The Most Long-Sighted View

Growing up, I was under the impression that the point of an education was to get you a job. You were taught a wide range of subjects because the job opportunities were wide. Some kids might become chemists, some engineers, and some ministers. If you became a chemist, then all those science classes paid off. The English classes turned out to be useless, but then again some students went on to become teachers and ministers and the English probably paid off for them, while the science was useless. You had to be prepared for all the possibilities.

That’s not the point of an education, of course. But it really wasn’t until we were expecting our first child a few years ago that Arenda and I began thinking seriously about our children’s education. It was about that time that I read a book by Douglas Wilson called Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, a book inspired by Dorothy Sayers’ now famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In that essay Sayers makes the case that children should be given a classical education using the Trivium, a method that by her day, the 1940’s, had largely been abandoned by schools.

I’ll be blogging more about all this, so I’ll get to what the Trivium is in a future post. But that ancient method has seen a resurgence in Christian education. That’s in no small part due to Wilson’s book, coupled with the successful school that he and a few others founded in Moscow, Idaho some thirty years ago. So many classical schools have subsequently been founded that there’s now an Association of Classical Christian Schools. These schools are traditional. The students wear uniforms. They learn Latin. They read very old books. There’s lots of memorization. Classical education may just be a modern educator’s worst nightmare.

Arenda and I are considering classically educating our children at home. That being the rather hefty decision that it is, we’ve been doing some reading the past couple years. One of the most valuable books I own is called The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to be an Educated Human Being. It’s an anthology of readings from Plato and Aristotle to Augustine and Chrysostom to Luther and Calvin to Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis. The book is edited by Richard M. Gamble, an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

He begins the introduction with a passage from Evelyn Waugh’s book, Scott-King’s Modern Europe. Scott-King teaches at a school that has apparently fallen behind the times, something that concerns the school’s headmaster:

“You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”
“I thought that would be about the number.”
“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”
“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”
“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”
“Oh yes. Often.”
“What I was going to suggest was – I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”
“No, headmaster.”
“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”
“Yes, headmaster.”
“Then what do you intend to do?”
“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”
“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”
“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

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