You will notice as the summaries continue (interrupted these past few days by re-planking a deteriorating deck and a lovely little case of heat exhaustion… someday, I hope to learn “pacing myself”), that I chose to attend the more philosophical talks at the conference. I attended a few talks that sounded like they’d be more hands-on, “do this, don’t do that”, practical advice, but, well, they weren’t. (With one major exception: watch for Mrs. Billing in a few days.)
That being said, let’s continue with Mr. Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, with “What is the basis for education?”
(There will be more Chesterton on the blog in the future, because I did exactly what I told my DH I would do: as soon as the vendor area opened, I headed straight to the ACS table and bought one of almost everything. I did, however, refrain from standing on a chair, waving my copy of Lepanto, and yelling, “If you buy nothing else, you have to buy this book!“… mostly because I’d forgotten my copy at home. That, and DH gave me that, “Oh, please don’t do that, there might be people we know at the conference…” look when I told him my plans.)
(Parentheses are horrible, addictive things, aren’t they? (Or is it just me?))
Mr. Ahlquist opened, as usual with several pertinent quotes from G.K. Chesterton, on the excuse that he was going to have a very short talk… and a very long introduction:
The more doubtful we are about whether we have any truth, the more certain we are that we can teach it to our children.
We are learning to do a great many clever things. The next thing we have to learn is not to do them.
The obvious effect of frivolous divorce is frivolous marriage.
The moment sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant.
We’ve come up with the best communications in all of history, precisely at the moment when we have nothing to say.
In Chesterton’s book What’s Wrong With the World, he cited four main things behind the chaos of modern “civilization”: big government, big business, feminism, and public education. Why? Because they all undermine the stability and importance of the family. (At a homeschooling conference, of course, public education became the main source of discussion for the rest of this talk, but the ACS is having a conference in August in Maryland of the same title as the book.)
The problem with education, Ahlquist pointed out, is that we fail to define it. Everyone agrees that education is a wonderful and desirable thing. But what are we actually teaching? Everyone is educated… many of us were just educated wrong. We learned how to be ready for work, for the world, for politics… but not for the home. Our modern education system treats the home as preparation for school, when the school should be preparation for a happy home life.
I could hold up as an example the many programs about reading to your children so they’ll be ready for kindergarten. What about reading to them so they’ll love the stories, or love language, or learn from the stories, or remember the time they spent with their parents? No, no, it’s about getting them ready for the artificial construct of the modern school.
Chesterton argued that the home is the large, expansive thing; the world is narrow, with everyone in their circumscribed specialty or office. Home is where all the important things happen. (Although, today, birth and death have been removed from the home to the specialists’ offices, so that home is often as irrelevant as the bedroom community: yes, you sleep there, but your real life is all lived somewhere else, and nobody is very committed to the faceless, community-less suburb.)
About the time the world decided we should not be coerced about the form of religion, we decided we should be coerced about the form of education.
And, at this point, Mr. Ahlquist announced that he had actually finished his introduction and was going to commence the talk.
“Education is truth in the state of transmission.” Every education teaches a philosophy, regardless of whether it claims to be doing so or not. In Prof. Joseph Pearce’s biography of Chesterton, he recounts an incident where Chesterton argued against a minimalist approach to teaching religion in the public schools. Not yet a Catholic, Chesterton argued that teaching only the Bible would, in effect, be teaching a Protestant view of religion, since Protestants hold that the Bible is sufficient, while Catholics hold that the community of the Church is the necessary background to teaching the Bible. Proponents of the law insisted that they weren’t teaching a philosophy of Christianity; Chesterton would say that they were, they just weren’t admitting it.
Ahlquist proposed four key factors in a Catholic education:
- An integrated approach to teaching: subjects must fit together, your Catholic faith must be the backbone of your teaching, and your faith should inform every subject. Faith doesn’t go in that little box over there, separate from math, which is also separate from science, which are all wholly unrelated to literature.
- Provide a classical education: we must acknowledge the importance of tradition. There is a reason why some things survive and others are forgotten. Yes, Chesterton has been neglected for decades, but he is not forgotten. I could say that St. Augustine has been neglected, as well, but who even remembers the Arians he fought except as a defeated heresy? There are reasons why St. Augustine and Chesterton and Shakespeare and dozens of others survived as “classics” while their contemporaries have vanished.
- If you exalt education, you must exalt parental power with it. We are not too bold for rules, Ahlquist paraphrased Chesterton, we are too timid for responsibilities. Those who would throw off the rules of parental authority (and, often, the traditional morality that goes with it) are often appealing to our laziness about our responsibilities, not our boldness about throwing off the rules. Besides which, I would add, there are only new rules, not a lack of them. I hate to bring Disney in as an illustration, but do you remember in Lion King, where Scar is telling the hyenas they’re going to kill the king? “Great idea! Who needs a king?” they answer. Of course, Scar is going to be the king after they’ve killed the rightful one and the rightful heir, and he turns out to be an awful and disastrous tyrant. Getting rid of the rightful power (parents) doesn’t mean no authority, just a different authority.
- Educate your children to be warriors. Prepare them to transform the world so it’ll be easier for them to educate their children. If we, as Christians, fail to take an interest in the world, there is absolutely no guarantee that the world will fail to take an interest in us. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Finally, when you’re feeling that maybe they’re right, maybe education should be left to the experts, the people with the educations to do teaching, and you, as mom and dad, just really aren’t up to teaching your own kids, remember Chesterton’s warning: “We are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”
And then laugh and carry on.