thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers

C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man:

Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them — how Plato would have every infant “a bastard nursed in a bureau”, and Elyot would have the boys see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry — we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.

the future is eating us alive

That’s the most interesting question in the world. How big is big enough? The Amish pretty much have solved it. Industrialism doesn’t propose a limit. David Kline, my friend, went to a Mennonite meeting. They were asking what community meant. And he said, “When my son and I are plowing in the spring, we rest our teams at the highest point on our farm. And from there we can see 13 teams at work. And I know that if I got sick or died those 13 teams would be at work on my farm.” Rightness of scale, you see, permits obedience to the Gospel’s Second Law.

…I like my physical life. I mean, I’m committed to live my physical life. I want to live my actual life, my body’s life, and die my body’s death with as little interference as possible. But I think that life for most people is getting less physical all the time. There’s a sort of death wish now operating among us. The future is eating us alive. If you’re obsessed with the future you can’t live in the present, and the present is the only time you’re alive. If you’re alive in the present, however bad the world is, goodwill still has scope to operate. You still can do a little something to make it better. Now is when the butterflies are flying and the flowers are blooming and the people who love you are putting their hands on you. That’s where it’s happening.

…If the teacher thinks that the place she’s teaching in is a good and worthy place then certain things are going to be communicated. “I’m teaching you things that could make you a powerful person. I don’t want you to start from here and get an education and come back here and desecrate this place.” Now most teaching has been done by people who think, “Coming from here is no advantage. I’m trying to give you something that will help you go to a better place.” Nowadays we easily forget that education makes bad people worse. But if you’re teaching for homecoming you can’t forget it.

Wendell Berry in this interview.

a king who knows his ken

We no longer respect the idea that some things are “beyond our ken.” We don’t treat knowledge as a serious responsibility, to be given and received slowly and with clear purpose. We no longer think of education as a cultivation of our desires or our capacity for wonder. Instead, education is the amassing of information or the mastery of skills that have no immediate connection to our personal responsibilities or our actual life experiences.

To be healthy, knowledge should always be directly connected to our actual relationships, abilities, and responsibilities. Knowledge in isolation (or for its own sake), leads to apathy, arrogance, and abuses of power. “Stand alone” knowledge is corrosive to the soul. Knowledge is power, and we must have real responsibilities and learn true respect before we wield this power.

It is no coincidence that these English words all share the same Anglo Saxon roots: can, kin, king, ken, and know. If we do not make sure that these words all stay closely related within our own lives, we just end up with young adults who think that they “ken” everything but who “can” do almost nothing of true value for their “kin.” In this condition, we don’t truly “know” anything or enjoy the blessed protection of any wise “kings.” But these days, who wants a king who knows his ken? Yet we are each called to be such a king, following the one who makes us his kin and who taught us to pray “not my will but yours be done.”

what if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions

From Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith:

What if education … is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions – our visions of ‘the good life’ – and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? …

What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”

the arts of preserving the formal integrity of the things we receive as wholes already formed

We can, to be sure, see parts and so believe in them. But there has always been a higher seeing that informs us that parts, in themselves, are of no worth. Genesis is right: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The phrase “be alone” is a contradiction in terms. A brain alone is a dead brain. A man alone is a dead man.

…A proper attention to language, moreover, informs us that the Greek root of “anatomy” means “dissection,” and that of “analysis” means “to undo.” …I suppose that the nearest antonym to both is a word we borrow directly from the Greek: poiesis, making or creation, which suggests that the work of the poet, the composer or maker, is the necessary opposite to that of the analyst and the anatomist. Some scientists, I think, are in this sense poets.

But we appear to be deficient in learning or teaching a competent concern for the way that parts are joined. We certainly are not learning or teaching adequately the arts of forming parts into wholes, or the arts of preserving the formal integrity of the things we receive as wholes already formed.

…My premise is that there is a scale of work at which our minds are as effective and even as harmless as they ought to be, at which we can be fully responsible for consequences and there are no catastrophic surprises. But such a possibility does not excite us.

What excites us is some sort of technological revolution. …But these revolutions—all with something to sell that the people or their government “must” buy—are mere episodes of the …Industrial Revolution …[which has always existed] to market its products, regardless of their usefulness or their effects, at the highest possible profit.

…Scared for health, afraid of death, bored, dissatisfied, vengeful, greedy, ignorant, and gullible—these are the qualities of the ideal consumer. Can we imagine a way of education that would turn passive consumers into active and informed critics, capable of using their own minds in their own defense? It will not be the purely technical education-for-employment now advocated by the most influential “educators” and “leaders.”

We have good technical or specialized criticism: A given thing is either a good specimen of its kind or it is not. A valid general criticism would measure work against its context. The health of the context—the body, the community, the ecosystem—would reveal the health of the work.

Our Only World by Wendell Berry (4-14).

people who can be started by common things

Indeed, it is a [tragic] fact that the same progressives who insist that government shall be democratic often insist that art must be [elitist], and “the public”, which is a god when they are talking about votes, becomes a brute when they are talking about books and pictures.

[The solution] does not lie in increasing the number of artists who can startle us with complex things, but by increasing the number of people who can be started by common things. It lies in restoring relish and receptivity to human society; and that is another question and a more important one.

…What the modern world wants is religion or something that will create a certain ultimate spirit of humility, of enthusiasm, and of thanks. It is not even to be done merely by educating the people in the artistic virtues of insight and selection. It is to be done much more by educating the artists in the popular virtues of astonishment and enjoyment.

From “Are the Artists Gone Mad?” by G.K. Chesterton in Century Magazine, December 1922. [Quoted in Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist (58-59).]

good taste in knowledge

Excerpts from the essay “Good Taste in Knowledge” in the book The Importance of Living (1938) by Lin Yutang:

The aim of education or culture is merely the development of good taste in knowledge and good form in conduct. The cultured man or the ideal educated man is not necessarily one who is well-read or learned, but one who likes and dislikes the right things.

…To be well-informed, or to accumulate facts and details, is the easiest of all things. There are many facts in a given historical period that can easily be crammed into our mind, but discernment in the selection of significant facts is a vastly more difficult thing and depends upon one’s point of view.

An educated man, therefore, is one who has the right loves and hatreds. This we call taste, and with taste comes charm. Now to have taste or discernment requires a capacity for thinking things through to the bottom, an independence of judgement, and an unwillingness to be bulldozed by any form of humbug, social, political, literary, artistic, or academic. There is no doubt that we are surrounded in our adult life by a wealth of humbugs.

…When a man is wrong, he is wrong, and there is no need for one to be impressed and overawed by a great name or by the number of books that he has read and we haven’t. Taste, then, is closely associated with courage, as the Chinese always associate shih and tan, and courage or independence of judgement, as we know, is such a rare virtue among mankind.

…Confucius seemed to have felt that scholarship without thinking was more dangerous than thinking unbacked by scholarship; he said, “Thinking without learning makes one flighty, and learning without thinking is a disaster.” He must have seen enough students of the latter type in his days for him to utter this warning, a warning very much needed in the modern schools. It is well known that modern education and the modern school system in general tend to encourage scholarship at the expense of discernment and look upon the cramming of information as an end in itself, as if a great amount of scholarship could already make an educated man. But why is thought discouraged at school? Why has the educational system twisted and distorted the pleasant pursuit of knowledge into a mechanical, measured, uniform and passive cramming of information? Why do we place more importance on knowledge than on thought? How do we come to call a college graduate an educated man simply because he has made up the necessary units or weekhours of psychology, medieval history, logic, and “religion”? Why are there school marks and diplomas, and how did it come about that the mark and the diploma have, in the student’s mind, come to take the place of the true aim of education?

The reason is simple. We have this system because we are educating people in masses, as if in a factory, and anything which happens inside a factory must go by a dead and mechanicial system. In order to protect its name and standardise its products, a school must certify them with diplomas. With diplomas, then, comes the necessity of grading, and with the necessity of grading come school marks, and in order to have school marks, there must be recitations, examinations, and tests. The whole thing forms an entirely logical sequence and there is no escape from it. But the consequences of having mechanical examinations and tests are more fatal than we imagine. For it immediately throws the emphasis on memorization of facts rather than on the development of taste or judgement. I have been a teacher myself and know that it is easier to make a set of questions on historical dates than on vague opinions on vague questions. It is also easier to mark the papers.

The danger is that after having instituted this system, we are liable to forget that we have already wavered, or are apt to waver from the true ideal of education, which as I say is the development of good taste in knowledge.

…We must give up the idea that a man’s knowledge can be tested or measured in any form whatsoever. Chuangtse has well said, “Alas, my life is limited, while knowledge is limitless!” The pursuit of knowledge is, after all, only like the exploration of a new continent, or “an adventure of the soul,” as Anatole France says, and it will remain a pleasure, instead of becoming a torture, if the spirit of exploration with an open, questioning, curious and adventurous mind is maintained. Instead of the measured, uniform and passive cramming of information, we have to place this ideal of a positive, growing individual pleasure. Once the diploma and the marks are abolished, or treated for what they are worth, the pursuit of knowledge becomes positive, for the student is at least forced to ask himself why he studies at all.

…At present, all students study for the registrar, and many of the good students study for their parents or teachers or their future wives, that they may not seen ungrateful to their parents who are spending so much money for their support at college, or because they wish to appear nice to a teacher who is nice and conscientious to them, or that they may go out of school and earn a higher salary to feed their families. I suggest that all such thoughts are immoral. The pursuit of knowledge should remain nobody else’s business but one’s own, and only then can education become a pleasure and become positive.

Taken from this online transcription by Peter Saint-Andre.