Dear ICE Subscriber:
Earlier this year, I received a letter from the headmaster of a Christian high school. The school, he said, is committed to providing a classical education. He asked me if ICE could supply materials that would improve his curriculum. I wrote back to him that the most important thing he could do for his students is to scrap his curriculum.
Peter wrote: “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (II Peter 2:22). He was not writing about classical education, but he could have been.
Classical education undermines Christian orthodoxy. Christian orthodoxy has tried to make classical education Christian for over eighteen centuries, and it has always failed; the reverse always happens. Classical education is a Trojan horse: Greeks bearing gifts.
Classical education begins with a premise: the student must learn the classics. The classics are pagan: Greek and Roman literature and philosophy. They were based on the premise that man is the measure of all things, that man’s reason is ultimate. The rational side of the Renaissance was based on the same premise. (Its irrational side was also a revival of Greek and Roman religion: occult, magical, and either chance-based or fatalistic.)
Medieval Scholasticism was as committed to the classics as the Renaissance was, though without classical occultism and pornography. The Scholastics were committed academically far more to Aristotle than to the Bible, especially in their political philosophy. They worshipped at Aristotle’s shrine. Prior to the eleventh century, medieval theologians had worshipped at Plato’s shrine: neoplatonic mysticism. The Scholastics substituted Aristotle for Plato. There was some gain — Aristotle at least was not a communist, as Plato was — but not in the realm of men’s presuppositions. It was the equivalent of substituting Milton Friedman for Karl Marx: better economics, but the same old humanism. For humanism, man is the measure, and man’s mind is the sole valid instrument of measurement. The Bible denies this view.
From the beginning, the medieval university was committed to classical education, and from the beginning, rationalism and irrationalism (mysticism) undermined the Christian roots of education. By the time of Cromwell and the Puritan Revolution of 1642-59, the Puritans suspected that the curriculum of Oxford and Cambridge was against them, yet they did not seek to change it. They hoped that inward salvation would somehow make Renaissance rationalism Christian. Cromwell changed nothing at Oxford, even though as Lord Protector, he was chancellor of Oxford. John Morgan writes in his survey of Puritan education, Godly Learning: Puritan Attitudes towards Reason, Learning and Education, 1560–1640 (Cambridge University Press, 1986):
Puritans did not venture far from the traditional academic routine. The structures of educational institutions, and the content as affected by Renaissance urgings, seemed to satisfy their need for an academic base. There can certainly be no doubt of the very limited effects of puritans to the legacy of the Renaissance, or in developing the human intellect in the Baconian sense of the `advancement of learning.’ . . . A novel theory of learning or education lay outside the necessities of a puritan blueprint for the future (pp. 305–6).
To indulge in classical education is to indulge in Renaissance education. To force a child to learn Latin is to encourage him to accept the premises either of medieval Catholicism or the Renaissance. Yet today’s would-be Puritans have accepted the error of those Puritans who built Harvard. Harvard went Unitarian in 1804. Christians know something is wrong with rationalism, yet they seem incapable of breaking with the past.
Van Til’s apologetics should warn us: the history of Christian philosophy has been one long compromise with the philosophy of autonomous man. From Plato to Newton, from Newton to Kant, from Kant to some cast-off liberal fad, Christian philosophers have sought to baptize humanism. They hope to appropriate for Christ the anti-Christian philosophies of their day or an earlier day. They trust the natural mind of the natural man, refusing to acknowledge the enormous danger involved: the importation of alien philosophical categories into the Church. And so, without exception, Christians for over 1800 years have surrendered education, and therefore the future (inheritance), to the humanists.
What is the obvious sign of this surrender today? The futile attempt to revive Latin. Why force a child to master Latin rather than New Testament Greek? Greek will enable him to read the New Testament in the original — an obvious benefit. But what is the benefit of Latin? Except for the historian of the ancient or medieval eras — for whom there will be no paying employment — Latin is peripheral. Yet it is seen as the mark of true learning. Latin was the universal language of the Western Church, i.e., Roman Catholicism and early Protestantism. But that learning was deeply compromised with Renaissance humanism. At best, Latin will enable a tiny handful of highly skilled, highly motivated, and poorly paid Christian scholars to read fragments of the Latin Church fathers. Meanwhile, we live in an era in which the vast majority of Christians know nothing of Calvin, where Calvinist pastors have yet to read all of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, let alone Calvin’s commentaries. Forget about Latin; teach the Institutes. Abandon the futile boast: “My child is receiving a classical education, just like the good old days.” The good old days produced the bad new days, step by step. The assumption of intellectual neutrality is the Church’s great enemy. Latin education was the primary agency used to spread this lie.
I see home school mothers who cannot read Latin, who have no intention of reading Latin, who are utterly uninterested in anything written only in Latin, buying Latin grammars to inflict on their hapless children. Why? Because somebody they trusted told them that “Latin is basic to a well-rounded education.” To which I reply: “Latin was basic to the initiation process of pagan and/or deeply compromised academics to gain control over the training of each generation of Christian leaders in England and America.” Latin was a wedge used to separate Christian children from their parents. In the same way that the sex education fanatics today devise ways to keep parents from finding out what teachers are really teaching the children, so was Latin for six or seven centuries. To open the doors of ecclesiastical office and government patronage to your child, Christian parents had to surrender him to the Latin-based curriculum, a curriculum that rested squarely on the autonomy of man. The child was initiated into classical humanism by way of Latin.
What is nothing short of astounding is that there are dedicated Christians today who insist on doing this to their children. They insist on reviving the tool of their ancient enemies in the name of traditional education. But traditional education was Satan’s own tool for capturing the souls of Christians as well as their inheritance. Satan’s agents abandoned that tool only late in the nineteenth century, when it became clear that mass education was going to make the traditional Latin school obsolete as an initiation process for the elite. At that point, the humanists substituted the modern curriculum, in which Latin plays no role. Latin has become a lost tool of learning. Let’s keep it that way!
Is there a role for Latin? Only historical. If there were a self-conscious effort on the part of dozens of Christian schools to create a cooperative program for translating the 220 volumes of J. P. Migne’s Latin Church Fathers, I would approve. But the cost — $65,000 for four CD-ROM disks, shared by four schools — is prohibitive. Christian schools do not have the funds or the vision to begin a project like this. Until they do, it is foolish to indulge in the waste of time that a Latin curriculum involves. The vast majority of children so initiated will learn only the equivalent of pigeon Latin. If a child cannot sight read a foreign language without a dictionary by age 14, then whatever benefits he has received from the exercise of learning that language are indirect, e.g., learning the rules of grammar. If someone is going to be forced to do this, then he should learn a language useful to Christians: Greek, first; Hebrew, second, and Latin only a distant third. But what do we see? Mostly Latin, with no Greek and no Hebrew. This is Renaissance pride in action.
What does your child really need? First, he must learn how to read early, so he will enjoy reading throughout his life. He must learn to read critically. This means he must also learn to write, for in writing, the student learns how others have communicated with him through the printed page. Reading and writing are complementary skills.
Second, he should gain a knowledge of the Bible. I prefer the King James Version, for these reasons: (1) the language is magnificent; (2) its unique phrases stick in the mind, making Bible study easier; (3) the Strong’s numbers are tied to the King James, making serious Bible study easier, especially with a modern computerized Bible search program.
Third, he must master mathematics. Until there is a self-consciously Christian version of Saxon’s math program available, we should go with Saxon, which emphasizes review and mastery. Fourth, anything else that interests him. Let him master a subject for the joy and experience of mastering it.
Christian education should be highly focused on a handful of topics: reading-writing, Bible, and mathematics. To force a child to take six courses per semester is both traditional and foolish if the child has not first mastered reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Bible. If he has mastered these, he can pick up the other courses in short order, such as by preparing through Advanced Placement exam cram courses.
Students can sometimes gain admission to a local junior college and take courses that count for both high school and college. My son did this: he started college part-time at age 14. He graduated from high school at 15. He will be a junior in college the month he turns 18. Even if a child does not graduate, he or she can attend a junior college at age 18, when, by law, the JC must accept the child on a provisional basis, even without a diploma.
A child who has gone through the King James Bible twice and Saxon’s calculus once will get 1,000+ on the SAT, and will gain provisional acceptance in most colleges without a high school diploma. I have my 15-year-old daughter taking Saxon math (algebra II) and Shakespeare. Every week she writes a paper on one of the plays. She is getting a feel for the most magnificent English every written. Then I have her use a computerized typing course (Typing Tutor), so that she can type her weekly paper. Her grammar is generally correct; she can communicate on paper. She is learning how to think.
The lust for academic certification is what has placed the Christians under the domination of the humanists for nine centuries. How will we break the cycle? Christians make their children take high school biology. Why? So they can cut up frogs and learn Darwinism? They make them take high school chemistry. Why? So they can find out that hydrogen sulfide smells rotten? They make them take high school history. Why? So they can get the Enlightenment view of American history, which is what most of the high school textbooks teach?
All of this can be picked up in college by anyone who has mastered the King James Bible and calculus. It does no good to force a child to speak pigeon history, pigeon chemistry, and pigeon anything else at the expense of fluency in reading, writing, Bible, and mathematics. Yet Christian day schools and most home schools are tied to the state-approved curriculum. The “innovative” ones then add classical education. We compel our children to read the lies of Greece and Rome that led to the persecution of the early Church. Like kidnap victims, the early Church’s apologists proclaimed the wisdom of their own kidnappers — what two decades ago was called Patty Hearst syndrome. That famous poster of Patty Hearst holding a machine gun during a bank robbery should be placed above the door of every Christian school headmaster whose school teaches classical education.