You Can Only Give What You Have

“No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got. You may frame the syllabus as you please. But when you have planned and reported ad nauseam, if we are sceptical we shall teach only scepticism to our pupils, if fools only folly, if vulgar only vulgarity, if saints sanctity, if heroes heroism. Education is only the most fully conscious of the channels whereby each generation influences the next. It is not a closed system. Nothing which was not in the in the teachers can flow from them into the pupils. We shall all admit that man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek to his form: but it is equally certain that a man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion, cannot teach hope or fortitude.”

C.S. Lewis, from “On the Transmission of Christianity” in God in the Dock


More About Formation than Information

The kids are back to school and the bustle begins: schedule, curriculum, books, assignments, all the fantastic accoutrements of learning. As this process picks up speed and the details of life in a classroom come flying at students and parents, it’s important to remember what is actually happening in this thing we call education.

What did you learn in eleventh grade? What classes did you take? If you can remember half the classes you took that year, you would be better off than most. If you can remember and put into practice particular skills you may have acquired or facts you memorized–equations from physics or calculus–it’s almost certainly because you use them today in your vocation or you happen to have a photographic memory. Or you cheated and just looked them up on Wikipedia.

I think it was Dorothy Sayers who pointed out in her essay The Lost Tools of Learning that a student is expected to forget most of what he learned in school by the time he is an adult. I feel better already. Of course she wasn’t talking about the ability to read or do basic math, but rather the vast minutiae of information we acquired and dutifully divulged on tests. Three years of college French left alone for ten years will be as forgotten as a campaign promise, n’est ce pas? Okay, at least the French can be recovered with review. But the point is that more is going on in education than a transfer of data. More is being learned than information.  Continue reading

School as Leisure

This is a Convocation Address I gave at Providence Classical Christian School where my son is in 1st Grade.

Finally, thankfully, heroically, hereitisatlastedly, summer is over and school is back in session! I know you’re stoked, you’ve all been waiting for it, for true rest, for contemplation, for composed engagement, for leisure. Welcome back to school. I hope you brought your leisure suits. What am I talking about? We get our word “school” from the Latin word—who knows it?!—schola, and that from the Greek word skole which is the word for leisure.

How do you get from school to leisure? Who would ever equate the two?  In his essay Leisure, The Basis of Culture Joseph Pieper reminded the post WWII Germans who brooded on the all the work they had to do in order to rebuild their country that “we work in order to have leisure”, and this leisure was not an idleness or laziness as we would understand the term today. Pieper says “Leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of the creation.” Leisure is what is required at school: attentiveness, inquisitiveness, joy, desire, interest, diligence, curiosity, soul and humor. Leisure is the taking in of creation, of gaining knowledge and wisdom through experience of the world that reveals the person and work of God. School is not for work, but work for school. This is why, part of the reason at least, your parents are working, right? To pay for this! So you can prepare not just to do a job, but to live a life. If life is more than working a job, then education is far bigger than getting ready to work that job. Continue reading

Religious Liberty in Education

From the Family Policy Institute of WA:

Thank You, U.S. Supreme Court: A Win for Religious Liberty in Education

Supreme Court upheld the Arizona Scholarship Tax Credit legislation that provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions made to private tuition organizations, which in turn fund scholarships for private schools – many of which are Christian schools.

Despite the loud voices of a few disgruntled individuals, complaining that the law was a violation of church and state, the court ruled that a legitimate claim did not exist.

In many other states, similar legislation is being considered. As a result of this tax credit, funding for private and religious education may increase, allowing parents to more easily afford a private or religious education for their children.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington gladly supports the U.S. Supreme Court for its commitment to Parent’s Rights and Religious Liberty in Education.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision

Arizona’s Private School Tax Credit Law

The Business of Education

“The business we call “education” — when we mean “schooling” — makes an interesting example of network values in conflict with traditional community values. For one hundred and fifty years institutional education has seen fit to offer as its main purpose the preparation for economic success. Good education = good job, good money, good things. This has become the universal national banner, hoisted by Harvards as well as high schools. This prescription makes both parents and students easier to regulate and intimidate as long as the connection goes unchallenged either for its veracity or in its philosophical truth. Interestingly enough, the American Federation of Teachers identifies one of its missions as persuading the business community to hire and promote on basis of school grades so that the grades = money formula will obtain, just as it was made to obtain for medicine and law after years of political lobbying. So far, the common sense of businesspeople has kept them hiring and promoting the old-fashioned way, using performance and private judgment as the preferred measures, but they may not resists much longer.”  –John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, p. 60

Illiterate Compulsory Education

“Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the Sate of Massachusetts around 1850. It was resisted–sometimes with guns–by an estimated eighty percent of the Massachusetts population, the last outpost in Barnstable on Cape Cod not surrendering its children until the 1880s, when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard.

Now here is a curious idea to ponder: Senator Ted Kennedy’s office released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory education the state literacy rate was ninety-eight percent and that after it the figure never exceeded ninety-one percent, where it stands in 1990.”

–John Taylor Gatto, January 31, 1990, from his acceptance speech for the New York City Teacher of the Year Award given by the New York State Senate

Generational Education

One of the most important truths for Christians in our day to burn into their minds is the religious nature of education. Not the religious nature of some education or the religious nature of private education or the religious of explicitly religious education, but the religious nature of all education, period.

The is a particularly difficult truth not on account of its clarity but rather because of the cost of believing it. For Christians who want to think at all, the public education system is a wreck, and not simply because of the literacy levels of graduating seniors (though that ought to be enough). A seventeen year old can’t get her ears pierced with permission from her parents, but she can get a complimentary cab ride and abortion under the supervision her high school, without her parents ever knowing about it. This is the law in Washington State, and the head of the clinic at Ballard High School, with whom I just spoke, defends it as a “best practice”. The law allows it and therefore the high school enforces it. If, as the child’s parent, you disagree and insist the school inform you regarding your child’s abortion, too bad. You have the right to know about ear piercing, but the death of the fetus is none of your business unless your child decides to tell you. Calm down and be assured there are laws about these sorts of things. Continue reading

Morphing Human “Rights”

One of the most confused issues of our day is the understanding of rights. Americans are supposed to enjoy the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and largely what this used to mean is protection from anyone who would take these things away from you. This “protection from” approach is polar opposite from what has developed and continues to develop, an “entitled to” approach. I am entitled to my house no matter how reckless and foolish I was when I “bought” it with no money down. If I’m in danger of losing it, others are required to pay for it through government bail out programs, the very others who acted with caution and chose not to engage in such risky behavior.

Any parent–but even as I write that I realize it’s entirely false because so many parents don’t–understands that if you don’t follow disobedience with consequences, you’re reinforcing the disobedience. You get more of what you penalize and less of what you subsidize.

Bailout responses to the financial crisis is only the most recent manifestation of the entitlement mindset that has been with us for well over a century, but it illustrates the point well. When you penalize virtue and reward foolishness, you get more of the latter. People are outraged at top execs of companies who received bailout money when they subsequently dole out all sorts of bonuses and massive perks. But who taught them that? Who taught them they could be financially reckless and still operate? Who enabled this? The same politicians who wag their fingers. Shocking: people who ran their businesses into the ground are still reckless, even after taking money from politicians. It’s like watching a man yell at his wife, and then turn around and yell at his kids for dishonoring her. Continue reading

Rooted Wisdom

Arthur F. Holmes does great work describing the changes in understanding education from classical humanism to modern science in his chapter “Francis Bacon: Modern Science and the Uses of Knowledge” in Building the Christian Academy.

So did Bacon succeed in uniting contemplation and action more closely than before? He connects them by making the creation mandate and the relief of human need the means by which learning should glorify God. The connection is not intrinsic to the sciences involved, but extrinsic; not an internal relationship that flows from their very nature but something external to them, an overall “add on” intended by God. It is a kind of “value-added” intended by God. It is a kind of “value-added” education, in which the value of learning is in science’s “practical” applications, not primarily in wisdom for its own sake, nor in transmitting a heritage of values that help shape character, nor in tracing the unity of truth and developing a world and life view. The focus in on what you can do with education in tangible, visible, this-life ways. It is not so much the liberal arts as the new mechanical arts, what we now know as technology and applied science, that are important for that is where power is most evident. Bacon, of course, did not intend the wholly utilitarian approach to education that the Industrial Revolution introduced, but intended to combine the new science with an improved humanistic education, thereby wedding wisdom to scientific discovery.

I’ve not read the Novum Organum yet, but if Holmes is right, it’s easy to see how Bacon’s view led to utilitarianism, which like pragmatism, is fine except that it doesn’t work. Contrast this “extrinisic” view of wisdom to that of the book of Proverbs where wisdom is as practical as avoiding cash advances and rotating your tires. Wisdom is not esoteric information, but broad enough to include skill and craftmanship. Bezalel was an artist filled with wisdom.

I also find this development interesting in application to church culture. Churches that live and die, or that think they live and die, by technology are tempted to think that “power” is revealed and harnessed in the embrace and employment of technology, a mistake which swaps the engine for the paint and leaves the most important things neglected. Opposite, the Luddites are usually suspicious of science and technology, and like the Scholastics left with their inane and self-consuming debates, end up a dying breed. Wedding wisdom to scientific disovery can only be done by seeing the agreement of faithfulness and ingenuity in education and indeed in all work. Creativity and discovery are Reformational fruits driven by sovereign grace.