Stratford Caldecott’s book Beauty in the Word claims to rethink the foundations of education: a lofty goal, and, if successful, an important book. He aims to “make an effort to understand the elements and assumptions that make a good education possible” (7).
He begins by preaching to the choir:
“The gravest threat our civilization faces is…philosophical. It is the widespread belief that there is no objective truth and no ‘true’ way of considering the world and its history, only a plurality of subjective points of view, each point of view being of equal value and deserving equal respect” (7).
The fundamental flaw in education today is relativism; if there’s no knowable truth, how can we study the world around us with any real enthusiasm or ultimate aim? With no truth, it’s no wonder education today is overly pragmatic, built to help its students get along better materially in the world, without a care for the student’s soul. Oh, surely, psychologists and bureaucrats have plenty of concern for the student’s emotional well-being, in a fragmented, methodical way—after all, we certainly don’t need another school shooting perpetrated by a crazed, unbalanced student—but the soul? The integration of the person as a whole? The cultivation of wisdom? Education must treat the whole person with deference to a knowable truth; this argument is nothing new to classical or many Christian educators.
Caldecott devotes a significant portion of his introduction to the “Specific Mission of a Catholic School,” and how such schools might be viewed by or useful to unbelievers. Though I agree that the mission of a Catholic or Christian school is in large part to spread the Gospel to unbelievers, what Caldecott has to say about the Incarnation, I believe, is at the heart of any Christian education:
The news of the Incarnation is not some piece of information that, once communicated, can be filed away, and which changes nothing. If true, it changes everything. It reveals the meaning and purpose of life, and this releases the floodgates of human creativity (14).
The Gospel cannot just be an addition to an otherwise secular curriculum. It informs all of human life: how one relates to God, self, others, and the natural world.
Christ frees us not only from sin, but the believer’s intellectual inquiry is also freed by Him. We’re set free to explore our world through science, history, technology, philosophy, or whatever specific gifts or interests God’s given us because we know we can depend on the God who created it all. In His infinite wisdom and with His holy purpose, He set the planets in motion, created the complexity and beauty which surround us, and cares for humanity throughout the progression of history.
This is such freeing knowledge to have as compared to an evolutionary, agnostic, atheistic, or secular mindset which places Chance as the ultimate authority. If we’re all just here through natural selection, there is no place for meaning. There is no significance to our lives or to the lives of anything living that surround us, other than to be a cog in the enormous wheel of evolutionary progress—we’ll just die, and statistically have next-to-zero chance of making any kind of impact on the future of our world.
So for Caldecott, “[Education] is about how we become more human (and therefore more free, in the truest sense of that word)” (11). We shall see in later chapters the kind of education he lays out to accomplish this. I’ll end abruptly here, though Caldecott’s introduction is much richer than the few ideas I’ve commented upon thus-far.