There’s a dark irony within our current educational institutions. It appears as if the very time in which we began to place a heavy emphasis on test scores and practical skills is exactly when our schools and students started heading downhill. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not mean to imply that there was once a “glory day” for schooling, as if everything was once perfect and has only recently begun to break down. Nor do I wish to claim that an emphasis on testing and practicality is somehow the only factor contributing to poor education.
At the end of summer, our family escaped to the Shawnee Hills of southern Illinois, where we have a small house. In fact, the house is so small that the ten of us find it more comfortable to spend most of our time in the yard.
Traffic on the gravel road was moderate that night, with neighbors slowing their Gators to take a gander at us. Then one of them pulled into the yard. It was Larry, so we knew we were in for some tall tales. But his first question was, “Is that a mandolin?” MANdolin, dactylic.
“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t really know what I’m doing with it.”
I’ve come full circle in many ways throughout the redeeming and re-enchantment of my own education. I have swung left and right with the pendulum and now, as I enter mid-life, I want to walk the balanced road - not of compromise but of wisdom.
I’ve definitely arrived at the place in my life where I want to have learned and embraced the meaning of living in the world but not being of it - and none more than in the area of technology and its place in our lives, homes, and...schools.
Joshua Gibbs recently wrote of the necessity of dogma to the right cultivation of wonder. He argues that wonder must happen within the bounds of orthodoxy; we must wonder not only about the truth but in the Truth. We must ultimately wonder in union with Jesus Christ, the subject (He is no object; He is a person, The Person), the source, and the end of all our seeking and striving.
Friendship is needed by all men in whatsoever occupations they engage. … It is what brings with it the greatest delight, to such an extent that all that pleases is changed to weariness when friends are absent, and all difficult things are made easy and as nothing by love.
—Aquinas, On Kingship
Previously, I developed the idea of the latent tension between the active and contemplative life. We must live in the world and work for our bread, but there are higher things than food and clothing. This is how Jesus directs his hearers in the sermon on the mount. “Do not lay up treasures on earth… but in heaven.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Classical education prizes the goods of the soul above goods of the body and rightly orders loves by placing them in their proper hierarchy.
Several weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked people to name a book they know they should have read but are ashamed to admit they haven’t. Answers ranged from To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, and A Tale of Two Cities (I salute this last person) to whole genres in general. Russian literature got a huge shoutout as a major gap for many people.
“When am I ever going to use this?” This question has plagued educators for generations. Students constantly demand a justification for the utility of their studies. No subject is immune from this assault. Technocrats would rather replace Algebra II with Microsoft Excel. Grammar can be shortened or eliminated because we learn to speak before learning grammar. The fine arts are especially vulnerable to the “starving artist” trope; you can’t eat art. Yet a true education will resist this creeping pragmatism and reach for higher ends.
I am often plagued with nightmares. They are vivid, violent, and visceral.
The other night, I dreamed that I was in a public plaza full of people: Some were milling around, some were protesting, and some were rioting. It was chaotic and loud. I was trying to leave with a group of people, and something made me turn around and head back. When I did, a man with a gun came after me. I grabbed a chair and held it up between us, but he knocked me to the ground, put his gun to my neck, pulled the trigger, and then walked away.
“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?