of education is to exhibit “the ends of a moral being.” Coleridge argued the point that education works from the inside out.  The soul must first be rightly formed so that one may rightly govern the other faculties.  The novel works in the opposite direction moving first from the senses with little or no attention for the soul.

A saddletree works much the same way. The heart, or core of any saddle is called a tree. Originally, the tree of a saddle was made out of wood, but today saddletrees are often made from fiberglass or plastic.  The tree is the fundamental form of every saddle. As it is covered with leather, rawhide, sheep wool, and conchos it takes on a physical appearance that is, or can be, only as good as the tree that is covered.  All the integrity and virtue of a saddle rests with the tree.  Old leather skirtings can be replaced.  But if the tree is cracked, the saddle is worth-less.

The integrity and virtue of the soul forms the man.  Education must begin first with soul, and work its way out from there.  We must educate from the inside out.