Modern education is all about technique. The prevailing thought is that if only the right “method” could be found, the problems would be solved; if a methodological magic bullet could be employed, all the problems would go away.
And since a method is all that is sought, a method is all that is found.
Those in Christian education circles talk about the “Charlotte Mason Method,” the “Eclectic Method,” the “Waldorf Method,” and “Unit Studies.” And those of us engaged in classical Christian education do our part to encourage this way of looking at education. We have Dorothy Sayers’ trivium “method.” We talk indifferently about what should be learned, as long as we use Sayers’ method to do it, which is why classical education is so often seen as just one educational method among many.
The reason we do this, I think, is that we are all living in the wake of the Great Education Shipwreck, which occurred roughly in the early twentieth century. The coherent vision of what education was for—the intellectual, moral, and cultural formation of human beings—was lost, along with the body of knowledge, ideals, and values that reflected those goals, and which was called Western civilization.
In the older classical education, there was a centripetal force, a centering impulse, that exercised a unifying and ordering influence over whatever theories and methods may have been practiced or proposed. Today we don’t have that. There is no longer any kind of agreement on what, exactly, education is for, so the force is centrifugal, outward, which is why proposed methods seem constantly to multiply.
What we have been left with is the flotsam of sometimes confused but always fragmented educational approaches, each floating around, disconnected from the other pieces of the wreck, and each, in ignorance of the ship from which they all came, thinking that they constitute the whole ship.
There is nothing wrong with most of the educational “methods” now available to home and private schools, other than the fact that they are disconnected from the other elements in the broad tradition of classical education. Charlotte Mason got the “Charlotte Mason Method” from classical education. And most of the elements of other methods had a place in the practices of the old system of classical education before the twentieth century.
They only now seem at odds with each other because they have been disconnected from the larger and more ordered system of which they were all once a part.
Those of us in the classical education movement who understand that classical education is more than just Dorothy Sayers’ “method” (something Sayers herself knew) have no problem with other “methods” that can be found out there in the educational sea. We just think they need to be brought together and put back in their proper place in the original classical vision of education.
Rather than founding our own view of education on one piece of the wreck, we are trying to put the original ship back together again.
Originally published in The Classical Teacher Winter 2017 edition