Thursday, September 07, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Education

Before we continue with this series -- a quick confession: I loathe the term "crunchy cons". It's mired in oceans of cheese; it sounds so trite and market driven for the high purposes that Dreher has in mind. Love the concepts of the book, but I really dislike the moniker.

That said, the next chapter Dreher wades into is on Education. He makes quite a passionate case for Homeschooling, though he admits it's not for everyone. First in his chapter, he makes a case for the purpose of education: “The ultimate point of all education is not to accumulate facts and technique, but to become virtuous – that is, to discover how the knowledge we acquire ought to be applied. This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. We are called to be wise.” (126)

This has been a contention of mine for a long time -- I so tire of the utilitarian ends to which education has been applied. This isn't to say that education isn't supposed to be practical -- my point is that practicality often has a deeper requirement. Those classmates of mine who went straight into the school of Business and eschewed the liberal arts or the sciences missed out on a tremendous education of wisdom - and many of them led smaller hollower lives. Their interests and their visions and their ambitions were small and provincial.

I've always maintained that the goal of a liberal arts education was to learn how to teach yourself anything. It was to learn to think and to process and to argue. When I majored in English Lit, people asked if I wanted to be a teacher -- no. But I did land jobs working in Public Radio, Information Delivery Systems, Corporate Training and Technical Documentation (for a large Bank), and now the Gospel Ministry (the last great refuge for information generalists -- you have to know a smattering from a bunch of different fields to do this job). All that to say, the blessings of a liberal arts education (which include critical thinking, moral grounding, and broad study) really worked for me.

Back to Dreher's view of education, which is rooted in a classical liberal arts model of learning wisdom rather than simply facts. He takes us on a brief polemic of the history of public education in America -- his assertion being that it was designed initially as an experiment in state wresting control of the next generation from families. I won't wade into this minefield, for I know too many really good public educators, I have too many educators in my family (pretty much everyone on my mom's side of the family worked in public education) and we send Sarah Grace to a public school -- but a few pungent quotes to stir your thinking:

“…the structured artificiality of formal schooling can be an impediment to learning. Being confined to the same age group, having to sit quietly at a desk and focus on the same subject for fifty minutes, then moving to the next one, and so forth, is often a poor way to learn.” (140) Agreed -- this is why we chose a Montessori model school for Sarah Grace -- though not a perfect model by any stretch, Sarah Grace is encouraged to excel where her gifts are. There are indeed public schools that avoid this criticism.

And how about this response to the critique that homeschoolers don't get the benefit of socialization: “To which the screamingly obvious response is, look at the values predominating in youth culture today; is that really working for us?”(141). He's right on on this one. I've refered us many times to ypulse weblog (a must read for anyone who is a parent or who works with youth) -- they've featured many stories about the rampant sexualization of youth culture -- one of the main trends of socialization that we want to avoid.

The main point of Dreher's chapter is that parents need to think of their family as a mission (and I would suggest that churches think of families the same way) -- that children are a blessing from the Lord -- they are the arrows that we shoot into the future. And this we need to be intentional about imparting education to them. This is why I believe strongly in Family Ministry for the church -- I am who I am today because of my parents but also because of dozens of adult volunteers who helped out with church, mission trips, basketball teams, soccer leagues, and other places. And many of those adults were 20 and 30 somethings who didn't have children -- but they felt a responsibility to the youth of the church and wanted to make a difference in their lives. The church can certainly step up to the plate on this one and help parents in the challenging role of socializing and educating whole and wise children.

Soli Deo Gloria

Index of interesting Links:
Other reviews
* Jonah Goldberg from National Review -- a withering attack (while admitting there's lots of good in the book)
* Kevin Holtsberry from RedState online
* Maxwell Goss of Right Reason gives one of the more balanced critiques I've read.
* The Wall Street Journal's review
* Michael Dougherty giving a reasoned and balanced critique.

Crunchy Con resources
* Weston A Price foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and healing.
* Slow Food Movement
* Atheists, Agnostics, and Conservatives by Amy Welborn – a good view of the difference between faithbased crunchy cons and uberlibertarian agnostic cons
* Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost on materialism and Jesus Junk
* Russell Kirk Center
* Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Con blog
* The Immaculate Direction a blog that is very crunchy connish
* Cerulean Sanctum’s series relating the book to 21st century Christian life. Very thoughtful and thought provoking.