Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Homeschooling By Faith Part 6--The Wisdom of the ages

[Picture: October train from Durango to Silverton, Colorado. The hills are alive with aspens.]

The first great distinction we see between the shore that modern education has set its sights on and the shore that classical education is pursuing is that classical education (CE) is seeking to recover and restore the lost wisdom of the ages.  CE recognizes that we are not the first culture in the history of the world to ask questions such as: How do children learn? How are their minds wired? How does one generation successfully teach the next? 

Furthermore, CE is humble enough to admit that even though we moderns have made some pretty nifty feats (men on the moon, Hubble telescope pics, splitting the atom, etc), we have created at least as many problems as we solved through our technology. The story of the 20th century is a display of world wars, mass genocide, and political friction. In other words, we as moderns have not arrived. We still are in need of learning from the past. 

Seeking to dip into the treasure store of wisdom the ages offer us is not the same as the attitude which says, "whatever is old is good, whatever is new is bad." This is making the same mistake that modern education is making, but with a different focus. All ages have their strengths and weaknesses. Instead of blindly accepting the fad of a different age, we are looking for principles that have passed the test of time.

But this has not been the American way, at least not lately.

Tracy Lee Simmons wrote in his recent work, Climbing Parnassus:

“We as a nation possess a weakness for new gospels, a vital but hazardous trait, as we stand in danger of discarding both the good and useful in a quest of the dubious and untried.”  (Dubious: of doubtful quality or propriety, of uncertain outcome.)

Again he writes:
"Education, that vague and official word for what goes on in our schools, has also been a trinket on the shelves of snake oil salemen and a plaything for social planners in America for well over a century. They too have been driven by the spirit of ceaseless innovation…We are masses to be housed and fed,  not minds and souls seeking something beyond ourselves [in the minds of modern educators]."
"Driven by a spirit of ceaseless innovation," Simmons writes. But this endless innovation which drives the educational theories used in our public schools is not the same principles of innovation that other fields use. For instance, someone may argue, "Just look what innovation has gotten us: iPods, the Internet, cell phones, cancer cures, etc." To which I respond, name a field in which innovation was successful by means of scrapping all the previous knowledge and starting from scratch. All fields use the past work as a starting point on which to build. Even if they find mistakes in the previous work, they still use the past discoveries as their starting point. But this has not been happening in American education.

Tom Spencer writes in Repairing the Ruins, edited by Douglas Wilson:
"Would you consider undergoing a new medical treatment that had not been carefully researched? Why are we so willing to experiment on our children? After 4 or 5 years, educators will realize that the new theory is not working. Meanwhile, they have shortchanged our children. We cannot give children their wasted years of education back...[For instance] After several years of experimenting with whole language instruction, Delaine Easton, California State Superintendent of Schools admitted, ‘We have made an honest mistake.’ She based this conclusion on years of poor test scores. Oh well, they had only been using these methods for the past ten years!"
I like how C.S. Lewis puts it in an article titled "On the Reading of Old Books" from God in the Dock:
"Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period…The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can only be done by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes."
Therefore, it could be accurately stated that one of CE's goal is to keep the clean sea breezes of the ages blowing through our minds. We have much we can learn from looking to the past. The Bible seeks to correct modern arrogance as well. Deuteronomy 32:7 tells us to:
 “Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations.” 
Jeremiah 6:16 encourages the same path:
Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is;
and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.”

Leigh Bortins reiterates this idea in her book Classical Christian Education Made Approachable:
“A classical, Christian education calls for a return to a blueprint of enduring value, an approach that produced highly literate Christians during the Middle Ages, and later, a body of highly literate American citizens.” 
The problem with the the endless pursuit of reinvention is that the future cannot be contradicted because it has not been tried yet. Those trained to make a hot pursuit of the future without any glance at the lessons of the past, indenture themselves to a life of ceaselessly reinventing the wheel.  Nobody can prove "such and such" brand-new reading method won't work until a generation of children have been short-changed. 

However, we find a model of education that began in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, was revitalized in the middle ages, and produced sterling results around the world up until it was abandoned over a hundred years ago.

Why it was abandoned has to do with the black flower of ideaology that began to bloom a few decades after it was planted in the middle of the nineteenth century--when Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto, and the transcendentalists published Walden Pond and Self-Reliance, all within a couple decades of each other. 

The weeds spread steathily at first--only the upper crust of society was aware of the philosophies. It wasn't until the largest country in the world was made a vast economic wasteland, devoid of industry or commerce by communism's poison grip--it wasn't until 6 million Jews laid cold in their graves, victims of Darwin's elitist idea of survival of the fittest--it wasn't until the 1960's sexual revolution, the rotting putrid fruit of transcendentalism's follow-your-heart mantra, had robbed 1 out of every 2 children of the blessing of growing up in a home where their parents are married--that the world saw the bitter consequences of those three belief systems that were constructed in defiance of the knowledge of God.

"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps 11:3)

They can begin the back-breaking work of rebuilding and reconstructing upon the solid foundation who is Christ. With classical education, we are working to restore what was lost--the Christian classical tradition which established the freedom in this country and is quietly making a comeback in countless homeschools, private schools, and even charter schools across the country. 

Psalm 22:27
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.

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