I really enjoyed reading the excellent essay by Brittany Baldwin on Hillsdale College and the incomparable job that it does “educating for liberty.” Through my participation in teacher seminars at the Hillsdale College Center for Teacher Excellence directed by the brilliant Dr. David Bobb, I became acquainted with the love of permanent things through rigorous discussion and study of primary sources in a liberal education that is occurring among students at Hillsdale and teachers at the Hillsdale CTE.
I am also honored and privileged to be teaching at a diocesan Catholic high school in Virginia that is pursuing the same mission of a liberal Christian humanist education within the boundaries of the Roman Catholic faith and tradition. I have come to appreciate that fact not merely by reading the school’s mission statement or classroom syllabi but through daily experience with the students, parents, faculty, and administrators of the school.
At other independence schools where I have taught, there were lofty mission statements and impressive college admittance rates but frightening daily experiences which left my soul rent and depressed. Students were confused when they heard a faculty member praise the wonders of Marxism with the usual mantra “that it had never been really tried” after learning in my class that it was a fundamentally flawed philosophy deeply at odds with the yearnings of human nature and history. Another time they took a courageous stand against a professed post-modernist English teacher who threw the holy Bible on the floor after proclaiming, “This is the cause of all wars in history.” Besides the disgusting impious display among a classroom of mostly Christian and Jewish students, it was a remarkably obtuse and idiotic comment for anyone who has studied history even at the middle school level. Yet, in my class, students of all religious stripes felt comfortable in a setting committed to the vision of C.S. Lewis’ natural law in the Abolition of Man.
No longer do I work in a school setting in which the most fundamental truths and ethics of mankind, especially passed down to the students from their parents and faith, are so confused and questioned in order to “give the students the other side.” There will be time enough for that at most of the colleges they go off to in a couple of years (which is why I try to steer them toward Hillsdale College, Christendom College, and the like). For now, I am contented that the teachers are committed to teaching the same principles that offer reinforcement to those of home and faith for the parents who trust us with their children on a daily basis.
Just recently, I was pleased to see that an English teacher was talking about such permanent things as the basic nature of man, Original Sin, and the evil that men are capable of apart from civil society in Lord of the Flies. What an excellent book to examine while we were studying the Enlightenment in AP European history and the flaws of the radical French Enlightenment thinkers! In another class, they were studying for mid-term exams, and the books on their list were the Odyssey, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Inferno. I was not the least bit concerned that they might be taking a post-structuralist approach to the books but studied them with an abiding sense of their greatness and that of medieval Christendom. My U.S. history students related that they were reading the sermons and speeches of John Winthrop, Jonathan Edwards, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln from a rhetorical point of view and were glad that we had already read the same primary sources and examined them from an historical view as well as talking about the use of “parallel construction.” A theology teacher stopped me the other day to tell me what a joy it was to have me on the faculty teaching European history because the discussions of Christendom dovetailed so nicely with her theology courses. No conflict of values, no confusion, no challenge to the authority of parents–simply learning permanent and true things, fortifying and arming them against secular colleges and our culture.
The battle for our children’s minds and souls have left the arena of colleges and moved into secondary education as many young and idealistic teachers from elite colleges have brought all of the most fashionable academic theories into classrooms. Their ideas are almost entirely antithetical to tradition, religion, and most ironically, a truly liberal and humanist education. Our classrooms have become arenas for political soapboxes and progressive ideologies rather than the means by which we can and must preserve the accumulated wisdom of Western and American civilization from Plato and Pericles to the Bible and Shakespeare to the Federalist and Abraham Lincoln.
Have faith that some teachers out there have donned their armor and girded their loins for the battle . . .
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.