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.

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?

A Prayer for Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan, about whom I know virtually nothing, deserves our prayers. I try to imagine how much pain a life like the one implied in this article (which is not very developed) must include and I can”t do it. So I pray that she will be rescued and find peace.

The article also implies a unique defense of home schooling. I can’t help but think that maybe there was a time when our nation could have had a successful public school system, but that, if ever there was such a time, it lingers only in the nostalgia of a fading snapshot.

The 2010 Lost Tools of Writing Essay Contest

High school students, don’t miss this opportunity to win a prize of up to $500!

ABOUT THE CONTEST:
Education and Liberty are themes as American as baseball and apple pie. Yet, much of American literature, and most of American pop culture see the two as antithetical. Some people seem to see school as a barrier to liberty. In the 2010 Lost Tools of Writing Essay Contest, students are asked to consider the relationship between education and liberty. Are they indeed opposites? Or can one fulfill the other? Can a person be free without being educated? Can a person be educated without being free?

You decide. Then persuade us.

FINAL REGISTRATION DATE:
MAY 1, 2010

FINAL SUBMISSION DATE:

MAY 10, 2010

INTENDED PARTICIPANTS:
Students, grades 8-12.

ESSAY FORMAT AND REQUIREMENTS:
▪ Each essay must be between 900 and 1100 words(3-4 pp)
▪ Each essay should be double spaced
▪ Per the registration instructions below,
each essay is to be submitted via email.

CONTEST AWARDS:
1ST PLACE: $500
2ND PLACE: $250
3RD PLACE: $100

HOW TO REGISTER :
Send an Email to essaycontest@circeinstitute.org with
your name, address, grade, and phone number included in the body.

HOW TO SUBMIT:
Please attach your essay to an Email and send it to
essaycontest@circeinstitute.org.


QUESTIONS?

Email David Kern via david@circeinstitute.org

COSPONSORED BY OUR FRIENDS AT:

Susan Wise Bauer on Medieval History

Every class at school is dominated by either a skill set (the arts, liberal and fine) or ideas (history, theology, etc.). In either case, the content learned will serve the idea or the skill. To avoid confusion, ideas classses also develop skills and skills classes also think about ideas. They cannot be laid into air tight chambers.

The classes that are dominated by ideas were called sciences under the classical curriculum. The classes dominated by skills were called arts.

The arts were seen as foundational to the sciences because before you could contemplate ideas you had to learn how to think.

This changed in the nineteenth century when German philosophers like Kant, Fichte, Hegel and others (following the French revolutionaries) determined that either there were no ideas (classically understood) to know or that any ideas there were to know had no connection to the actual world around us.

Ideas set free from reality were what gave us the revolutions and radicalisms of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century.

They are also what unhinged the classical tradition and the focus on the seven liberal arts as  prerequisites to an educated mind.

In that context, knowing what to teach in a history class, for example, becomes problematic. The conventional school is lost, being dominated by text book publishers who take their cues from arguments at school board meetings in Texas. They don’t have a philosophy of history and if they did they would be shot down by the establishment for imposing it on their students.

Susan Wise Bauer has been writing history books into that context for the last decade or so, and on February 22 she will be releasing a new volume: A History of the Medieval World.

Over the next couple weeks I’ll be posting comments on this work from a number of different angles. For example, I’ll point out that I appreciate that she at least occasionally uses complex sentences, without which a child can never learn to read and think complex thoughts. I’ll also reflect on the question of what one ought to include in such a study; whether it is fitting, give what she includes, to call it medieval history; how to make use of the text in your school or home; and a few other things.

I’ll begin by giving the book a qualified thumbs up, while acknowledging that Susan Wise Bauer has produced a very useful artifact. If you are a teacher or parent seeking knowledge of the medieval era as a source of wisdom, you’ll want this book nearby.

For reasons we’ll explore later, I’m not sure if I would make it my primary text to teach the middle ages in a classical school. However, I would absolutely want my students to have it nearby as a resource.  

Over the next few days I’ll be with the apprentices close to 24/7 so I’m not likely to post much – maybe a great quotation here or there. But I’ll be back at it on Monday, reflecting on medieval history, the rise of Hitler in Germany, and whether there is a necessary relationship between education and freedom.

Let me remind you again that our conference on Liberty will be held in Dallas on July 14-17 and the early bird registration fee is available, though the conference is filling at a surprisingly rapid pace. You can register for 245 (225 in groups of three or more) and I’d love to see you there. We need to think hard about liberty if we expect to keep it.

The Power of Comparison and the Three Obstacles to the Healing of Our Country

It amazes me how much we learn by comparison, the second of the five topics of invention in LTW.

For example, I transitioned from PC to Apple in the last couple weeks because I’d given PC 22 years to figure out how to create a reliable computer and they failed – too driven to stay ahead of whatever they’re trying to stay ahead of.

So now I am learning to use the Apple operating system, keyboard, desktop and all that. And it’s not an easy transition.

Each approach does mostly the same stuff. But each does it differently. And I’m accustomed to the old way. I like the forward delete key on the PC keyboard, for example. I liked how easily I could move between windows on the PC.

Now I’m having to learn all the new tricks with Apple.

I’ll come round, I’m sure, but just by virtue of the act of comparison I recognize some virtues in the PC that I didn’t appreciate much in the past.

On the other hand, we have the two political parties in the US. Both do basically the same things, but they  do them differently.

The Republicans expand government and the Democrats expand government. Each offers the state as the resolution to all our problems.

In this, the Democrats are much more honest and that is why they make “better” politicians.

The Republicans fight wars without much common sense and the Democrats fight wars without much common sense. Each offers war as a way to spread the values of democracy throughout the uninterested world.

In this, neither party approaches honesty or wisdom, so neither does it very well.

The differences in the parties are on their fringes, which is where you can see the sources of their energy. This dynamic complicates our politics, because the fringes are apolitical in that they despise compromise and see the other side as the enemy.

Yet, without those fringes, neither party would have any energy. They would just administer the country without any disguises at all.

I have decided to rename the parties for my own convenience. The Democrats, who have stolen and perverted the word liberal, are in fact the Progressivist party, firmly rooted in a Utilitarian philosophy.

On the fringes, they believe that religion is the ultimate evil that needs to be eradicated from the world, that the State should reorder society based on their pragmatic moral commitments (a mixture of utility and libertinism), and that we should all be forced to get along in one big happy unified country

The Republicans are the Progressive-light party. Since they are the party of Hamilton and Lincoln, they are in favor of gigantic corporations, even when those gigantic corporations fund their enemies.

You can find conservative idealists among them, but they reside somewhere between the people in power and those on the fringes. Their conservatism is only slightly more closely allied with historical conservatism than the Democrats liberalism is allied with historical liberalism.

On the fringes, they believe that religion is the only source of good in the world, that the state has no legitimate role to play in the ordering of society except to defend the homeland, that the real reason for guns is to shoot the tank driver when the feds come to take your children away to their state indoctrination centers called schools, and that we should all be left alone to get along as we see fit.

The game is lost, for the conservative, on two fronts. First, the Progressives have such complete control over education that even in “conservative Christian schools” the Progressive model is followed and Progressive techniques are used to teach.

As a result, Christian schools don’t do a good job of producing Christian kids and they don’t understand why 12 years of A Beka science haven’t inoculated their kids against the Dorm Brothel of college morality.

Furthermore, the colleges are entirely devoted to the Progressive mentality, including and maybe especially in the business schools. I saw a book at the airport that was written by a Harvard MBA student.

I don’t remember the author or title, but he let’s you know how utterly Utilitarian the school is, particularly in matters of ethics.

The second front is financial. We simply love money more than anything else. The “conservative” tends to think highly of Milton Friedman. I like some of his ideas myself. But his statement that the only purpose of a business is to turn a profit for its investors reflects an aversion to ethics that I can’t accept.

The worst thing that can happen to a man or to a business is to do evil, not to fail or die.

And there’s the core agreement between our parties and the American people: no matter what, we must survive. We must be top dog.

There, in turn, we see why the true Christian faith will win in the end. We won’t set ourselves on fire, in the manner of the Buddhist monk. We do like it when we’re set on fire by the Eternal Flame.

But the saints have proven over the centuries that they’ll die before doing evil.

Which leads me to the real point and third front. The evangelical church in America is not the evangelical church I grew up in and the one I grew up in was not the one my father grew up in.

It has lost its way.

Evangelicalism has become party spirited, taking the tone of an Ann Coulter. It’s driven by the market, many churches measuring how they should do their work the same way any other business or government agency does.

If you asked 100 pastors what is the nature of the church, you’d get a diversity of answers, but most of them would, I am quite certain, revolve around some utilitarian definition. The church is what it does.

Sounds great.

But it’s false. In fact, it’s Progressive, just like the two political parties, the public schools, and the various branches of the government.

The Church is the fulness of Him who fills all things.

Market driven people don’t make good martyrs. People who measure their pastoral success by the size of their congregations and the professionalism of their operations don’t make good lovers.

So in the real world, our country continues a decline in some areas and an ascent in others. But neither political party can draw us out of our Progressive/Utilitarian worldview and neither can the Evangelical church, so pleased with itself for continuing to oppose gay rights and abortion, while, practically, accepting fornication and serial adultery.

Maybe in the next generation enough home schooled and classically educated kids will take leadership and have some idea what they are about and what they are up against.

Then maybe we’ll see a gradual weakening of the control of education by the state, of the obsession with giantism by the corporations, and of the parallel obsession with growth by the churches. Maybe people will remember that God gave things a nature and that we have to respect the nature of things.

Maybe.

My Greatest Fear Realized?

Reports and rumblings have been coming to me lately that have tempted me to sink into despair for our country again.

15 years ago, relatively few materials were available for home educators and those who educated at home were a rather radical bunch – though even then the folks from 25 years ago would have smiled down on them.

Everything has changed now. Home education is mainstream. The publishing companies have found it marvelously profitable. The home educators insecurities have driven them to the bottom of the heap for validation.

And now I’m hearing that a “rash” of home educated kids are unable to score high enough on the ACT to get into college.

That’s ridiculous. And it’s the fault of the text book publishers. And the fearful parents who buy them.

Do you know why home educated kids used to think better than their peers? Because there were so few professinal materials available to them. They had no option but to think.

Now, I’m told, home schooled (because now we have to say they’re home schooled instead of home educated) parents are putting their kids in front of the DVD and letting the DVD teach the child.

If this is the case, and if it is widespread in the home school movement, then our country is finished. The home educated child was our country’s last hope. But if that child isn’t having to think and adapt and come up with solutions, if he just has to sit in front of the DVD lecture, it’s game over.

Better to go in the backyard and throw sticks at birds. At least then you don’t know what might come next.