Letter from The Editor
In M. Night Shyamalan’s film Lady in the Water, we encounter a character named Reggie who lives in the apartment complex in which the movie’s story takes place. Reggie boasts that he only exercises his right arm: “It’s an experiment,” he says. “It’s science.” The consequence, of course, is that his right arm is twice the size of his left arm. His thighs too, he suggests, are of different sizes. Reggie is physically unbalanced because he exercises one side of his body and not the other.
Many of us are unbalanced too—not physically, but educationally. We exercise only one side of our souls.
In today’s education, innovation is everything and the tried and true counts for nothing. We are supposed to exercise our intellects on the latest technological advances, but not our imaginations on the ancient wisdom.
It’s an experiment. It’s science.
There are two emphases in classical education that ensure that our children are not unbalanced in this way. The first is an emphasis on literature that is commensurate with our emphasis on mathematics and the sciences. Today’s overemphasis on what are now called “STEM” disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and underemphasis on language has deformed our schools–and the students who attend them.
While many children have never been taught the great body of literature that is our Western Christian heritage—and many struggle to read at all—we increasingly deemphasize the humanities in favor of the technological expertise that we think is more important.
The debates we now see concerning the uses of our new technological knowledge (everything from nuclear energy to human reproductive technologies to privacy-invading drones) should be a warning to us of what is to come: We take unto ourselves greater and greater technological power and are less and less able to judge how to use it in a responsible way.
Our technological muscles are well-developed, but our moral muscles have atrophied.
It is literature and the humanities that once trained us in the wisdom we needed to use the power science has given us, and we are now—thanks to several generations of neglect—already so blind to our own moral inadequacies that we can’t even see our blindness.
The second emphasis in classical education is specifically on classic literature. C. S. Lewis points out in his preface to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation that each historical age has its prejudices. “Every age,” he says, “… is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.”
This is what Chesterton called man’s “degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” We suffer from this because the literature we do tend to read is the literature of our own time. But Lewis points out that the books we need are “the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our period. And that means old books.”
Classic works are not without their own prejudices, but they are prejudices that differ from ours and are many times opposite to ours. “Two heads are better than one,” says Lewis, “not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.”
Originally published in The Classical Teacher Late Summer 2014 edition.