Monday, August 15, 2016

Repairing the Ruins by Douglas Wilson, ed.

As part of my desire to educate myself classically and become equipped to teach in a classical manner, I stumbled across the writings of Douglas Wilson. I started with Repairing the Ruins: The Classical and Christian Challenge to Modern Education. He has collected a series of essays designed to train up one who would incorporate the model of Classical, Christian education into his school. Most are written by him or others he works with in his own school, Logos.

Wilson strongly makes the point that all education, even classical, must be Christ-centered. He states, “[We must] establish Scripture at every point as the foundation on which to build all knowledge. Moreover, Scripture is known to be the final arbiter of whether such knowledge was built in line with the foundation. If Jesus Christ is not the Lord of all, then two added to two does not equal four. If He did not die for the sins of His people, then A and ~A cannot be distinguished. If the triune God of Scripture did not speak the universe into existence, then there is no universe to understand.” (p. 15) That’s some heavy lifting right there. He’s right of course, but I can guarantee that almost no one, including most Christians, can follow that logic. But if He is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life… then all Truth rests in Him and his existence. Without Jesus Christ as TRUTH, there is no truth at all. Wrap your mind around that!

Wilson elaborates, “… in Him is hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:3) Christ is the point of contact between God and man, and through this contact God imports knowledge to man. Ultimately to reject Christ is to renounce knowledge. Because of Christ the mediator, even finite, temporal, changing man can come to know absolute, universal, and unchanging truths. These include logical and mathematical laws, absolute ethical norms, objective categories in language, and inherent properties of matter. Non-christian thought can account for none of these.” (p. 55)

Therefore, we study in a Classical manner because the history of the West, IS the history of God’s working in our world. Obviously, Christianity is a universal religion, but its impact is most clearly seen in the West. Neither story can be told without the other. He states that this overarching emphasis on Western Civilization “is not xenophobic or an expression of any desire to react mindlessly to the modern trendiness of multiculturalism. If this duty of cultural education is neglected, the result will not be appreciation for other cultures but rather a poor training in one’s own, and a resultant contempt for one’s own. Cultural excellence in the education of our children is therefore not a side issue. Those best equipped to understand and appreciate another man’s culture is the man who understands and appreciates his own.” (p. 21) 

Wilson discusses the concept in education today of “egalitarianism.” He calls it the great enemy. While acknowledging the Biblical truth that all men are created in the image of God and stand before Him as equals, he is specifically referring to an egalitarianism that assumes all students are the same and should therefore be educated by and held to the same standards. Because egalitarianism demands equality of outcome, the system, by definition, must be rigged. Students are not taught as individuals gifted by God with different talents, abilities, and desires. They must be funneled into a one-size-fits-all institution. 

Classical studies are hard and require students to put forth the best of their God-given abilities. A Classical education must teach the child to value and enjoy hard work. However, we must not pile on work just for work’s sake. Some of it is hard because it is boring, not because it is challenging the student to develop his mind. On the other end of the spectrum, to simply amuse the student, to provide “edutainment”, is to short-change the goal of a true education. To that end, he clarifies, “All hard work is difficult but not everything that is difficult is hard work…What is easy for one is hard for another. Educators must not establish a course of study which levels or minimizes those differences. Diligent work reveals how God made the world, while laziness unsuccessfully tries to blur it.” (p. 81) To this point, he is unapologetic in stating that some kids simply do not have what it takes to succeed in a classical environment. Ouch…

He then goes into a discussion of what Classical Education actually is, what it looks like. He models the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. He readily admits that few of us were trained this way. It can make teaching this way, therefore, difficult. But persevere we must. This is why I am trying to give myself this kind of an education. 

One of the included essays reviews the book, The Seven Laws of Learning by John Gregory. I have read and summarized that book on this blog, so seeing it as a recommendation did my heart good. It means I am on the right track!

One particularly relevant essay deals with “The Why and How of History.” The author, Chris Schlect, makes a beautiful case for why to study history in the first place. “If learning comes through experience, then how much more does it come through the study of history! For history draws from far more numerous and varied experiences than one individual could ever attain in a lifetime, and this experience brings no bitter consequences to the student. Pylorus (c. 208 - 126 B.C.) had said in this same connection, ‘The surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others.’” (p. 151) Thucydides tells us that history is relevant, “because the past resembles the present and future, for no circumstance exists but that which is common to man.” (p. 152) I love what J.H. Merle D’Aubigne says in History of the Reformation, “The history of the world should be set forth as the annals of the government of the sovereign King.”  Schlect goes on to say, “Only when history is understood this way is it worthwhile and intelligible.” (p. 155) History is the story of what God did and what He is doing! What is more relevant or more necessary to protecting our children from lies than that!

The next essay is written by Wilson and covers literature in education. He begins with this sublime statement, “So what does genuine excellence mean?… We decide, before we begin, that we will not tailor our curriculum to suit the student; rather, we educate the student so that he conforms to, and masters, the curriculum. The process of education is larger than we are, and it transcends the generations currently alive. We do not set the pace according to the whims of a sullen kid muttering in the back row. The pace is being called by Homer and Jeremiah, Virgil and Athanasius, Shakespeare and Bunyan, Van Til and Lewis. As as this list should indicate, excellence in education means in good measure a literary education. It may not seem very practical, but when we are done we may understand why Lewis commented: “You see at once that education is essential for freemen and vocational training for slaves.’” (p. 164) 

Next Wilson describes “The Why and How of Rhetoric.” He describes one who is good at rhetoric as being, “‘skilled in speaking who addresses a public audience in order to make an impact  upon it.’ The language of such public speaking is commonly loftier than ordinary discourse, but when it is effectively done it does not draw attention to itself.” Children need to be taught the effective use of language to convey accurately their points while considering the audience. He describes the components of a good speech. The Inventio. First determine what is to be said. Second, the dispositio or how will it be arranged in its logical order. The third is elocutio or what style is the speech to be given. Finally there is memorizing and delivery. All of these work together to create effective speeches and speakers.

The next topic tackled is Apologetics. He begins with a very heard-hearted statement, blaming parents for when their children turn from the faith. “Of course, the primary responsibility for such rebellion has to lie ultimately with parents who — however painful it is to accept — failed over the years to reveal the beauty of Christ in day-today- family life. Deep, genuine, and pervasive Christian living is the only convincing apologetic for those close to us.” (p. 185) Ouch, again. That being said, he also recommends apologetic training in school. He says we need to be “Christian skeptics.” This means, “we challenge and doubt whatever fails to live up to the ultimate standard of knowledge — the mind of the Christian God… Nothing deserves the benefit of the doubt. everything is guilty until proven innocent.” (p. 187) In short, we put the world on the defensive. We assume a Christian worldview is the truth and make them prove their claims instead of vice versa. 

He finishes the book with a section titled, “Making it Work in This Century”. This is filled with practical tips for those who want to start their own Classical, Christian school. I will definitely need to refer to this part as I make that journey on my own. 

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is a full-throated call to reclaim education in the most politically incorrect way imaginable. It is an eminently practicable book for educators to begin the challenging, how-to process of Classical, Christian education. 


He ends with just what I need, another list of books to read!

The Bible
On Christian Doctrine, Augustine
Areopagitica and Of Education, John Milton
On Secular Education, R.L. Dabney
 Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Douglas Wilson
√ The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers
 The Seven Laws of Teaching, John Milton Gregory
Why Johnny Can’t Read, Rudolph Flesch
√ The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis
Education, Christianity, and the State, J. Gresham Machen
The Messianic Character of American Education, Rousas Rushdoony
The Christian Philosophy of Education Explained, Stephen Perks
Christianity & Classical Culture, Charles Cochrane
City of God, Augustine
Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision of Middle Earth, Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, Christopher Dawson
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin
Ideas Have Consequent es, Richard Weaver
Classical Education and the Home School, Wilson, Jones, Callahan
Holiness, J.C. Ryle
√ Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
Idols fo rDestruction, Herbert Schlossberg
No Place for Truth, David Wells
Introduction to Logic, Irving Copi
The Art of Reasoning with symbolic Logic, David Kelley
A Concise Introduction to Logic, Patrick Hurley
The Logic Book, Bergmann, Moor, Nelson
Introductory Logic, Douglas Wilson and James Nance
Intermediate Logic, James Nance
The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame
How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler
√ The Iliad and Odyssey, Homer
√ The Aeneid, Virgil
√ Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare
Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide in Six Shakespeare Plays, Peter Leithart
Reading Between the Lines, Gene Edward Veith
Postmodern Times, Gene Edward Veith
State of the Arts, Gene Edward Veith
Apologetics to the Glory of God, John Frame
Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle
Ad Herennium, Cicero

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