The most effective thing that we can still do to conserve our civilization is raise and educate our own children in the way that they should go. Shortly after the Orthosphere began operating in early 2012, I posted an item about the superiority of homeschooling. But what about middle and secondary school? What about college?
Two of our most luminous and percipient writers, both themselves professors – Anthony Esolen and Roger Scruton – have recently posted on these questions.
In Classical Education Can Purge a Multitude of Sins, Esolen tells us how small upstart schools that focus on Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and the Canon of the West can water the parched roots of our culture.
In The End of the University, Scruton documents the latter day depravation of the original monastic institutions, and discusses his years helping establish samizdat colleges – literally, reading groups – in Communist Czechoslovakia.
Both essays are suffused with elegiac sorrow at the death of the glorious traditional Western institutions of education. Both are also quietly determined, hopeful, encouraged that the original mission of such schools lies still meet to our own hands, minds, and hearts. The West need not die with its ancient schools and colleges, and at their treasonous hands; for we ourselves are and may be more and more the West, and may teach its civilization to our own. It need not die. Nor therefore need high Western education. There is nothing preventing home schooling parents in a town or neighbourhood from joining together to found a Latin school for their upper division children, or an underground college focused on the Great Canon. The greatest cost involved would be time and attention, for as Scruton points out, not much money is needed:
… during the ten years that I worked with others to turn these private reading groups into a structured (if clandestine) university, I learned two very important truths. The first is that a cultural inheritance really is a body of knowledge and not a collection of opinions—knowledge of the human heart, and of the long-term vision of a human community. The second is that this knowledge can be taught, and that it does not require a vast investment of money to do this, certainly not the $50,000 per student per year that is demanded by an Ivy League university. It requires a handful of books that have passed the test of time and are treasured by all who truly study them. It requires teachers with knowledge and students eager to acquire it. And it requires the continuing attempt to express what one has learned, either in essays or in the face-to-face encounter with a critic. All the rest—administration, information technology, lecture halls, libraries, extracurricular resources—is, by comparison, an insignificant luxury.
This is how the Academy and the Lyceum got their starts. It is the original model of education: a learned man, with a book or two, and a circle of boys sitting at his feet.
How to begin? A parent’s association, that can start as nothing more than a series of earnest meetings in a coffee house (lots of great enterprises got their starts in coffee houses), or a living room. After a few meetings, a parent’s association might well find that it has become a PTA. Then, all that is needed is a church basement or two, and the rest is going to fall into place in the way that these things do: organically, and driven by the urgent exigencies of the moment – a supply of books here, a blackboard there, a microscope, some binoculars, a periodic congregation of minivans.
Easy for me to say; my kids have all graduated college. But then, on the other hand, the next generation of my family is already under way, and I may yet find myself pressed out of the retirement I see now beckoning to me, just a few years hence, and into service as an amateur professor to five or six kids of my grandchildren’s cohort.
I shall take Professor Digory Kirke as my model.