Education is neither science nor magic. It is not a machine because man, the subject of education, is not a machine; it is not magic because man is not reducible to a material mechanism that may be manipulated by natural or “magical” processes. The essential problem with almost any modern educational program is that it assumes a reductionist model of human nature or denies the existence of human nature altogether. When it really comes down to it, this means that modern education doesn’t understand what it is doing. It follows — unsurprisingly — that modern education is aimless and often disastrous. This is why it is so important to return to classical education, which actually plans out a course of education that maps onto an authentic anthropology.
The departure from the classical approach is grounded in the statist and revolutionary political changes of the 19th century. Indeed much of our modern educational approach dates back to the Enlightenment or just as bad, Bismark’s Germany. By contrast the classical model is inspired by an organic and nurturing approach to reality. This is one of the most important qualities of classical education (in subsequent entries I shall go further into the superiority of classical education).
The key to effective education is a proper grasp of the reality of the human person. Bad anthropology leads to misguided education, and this is the root defect of all educational problems. Classical education is superior to modern approaches because it is based on a true vision of the human person.
Man is a rational animal. It follows that he is living, passionate, imaginative, artistic, social, political, and rational. This is the classical vision of man inherited from the great philosophers of the ancient world, especially Aristotle. This definition has stood the test of time and its neglect has spelled the doom of Western education. Man possesses innate powers, not just possibilities; these powers are innately inclined to specific categories of action and operation. With this in mind it is possible to define clearly the form and tasks of real education.
Cultivation Through Signs
Effective education cultivates the actualization of man’s natural cognitive inclinations. This needs to be explained in depth, but some initial observations will prove helpful going forward. Education employs signs — words, diagrams, exercises — to cultivate and actualize man’s natural cognitive inclinations. These include our capacities for language, imagination, all of the arts, and the sciences. Education cannot make man good and virtuous; it cannot make man holy; but it can stimulate growth in our cognitive operations. It can equip men to speak well, be creative, produce effectively, and think truly with rigor. This is the real mission of education. In upcoming posts, I shall go into detail about the curriculum and methods of effective education.