Cheers to Representatives Amedee, Crews, et al., for their essay advocating a more responsible approach to public education than the social engineering model being pushed by those who are woke, Marxist, and so on. A focus on fundamentals in the classroom is good and needful, but the Representatives have narrowed the list of essentials a little too much. From their essay:
In our estimation, the mission of education in the public sector is to provide a foundational system that teaches, evaluates, teaches AGAIN if necessary, then graduates into the work force the school-age children of our citizens. The state is obliged to provide to the taxpayers who live within our borders a safe and healthy environment for students from elementary grades up through the completion of high school. Anything else is extraneous and potentially distracting and harmful.
. . .
The mission of our schools should be to teach children first the basics, then intermediate, then, where appropriate, advanced levels of instruction. Children need to be able to read. They need to be able to write and speak in the English language (yes, it’s ok to teach foreign languages, but English is the language of our country). They need to be able to understand and demonstrate basic skills in mathematics. Children need to be able to understand and apply varying types of science, including biology, chemistry and physics. Students need to understand and use the Scientific Method. Finally, students need to understand the framework of history and how our governments are structured and how they are supposed to work.
This sort of instruction, focused on the natural/physical sciences, has a valuable place in society, but to say that it is the essence of good education for all children is to reduce human beings to something subhuman, to a mere faceless worker-drone in a corporate business hive, whose only unique characteristic of his identity is his Social Security number.
No, mankind is infinitely more complex than this; and boys and girls and young men and young women require an education broad and deep enough to match that multifaceted spiritual and material nature.
What are the fundamentals of an education that is really fit for a human child? The excellent conservative writer and thinker of the 20th century, Dr Russell Kirk, gives us a good outline:
The conservative is concerned, first of all, with the regeneration of the spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.
He goes on elsewhere to criticize the shallowness of modern education:
Humanism is a discipline that traces its origins back to the Hebrew prophets and the Greek philosophers, and has existed ever since to humanize men. Cicero and Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were at once the Roman exemplars and the Roman preceptors of this humanizing process, for which our term is “a liberal education.” The humanists believed that through the study of great lives and great thoughts the minds of earnest men could be molded nobly. The process was both intellectual and ethical. This humane discipline, passed along in the literature of Christian theology, classic philosophy, poetry, history, biography, dominated the thinking of the whole of the Western world—until very late in the nineteenth century. Humanism persists today, but with influence greatly weakened.
. . .
But with the successive industrial revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with what Friedrich Juenger calls “the triumph of technology,” this veneration of humane learning began to disappear—especially among businessmen in America. Applied science, “positivism,” seemed to be the keys to complete power. Powerful voices were raised then in disparagement of the humanities and in praise of “efficiency,” “pragmatism,” “progress.” The School of Business Administration pushed the Schools of Theology and Classical Studies into a dim corner. People asked impatiently: Why waste years in school over Cicero?
A people can live upon their moral and intellectual capital for a long time. Yet eventually, unless the capital is replenished, they arrive at cultural bankruptcy. The intellectual and political and industrial leaders of the older generation die, and their places are not filled. The humanitarian cannot substitute for the humane man. The result of such bankruptcy is a society of meaninglessness, or a social revolution that brings up radical and unscrupulous talents to turn society inside out.
But this sort of narrow, industrial-style education is exactly what the Representatives are telling us we need. C. S. Lewis saw exactly where this utilitarian form of education leads in The Abolition of Man (quoted in another relevant Kirk essay):
Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat,’ than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. ln battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment.… And all this time—such is the tragicomedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive,’ or dynamics, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity.’ ln a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
This is the world we now live in thanks to our ‘education for the business man’. And this pragmatic education, Dr Kirk explains, also unfits us for the exercise of true freedom:
Dare I couple the words “freedom” and “dogma”? I do. It is dogmatic faith which makes possible personal and social freedom. Without some dogmas, the viewer is at the mercy of the seductions, and the banalities of the boob-tube; without some dogmas, the university student is at the mercy of the silliest arrogant neoterist on the university’s staff; without some dogmas, there is no reason why we should behave in community as spiritual brothers, or even as spiritual thirty-second cousins. Sound dogmata liberate us from enticement by fad and foible, from intellectual servility, from a society that is nothing better than a congeries of competing selfish interests.
This declaration by the Representatives must be revised, then:
Our school age children need to read, write and speak English well. They need to be exposed to and taught the basics and then intricacies of math, science and social studies. Everything else needs to be pushed aside.
The luminaries of the Church show us what revisions are necessary. St John Chrysostom (+407), Patriarch of Constantinople, one of the best pastors the Church has ever known, advises us on what needs to be ‘pushed aside’:
Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have great[er] wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing…Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible; Children about to go our into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge.
From this same great teacher:
With us everything should be secondary compared to our concern with children, and their upbringing in the instruction and teaching of the Lord.
The Martyr-Saint Clement of Rome (+99) proclaims:
The primary lesson for life must be implanted in the soul from the earliest age. The primary lesson for children is to know the eternal God, the One Who gives everlasting life.
The mighty African ascetic and desert-dweller St Anthony the Great (+356) offers this:
Men are often called intelligent wrongly. Intelligent men are not those who are erudite in the sayings and books of the wise men of old, but those who have an intelligent soul and can discriminate between good and evil. They avoid what is sinful and harms the soul; and with deep gratitude to God they resolutely adhere by dint of practice to what is good and benefits the soul. These men alone should truly be called intelligent.
Finally, St Justin Popovich (+1979), a most insightful man from the eastern European country of Serbia, says,
Let us ask what the goal of education is, if it is not the enlightening of man, the illumining of all his abysses and pits, the banishing of all darkness from him. How can man disperse the cosmic darkness that assails him from all sides, and how can he banish the darkness from his being without that one light, without God, without Christ? Even with all the light that is his, man without God is but a firefly in the endless darkness of this universe.
We once again give our thanks to the Representatives for their attention to improving public education in Louisiana, but their one-sided focus of turning schools into career training centers is misguided. Training in the physical sciences has an honored place in the educational hierarchy, but it is not the most important thing, nor is it suitable for all, or even a majority of, children. What all of Louisiana’s children do need in public and private schools from early on is a wider curriculum, not a smaller one, that will introduce them to timeless wisdom from the Gospels, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the monuments of Christian literature from the last 2,000 years, and the like.
Withholding these priceless gifts from our children will only cause more troubles to manifest themselves amongst us in the days ahead.