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    The DtK Book Club: The Purpose of Education

    April 24, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    {Click the image for more book club posts!}

    So. Did anyone else notice that we actually finished the book? That’s always exciting! I would have written this post earlier {such as on Tuesday when expected} had it not been for the vomiting. Not mine; someone else’s. But still. This shall henceforth be referred to as That Of Which We Do Not Speak.

    And then let us not speak of it.


    So. Desiring the Kingdom, chapter 6. This is where Smith finally talks about education. It’s what we’ve been waiting for, right?

    So Smith asks the eternal question, “What is education for?” and then he says:

    [T]he most common answer to the latter question is that a Christian education provides “a Christian perspective” on the world… {p. 218}

    And I was shocked. Somehow, in the midst of all the worldview excitement back when I was in college and my university was in love with James Sire {and rightly so!}, I did not understand that anyone thought that a Christian worldview was the goal or purpose of a Christian education. I only thought it was considered a really important side-effect.

    But I see Smith’s point. I think there is a definite possibility that some well-meaning schools think that worldview is the goal. I’ve been seeing this more and more. “Don’t you want your kids to graduate with a Christian worldview?”

    Well, yes.

    Of course.

    And if they are given a proper Christian education, they will have one.

    Smith goes back to the classical ideals and echoes the great educational thinkers of the past {pre-1900s anyhow} when he says that education is about formation. The problem is, his arguments would be so much stronger if he’d call upon this tradition to support him. But he doesn’t, other than his obligatory references to Augustine.

    To me, he falls flat at the end. He’s been building up to this moment, but I wasn’t convinced that he really grasped a big picture of what a university ought to look like. So he gives three examples for three classes — what if German literature did this? What if Econ did this? And so on. He talks about chapel. He talks about the dorms.

    He ignores that some colleges already take these ideas to heart. For example, let’s talk about why Wyoming Catholic College doesn’t allow cell phones on campus, and asks students to forgo the internet and television in their dorm rooms. They understand that education is formative, and that the heart of the scholar shouldn’t be distracted.

    I mentioned that I’m reading a biography of Charlotte Mason. She understood the need to form whole people, too. The daily schedule of students in her college, which we’ll be talking about in future posts, shows this. I’ll share one little item, though. There was a time when alumni from the college offered to buy couches for the school. This would be so much more comfortable than the chairs currently being used. And wouldn’t this be a great thing for the alumni to do? An act of generosity? Surely it was kind for alumni to make current students more comfortable.

    Miss Mason said no. Her reasoning on another issue best explains her objections here as well:

    “Perfect arrangements and conditions do not produce the best preparation for future work,” she said.

    Every decision she made for her students was considering the whole person. Not just the intellect, not just the physical body, but the whole person. I think I kept hoping that Smith would get here, but he never does. Just as the worldview folks wanted to add a smattering of worldview into each class in the late 1990s and call it Christian, Smith wants to add some physical motions — liturgies he would call them, I suppose — to the classrooms and baptize them that way.

    But the traditional Christian university was very different from our modern one, and to some extent we have to question them at all, as they are. Smith never asks the big question, such as why is my university really a multiversity? What is the place of a major if we really believe in the unity of study and the humanities? He wants to add the lectio divina to German literature, but he doesn’t appear to have asked the question of what a traditional Christian study of literature might look like, and why, and whether the lectio divina even fits into that tradition, and if not, why not.

    I think it is possible he doesn’t answer those questions because he plans to explore them in future books. It’s just that I’m not willing to read his future books.


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