Perhaps the final difficulty is that we cannot pass on to our children what we ourselves do not possess. It is worth every effort to recover an authentic liberal arts education for ourselves in tandem with educating our children. It is our sacred duty to be their primary educators.

There is a universal crisis of faith and reason in modern education. The crisis is not a lack of faith or reason, but a radical reinterpretation of both. The proper hierarchy of Church, family and school that animates the good society has been inverted by the secular humanist agenda. Worse, schooling, a secular religious endeavor since John Dewey, subsumes and attempts to destroy both family and Church. As a society, how do we miss this?

We have made an idol out of public education. Increasing centralization of institutionalized failure draws swindlers to the treasury like crooked tailors to the vainglorious emperor. These swindlers or “experts” are adept at abusing speech by the invention of complex jargon. The baffling lingo is propagated by an army of technicians employed by the educational industrial complex. The fraud is intended to give the appearance of “education.” Think of standardized testing, SAT, CLT, MTSS, CRT, SEL, k-12 comprehensive sex education, and countless other disordered, bankrupt, and failed programs. Things have declined so precipitously that some schools are even hosting an After School Satan Club™.

As a society, we are bewitched by the folly and gratified by the virtue signaling that accompanies the programmatic inversion of reason and emotion. As the good Dr. Daniel Robinson once quipped about these ever-revolving and ever-devolving education programs, they could become “the cadavers upon which we might discover the anatomy of confusion” if only we had the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

In this age, we are conditioned to shift our gaze from first order considerations to second order matters. Prevailing materialistic ideologies in the public square have eliminated the transcendent, immaterial, and principled reflections once common to our literate class. We have been cut off from objective truth and objective moral standards by societal conditioning. Further, we have rejected first principles and the formal and final explanatory factors required to make adequate definitions. Truth and falsity are now in the head of the beholder, just as good and evil are in the belly of the believer. In summary, we have abandoned the proper worldview traditionally held by Western Christendom, and thus we are blind and deaf to the roots of the crisis.

We must recover a deep understanding of two possible worldviews, that of Western Christendom and that of secular humanism. These two worldviews are mirror image inversions of one another. In the simplest of terms, as St. John Paul the Great explained, ours sees matter coming from spirit and the secular humanists see “spirit” coming from matter.

Modern American culture is in the full and ubiquitous grip of secularization. False notions of the separation of church and state, false freedom, and increasing atheism are the unspoken aims of the modern school. In 1983, John Dunphy published this religious diatribe. It is an accurate reflection of what lies in the shrunken stoney hearts of the “men without chests” in public school leadership:

“The battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public-school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: A religion of humanity — utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to carry humanist values into wherever they teach. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new — the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.” 

To recover the fullness of the traditional understanding of Western Civilization and then to identify the diametrically opposed contrast with the secular humanist agenda will bring the clarity we need.

At the heart of our current problem is the fact that we have accepted the terms of the adversary. We hold our conversations on their ground and make the materialistic mistake of “compromising” by the attempt to hybridize the mutually exclusive secular and religious worldviews. This mistake is deadly because instead of the hoped for consequence that the Catholic would baptize the secular, it is the secular that corrupts the Catholic. Power is the animating principle for them, and authority is ours. Compromise is not an art for an authentic education.

The secular humanist endeavor sees the world through the lens of material reductionism. Material science and personal experience are asserted to be the highest ways of knowing. This disastrous educational flaw promotes subjectivism and relativism. Worse, it radically deforms definitions and concepts. The ensuing scientism hollows out language and robs human speech of its living significance, grammar of it liberating potential and logic of its power to yield certain truth.

The latest redefinitions in the modern dictionary are terribly alarming. Still, it has been countless generations since the concept of “nature” was radically altered by the materialists. Now, the first likely definition of nature we encounter is “the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth.” This is an acceptable definition for a secular humanist, but not for an honest Catholic seeking an authentic education.

Our definition ought to begin with the truth that nature is a principle of motion and rest. A thing’s nature is the playing field of all potential activity discovered by its essence. By knowing the nature of a thing, we can come to discover its purpose and potential perfection. If we accept the secular humanist definition, there is no discussion or discovery of essence or purpose of things in the created order, and these are two of the most important considerations in an authentic education.

Once we rediscover the true meaning of the word nature, then and only then, can we begin to articulate an authentic education flowing from a deep understanding of the nature of reality, the nature of the human person and the nature of human learning. All three of these are deformed beyond recognition by secular humanist definitions.

When it comes to reality, the authentic school knows that real things exist, we can know real things and human speech can accurately convey reality, both material and immaterial. The modern school rejects the immaterial, universals, natures, and final causality. Natural physics is replaced by the material sciences and metaphysics is materialized.

In the authentic school we know that all men are made in the image and likeness of our Creator with the faculties of intellect and free will that separate us from the beasts. The modern school considers man a trousered ape at best, with the good fortune to have been a few paces ahead on the evolutionary run by the development of language and opposable thumbs.

For the authentic school, we know that all learning begins in the senses, but it doesn’t end there. Our spiritual gift is to contemplate and reflect truth, which is the conformity of the mind to reality. Our endeavor begins in the body but ends in the soul with the acquisition and cultivation of intellectual and moral virtues. In public school, it is a purely material endeavor, at least in theory. As C.S. Lewis quips of the modern form, “the more it succeeds, the more it disastrously fails.” Secular humanists lower the intellect to the knowing senses and reduce the free will to the passions as they embrace the materialism that asserts genetic and environmental determinism.

The three foundational topics of the natures of reality, anthropology and human learning are mutually exclusive and irreconcilable in the two worldviews.

The crisis of faith and reason in modern education has become the same crisis for the Catholic school insofar as a Catholic school adopts secular humanist methods. The authentic education ought to be synonymous with Catholic education. Unfortunately, as society changed in the 20th century many in the Catholic schools believed they could offer what the public schools were offering plus Catholic education at the same time. In essence, they believed that the wine of good Catholic education would baptize the waters of secular education.

Unfortunately, the bright lights of technological progress and inculcated materialism of the early 20th century increasingly blinded us to the first order considerations that show us the mutual exclusivity between the two worldviews. By second order groping, we catered to the materialists’ reductions and after a time, most Catholic schools became just as disordered as the public schools with the add on of an occasional Holy Mass and a religion class.

What is happing today in most Catholic schools can be elucidated by Jesus’ image in Matthew 9:17 when he says, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” This image can be likened to education. There is a “new education” invented by the secular humanists we may liken to “new wine, except it is no more an authentic education than fetid water is wine. Still, this “new wine” must be conveyed to the community, so in the Catholic schools it is put into the old wineskins of the Catholic vernacular, and as we have seen on countless occasions, the old wineskins burst.

In a nearly identical form, most of the new classical education movements have made the same compromises with the secular humanist fetid water. The highest quality efforts have been apt to hybridize Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Trivium. This gross error can only be made on the ground determined by the secular humanist. Perhaps the most conspicuous offender is the CLT which takes the form of the most degraded rotten fruit of the secular humanist agenda, the “new wine” of standardized testing, and puts it in the old wineskins of classical nomenclature.

The result of these new “classical” movements is the appearance of “education” without the substance. To add insult to injury, the bait and switch of the whole affair is to give false attribution to an organization or method for educational success when it ought to be rightfully understood to emanate from the good families attracted to these hybridized “classical” or even “catholic” schemes.

We are in dire need of a recovery of a proper Catholic world view that includes a deep understanding of reality, Catholic anthropology, and the true nature of human learning. We must learn once again to make new wine by the arts and sciences of the ancient masters. By the principle of subsidiarity, the new wine must be appropriate to this age, geography, and each particular institution. We must recover the proper means and ends of an authentic education that flows from true nature and aims at the beatific vision, man’s true common end.

The new wineskins must be composed of a restoration of language that sees human speech as a gift from God. We must return to the truth that the nature and purpose of speech is to “convey the truth in the service of others” for the sake of the common good. We must be uncompromising that words are signs that convey the intelligibility of the real things to which they point in the created cosmos.

Perhaps the final difficulty is that we cannot pass on to our children what we ourselves do not possess. It is worth every effort to recover an authentic liberal arts education for ourselves in tandem with educating our children. It is our sacred duty to be their primary educators. If we abdicate our sacred charge and turn our children over to the diabolical agenda in the public schools, we are harming more than just our families, we are degrading the common good and offending the One who made us. Unknown dangers lurk in our own beloved Catholic schools and even the new classical endeavors. Let us come to know that it is ours to become new winemakers and produce new wineskins as we once again answer the call to colonize heaven by passing onto our children what is offered to us through Holy Mother Church.

Image credit: “The School of Athens” (detail) |Raphael, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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