Thursday, December 31, 2009

Puritan Classical Education Besmirched

Recently a Reformed magazine re-published Gary North's innocently titled "Classical Education." But the subtitle gives it away: Classical Christian Education is Like Marxist Christian Education, But a Lot More Subtle.

In his typical shocking manner, he contends that "at least a third" of Christian mothers have adopted a curriculum based on the worldview that endorsed homosexuality, polytheism, slavery, and female infanticide--pagan humanism.

Of course, being a short article steeped with unfounded generalizations and assumptions, it is not exactly clear what the author is condemning when he attacks 'Classical Education.' Such an education is a three-step process of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. And it teaches Latin. But it is the Latin that appears to be the focus of this diatribe:

"To force a child to learn Latin is to encourage him to accept the premises either of medieval Catholicism or the Renaissance"

The unspoken assumption is that learning a little Latin with edited sources will lead the child to read the entire Latin source--the sources being either the original Greeks and Romans or the medieval or Renaissance variations. Then the poisoning of the mind will be complete and humanistic elements will converge into a full-blown pagan worldview (or at least a severely retarded Christian world-view). As though that has not already happened before the popularity of Latin!

Assuming that the typical Christian has a weak grasp on the Biblical antithesis, this is a serious concern. And assuming that Latin is or can only be taught with the classics, this could be a concern as well.

Not only that, the poor near-sided Puritans imbibed the same sewage. North admits that the Puritans used the classical curriculum from the grammar schools to the universities (but fails to mention that Luther, Calvin, Knox, et. al. used it as well). More importantly, he fails to explain the cultural milieu in which the Latin (and the rest of the subjects) were taught.

The English society was homogeneous on a level modern Americans little comprehend. Even when the Puritans were outnumbered (most of the time), many of the laws and social expectations were strongly influenced by the Bible. The same schools that taught Latin, instructed in Bible reading, rehearsed the catechisms and reviewed the Sunday sermon. This religious instruction, integrated with the Protestant Gospel, included the work of the ministers (sermons, catechizing, weekly lectures and home visitations) and especially the household instruction, catechizing and devotions by the parents.

When the young are encircled by such a spiritual phalanx, learning Latin with edited texts was not a means to "separate Christian children from their parents." Not by a long shot.

On the other hand, such a culture no longer exists. And many self-proclaimed Christians are biblically ignorant on a scale that makes the Statute of Liberty appear like a toy doll. So, learning Latin (even without reference to the pagan sources at all) will do little and may even be harmful.

It is claimed that using such a method (or rather learning Latin?) for over 1800 years is a surrendering of education because it violates the Christian antithesis--isn't that what Van Til taught? Using the classical educational approach apparently imported "alien philosophical categories into the Church." Yet these 'categories' are never listed. And the historical "evidence" is vague at best. Many things are linked to unfaithfulness in the rise and fall of churches.

In fact, it is not exactly clear why using some useful tools of unbelievers (like learning a foreign language) is necessarily wrong or will necessarily lead to humanistic compromise. Much of the article is based upon a slippery slope assumption--a logical fallacy taught by unbelieving logicians everywhere. In fact, Aristotle first systematized logic--does that make it suspect? Perhaps the children learning logic may be tempted to read Aristotle?

Such an amazing effort to run Latin into the ground by asserting its negative affects in history leads to a curious logic: the last 150 years has seen the disappearance of Latin with a corresponding increase in secularism and decrease in confessional Protestantism. If this is the fruit of no Latin, give me Latin schools any day!

I do agree with him that a good dose of Calvin's Institutes is more needful than Latin. But then, do I have to have one without the other? Or cannot families and schools teach Latin and Greek (as they used to)?

More significantly, with all this hammering going on North has certainly hit upon something here. It is Calvinism that is needed now, not Latin. It is a renewed knowledge of the Law & Gospel thundered from the pulpit that is the crying need of the hour. To return to the good ol' days of educational superiority, families and churches need to ignore all the educational hype and turn to the good ol' confessions of yesteryear. Rather than hyping up the power of this or that curriculum or method, we ought to return our children to the lost tool of learning that should structure any legitimate method, the Puritan ABCs: Alphabet, Bible & the Catechism.

2 comments:

mrspriceisright said...

Thank you for sharing this blog. I appreciate the way you address the supposed issues North brought up in his article. I regularly read "Reformed and Loving It" and saw a link to your article there.

My husband and I chose to pursue a classical form of education for our daughter for many reasons, but one I will share here.

One of the reasons is because the trivium of grammar, logic/dialectic and rhetoric are wonderful tools in training in Catechism and Biblical truth.

The grammar stage of learning is exactly when Catechism should be introduced as the simple, basic elements of Truth. This is where my daughter is. It is the time for rote memorization of the simple, foundational elements. In computer terms it is simply imput of data.

The logic stage is the "processing" stage. It is the time to start plugging in all the Scriptural passages that support the Catechism. The "hows" and "whys" are addressed in this stage.

Finally, the rhetoric stage is the persuation stage. By this stage, the student is expected not only to own and understand but to be able to share it.

A classical group in which we participate points to Proverbs 24:3-4 as Biblical encouragment for using a classical method. The passage refers to the three stages of learning as knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

This is exactly what we want for our daughter. We want her to have knowledge and understanding of her faith and the wisdom to know how to apply it.

polymathis said...

Your welcome, mrs. Priceright.

I'm glad the posting was useful and hope it helps others.

I generally agree with your assessment of the trivium (as an ex-engineer I appreciated your computer references!). It is a matter of experience for thousands of parents, pastors and teachers that most children become intellectual open and ready to learn logic (algebra in the public schools) around age 12ish. The trivium model fits that broad experience.

The general learning process of knowledge, understanding and wisdom I parallel with facts, relations and usage. Certainly by the time (ideally) our children are in the "high school" time they should begin to apply and explain what they learned from the facts and their relationships.

Your goal for your daughter is the same for mine. Keep praying and working for God's glory!