“What’s in a Name?”

All education is learning to name rightly, as Adam named the animals.”

— Richard Weaver Ideas Have Consequences

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” We know what Shakespeare was getting at here, but it’s worth noting that if the rose didn’t have a name, he wouldn’t have been able to say this. I’m quite sure he’s not recommending we’d be better off as a society of mutes with heightened olfactory sensibilities. Names are important; things need names so that we can think and communicate clearly and accurately.

Naming things involves making distinctions; it requires discernment and understanding. Adam’s vice- regency over God’s Creation was intellectual and moral as well as physical, explains Patrick Henry Reardon in the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Touchstone. God charged Adam with naming the animals He brought before him by exercising his ability to distinguish the differences among all the kinds that God had created. “Adam thus became mankind’s first cataloguist, the father of scientific and analytical study, the very founder of philosophy,” states Reardon.

There are those in modern culture who have an aversion to the naming and labeling of things. As Michael Hintze explained in a talk to our school’s faculty, these people see labelers as arrogant; the labeler “by labeling things seems to be setting a distance between them and himself and, worse, seems by naming them to be marking them as a possession…as though nature existed primarily in relation to man, as though nature were made for man, as though man the namer were somehow the master, and not simply a fellow ingredient in the Great Soup.” God gave man dominion over all that He had made. Fallen man can and certainly does abuse that dominion, but making proper distinctions and naming things rightly is not a form of abuse. …to recognize kinds and classes and singularities, to distinguish essence from attributes, and general from particular, to name in the image of God who separated light from darkness and labeled the light, ‘Day’, and the darkness, ‘Night’, to name, as the descendants of Adam who in his holiness named the beasts that were presented to him—whether we name the speed of light or the organs of bodies or even a thing so profound as the nature of a noun—to name is to know and to know the works of God… Our work as teachers is to a great extent the work of presenting things to our students and helping them to learn to name these things rightly and then to remember those names. In classical mythology the goddess Mnemosyne (Memory) was responsible for the naming of things. When we teach the art of grammar we are providing students with language for naming and remembering all that they see in the world around them. More is involved here than merely remembering words. “A word with meaning is an act of remembering the being of the thing itself,” says Stratford Caldecott in his glorious book on the trivium, Beauty in the Word. He goes on, “Through language we demonstrate and activate our humanity, and channel the faculties of memory, imagination, and thought.”

Learning to name the kinds of words we use helps us to see how language works to communicate clearly about both visible and invisible realities. For instance, nouns name the substance of things while adjectives name the qualities of things. I love how J.R.R. Tolkien talks about adjectives in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” He explains how our use of adjectives reveals the ability of the human mind for abstraction, for seeing qualities as apart from objects.

The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green- grass, discriminating it from other things, but sees that it is green as well as grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Fairie is more potent. And that is not surprising; such incantations might indeed be said to be only another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythological grammar. The mind that thought of ‘light’, ‘heavy’, ‘grey’, ‘yellow’, ‘still’, ‘swift’, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and still rock into swift water…in such ‘fantasy’, as it is called, a new form is made; Fairie begins: Man becomes a sub-creator.
Our ability to name qualities and play with them in stories is a mark of our being made in the image of the Creator of all things.

Cut off from this understanding modern culture is busy finding ways to do away with our need for words. Communication could be so much more efficient if there were fewer words and those words and what they denote were reduced either to images or abbreviations. Emoticons and acronyms take the work out of communication and speed it up. C.S. Lewis writes in the introduction to his book Studies in Words of the danger of verbicide, the killing of words. Words are necessary to keep ideas alive. When we kill words by overuse or misuse, we alter people’s ways of thinking. In his essay “The Death of Words” Lewis
says, “To save any word from the eulogistic or dyslogistic abyss is a task worth the efforts of all who love the English language…When you have killed a word, you have blotted from the human mind the thing the word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think about what they have forgotten how to say.” Lewis perhaps did not imagine that now fifty years later we would need to also be working against the disuse of words!

Evidence for this killing of words can be found in the clever obituary by Ann Wroe carried in the Dec 2015 issue of The Economist and entitled “Elegy for lost verbiage.” The obituary is a response to the news that 153 difficult words will be dropped from the 2016 edition of the SAT tests. In this piece, which uses all 153 words, the words have gathered for a farewell party. Here’s an excerpt (The soon-to-be-dead words are italicized.):

This was not, he knew, a gathering to cajole, carouse, or cavort, let alone a licentious debauch. Instead, it was a maudlin occasion, at which a dirge might well be sung and a knell tolled. The guests were there to mark their disappearance from the consciousness of most American schoolchildren, who would no longer be exhorted and admonished to remember the lot of them for their SAT exams, and upbraided when they couldn’t. For it was an incontrovertible fact that these onerous, grandiloquent, idiosyncratic words were the bane of many young lives, inimical to summer and fun. Instead of indulging the serendipity of youth, fishing, swimming and hitting balls through windows, pupils were subjugated to the dogmatic and arbitrary yoke of spending days with dictionaries.

Classical education is decidedly non-modern in that it is logocentric. It begins with the three language arts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and it involves learning to name and thus understand rightly across the curriculum. As teachers in classical schools we serve as custodians of language attempting to carry out what David Hicks calls “the beloved and arduous task of the schoolmaster— showing how words disclose the transcendent order of meaning and value behind the curtain of the transient world.”

“The Hand will Teach the Heart”: the Importance of Habit Formation

Toward the beginning of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Peter, Susan and Lucy make a choice that propels them into the land of Narnia and the events there that will change their lives forever. At the moment it did not announce itself as a crucial decision, a very important choice. It comes just after they’ve all arrived in Narnia and discovered that the faun Lucy had met had been arrested and was accused of treachery against the White Witch. Susan suggests they might as well go home—it’s not very safe and certainly not going to be fun to stay here. Lucy insists that they can’t go home; it was because he was nice to her that the faun is in trouble. “We simply must rescue him,” she says. Hearing it put like this, both Peter and Susan agree immediately that trying to rescue Tumnus is the right thing to do in spite of whatever difficulties or danger it might involve.

This decision begins the whole adventure which ends with their meeting Aslan, defeating the White Witch, and taking their positions as Kings and Queens in Narnia. A decision made in a moment with very little deliberation had momentous consequences. The decision was made so quickly and easily; we might say it was almost an automatic response for Susan and Peter, a duty that had to be done once it was clear that by helping Lucy the faun had gotten in trouble. C. S. Lewis calls responses such as this “stock responses”, and he explains that they don’t happen spontaneously but are the result of deliberate training. A sense of duty to someone in trouble had been instilled in Peter, Susan, and Lucy by a parent or a teacher.

C.S. Lewis says that stock responses can and should be taught. “All that we describe as constancy in love or friendship, as loyalty in political life, or, in general, as perseverance—all solid virtue and stable pleasure— depends on organizing chosen attitudes and maintaining them against the flux…of mere immediate experience.” Lewis is talking about the importance of developing
good habits. These “chosen attitudes” are habits, and by maintaining them in the face of our immediate impulses we develop dispositions or inclinations to act or react in certain ways in given situations.

This kind of training can and should begin when children are very young. Their reasoning power does not need to be highly developed for them to be taught how to notice the people around them and respond with certain words and actions—to greet an adult, to offer help to someone who has too much to carry, to offer one’s seat to a senior citizen. Pre-cognitive habit formation of both social and academic behaviors should be a key part of what is happening in K – 2 classrooms.

The common expression “we are creatures of habit” is actually getting at something true and important about how we are made. We fall easily into repeated patterns of behavior. This is a good thing, and an obvious one, when it comes to common physical practices such as walking, driving, or eating. What if driving always involved that intense concentration it took when you first got behind the wheel of a car! Life would be impossibly exhausting if a lot of our oft-repeated actions were not done automatically. It’s important to see that non-physical actions, manners and moral behavior, are also a matter of learning responses that can become “second nature” like the decision Peter and the others made to rescue Mr. Tumnus.

Consider this term “second nature”; it helps us see that the things we do habitually have come to seem natural. But they are not natural in the sense of being something we were born with; they are, rather, learned behaviors which we do without thinking and have come to be part of who we are. This is a topic which James K. A. Smith treats at length in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. We are, according to Smith, a “complex of inclinations or dispositions that make us lean with habituated momentum in certain directions.” We have, over time and in a variety of ways, some conscious and many others not conscious, developed certain dispositions that direct our actions. Smith points out the fallacy in modern thinking that sees us as primarily autonomous, rational individuals. He says,

We simply are not autonomous animals who float in the world unencumbered except by our own freedom. The autonomous ‘rational actor’ is without dispositions or inclinations—without habits—and that is precisely the problem: such
a theory of human persons will never truly understand human action because it fails to recognize the ‘inertia’ of habitus…We don’t decide our way into every action.

Smith calls habits “embodied know-how”, things our bodies do without thinking. It’s important to recognize the crucial role the body plays in our developing habits. When our bodies have performed an action in a certain way, we are inclined to repeat that action in the same way the next time. We acquire bodily knowledge. After you’ve learned to type and you’ve practiced this skill for a period of time, you don’t consciously engage your brain to find the letters; your fingers “know” where to go. In little things and in bigger things as well the body often leads the mind and the will rather than vice versa.

In working with young children instilling bodily knowing is a major part of what we are doing. We train children to act in a certain way before they have the cognitive ability to understand the goodness of the action and choose it for themselves. When we teach a child good manners, we are often training their bodies. For instance, we train them to look at the face of the person who is speaking to them. We are teaching them to physically acknowledge the presence of another, and in so doing we are shaping not just their actions but their hearts. Good manners shape respectful attitudes. Jewish culture has an expression for this: “the hand will teach the heart.” The body leads and the heart follows. This is what Solomon is talking about in Proverbs 22:6 when he says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Habit formation always involves repetition; there is no formation without repetition. We live in an age which puts a huge premium on novelty and originality. The new often is preferred over the old just because it’s new. Repetition is seen as a negative thing about which we use such words as “monotonous”, “boring”, “deadening”. This attitude is a denial of the way things are; we’re surrounded by repetition. It is a key feature of the natural world as God made it—day and night; sunrise and sunset; spring, summer, fall, winter, and spring again. There’s repetition in our bodies: breathing, walking, our hearts beating. Poetry and music speak to our souls because of their rhythmic nature and the repetition of words and lines. G. K.

Chesterton describes repetition as a positive thing: It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire.

A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue…the sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush
of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke
that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

Chesterton understood something significant about repetition and about the nature of children, something that means we are working with their nature and not against it when we strive to instill good habits in them. It is easy for us teachers to grow weary of the need to remind students constantly to do things in a certain way, but it helps to remember that we are instilling habits that will, with enough repetition, become “embodied know-how”; we are forming bodies in order that these little embodied spirits in our care will become the persons—body, mind, heart, and will—that God made them to be.

Another factor to consider in examining habit formation is the important role that community plays in instilling patterns of behavior. We acquire certain ways of relating to the world and to one another from the community we inhabit. We will inevitably acquire habits; it’s not a question of habits versus spontaneity. We are habit-forming creatures; the choice isn’t between developing habits or being “free spirits.” The real issue is whether one develops good habits or bad habits, and this has a lot to do with the community under whose influence one comes. We in Christian schools have a lot of competition; the surrounding culture has lots of tools and does a very good job of instilling patterns of behavior in our children. (Jamie Smith’s two books on cultural liturgies do a great job of spelling this out, and I commend them to you.) We must come to see ourselves in Christian schools and in the Church as communities charged with shaping the practices and thereby shaping the hearts of our children. We need to help our children see themselves as members of a community with a long history rich in traditions, rituals, and stories. This is how God instructed the children of Israel to teach their children; the annual repetition of festivals, rituals and stories instilled in their children a sense of who they were and to whom they belonged. What kept Daniel and his friends from being assimilated into the Babylonian culture? They knew that they belonged to a different people and were part of a different story. It was a stock response for them to refuse the Babylonian food as well as to refuse to bow down before a Babylonian idol. The understanding that we are creatures of habit, that much of what we or our students do is not the result of a conscious, considered choice, should impel us as teachers to think carefully and work deliberately to instill patterns of behavior that will enable our children to live as the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve they were created to be.

Following the White Stag

At the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the four children, now mature rulers in Narnia, are hunting a White Stag which leads them to the lamp post where all their adventures in Narnia began. In spite of their foreboding that “strange adventures or some great change” in their fortunes will come if they pass the lamp post, they decide to continue following the White Stag. Peter makes the case for this course of action: “…never since we four were Kings and Queens in Narnia have we set our hands to any high matter, as battles, quests, feats of arms, acts of justice, and the like, and then given over.” This argument convinces even fearful Susan who says, “Let us go on and take the adventure that shall fall to us.”

It’s no accident that the word adventure is repeated twice more in the closing paragraphs of the book. C. S. Lewis the philologist is fully aware that the word adventure, from the Latin ad venire, means literally “that which comes to us.” And what is it that comes when the children pass the lamp post? What comes is the children’s return to their own world and the adventure of living in that world with a new vision given to them by their time in Narnia.

What has Lewis done here? He has given us a picture of what good stories can do. In his essay “Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” Lewis writes:

The value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the ‘veil of familiarity’; by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. This book applies the treatment not only to bread or apple but to good and evil, to our endless perils, our anguish, and our joys. By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, as stand-ins for all children coming to the end of the final chapter of a good story, return to World War II England more able to see the challenges, difficulties, and choices before them as “high matters – battles, quests, feats of arms, and acts of justice” that require of them the same fortitude, magnanimity, and sense of justice they have learned to exercise in Narnia.

Children (and adults) need stories to show them how to fulfill their part in the Story. Each of us is a character in this real Story. What being in Narnia did for the Pevensie children can be done for anyone by the reading of a good book. Children can learn what virtue and vice look like through stories. Exhortation to act virtuously is important and good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough; it does not touch the heart and fire the imagination in the way that Peter’s slaying of the wolf Maugrim in order to rescue his sister does. Sir Philip Sydney makes this point in his Apology for Poetry. In an article on Tolkien’s moral vision Donald T. Williams paraphrases and quotes Sydney:

So the philosopher has the precept, and the historian has the example—but ‘both, not having both, do both halt.’ They stumble and fall short
of the ultimate goal of education: inspiring and enabling virtuous action on the part of the reader himself. But look, says Sydney, at what the poet can do: ‘Now doth the peerless Poet perform both. For whatsoever the Philosopher saith should be done, [the Poet] giveth a perfect picture of it in someone by whom he presupposeth it was done…a perfect picture, I say, for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the Philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul so much as the other doth.’ Literature, then, has the serious moral purpose of providing role models that help us form the ideals and aspirations we live by; it achieves this purpose through concrete images of virtue and vice.

Virtue and vice are best understood in the context of a narrative. Characters in good stories who act with courage or perseverance provide children with a vision of goodness. They help counter what Peter Kreeft calls one of the chief heresies of our age: “the dullness of goodness and the beauty of badness.” Exposure to good stories also helps children understand that they inhabit a story and that their individual choices and actions are part of a narrative which gives those actions meaning and their lives a sense of purpose.

In After Virtue Alasdair MacIntyre makes the point that our lives are “enacted narratives.”

…man is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal…But the key question for men is not about their own authorship; I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ We enter human society, that is, with one or more imputed characters—roles into which we have been drafted—and we have to learn what they are in order to be able to understand how others respond to us and how our responses to them are apt to be construed. It is through hearing stories of wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on riotous living and go into exile to live with the swine, that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are. Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.

As Christian teachers we must help our students see and understand the Story of which they are a part. The modern world tells us that we are self-created, autonomous beings who write our own stories and who can be whatever we want to be. There are no “roles into which we have been drafted.” This is meant to be a message of freedom, but it is actually a source of alienation and a route to meaninglessness; nonetheless, this message permeates our culture and works against the culture of virtue we are trying to provide in our schools.

As belief in moral absolutes disappeared at the end of the 19th century, what some have called a culture of character was replaced by a culture of personality and a new view of what it means to be a person came into being. In the culture of character people understood themselves as essentially moral beings and, as David Wells explains in Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, the growth of the person was understood in terms of “virtue to be learned and practiced and private desires to be denied.” Character formation through training in virtues was a central goal of education. Virtues were seen as moral absolutes to which people were meant to conform. The culture of personality has overturned this understanding of who we are. No longer is the focus on moral virtues to be cultivated; the focus is now on
one’s image which can be fashioned. Life becomes a performance, a self-created narrative, in which people seek to look good and make themselves appealing to others. In the culture of personality there is no fixed or objective view of what a person is meant to be beyond what one makes of himself. We write our own stories and model ourselves after celebrities who have successfully created appealing images. Ken Myers in analyzing this phenomenon says: “The culture of celebrity and personal performance which permeates our society is profoundly destructive. It’s not just that being well-known for simply being well-known (in Daniel Boorstin’s classic formulation) is a thin and vapid achievement. More fundamentally disordering is the way in which the deeply sensed notion of ‘identity as performance’ promoted in the culture of celebrity undercuts the very idea of reality or real life; more than the work of nihilistic philosophers, the prominence of performers in our society nudges us toward referring to ‘reality’…rather than to Reality…In a culture of celebrity and performance the existence of reality becomes dubious and persons aspire to be desirable commodities.”

This, of course, is not surprising when people insist on creating their own reality. What has been lost is the Reality that we are all players in a narrative which we did not write for ourselves. We are created beings and the Creator is the Author of our story, a story which began with the Creation of the world, a story in which we each have a unique part to play. This understanding gives meaning and purpose to our choices and individual actions. It can motivate us and our children to persevere through hardship for the sake of a higher good. And best of all, the Author has already told us how the story ends; we know it has a wildly happy ending.

Children need stories; stories are not frills to be fit in somewhere after the grammar, math, history, and science are attended to. Good stories are food for their souls. Be careful not to kill and dissect the stories; C. S. Lewis warns us against efforts to teach children to appreciate good literature. That’s not our job; they need to discover a love for stories on their own. Create an environment that encourages reading stories; read to them; show them how much you love to read and help them become lovers of stories. And most important, be sure they know the Great Story of which they are a part. Help them come to understand that they have an important role, just as David, Esther, and Daniel did, in an adventure story in which virtuous actions matter.

As Bilbo says to Frodo near the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: “Do adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry the story.”

Archangels, Architect, and the Passion of Making

Dorothy L. Sayers’ play The Zeal of Thy House is a play about the work of the artist, the work of the Church, and the work of God. In the play Sayers makes a strong statement about the sacramental nature of man’s work; man as homo faber mirrors the Creator in his making. The play was written to be performed at Canterbury Cathedral for a festival that would celebrate the work of craftsmen and artists. Sayers accepted the invitation to write a play for this annual event and was given the Latin chronicle of Gervase of Canterbury which recounted the burning of the Norman choir of the cathedral in 1174 and the work of the architect William of Sens in rebuilding this choir. In the midst of his work William suffered a crippling fall from the heights of the cathedral which kept him from seeing the work through to its completion. In this incident Sayers saw great possibilities for a play which would deal with both the glory and the dilemma of the artist as an imitator of God.

Sayers explores the relationship between the work of the artist and the work of God in accomplishing His eternal purposes, and to achieve this she puts angels and archangels on the stage. The play opens with a conversation among the angels sent to supervise the rebuilding of the choir which highlights the contrast between the work of angels and the work of men. The angels are God’s servants who do His bidding without fail but also without understanding and without free choice. “I am a soldier, I take my orders,” says Michael. The angels see no place for the work of man, who after the Fall is prone toward sloth and the hatred of work, in fulfilling the purposes of God. “Nothing that men do is ever necessary,” says Gabriel. Here is the most telling contrast: angels work by necessity, man does not, and in this he is like God and higher than the angels. God, says Sayers, writing elsewhere about work, “knows no necessity to work except His own delight in creation” (Letters 251). Man mirrors his Maker in this. “…he makes things–not just one uniform set of necessary things, as a bee makes a honeycomb, but an interminable variety of different and not strictly necessary things, because he wants to” (Vocation 132). He paints pictures and builds cathedrals.

In this high calling to imitate God in our making it is the artist who leads the way. In a letter written in 1941 Sayers says: “The Divine joy in creation, which man should inherit in virtue of his participation in the image of the Godhead, has been largely destroyed, persisting today almost alone among artists, skilled craftsmen, and members of the learned professions” (Letters 252). Artists, she says, understand something about working for the love of the work, not just as an economic necessity to be endured. Artists are among those few who seek to make money, not so that they can pursue mind numbing leisure, but so that they can do their real work, the work they love, the work of creating which is its own reward. The artist does not delight in possessing so much as in creating; for the artist the statement, “This is my work,” does not mean “I own it,” but “I made it.” The artist, more consistently than most, lives to work rather than working to live. Sayers sees the act of creating as a primary human need (Mind 224). She says that man “cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job; he is made in the image of a Maker, and he must create or become less than a man” (Vocation 132).

William of Sens loves his work, does it with integrity, and finds much satisfaction in it. In much that he does and says throughout the play William shows a right understanding of the high calling of the artist. Alone among the architects being considered for the job William stands on his work alone and puts forward drawings and designs of earlier projects as the sole argument for choosing him to do the job in Canterbury. His skill as a diplomat and his arrogance begin to show themselves in this opening scene, yet he comes across as an impressive figure because of his confidence in his artistic skill. After he is chosen and has been at the work for two years, Gervase, the monk who serves as his clerk, says of him, “He thinks of nothing, lives for nothing, but the integrity of his work.”

Throughout the play William speaks with great passion about the special place that the artist has as an imitator of God. In their first conversation William tells because he is in love with his work. He adds:

What does a woman know

Of the love of knowledge, passing the love of women?

The passion of making, beside which love’s passion

Shows brittle as a bubble? To raise up beauty from ashes
Like the splendor of resurrection; to see the stone Knit unto stone and growing, as in the womb Bone grows to bone; to build a world out of nothing-

That is my dream; that is the craftman’ s dream..

Later he speaks to Ursula again of how well he as an artist can understand the joy in creating which God experienced when He spoke the world into existence.

We are the master-craftsmen, God and I-
We understand one another. None, as I can,
Can creep under the ribs of God, and feel
His heart beat through those Six Days of Creation; Enormous days of slowly turning lights
Streaking the yet unseasoned firmament;
Giant days, Titan days, yet all too short
To hold the joy of making.

After describing God’s joy in making trees and flowers, beasts and fish and birds, he concludes:

And lastly, since all Heaven was not enough
To share that triumph, He made His masterpiece, Man, that like God can call beauty from dust, Order from chaos, and create new worlds
To praise their maker.

He speaks here with mounting pride just minutes before his fall from the heights of the cathedral, yet the content of his speech is true; it is his tone which is wrong. Rightly perceived, this truth about being made in the image of a Maker should cause us to fall to our knees in worship rather than to boast as William did. Nevertheless, it is true that man is like God in his ability to bring something into existence that did not exist before except in his mind.

Out of a conversation among the archangels comes one of the play’s greatest tributes to William as an artist and to the value of good work. After Michael the archangel catalogues William’s sins and Gabriel credits him with building columns and vaults “all well and truly laid without a fault,” Cassiel, the recording angel, asks Raphael, the archangel responsible for receiving men’s prayers and offering them before the throne of God, “Canst thou indeed find any grace in William the builder- up of Canterbury?” Raphael answers:

Behold, he prayeth; not with the lips alone,

But with the hand and with the cunning brain Men worship the Eternal Architect.
So, when the mouth is dumb, the work shall speak And save the workman. True as a mason’s rule And line can make them, the shafted columns rise Singing like music; and by day and night
The unsleeping arches with perpetual voice Proclaim in Heaven, to labour is to pray.

Later in the play the Prior chides Theodatus, a monk who is extremely critical of William, for calling William “a man without truth, without shame.” Theodatus is complaining that William is “a notorious evil liver, a seducer of women,” and “a cunning liar.” The Prior, who sees the integrity of William’s work, says,

You must not say, without truth,
Lest you should hear the very stones cry out Against you. Truth is glorious; but there is one Glory of the sun, another of the moon,
And all the truth of the craftsman is in his craft. Where there is truth, there is God; and where there is glory,
There is God’s glory too.

In so saying the Prior is not excusing William’s other sins, but he is affirming that work well done speaks truthfully about the truth, goodness, and beauty of God the Creator and that artists as sub-creators can bring glory to God in their work. We hear Sayers speaking here through the Prior, for she states elsewhere that this is a play about “integrity of work overriding and redeeming personal weakness” (Hone 89).

This critic of William, Theodatus, is a major character in the play who represents the Church at its worst in its view of the artist and his work. Theodatus has a neo-Platonic view of reality. He has narrowed down serving God to prayer and acts of piety. To him it is more important that the architect chosen for the work be a virtuous and devout man than that he be a good architect. He says to the Prior: “I would rather have a worse-built church with a more virtuous builder.” He does not see the value of artistic work or manual labor done well, nor admit to the possibility that one can serve and bring glory to God through the work of his hands.

Sayers believes that it is the work of the Church to encourage the artist in his work; she has no use for the super-spiritual view that only recognizes certain spiritual activities as having value to God. The churchman who thinks this way and thus discourages the artist in his work has missed a key message taught to us through
the Incarnation; flesh and blood and muscle are not to
be despised. God put on flesh and picked up a hammer and nails and worked and sweated as one of us. When Theodatus says he would rather see righteousness than skill in the architect, the Prior answers thus: “My son, will you not let God manage His own business? He was a carpenter, and knows His trade better, perhaps, than we do, having had some centuries of experience.” Our acts of making, of giving form and substance in wood or stone or clay or pigment to our creative ideas are of equal value in God’s eyes to our praying and proclaiming the Gospel. A clergyman who does not understand this is not doing his work well. In her essay Why Work? Sayers says:

It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work …It is not right for the Church to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation (57-58).

The Prior again speaks for Sayers in telling Theodatus that God would not be honored by a “worse- built church.”

This is God’s House, and if on any pretext We give him less than the best, we shall cheat God As William never cheated God, nor us.

He that bestowed the skill and the desire To do great work is surely glad to see That skill used in His service.

Sayers blames the view of churchmen such as Theodatus for encouraging shoddy workmanship.

No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie. Yet in her own buildings, in her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers…the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse, work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman. And why? Simply because she has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church ….that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work (Why Work? 58-59).

The Prior goes on to tell Theodatus that God the carpenter knows how to work with men as His tools to accomplish His eternal purposes and that in the process he redeems and purges them. It is at this point that we see that Theodatus has a wrong view of his work as God’s minister. He sees himself as the one who should carry out God’s vengeance against sin, a ministry never given to man. The Prior counters that God does not need us to defend His honor and that we dare not pass judgment upon those made righteous by the blood of God’s Son, and then, seeing how blind Theodatus is to the Pharisaical spirit within him, he warns him to “set charity as a bridle on his tongue” and look to his own work.

Theodatus does not heed this advice and the consequences are grave. What irony that it is his work carelessly done that becomes the human means of William’s crippling fall. Given the job of examining the rope that would support William as he was raised to help set a keystone in the ceiling of the choir, Theodatus did this work with his eyes closed in prayer! “Scandalized” by what he perceives to be William’s sins of the flesh with the Lady Ursula, Theodatus recites prayers “with his eyes tight shut” (according to the stage notes) misses the flaw in the rope, and does not hear the archangel’s warning cry, “Take care, Theodatus! There is a flaw in the rope.” What a vivid image Sayers has created in this scene to support her words about the damage the Church can do when she has a wrong view of work.

When the Prior confronts Theodatus after the accident, Theodatus tries to defend himself: “God Himself laid the seal upon my eyes. I was His appointed instrument to overthrow the wicked man.” The Prior’s answer sets the matter straight:

Think what you say, my son. It is not for us
To ordain ourselves the ministers of vengeance; For it must needs be that offences come,
But woe unto that man by whom the offence Cometh; ‘twere better he had not been born. This is thy sin: thou hast betrayed the work; Thou hast betrayed the Church; thou hast betrayed
Christ, in the person of His fellow-man.

What work has Theodatus betrayed? He has betrayed not just the work of examining the rope, but the work of the Church.

In the final act of the play after William’s accident, we see God at work both in Theodatus, who repents of his sin and humbly serves the crippled architect, and in William. William is guilty of sins of the flesh, but it is not these that are at the heart of God’s dealings with him. While William does his work with integrity and understands much that is right about how the artist mirrors God as he creates, in his pride and self-love he draws a wrong conclusion from this understanding; he declares himself indispensable to God. He says, “…in making man God over-reached Himself and gave away His Godhead …Man stands equal with Him now, partner and rival…This church is mine and none but I, not even God, can build it.” After his fall William expresses his determination to finish his work in spite of the pain it causes him in his crippled state. He says that no amount of pain or suffering that God can heap upon him will cause him to give up his work. William has succumbed
to the special temptation of the artist to make an idol of that which was given to him as a gift of incredible love. Now God does His work of grace in William through His minister, the archangel Michael. Michael shows William that no amount of suffering on his part can match the suffering already experienced on his behalf as God did His work of redeeming fallen man. It is made plain that God Himself is the only One Who loves and serves His work perfectly, for He loved His work enough to give up His life for it. William, in fact, has come to love himself and his reputation more than he loves his work. Confronted with the selflessness of God’s love and the sacrificial work of Christ on his behalf, William sees his own pride and repents of it. Immediately his attitude toward his work changes; he decides to leave the completion of the cathedral choir to another and makes one request of God:

Jesu, the carpenter’s Son, the Master-builder, Architect, poet, maker–by those hands
That Thine own nails have wounded–by the wood Whence Thou didst carve Thy Cross–let not the Church
Be lost through me. Let me lie deep in hell…
But let my work, all that was good in me,
All that was God, stand up and live and grow.
The work is sound, Lord God, no rottenness there- Only in me. Wipe out my name from men
But not my work; to other men the glory
And to Thy name alone.

The angels declare the work for William’s soul complete. The play ends with Michael addressing the audience and exhorting people to praise God “that He hath made man in His own image, a maker and craftsmen like Himself…” This is man’s calling and his glory and a cause, not for boasting, but for wonder and praise.

When “Men Without Chests” Rule the World

Teaching young people to think rightly about themselves and the world is not enough. Ideas matter but they amount to little if the desires of one’s heart are pulling him in another direction. It is rare that someone chooses to act solely on the basis of a set of well-reasoned arguments; one’s desires and affections play a significant role in determining the shape of one’s life. Given the skill of our modern world’s appeal to the eye and to the heart, we should not be surprised that the heads and the hearts of many of our students are pulling in different directions.

This understanding is behind C. S. Lewis’s warning in The Abolition of Man that modern education is creating “men without chests”, that is, people without properly trained and ordered affections or desires. Lewis asserts, “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…The head [must rule] the belly through the chest – the seat…of the emotions organized by trained habits into stable sentiments.”

Lewis gives us the imaginative version of this argument in his novel That Hideous Strength. At the center of the story is a newly-married couple, both of whom have received modern educations, who live in a small university town which is undergoing enormous changes as the ideas taught in many classrooms of the university are being acted upon and taken to their logical conclusions by a small group of men called the “Progressive Element”.

Mark Studdock, the young husband and a fellow at the university, is being courted by this group of men to join their enterprise centered in an institution called the N.I.C.E., the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. Mark is well along the road to becoming a “man without a chest”, and Lewis makes clear that his education has played a major role in this.

…in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical – merely ‘Modern’. The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by … He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge…and the first hint of real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling.

No noble thoughts came to him at a moment of crisis because his education had been devoid of training in right sentiments.

In this fantasy in which images speak even louder than words, the institute into which Mark is being drawn is run by the disembodied head of a renowned scientist with a swollen brain protruding from its skull kept alive in a sterile lab by being connected with tubes to some complicated medical machinery. This vivid image of a “man without a chest” makes periodic pronouncements from its drooling mouth and supposedly presides over the institute’s project of taking over the human race and reconditioning it. The goal is to produce a Technocratic and Objective Man who will lead civilization into a new age. Mark must be trained to be like the Conditioners who do the Head’s bidding.

In The Abolition of Man Lewis says that modern educators have “misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda…and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion…[They don’t understand that] the right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey for the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” Mark’s earlier education had been along these lines and had prepared him for membership in the N.I.C.E.

Mark’s final training for acceptance into the institute consists of time spent in a place called the Objectivity Room the purpose of which is to destroy all natural human emotions and reactions in him and produce “objectivity”. This training is based on the premise that all natural feelings are subjective and are merely chemical phenomena. Mark’s trainer tells him:

Friendship is a chemical phenomenon; so is hatred… one must go outside the whole world of our subjective emotions. It is only as you begin to do so that you discover how much of what you mistook for your thought was merely a by-product of your blood and nervous tissue.

In the Objectivity Room Lewis gives us another vivid image of these ideas. It is a high, narrow, windowless room lit by a single bright cold light. It is ill-proportioned, lop-sided; there are no right angles
and everything is a bit off. Hanging on the walls of the room are paintings which at a glance seem ordinary but which contain perverse or grotesque details such as a Last Supper with beetles crawling all over the table. Mark is to be left alone in this room for a prolonged period which will supposedly kill his affinity for harmony, balance, and order. One’s ideas of beauty as well as goodness are meant to be written off as merely subjective.

Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man that once the Conditioners (such as those leading the N.I.C.E.) have moved everything that pre-modern man considered to be objective into the category of the subjective, there is really nothing left but the will of some to have power or control over others.

It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his own judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will … The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.

His time in the Objectivity Room does not have the desired effect on Mark. His heart is not completely dead, and he finds himself reacting against “the built and painted perversity of this room” and longing for the “Normal”, as he called it. “As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight.” Enough humanness remained in Mark to save him and turn him around.

As the N.I.C.E. is pursuing its program to take over the university and the town, Mark’s wife Jane is driven to seek safety among a very different community of people living together in a large manor house on a hilltop in a village called St. Anne’s. In his portrayal of this community Lewis gives us a picture of the Normal, “the sweet and the straight”. This house is surrounded by lush gardens and a stone wall. Whereas at the N.I.C.E. animals of all kinds are kept in pens to be used for experimentation, the animals at St. Anne’s are cherished “servants and playfellows”. The beauty, warmth, and sheer homey-ness of this place is a welcome contrast to the sterile, cold, and ugly place called Belbury where the N.I.C.E. is housed.

This community is presided over by a very different kind of head, a Director who rules over others with full awareness that he is under the rule of Someone infinitely higher than himself and who knows that there are fixed realities both visible and invisible to which he and the rest of the company must conform. Jane meets with this man in the room where he is confined as an invalid. It is called the Blue Room and is a visual antithesis of the Objectivity Room. It has many windows that let in the light of day, and it is warmed by a fire on a hearth. Its predominant color is blue. There was a “clear beauty in the colours and proportions of the room” which had the effect of calming and comforting Jane who had arrived at St. Anne’s in a state of extreme fear. She had come as well with a strong determination to stay in control of herself, not to be “taken in”. But in this room before this kind, strong-hearted Director both of these states melt away; “her world was unmade.”

In this room the reshaping of Jane’s affections begins. Her modern ideas about marriage and equality are immediately challenged as the Director explains how little love and equality have to do with each other. As she lives in this company where obedience to something higher than oneself is taken seriously, she sees true equality in the absence of class distinctions and the willingness of each member to share in the work and serve the needs of others. She is at first taken aback by seeing her former charwoman Ivy in this company being treated as an equal by the others, and she discovers that she is not quite so modern as she thought she was. She eventually surrenders “that prim little grasp on her own destiny, that perpetual reservation, which she thought essential to her status as a grown-up, integrated, intelligent person,” and she begins to experience delight and joy in a myriad of simple things outside of herself. Most importantly, she comes to see Mark and her marriage with new eyes, and when the two are reunited at the end of the story, their marriage begins anew on a much stronger footing as both have learned important lessons about the eternal verities to which one must conform in order to be fully human.

In this day many might consider the attempt to train the affections to be interference in an area of a young person’s life that should be allowed to develop freely and naturally. This is, however, interferencewhich young people desperately need. It’s what G.K. Chesterton had in mind when he said that education is interference. “Education is violent because it is creative,” says Chesterton. “It is as ruthless as playing the fiddle; as dogmatic as drawing a picture; as brutal as building  a house. In short, it is what all human action is: it is interference with life and growth.” The old hymn reminds us that, just like a fiddle, our hearts need to be properly tuned: “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune our hearts to sing Thy grace.” Teachers and parents can participate in the task of tuning hearts by, among other things, filling the imaginations of those under their care with images of things that are truly noble and lovely, “sweet and straight.” Who, having seen both, would choose Belbury over St. Anne’s?

Education for the Great Dance

Classical education is first and foremost the education which flows from a certain understanding of reality. There is the modern way of understanding reality and there is the pre-modern way and they are radically different from one another. Classical education is education based on the pre-modern way of viewing the nature of man and the nature of the universe. The first pre-requisite to teaching in a classical school is not learning a certain set of methods or adopting a certain curriculum; it is becoming well acquainted with the difference between these two mindsets and immersing oneself in the thinking and imagery of the pre-modern mindset.

Thomas Howard calls the two opposing views “the old myth and the new myth” and describes them in the opening to his book Chance or the Dance?

There were some ages in Western history that have occasionally been called Dark. They were dark, it is said, because in them learning declined, and progress paused, and men labored under the pall of belief…Men believed in things like the Last Judgment and fiery torment…They believed that they had souls, and that what they did in this life had some bearing on the way in which they would finally experience reality… And they believed that God was in heaven and Beelzebub in hell and that the Holy Ghost had impregnated the Virgin Mary and that the earth and sky were full of angelic and demonic conflict. Altogether, life was very weighty, and there was no telling what might lie behind things. The ages were, as I say, dark.

Then the light came. It was the light that has lighted us men into a new age. Charms, angels, devils, plagues, and parthenogenesis have fled from the glare into the crannies of memory. In their place have come coal mining and E=mc2 and plastic and group dynamics and napalm and urban renewal and rapid transit. Men were freed from the gear of the Last Judgment; it was felt to be more bracing to face Nothing than to fave the Tribunal. They were freed from worry about getting their souls into God’s heaven by the discovery that they had no souls and that God had no heaven…Altogether life became much more liveable since it was clear that in fact nothing lay behind things. The age was called enlightened.

The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything.

Either everything has meaning or there is no meaning and “nothing means anything” which is the same as saying that we can assign any meaning we want to things since meaning is just a figment of our imaginations.

Howard’s title Chance or the Dance? suggests an image which can help us understand what we are doing in classical education; we are equipping children for participation in the Great Dance. What is the Great Dance? It is an old image or metaphor, conceived sometime during the Middle Ages, for reality, for the nature of the universe. It is a view of reality that extends beyond this world and encompasses “all things visible and invisible.” It was universally understood and accepted by those living in Latin Christendom: God was the Cosmic Choreographer; Christ was the Lord of the Dance; and each person was created to play a unique part in a cosmic ballet. And so Howard is asking in his title, What explains reality? Is it an accident of chance, or is it a planned and intricate unfolding of events?

What’s involved in this image of reality? How is the universe like a dance? First of all, reality is choreographed just like a dance; there is a pattern into which all things fit and each individual thing or person plays a part in something much bigger than itself or himself. All things have meaning and find their meaning as unique parts of the whole. “All things are made for the Dance.” There is meant to be a harmony among all things. And it is harmony; not all things are the same. There is unity and diversity within reality, not sameness and uniformity. It is a dance, not a march; one leads, another follows; one lifts, the other is lifted. The whole is harmonious, but everyone is not doing exactly the same thing. Inequality, not equality is at the heart of things, in the universe as in the dance.

The Great Dance is a good image for the nature of things because dance involves the union of form and freedom. Understanding reality involves understanding that form and freedom are two important aspects of reality. On the form side, we see order and patterns, predictability and laws. There are rules and limitations we must observe; we learn early that we can’t fly off our beds by jumping and flapping our arms. On the freedom side, we see uniqueness, unpredictability, creativity, spontaneity, even mystery, in reality. No two people are exactly alike, and their actions are not predictable.

In dance we see the perfect marriage of form and freedom. Steps must be learned, practiced and mastered–the form. Only then is one free to move in perfect harmony with one’s partner and the music. Here is the true meaning of freedom as opposed to the modern view of doing whatever one pleases without regard for anyone or anything else. Howard says in Chance or the Dance?: “Your freedom in the Dance is to be able to execute your steps with power and grace, not to decide what you feel like doing.” And so in life, we find the freedom only when we submit to the form of what is, when we conform to the universe as it is–not in the narrow understanding of the modern materialists, but we conform to the universe in its true and largest sense. Howard explains:

For it is in these limitations that the old myth found the definition of freedom. Whatever freedom was, it was to be found, ironically, via the strait gate. It was thought of not as a matter of self-determination but rather as a matter of the capacity to experience one’s own perfection as joy. The question for Adam and Eve was not that they enjoy
a realm in which no strictures existed: it was, rather, that they learn to will what was, in fact, the case–what they couldn’t escape anyway…they had two possible types of freedom open to them: either assert their autonomy, live in illusion, and find out in the end that it was no autonomy; or to assent to the way things, alas, were, and see if the matter of freedom weren’t something vastly different from what they might have supposed it to be.

This vision of reality stands in stark contrast to the modern vision, the “joyless cosmology.” Autonomous man is central; there is nothing bigger for him to submit to. There is no structure, no pattern, no moral order to which he must conform. Autonomous man finds truth and meaning within himself. Lewis calls this view “subjectivism” and explains that if we deny that there are any objective qualities in the world outside of ourselves, there is no reason to assume that the judgments we make and the minds with which we make them are any different from everything else. In his essay “The Poison of Subjectivism” he says:

At the outset, the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance of knowledge gradually empties this rich and genial universe; first of its gods, then of its colors, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account; classified as our sensations, thoughts, images or emotions… While we were reducing the world to almost nothing we deceived ourselves with the fancy that all its lost qualities were being kept safe… as ‘things in our own mind’. Apparently we had no mind of the sort required. The Subject is as empty as the Object. Almost nobody has been making linguistic mistakes about almost nothing.

When modern man makes himself “the measure of all things”, the possibility of objective truth is gone, the possibility of separating subject from object is gone. All becomes subject and there’s no basis for knowing whether the subjective is real or significant. We call this view reductionism. While the pre-modern view sees reality as encompassing invisible realities (angels and demons, truth, goodness, and beauty) as well as visible material reality, the modern view has reduced reality to that which can be seen and touched, dissected or measured.

One more mark of the modern myth is that egalitarianism has replaced the understanding of a hierarchical reality such as that pictured by the Great Dance. Modern thinking has turned the political idea of democracy into a false doctrine that goes beyond equality under the law to declare that all men are equal. Anything that smacks of superiority or hierarchy must be cut down. In an essay called “Equality” Lewis says that people have a “craving for inequality”; they want to look up to someone. Monarchy for the medievals reflected something about the nature of the universe.

Monarchy can easily be debunked; but watch the faces, mark well the accents of the debunkers. These are men whose tap-root in Eden has been cut; whom no rumor of the polyphony, the dance can reach –men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

Once again we see that anything less than a vision of reality as the Great Dance is soul-deadening; the view is too small and goes against who we are made to be. It is, in fact, a view that Lewis argues leads to the “abolition of man”.

So what kind of education equips one for participation in the Great Dance? First of all, it must be an education that takes into account what we were made for. We are not primarily economic animals or social animals, and thus education is not primarily about being equipped to be a wage earner or being prepared for fitting into society. We must be aware of the danger of confusing means with ends, and we must keep our eyes on the end of education.

Education in the old view is not mainly instructional, but formative; it has as its end the ennoblement of embodied spirits; it is about nourishing minds and souls and equipping students to be what they were made to be–reasoning, choosing, creating beings who can think about what is true, choose what is good, and create what is beautiful. It is involved in imparting knowledge that leads to virtue. This is education according to the old view.

A proper understanding of form and freedom as seen in the image of the Great Dance helps one to carry this out. As one writer on education put it: “We must insist that our educational framework produce neither automatons nor hellions. The individual must be free to choose, yet must be provided with the framework of values within which meaningful, civilized choice takes place. Our quest is for ‘structured freedom’.” We want neither automatons, learning all the rules and patterns and performing by rote, nor hellions, practicing self-expression with no limits; rather, we want our students to be individuals capable of creative thinking and choosing within the limits and structure of what is.

Good education then is like dancing lessons; it is primarily about form, hence the term “formal education.” Form precedes freedom; the form– the rules, the vocabulary, the scales, the steps (the grammar as classical education calls it)–must be learned before freedom to read, to communicate clearly, to play Mozart, to solve a complex problem is possible. Yet it is not form for form’s sake; form is not the end of the matter. Participation in the Dance is the end. Grammar, phonics, times tables are not ends in themselves; they are just the tools we need
to use our minds and make sense of the world. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are equipping children to be free thinking and choosing adults able to discern the truth amidst all the false claims. We want our students to become adults with the right kind of independence. For this they must learn something about self-discipline, hard work and perseverance, delayed gratification, and submission to authority without becoming automatons. They must also be helped and inspired to be imaginative and creative, inventive and original, rhetoricians of the right kind, without becoming hellions. To do this we who teach them need above all a clear vision of this pre-modern understanding of reality.

Thomas Howard explains how the Great Dance gives us a true picture of the form and freedom built into reality:

What is the glory of the sun and moon and stars? Is it not at least partly that they exhibit a solemn and mathematical precision in their courses, a great astronomical sarabande or minuet?…Whatever their glory is…it does not involve either self-determination or randomness. Similarly, what is the freedom of the athlete? His excellence is a ma er of power–the power to do the thing beautifully. The perfection of the jump stands at the far end of a program of renunciation, in which his inclinations were subordinated to the demands of that very perfection…And the sonnet: here words dance in their highest dignity and beauty; here is language at its most excellent–but it is language dragooned and hedged and crowded and thwarted by rules. But, ironically, at the far end of those awful rules there emerges perfection…

The old myth would have seen all these phenomena as images–images of some paradox that lay at the heart of things: that freedom for a thing is that state in which it appears at its highest performance (its perfection, in other words), and that this is a state that lies on the farther side of rigor and austerity. And it would have seen all these images as suggesting not a moral servility for that unique creature man, but rather the brilliant display, under a thousand forms, of the Dance, which goes on aeon a er aeon, and which waits all breathless with hope for the Man to recognize the pattern, see his place, assent to it, and join.

Classical schools informed by this view of reality are equipping students for participation in the Great Dance.

Reading “the Right Books”: C.S. Lewis on Reading Good Literature

Eustace Clarence Scrubb, says Lewis, repeatedly had not read “the right books.” So what books should Eustace have read to equip him for his adventures in Narnia? Lewis has lots to say about what books to read, how to read them, and even how to teach them and how not to teach them. This workshop will consider Lewis’s ideas on reading and teaching good literature.

Linda Dey

Linda Dey is a co-founder, administrator and teacher at The Imago School in Maynard, MA, and a past member of the board of the Society for Classical Learning.

That Hideous Strength: The Abolition of Man in Pictures

What are the connections between these two great Lewis works? Explore how one informs the other and what we need to learn from both.

Linda Dey

Linda Dey is a co-founder, administrator and teacher at The Imago School in Maynard, MA, and a past member of the board of the Society for Classical Learning.

Truth and the Moral Imagination

I agree that “academic training in a Christian context IS spiritual formation.” While there is more to spiritual formation than training the mind there should not be less. Intellectual training is an important component of spiritual formation and the one the school can most easily address.

Of course, “being smart” doesn’t inevitably lead to being more spiritual, but those who are zealous for God but don’t know why they believe what they believe are those most likely to be “faith dropouts.”

I saw and talked with a lot of faith dropouts and potential faith dropouts while working at L’Abri in the 70’s, and the great majority were those who had been told, “Don’t ask questions; just BELIEVE.” (It was this phenomenon among other things that led two of us former L’Abri workers to begin The Imago School.)

A lot rests on what “academic training in a Christian context” looks like. I think it needs to begin with a clear understanding by all those involved that Christianity is the truth about reality, all of reality. The students should get the message directly and indirectly that knowing who God is and what He says is crucial for a right understanding of everything, and not just for one narrow area of life. Hence, we go far beyond teaching information, and we talk about ideas and how to make judgments about whether ideas are true to what is.

We also are consciously shaping the moral imaginations of our students based on a Biblical view of goodness as we teach literature and history, including biblical history, and see models of virtuous behavior. Students taught to think Christianly about every area of study will come to see Christianity as not just a limited set of rules, beliefs, and practices but as the truth about reality.

I would go so far as to say that a school with a chaplain, a great chapel program, and a separate class in character development or spiritual disciplines but with little concern for a Christian view of reality being presented across the curriculum is actually doing a disservice to students and families by furthering a split view of reality—the view that academic learning and spiritual growth have little to do with each other. All our teaching, along with all our interactions with students, should be infused with the understanding that Christianity is first of all TRUE.

Another way that this kind of teaching about objective reality and true ideas aids in spiritual formation is that it helps students get out of themselves. An inflated view of self and the importance of my feelings and opinions is the main obstacle to growth in godliness. Those who learn to submit to the truth of what is and wonder at its beauty and unity are in a better place for the work of the Holy Spirit to go on in their lives.

Apprenticing Adults Through Middle School Lit

Teaching difficult literature to middle schoolers should be seen in the larger context of treating students as apprentice adults. As David Hicks explains in Norms and Nobility, classical teachers are not in the business of developing happy, well-adjusted children, but rather of forming adults. He points out that the idealized ancient schoolmaster’s method for forming adults was “to teach the knowledge of a mature mind, not to offer relevant Learning Experiences at the level of the student’s stage of psychological development.

Middle schoolers’ minds are ready for the intellectual challenge of literature that deals with serious themes and central questions. They love to discuss ideas; they love to have their ideas taken seriously. They won’t usually admit it, but most prefer challenging work to an “easy read.” When they are presented with a work such as The Odyssey or a Shakespeare play and told, “This will be hard, but you can do it,” they sit taller and work harder than when given a “young adult” book.

Even when this is not the case, giving middle schoolers difficult tasks is the right way to prepare them to be thinking adults. The value of sticking at and mastering a difficult task that the student sees as worth his time is better preparation for adult life than easy successes to boost self-esteem, which may only serve to convince students that they are smarter than adults. “What a student can do should not become the sole judge of what the student is asked to do,” says Hicks (italics mine).

The challenge for the teacher is to find this place beyond the student’s current reach without going too far beyond it. The skilled teacher translates complex themes into language students can under- stand, explaining difficult ideas through images and analogies that enable them to see what they have never seen before.

C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet often becomes my 7th grade students’ favorite book because it forces them to use their minds in new ways. They have the experience, maybe for the first time, of thinking a new thought and inserting it into the discussion.

This happens when they make a connection between the meaning of Lewis’s images and the truth of their own experiences. Wonderful discussions erupt around such things as Ransom’s choice of the word “bent” when trying to describe a sinful act to the un- fallen Malacandrians.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example, Eustace is made to see that there’s a difference be- tween what a star is made of and what a star is. Ransom’s experience in outer space, or Deep Heaven as he comes to call it, fleshes out this distinction and expands on it. Students see this, and I get the chance to introduce them to the sophisticated idea that there are other kinds of truth outside of scientific truth.

I know that something significant has happened when the classroom discussion spills out into the hallway, even continues in the lunchroom. Excitement about ideas stimulates concurrent movement toward mental maturity. It all happens when students have been given something worth thinking about and have risen to the challenge.