From the Introduction to R. J. Rushdoony’s Intellectual Schizophrenia: A Study in Philosophy and Education (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, New Jersey, 1961). Mr. Opitz is a member of the Foundation staff.
The crisis of our culture comes into one of its focal points in education. Most inquiries into education, however, are little more than amiable discussions about conditions in our schools. There is a dearth of trenchant criticism of contemporary educational theory and practice which measures its shortcomings against the demands of the Christian revelation.
Culture is religion externalized, and our culture bears the imprints of its molding by Christianity; we were Christendom before we began thinking of ourselves as Europe or the West. The hallmarks of this faith stamp themselves even on our rebellion against it, for every rejection or denial implies something positive against which the reaction occurs. The positive things in our culture have been Christian things, or the things of Christian cultivation.
T. S. Eliot has said somewhat the same thing in The Idea of a Christian Society. There are some, he observes, who say "that a society has ceased to be Christian when religious practices have been abandoned, when behavior ceases to be regulated by reference to Christian principle." But there is another way of looking at the matter. "The other point of view, which is less readily apprehended, is that a society has not ceased to be Christian until it has become positively something else. It is my contention that we have today a culture which is mainly negative, but which, so far as it is positive, is still Christian. I do not think that it can remain negative, because a negative culture has ceased to be efficient in a world where economic as well as spiritual forces are proving the efficiency of cultures which, even when pagan, are positive; and I believe that the choice before us is between the formation of a new Christian culture, and the acceptance of a pagan one." (London, 1939, p. 13)
The word "pagan" usually connotes an innocent, carefree child of nature. This kind of thing is hardly a live option for modern man and, presumably, is not what Eliot has in mind. Christianity’s chief antagonist for the past two centuries has been the secular faith of the Enlightenment, and a perverse form of it is the main contender today. In its early phases there was something attractive about this faith, but in its reactionary phase during this century it has spawned an idolatrous, statist cult manifesting itself now as communism, and again as various dilutions of Marxism.
Communism is one version of environmentalism—the notion that a man’s character is made for him and not by him. Improve his material circumstances and you change man for the better. Education, under this dispensation, is the sum total of efforts to adapt man to his surroundings.
Should the educated man be adjusted to his environment? Adjustment is the aim, as many educationists see it. Some of them narrow the concept of the environment down to the social group and recommend that schooling be a process of merging the man into the mass. These theories have not gone unchallenged. Man, say the opponents of environmentalism, has the capacity to respond creatively to his environment and surpass it. And the group, they point out, may exhibit norms that are warped or vicious. Accommodation to these is debasing.
What Is Environment?
The environmentalists return to the fray by asking their critics if the aim of education, then, is to produce maladjusted products? It is not, obviously, but at this point the argument runs aground because both parties accept too limiting a notion of what constitutes man’s environment. As the term is commonly used, environment refers to the world of time and space, the world of things, the physical frame within which man struggles to survive. No Christian can accept so narrow a definition of environment; his natural habitat is the universe of time and space, but he is also environed by another dimension, eternity.
This dimension has dropped out of contemporary life. The modern outlook does not include it, with the result that multitudes of people no longer feel a sense of life as participation in a cosmic adventure. They have come to believe that the world of things which can be seen, felt, measured, and tested is man’s sole habitat. Belief in the reality of things not seen has dimmed or disappeared and we are living, so the French writer, Andre Malraux, tells us, in "the first agnostic civilization." This charge, or description, is all too true. It is a fundamental assumption, unconsciously presupposed in our time—and thus more a mood than a precise—that man is a creature of the natural order only. It was the evil genius of Karl Marx to seize upon this mood and make it explicit. Communism today offers a godless religion and a this-worldly salvation, a caricature or parody, point by point, of Christianity. And one has the uneasy feeling that many people, now on the fence, would go communist except for an inertia which prevents them from following their premises to the bitter end.
We are living, some have suggested, in the post-Christian era. Our outlook is, in general, man-centered, secularist, and utopian. It is materialistic and rationalistic. It uses majority decision as its criterion of right. It asserts a false individualism as against natural associations such as the family and intimate community groupings, and then it turns to nationalism as the principle of social cohesion. There are very few new truths, but there are always lots of new errors—and these are some which have gained acceptance during recent centuries. The axioms now widely taken for granted are largely eighteenth and nineteenth century products, and they are alien to the Christian and humanist tradition. But even though they seem more deeply entrenched than ever in the popular mentality, they have already come under fire from some of the more discerning minds.
Socialism Lacks Appeal
The acids of modernity may have eaten away at historic Christianity, but more recently they have also attacked the Enlightenment faith. Christianity has been purged of some undesirable accretions during this ordeal, but its rival has probably been damaged beyond repair. Reflect further on some of the tenets of the latter and ask: Where are now its votaries? Futurism, the gospel of unimaginable progress; scientism, belief in the messianic potential of science; democracy, faith in the omniscience of majorities; socialism, utopia by means of political ownership—who now defends these dogmas? They still have their partisans, true, but they gain few recruits. Christianity, on the other hand, is resurgent; not always wisely so, perhaps, but it is, at any rate, alive enough to challenge the ablest contemporary minds. It fared badly under the shallow optimism which reigned last century because Christianity is a religion of hard answers. It is not called into play when men are content with glib answers to soft questions; it partakes of the tragic view of life.
Opportunity from Crisis
Henry Adams ironically remarked that his contemporaries had "solved the universe." Christianity is not for the likes of these. But today’s crisis is religion’s opportunity. Life again confronts men with paradox, uncertainty, dilemma, and catastrophe; the smooth facade is dented and breached. Man tries to play God and fails to secure even a niche for himself in any pantheon. The homemade heaven he tries to fashion on earth—in totalitarian lands—resembles an old-fashioned hell. He aspires to the role of deity and reverts to sub humanity. Perhaps if men attempt a more modest role—to become truly human—we may, with God’s help, make it. But such a choice as this demands an individual commitment. Before we seek for better answers, let alone hard answers, we must start to ask the right questions. In this respect each of us needs all the help he can get, and he can get help from the right books.
This analysis will hardly find favor with professional educationists, nor with those who reject religion. But even many churchmen, regrettably, are more at home with sentimentality than hard, rigorous thinking. They will be uncomfortable with anything that challenges them to re-examine things they have taken for granted.
Many churchmen are disturbed because the Bible may no longer be read in the so-called public schools, but how many acknowledge the inevitability of the secularist trend in tax supported and politically controlled schools? The state is secular in a free society, the alternative being some form of caesaropapism. It follows that wherever government gets into the education business—whether at local or national levels—its influence will tend to secularize the schools. The churches respond to this challenge by offering released-time religious instruction, and by establishing—at a progressive rate—their own weekday schools. Laudable as are these efforts, it is feared that, in all too many cases, parochial and private schools operate with the same theories of education as tax supported institutions.
Before we can discuss the nature of education intelligently we must have come to some understanding of the nature of man. Soviet schooling with its emphasis on scientific and technological instruction, reflects the Marxian understanding of human nature. Whatever else we say about the Marxian view of man, we must certainly admit that it falls short in every dimension of the Christian view of man—a creature created by God for fellowship with Himself. If the Christian view of man’s nature and destiny is our premise, we cannot possibly agree that even a superbly trained engineer is a finished educational product. We need lots of engineers in modern society, and good ones are to be preferred to those less highly skilled. But engineering is in the realm of means, and the crucial question concerns the ends to be served by these means. It’s fine that we constantly improve our means, but unless we simultaneously improve our ends we generate a conflict by hitching too much power to too little purpose. "Power is never a good," Alfred the Great observed, "except he be good that has it." It would further the interests of clarity if we could use the word training to describe the instruction that has to do with means, or instrumental knowledge; reserving the word education for that which has to do with ends, or formative knowledge. Instruction in instrumental knowledge is not education, although it is part of education and useful in its own right. It is needful that men possess such skills as the ability to lay bricks, cut hair, add figures, perform experiments in physics and chemistry, write books, and preach sermons. But while the possession of such skills is desirable and important, their exercise is not the distinctive mark of an educated man. It is true, however, that an educated man ought to have a quiverful of such and similar talents and be able, like Jefferson, "to calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin." But this is merely to say that a man ought to be trained as well as educated.
Inherent Defects of the System
The so-called public school system in the United States stems mainly from the nineteenth century and partakes of the dubious philosophy of that time and subsequent periods. As a system of instruction supported by taxation and compelling attendance it was bound to veer toward secularism and statism, but other inherent defects were apparent as well. Late last century the astute
French critic, Ernest Renan observed that "countries which, like the United States, have set up considerable popular instruction without any serious higher education, will long have to expiate their error by their intellectual mediocrity, the vulgarity of their manners, their superficial spirit, their failure in general intelligence." (Quoted by Albert Jay Nock in The Theory of Education in the United States, Chicago, 1932, 1949, p. 20)
In the twentieth century, compulsory government schooling got its philosopher, John Dewey. "The educational process," as viewed by this influential teacher, "has no end beyond itself." Education is "vital energy seeking opportunity for effective exercise." (John Dewey, Democracy and Education, N. Y., 1921, pp. 59 and 84) The Dewey philosophy is pragmatic, experimental, and instrumentalist—not advanced tentatively for argument and debate, but insisted upon dogmatically as the only permissible point of view. I. L. Kan-del, Professor of Education Emeritus, Teachers College, Columbia University, writes, in School and Society for August 22, 1953, "The critic, however sincere, who ventures to comment adversely on the consequences of the cult of pragmatism, experimentalism, or instrumentalism is regarded as almost committing sacrilege."
But now it is admitted on all sides that the sacred cow is out of sorts. There is something wrong with our system of education because there is something wrong with our theory of education, and we won’t correct our system until we straighten out our theory. But this we cannot even begin to do unless we know what is normative. We really do know, as a matter of fact, but we need to be reminded that the norms are Christian imperatives.
A revolution is taking place which will leave the people dependent on the government…. Finding markets will develop into fixing prices and finding employment will develop into fixing wages. The next step will be to furnish markets and employment, or in default, pay a bounty and dole.
Those who look with apprehension on these tendencies do not lack humanity, but are influenced by the belief that the result of such measures will be to deprive the people of character and liberty.