A while back we hosted a conference called A Contemplation of Rest in which we asserted that a Christian education has to take place in a state, not of anxiety, but of rest.
Of the three general forms of education, classical, traditional, and conventional, the greatest contrasts are between conventional and classical education. What I mean by conventional is simply the way things are done in schools, generally speaking, these days. It has philosophical roots, but people tend not to think about them.
In this post, I am going simply to list a few areas that classical and conventional education have in common and then express some differences. In future posts, I will try to develop some of these thoughts further. We'll see what happens.
Classical education has a reputation for being elitist, a form of learning for the upper classes, used to keep their positions in society. As one who grew up nearly poor by American standards and who has spent his entire life in the lower middle class, I find myself both sympathetic and scornful of that view: sympathetic because there is no doubt that if I had gone to Phillips-Andover* I would have been given a more rigorous education, scornful because I have still been able to devote my life to seeking and spreading a classical education.
Late 19th century and early 20th century industrialists had to prevent workers from making decisions, because that would interfere with productivity. The effect was to reduce the lives of the works to sub-human routines (it may be worth comparing that practice with Josh Gibb's article from yesterday about the place of liturgies!).
The labor unions were formed to defend the workers from abuse, but to a great extent they accepted the industrialist premise. People should not have to make their own decisions.
Some people want things more centralized and some people want things decentralized. It would be nice if it could be one or the other, but as with all things, we have to know the "thing" being organized before we can know how centralized it ought to be. We also need to know what centralization means.
Archimedes famously said, “Give me a lever and I can move the world.”
The world has been moved.
The lever by which the world has been moved is an idea, and that idea is “nature.”
Two hundred some years ago, our forefathers founded on this continent a new nation, conceived in “the law of nature and of nature’s God.” Not very long ago, a prospective supreme court justice was more or less derided for having appealed to the natural law in earlier decisions.
The world has been moved.
Modern progressive education produces slaves. It does so by remembering the following principles.
1. A slave’s education is coercive
2. The slave is not told why he is being forced to be educated
3. A slave’s education keeps the slave dependent on the thoughts of others
4. A slave’s education keeps the slave weak
5. A Slave’s education prepares him to work for others instead of preparing him to work for himself
The holy grail of classical education is the integrated curriculum. What a chalice that would be!
Two things have kept us from finding it. The first is that we've been looking in the wrong place. The second is that there hasn't been an integrating tool.
First, we've been looking in the wrong place. Put simply, I mean that we have been looking at the content of our curriculum in terms of the material we cover. The information, the checklists, the data - if you like.
I got to meet a neighbor today and we struck up a conversation about his business and what we do at CiRCE. When I started to talk about education and how we don't focus on wisdom and virtue, I expected him to tune out. Instead he described how one of his employees didn't know what a customer meant when she was asked to divide something by 1/3.
He said we need well-rounded people who can make "educated decisions."
Until catholic Institutions throw off the yoke of the accrediting boards, and exercise a free judgment on basic educational questions, they will never be able to realize in practice any of the principles which belong to Catholic education.
Reforming Education: The Order of Learning, page 185, 186