When we talk about prospects of life for a student who has chosen the humanities as a course of study, we always fight the headwind of pragmatism that pushes toward the question “but what will they do?” Most young people are concerned with joining the adult world, whatever that may be, and they covet the signs of belonging and success that they see. How do we answer the student that says “I’m learning nothing useful” ? What arguments for the course of liberal arts do we have within the corpus of literature itself? What are the choices? Shifting the balance in the favor of the study of man himself by way of literature, we may start at the font of western self consciousness; the Iliad. Continue reading “The Archetype of Anti Heroes”
C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory gives the answer to the question of simplicity in the face of a crafty enemy –
“If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. “
What is Classical Education?
Thinking about education throughout history in the Western World, we can make some general observations. The tendency of secularism and profusion of modern sciences, has pushed ever farther toward the pragmatic end of education and farther from the ideal end. One strange question that appears as an orphan child in a crowded airport, is “what is the purpose of Man?” We understand this question as an orphan since purpose and Man, two terms, one extrinsic and the other universal and intrinsic, are no longer commonly understood.
Man’s purpose is multiform in the modern eye, since he does many things. The question in modern education has something to do with ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. Classical education realizes that you already are something that needs forming and leading in order to the best potential of that thing. He has an ideal purpose, and it is one.
What is Man? Once, man was specified as the rational animal. As he learned more, he could do more, and in doing he became preoccupied with his advancing alienation. Doing is not the same thing as being. Man leads with his will, informed by his desires, which he reasons toward. Classical education recognizes the will, the reason, and the desire. We discipline the soul, we form the mind, and cultivate the desires.
Secularism alienates. The world pulled apart into rational and spiritual concerns never completely satisfies, making man a stranger in both distilled environments.
The Profusion of Sciences absorbs and self perpetuates. Specialization produces the culture of the trained savage and the guild of the obscurantist.
By listening to the lessons of antiquity alongside the current, we honor the experience of humanity, and make room for wisdom.