All we are trying to do is teach our students what is real and true. It is simple. Well, maybe not. But, it should be. Without a confidence in what is real and true we become unmoored and hopeless. G. K.Chesterton, a Christian author, concurs, “ It is typical of our time that the more doubtful we are about the value of philosophy, the more certain we are about the value of education. That is to say, the more doubtful we are about whether we have any truth, the more certain we are (apparently) that we can teach it to children. The smaller our faith in doctrine, the larger our faith in doctors … (Chesterton, 1911)”
I would agree with his contention that without the presence of theology and philosophy at the core of the modern education, this inevitably leads to two mutually exclusive concepts of teaching and learning that are trying to co-exist. He implies that this “constitutes a schism or schizophrenia at the very heart of the schooling:
“The truth is that the modern world has committed itself to two totally different and inconsistent conceptions about education. It is always trying to expand the scope of education; and always trying to exclude from it all religion and philosophy. But this is sheer nonsense. You can have an education that teaches atheism because atheism is true, and it can be, from its own point of view, a complete education. But you cannot have an education claiming to teach all truth, and then refusing to discuss whether atheism is true. (Chesterton, 1911)”
Chesterton regularly asserts, “The absurdity of the modern schooling’s attempt to build a university in the absence of universals. (1950) ” “Take away the supernatural,” says Chesterton (1911), “and what remains is the unnatural.” “Education is only the truth in a state of transmission,” he wrote on another occasion, “and how can we pass on truth if it has never come into our hand?”
One consequence of this lack of truth or foundation in the school is what Chesterton called “standardization by a low standard, (Chesterton, 1928)” a dumbing-down of standards to a lowest-common denominator of prescribed mediocrity. In the absence of an integrated curriculum in which each discipline informs the other, each part making sense in the light of the whole, the modern academy has literally disintegrated itself into a plethora of fragmented particles, none of which is in communication with the other parts. “Everything has been sundered from everything else, and everything has grown cold. Soon we shall hear of specialists dividing the tune from the words of a song, on the ground that they spoil each other… This world is all one wild divorce court. (Chesterton, 1928).” When reading the reviews of Chesterton’s statements on education I was reminded of a conversation I had about Common Core. First, I must say that I am ambivalent about Common Core. Since I am in a private Christian school, we do not have to and have not adopted the state standards built around the National Common Core. However, as professionals, we look at it, study it and see if there is anything to glean in our pursuit of excellence. –Pardon the digression. Amongst the many complaints I hear about the Common Core is the lower expectation and the indoctrination of a false and convoluted understanding of the world.
In a recent blog I recently read, “Ironically, in exorcising the unifying spirit of theology and philosophy from the core curriculum, the modern academy has doomed itself to fractious fragmentation, in which each discipline has exiled itself from all the others. In excommunicating theology and philosophy, the modern academy has paradoxically excommunicated itself from itself!” (imaginative, 2014). “Because the elementary school doesn’t teach theology,” wrote Chesterton, “it must be excused when it doesn’t teach anything. The bias of the modern world is so enormous that it will allow a thing to be inefficient as long as it is also irreligious.” Isn’t this where we are?
The modern fervor from almost any secular university and center of learning is against religion and is antagonistic and militant against Truth. They vehemently oppose a unifying Truth. Instead they prefer a hollow education to one that is “informed by the underlying meaning inherent in the truth-claims of religion or philosophy (imaginative, 2014). I would agree with Chesterton (1950) when he says that this is education at all: “Every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not an education at all (Chesterton, 1950 p. 166).”
A cohesive and integrated view of a broad education is contrasted with the “disintegrated” education of the relativist:
“There is something to be said for teaching everything to somebody, as compared with the modern notion of teaching nothing, and the same sort of nothing, to everybody.” (Chesterton, 1950) Whereas the former conveys a philosophy by which one can understand the cosmos, the latter “is not a philosophy but the art of reading and writing unphilosophically [sic].” The former teaches its recipient how to think; the latter prevents its victim from thinking.”
I think my argument can get lost in the condemnation of a modern education. Forgive me if that is true. Because indeed, I am really espousing that there is an alternative to this hollow education. Sure, the modern common school can have a robust amount of classes they offer with sparkling Chromebooks and magnificent edifices to their glory. But, remember at the core it is missing key ingredients. It is akin to the shiny genetically modified apple that is the perfect red with a shiny peel; but the substance is manufactured to look like the more nutrition realty. The triumph of a Christian school is unfortunately, the tragedy of modern education, perceived with such brilliance by Chesterton, is that it has left us perilously ignorant of who we are, where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. In a Christian school Truth is at the core. Truth is the mission. The integration of philosophy and Truth is the essential ingredient that makes a Christian school what it is. Those pupils and graduates of a Christian school are not lost and are not blissfully unaware that we are heading for the abyss. In fact they have a perfect navigation system for life and have hope.
Chesterton, G.K. (1911). Illustrated London News, May 13, 1911
Chesterton G.K. (1950). The Common Man, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1950, p. 168-169
Chesterton, G. K. (1928) Culture and the Coming Peril, being the text of a speech delivered by Chesterton at the University of London in 1928; reprinted in the Chesterton Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, August 1992