The Promise of Christian Education (so much less than it delivers)

May 5, 2014

When the course of my life is run and I am tied to a stake or lying beneath my final shroud, it will be among my sweetest consolations to be able to say that I knew the man who wrote these words:

My reason for concluding this discussion of the idea of a classical education with the promise of Christian paideia is not to convert my reader but to convince him of the profound and thoughtful integration of the classical and Christian traditions, which the modern school--with an alarming smugness--jettisons. Yet I believe that the dialectic between pagan humanism and Christianity must be revived in the classroom if education in the United States is going to fulfill its paideutic obligations toward the young. Although pagan humanism and modern utilitarianism permit an elitist form of paideia, Christianity alone supports our democratic appeal for universal classical education by ascribing a transcendent value to learning. 

So much for the charge of elitism. It is not the Christian classical educators who are elitist (at least not when they are being consistent with their own beliefs and traditions), it is the schools that prevent those students who are not numbered among the elite from getting a classical education.

A couple quick notes:

  • paideia is the Greek word for a classical education.
  • Paideutic comes from the same root. It means "having to do with paideia," thus, his "educational obligations to the young," but only if you understand what he means by educational.
  • Pagan humanism is not what is going around these days under those names or even under the accusation of those names. He is refering to the ancient Greek and Roman attempts to cultivate a virtuous man.
  • Modern utilitarianism is the philosophy that dominates our schools, arguing that education is for the purpose of adapting children to their environments, that it is measured by its utility, and that the mind can raise itself only to the level of the practical. Truth is missing from the discussion. Another term for it is nihilism (that is, education, like life, has no real foundation). 

He continues:

Normative education is both a universal human need and a divine imperative, because the value of paideia to the person of faith, whether Christian or Jew, is not merely social or political, but intensely personal and religious as well. For the individual who lives enthusiastically in all his human domains, the modern school's neglect of normative learning and its complacency with regard to either Aristotle's life of virtue or Saint Paul's life of faith is infuriating, because they pull paideia up by the roots and leave it to wither in the scorching sun of analysis. Consequently, our young people leave school somewhat confident and somewhat haughty in the means they possess, but incapable of knowing and following their human destiny wisely and virtuously.

There is no benediction in their leave taking, no majestic affirmation of the synthesis between paideia and faith, nothing resembling Saint Paul's parting words to the young church in Philippi:

And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, whatever is excellent and admirable--fill all your thoughts with these things. The lessons I have taught you, the tradition I have passed on, all that you heard me say or saw me do, put into practice; and the God of peace will be with you. 

Does this summarize for you as it does for me the heart, soul, and spirit of why you have come to love the riches of Christian classical education so deeply and why we are continually amazed by its ability to go beyond all it promises - which is not the case for conventional education? Here is an ocean of wisdom and careful thought summarized in a couple paragraphs that merit endless meditation. 

If you have not yet read Norms and Nobility by David Hicks, please do. First, quickly, to see what it says. Then, slowly and repeatedly, like a poem. 

Andrew  Kern

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the founder and president of The CiRCE Institute and the co-author of the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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