Thursday, September 10, 2009

"The Lost Tools of Learning" and "How We Lost Lutheran Education"

The remarkable Oxford scholar (and Christian apologist) Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) wrote an uncannily prescient essay back in 1947 called: "The Lost Tools of Learning."

Here is a quote:
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.
That which Sayers complained of has gotten exponentially worse, thanks to the age of television, the vast expansion of marketing and political propaganda, the rejection of tradition in society and the academy, and the experimental educational "progressivism" following the 1960s.

Interestingly, Dr. Sayers' conclusions are reflected by Lutheran scholar Dr. Gene Edward Veith more than 60 years later in his article "How We Lost Lutheran Education in the Missouri Synod."

Both Sayers and Veith point to the traditional classical educational model as the corrective. These are two very interesting articles to read in juxtaposition with one another. Though written six decades apart in opposite hemispheres and from two different Christian traditions, their diagnoses and proposed solution are basically the same.


Paul said...

Christian Classical Schools or home schools; is any other choice acceptable?

Past Elder said...

Yes. I send my kids to public schools, warts and all. (The schools, not the kids.) Lutheran elementary schools are ridiculous multi-grade classroom things barely adequate for basic education with no other opportunities, and I cannot think of one houseparent competent to to deliver the Seven Liberal Arts to anyone.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

I think a lot depends on particulars.

For example, in NOLA, we suffer from the worst schools in a state that is already 49th or 50th place in the quality of education.

Local public schools are a joke (with a few exceptions), crime-filled, failing, metal-detector equipped places that lack even the basics. They are mind-bogglingly bad.

50% of parents in the NOLA area send their kids to (expensive) private schools - mostly Roman Catholic.

My own congregation's school, Salem Lutheran (pre-K through 8th) has an excellent reputation, with about 30 kids per grade, with a music and art program, required chapel for the entire school (as well as Religion classes) and required Latin for junior high. We teach an unabashedly Christian curriculum that includes creation. We also stress literacy and critical thinking.

We're not a classical academy, but we're certainly leaning, if not moving, in that direction - largely thanks to our principal and his sense of leadership and discipline.

I believe Veith is pointing out the fact that there is a movement within the LCMS school system (which is second on numbers only to the RC school system in perms of parichial schools) to revert back to the classical model. I am seeing this trend among many Lutheran schools.

And I have to disagree with you about homeschooling.

I know tons of parents who do an outstanding job of teaching the trivium and quadrivium. They are certainly better equipped to do it than the typical public school teacher who is heavily trained in "education" but not in the core subjects.

The homeschool movement is doing wonders, and producing future scholars and leaders thanks to dedicated parents (mostly mothers) who are training themselves and refusing to take outside work in order to stay home and teach.

Again, maybe it is a local thing, but here in the South, homeschoolers are doing wonders, and even raising the bar for Christian and public schools to compete with them!

Father Hollywood said...

Here is a fellow capable of teaching his own kids. I think he could teach me a heckuva lot!

Past Elder said...

Particulars do indeed matter. Here (Omaha) the situation is not so bad as you desctibe, but similar. Many parents seek out parochial -- mostly RC, but also ours and "evangelical" ones -- schools for the same reason.

It was our ("our" being Nancy and I) intention to NOT send our kids to public schools. This survived one month of Kindergarten with the first one in our parish (not LCMS at the time) school. I did not even consider sending the second one there.

Homeschooling in my experience simply replaces indoctrination in leftist ideology with indoctrination in right wing ideology with an appeal to ancient ideals as a bone fide, in both cases a political agenda being paramount.

Of course, the biggest number of students, therefore tuition dollars, in our LCMS junior/senior high comes from our LCMS megachurch ...

So I send my kids to public schools, warts and all.

Oddly enough, it was finding out about the case of a guy who got excommunicated from his LCMS congregation for doing that in Ohio about 100 years ago, and how that played out, that completed the nudge of fine Lutheran bloggers like yourself and got me in LCMS.

That article was on the long history of LCMS not quite standing up for what it says it stands up for, and was posted on Consensus, which appears to have vanished in cyberspace with no explanation. Got one?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

I don't really understand your view of "indoctrination" with a political ideology.

There is little doubt that public school leans to the left. Homeschool education can lean far to the left, far to the right, or solidly in the middle - as the parents have control.

When the parents are in control, I don't know that the term "indoctrination" is the best word, as "indoctrination" has the sense of being involuntary and over the objections of the parents.

Ultimately, parents are responsible for their children's education, and they ultimately can choose public (more accurately "government") schools, private schools, or home schools.

The most parental control and freedom is obviously given in a homeschool. And a homeschool run by dyed-in-the-wool leftists is going to be quite different than that of staunch right-wingers.

I think there is something to be said for that.

Past Elder said...

I hope I've been clear that I am not a fan of public schools. Hell, next time I'm at one of those damn "book fairs" I might just raise a stink about the witch stories being an endorsement of a religious belief.

I have yet to see a homeschooler who is not right-wing politically. They seem to be the only people who object to the liberal slant of public schools to the extent that they try to undertake their children's education directly themselves, which might have worked in the days where a son learned his father's trade but not now.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

I just have no idea where you are getting the idea that homeschooling can't and doesn't work today. Goodness!

In my own circles alone, I know lots of folks who homeschool for a whole plethora of reasons - and their children are smart, well-adjusted, and truly educated.

It's not for everyone, to be sure. But you make it sound like it can't be done. The old saying often proves true: "Those who say it can;t be done are often interrupted by those who are doing it." ;-)

And, if you investigate the various curricula in use, you will find the entire spectrum represented. I suspect more lean to the right than to the left, but I'm not prepared to make it a rule.

Matthias Flacius said...

Excellent articles. As a very involved parent at one of the those Lutheran elementary multi-grade classrooms, I submit that Past Elder doesn't know what he's talking about. The biggest complaint of the parents at our classical Lutheran multi-grade elementary school is that it is too difficult. Most of left our school for personality differences with a teach or because it was too difficult. I don't understand how having 20-30 kids in a public elementary classroom is going to be any better. Honestly, I believe it could be different for different children.

However, I can relate to the tuition dollars and the megachurch at the middle/high school as I am in a similar situation.

Whether parents put the kids in public schools, parochial schools or teaches them at home, we are all "homeschooling." We also all pass on our beliefs about God, politics, etc to our kids. The indoctrination argument is a straw man.

Matthias Flacius said...

Sorry for the bad editing on my part. I should have learned more properly.

Past Elder said...

I don't know of anyone who homeschools who wouldn't make Reagan look left of FDR. If they're out there, OK, but I don't see or hear of them, only those doing it to escape the agenda of the NEA etc.

The "classic schools" were not parents teaching their kids at home, so I don't find much in parents teaching their kids at home that reminds me of classic schools other than homage to the idea.

As to multi-grade classroom schools, having resolved from before their births to put my kids in ours, that did not survive a month of actual experience of multi-grade classroom school, and the utter incompetence of those who supposedly have a "call" to teach in them was a major factor in changing synods.

We have, or had, two LCMS elementary schools here, neither multi-classroom, and watching the consolidation into one, they could have taken lessons in manners and ethics from Bernie Madoff -- though they didn't need them with the "8th Commandment" and "best construction" etc to hide behind.

So I send my kids to the public schools, warts and all.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

If kids leave a school because it is "too hard" maybe it is too hard for that student. Maybe the student isn't placed in the right grade. Maybe the student doesn't have the capability to do the work. It is an easy out for the school to let that student go rather and adapt to the student or use other means of instruction to encourage that student. The public school, on the other hand, have to take your kids, even if they aren't all that bright or motivated. Private school kids are at least "motivated" by the fact that the parents are paying big bucks.

And public schools are public. You are all welcome to run for the school board.