Opening lecture and discussion at the 2018 Sequitur Teacher Orientation on 6 August.
We can call the school year many things. We can call it a ride. We can call it a family. We can call it a cycle. We can call it a season. The metaphor, though, which best captures both this academy and this upcoming school year, is that of a voyage, and think particularly of an ocean voyage. I have found it increasingly accurate and comforting to refer to certain portions of the school year with this language. I think of the year’s end, and certainly this academy, as having a destination. I think of hard times as being tumultuous and wavy. I think of the year’s end as the time when we just need to guide the ship securely into the dock, to undergo a bit of summer cleaning and maintenance. Today indeed launches what is our seventh year of this academy’s journey, and it’s important our rudder is aimed where it ought to go, that our sails are pointed in the right direction, that orientation is more than just getting some policies and procedures whereby we can do the technical and administrative work of keeping the academy afloat.
Each school year is filled with new challenges and joys; this year is no different. But we will indeed reach our destination in May with great joy and growth, even enjoying the voyage with one another if we stay always oriented, if we are able to encourage one another to stay always oriented. Ever since our most recent senior thesis when Carrie Grace Thurman spoke on the idea of orientation, I have loved the word orient. The word orient, of course, has a Latin etymology. It comes from the Latin word oriens. As a noun, oriens means “daybreak, dawn, sunrise, or east.” Think for a moment on the words you know with oriens as a root. Give a few.
To be oriented means quite literally to face the east. What happens in the east? It’s where the sun rises, where the most important and life-giving entity in our physical world comes over the horizon to shine upon our face once more. To be oriented means to know where the sun is, to know where the center is. To be disoriented, therefore, means to not know where the sun is, to not know our up from our down, our east from our west, our sun from our moon. It is to be properly turned toward the one which gives and sustains life. Our gospel reading yesterday at church was John 6:24-35 (read it). What does this mean for our schoolyear? There is but one Son to which we must always be oriented, in our piety, our repentance, our allegiance, our happiness, our imaginations, and the truth of each of our subjects. Lose that, and the world goes dark. Lose Christ at any point of the voyage of this school year, and indeed your classroom, your lesson planning, your grading, your relationship with parents and students will fall under a shroud of disorientation.
But just like turning our bodies to the sun and being properly oriented means turning the members of our body to the sun, so it is the case with this schoolyear. In order to be properly oriented to Christ throughout the duration of this school year, our perspective and our desires on certain ideas must be properly oriented to the truth. For the remainder of our time, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes with you on education, and I’d like for you to help me see to what particular idea or truth each quote properly illuminates. What disorientation does each quote correct in us?
1. “ ‘The end then of learning,’ wrote John Milton, ‘is to repair the ruin of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.’ If this be so – and the Bible says it is – then the aims of education in America are all wrong. The purpose of education is not to enable the student to earn a good income. The purpose of education is not to preserve our American system of government and political freedom. The purpose of education is not world unification. The purpose of education is not to teach young people to trade. The purpose of education is not to encourage the never-ending search for truth. The purpose of education is not to put the student in harmony with the cosmos. The purpose of education is not to raise the consciousness of students and train them for world revolution. The purpose of education is not to prepare students for productive careers. The purpose of education is not to integrate the races. The purpose of education is not the social adjustment of the child. The purpose of education is not to stay ahead of the Russians (or the Japanese) in technology. The purpose of education is not to create good citizens. No, the purpose of education is far different, far more noble than any of these things. The purpose of education is to make Christian men, men transformed by the renewing of their minds after the image of Him who created them.” (foreword written in 1987 by John W. Robbins to Gordon Clark’s A Christian Philosophy of Education)
2. “I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not increasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt…..I am much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth.” Martin Luther
3. “True education is, in a sense, a spiritual process, the nurture of a soul…Every line of true knowledge must find its completeness as it converges on God, just as every beam of daylight leads the eye to the sun. If religion is excluded from our study, every process of thought will be arrested before it reaches its proper goal. The structure of thought must remain a truncated cone, with its proper apex lacking.” On Secular Education by R.L. Dabney
4. “A well-furnished library, and a capacious memory, are indeed of singular use toward the improvement of the mind; but if all your learning be nothing else but a mere amassment of what others have written, without a due penetration into the meaning, and without a judicious choice and determination of your own sentiments, I do not see what title your head has to true learning above your shelves.” The Improvement of the Mind by Isaac Watts
5. “Therefore it is apparent, that the ordinary appointed means for the first actual grace, is parents’ godly instruction and education of their children.” Richard Baxter
6. “At one time in my infancy I also knew no Latin, and yet by listening I learnt it with no fear or pain at all, from my nurses caressing me, from people laughing over jokes, and from those who played games and were enjoying them. I learnt Latin without the threat of punishment from anyone forcing me to learn it. My own heart constrained me to bring its concepts to birth, which I could not have done unless I had learnt some words, not from formal teaching but by listening to people talking; and they in turn were the audience for my thoughts. This experience sufficiently illuminates the truth that free curiosity has greater power to stimulate learning than rigorous coercion.” – Augustine, Confessions (I.xiv.23)
7. “The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.” C.S. Lewis in his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation
8. “Is it not the great defect of our education to-day (—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—) that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think? They learn everything, except the art of learning.” ‘The Lost Tools of Learning’ by Dorothy Sayers
9. "[A child's] character is forming under a principle, not of choice, but of nurture. The spirit of the house is breathed into his nature, day by day. The anger and gentleness, the fretfulness and patience - the appetites, passions, and manners - all the variant moods of feeling exhibited around him, pass into him as impressions, and become seeds of character in him; not because the parents will, but because it must be so, whether they will or not. They propagate their own evil in the child, not by design, but under a law of moral infection...The spirit of the house is in the members of the children by nurture, not by teaching, not by any attempt to communicate the same, but because it is the air the children breathe...Understand that it is the family spirit, the organic life of the house, the silent power of a domestic godliness, working as it does, unconsciously and with sovereign effect - this it is which forms your children to God." (Christian Nurture by Horace Bushnell)
10. “…the classroom is a place of joy fueled by the quest for excellence and the productive fear generated by the awesomeness of our ignorance and our inability to transform human reason into wisdom on its own terms, when it is unhinged from a living God.” (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, p. 44)
11. “A person who is a good and a true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘thought they knew God but did not glorify him as God or give thanks but became enfeebled in their own thoughts and plunged their senseless minds into darkness…” St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana.
12. “Education is a word like "transmission" or "inheritance"; it is not an object, but a method. It must mean the conveying of certain facts, views or qualities, to the last baby born. They might be the most trivial facts or the most preposterous views or the most offensive qualities; but if they are handed on from one generation to another they are education. Education is not a thing like theology, it is not an inferior or superior thing; it is not a thing in the same category of terms. Theology and education are to each other like a love-letter to the General Post Office. Mr. Fagin was quite as educational as Dr. Strong; in practice probably more educational. It is giving something--perhaps poison. Education is tradition, and tradition (as its name implies) can be treason…It is quaint that people talk of separating dogma from education. Dogma is actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education. It is education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching. _ ” (G.K. Chesterton in What’s Wrong With the World)
13. “…there is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish. For this it is which has laid down laws concerning things just and unjust, and things honourable and base; and if it were not for these ordinances we should not be able to live with one another. It is by this also that we confute the bad and extol the good. Through this we educate the ignorant and appraise the wise; for the power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul. With this faculty we both contend against others on matters which are open to dispute and seek light for ourselves on things which are unknown; for the same arguments which we use in persuading others when we speak in public, we employ also when we deliberate in our own thoughts; and, while we call eloquent those who are able to speak before a crowd, we regard as sage those who most skillfully debate their problems in their own minds. And, if there is need to speak in brief summary of this power, we shall find that none of the things which are done with intelligence take place without the help of speech, but that in all our actions as well as in all our thoughts speech is our guide, and is most employed by those who have the most wisdom…Therefore, it behooves all men to want to have many of their youth engaged in training to become speakers…” Isocrates in Antidosis (page 48 in Readings in Classical Rhetoric)
14. “If however, our students’ lessons could be graded by order of difficulty; if the minds of the young could be molded and shaped by long years of intimacy with the mind of great thinkers; if these crude attempts to form a style could be ruthlessly chastened and these budding talents steeped in the study of great models, then, and only then, might our great lost art of oratory recover her old magnificence. But what do we find instead? The schoolrooms packed with children wasting their time and playing at learning; our recent graduates disgracing themselves in public life and, what is worst of all, the very things that they mislearned when young, they are reluctant to confess in old age.” Petronius “Among the Rhetoricians” page 110 in Readings in Classical Rhetoric
15. “…study without prayer is atheism, as well as that prayer without study is presumption…” The Improvement of the Mind by Isaac Watts