10 Sep

On the re-enchantment of education

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/10/21

Stratford Caldecott on teaching in light of cosmic harmony 

“It is fairly clear that if the Seven Liberal Arts model is to become an adequate basis for education today, whether in colleges or in less formal settings, it needs to be broadened and adapted. Even by the thirteenth century the Liberal Arts were bursting at the seams trying to incorporate new knowledge.

“In The Crisis of Western Education and other works, Christopher Dawson argued that, while the universities should concentrate more on the Liberal Arts and less on the Servile Arts, a simple revival of the quadrivium would not be sufficient to bring about a return to right reason. Young people need to be made aware of the spiritual unity out of which the separate activities of our civilization have arisen, and his proposal was to do that by teaching culture historically, using the literature of medieval Europe rather than the classical sources the medievals themselves would have used. Teaching the story of Christian culture may be the best way to 'maintain the tradition of liberal education against the growing pressure of scientific specialization and utilitarian vocationalism,’ he thought. (Thinking like this lay behind the development of the ‘great books’ program in many American universities and colleges.)

“Symptoms of our educational crisis, such as the fragmentation of the disciplines, the separation of faith and reason, the reduction of quality to quantity, and the loss of a sense of ultimate purpose, are directly related to a lack of historical awareness on the part of students. An integrated curriculum must teach subjects, and it must teach the right subjects, but it should do so by incorporating each subject, even mathematics and the hard sciences, within the history of ideas, which is the history of our culture. Every subject has a history, a drama, and by imaginatively engaging with these stories we become part of the tradition.

“We also need to confront the secular mind-set that makes the cosmological assumptions of the quadrivium almost unintelligible today. . . . The sheer amount of information available in every discipline is far too great to be mastered by one person even in an entire lifetime. The purpose of an education is not merely to communicate information, let alone current scientific opinion, nor to train future workers and managers. It is to teach the ability to think, discriminate, speak, and write, and, along with this, the ability to perceive the inner, connecting principles, the intrinsic relations, the logoi, of creation, which the ancient Christian Pythagorean tradition (right through the medieval period) understood in terms of number and cosmic harmony.”

— from Stratford Caldecott, Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-Enchantment of Education (Brazos Press, 2009)