“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?” ― Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”
Among the loftiest goals of classical education is teaching students to think for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, teaching information about subjects is useful too (just ask the ACT folks), but to some extent for classical education, information about subjects is really just fodder for the mind to practice on as it learns to think. There is, of course, plenty of mimicry and memorization necessary to the classical method, but the end of it all is to teach students to think for themselves and to impart to them the tools of learning so that they can master most any subject for themselves.
Why should this be a topic today? Look around. We have come to the end of a political season (or have we?) that has been as contentious as any in contemporary recollection. The words have flown freely for months and have usually been contradictory in nature. Rarely has the truth been so tip-toed-around for the sake of a message that appeals to a targeted group of voters. Rarely have so many had so much to say of so little substance; and all of it given twenty-four-hour news media coverage as if it were the only thing people ought to be concerned about. This election has been in many ways maddening, yet there is no sign that this political cycle has been a fluke, a freak, an anomaly. No, to the contrary, it seems that this may be the next circle of hell in American politics (if I may borrow from Dante).
I am not naïve about history. I know we have been sinners since the Garden and that politics has been a mess since shortly after that. But then there was this American project that came along and seemed to have so much going for it. Of course, clear thinking Christians know that politics does not save and neither does government or education. But then there is this whole business about being good stewards of what we’re given. Well, we have been given a republic by some pretty smart and sometimes more or less godly ancestors. Can we keep it? Benjamin Franklin (in the less godly camp, I believe) was skeptical. Can we keep it? Seldom has it seemed more doubtful.
Many voters on the losing side of the presidential race are still refusing to accept the results of the election, still refusing to talk about the issue pertinent to the situation at hand, and instead distracting with propagandized, emotionally charged language that misses the whole point. I don’t bring this up to disparage one side or the other—if the roles were reversed there might be little change in how the losing side reacts…maybe. My point in bringing it up is to posit that many Americans appear to have either suspended anything that resembles thinking for themselves, or never had the ability to do so in the first place. Now more than ever it is important that we raise up a generation of thinking Christians.
Perhaps I am being naïve after all, but it appears to me that history has seldom been as ripe as it is now for a generation of thinking Christians to affect positive change in a system of government. What this country needs right now is a swarm of classically educated young Christians whose hope is in Jesus, not systems of government, and who can think clearly and articulate precisely, to step up and take the lead.
If you don’t like what you see when you read the newspaper, know that Dorothy Sayers felt the same way well over half a century ago. She said some things that ignited a small spark. Those of us involved in the modern classical Christian education movement are the benefactors of that spark. We are about the business of teaching generations of Christians how to think and learn for themselves. That will not bring salvation, mind you, but it just might—if we stick to our Latin and our Logic and our Rhetoric—it just might bring sanity.
Mr. Ron Gilley