Education is teleological. “Teleological” is a big word that comes from the Greek word telos, which means end, goal, or purpose. To say that education is teleological is to say that it shapes children to be a certain kind of adult, and education always works because it always forms students toward its inherent telos, its end goal. G.K. Chesterton expressed the teleological nature of education well when he wrote that education is “the transfer of a way of life.” One of the best arguments against the secular progressive education that predominates our nation’s educational system is that it is working perfectly. It is, in fact, not broken at all. The students enrolling in college today have been shaped to be the kind of adults they have become.
The real question for you, Providence parent, is, What is your telos for your children? Do you want something for your children that is distinctly different?
One of the best pictures of the fruits of the contemporary secular progressive educational system was vividly captured in the 2016 essay “Res Idiotica” by Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen. You can read the whole essay here, but here are a few pungent excerpts:
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten it origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself.
It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject), they build superb resumes. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though with their peers (as snatches of passing conversation reveal), easygoing if crude. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publicly).They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting who will run America and the world.
But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian war? What was at stake at the Battle of Salamis? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?
Deneen writes that the real blame lies neither with the students nor with the educational system. Rather, the students are reaching the telos that the education designed for them. He continues:
My students are the fruits of a longstanding project to liberate all humans from the accidents of birth and circumstance, to make a self-making humanity. Understanding liberty to be the absence of constraint, forms of cultural inheritance and concomitant gratitude were attacked as so many arbitrary limits on personal choice, and hence, matters of contingency that required systematic disassembly. Believing that the source of political and social division and war was residual commitment to religion and culture, widespread efforts were undertaken to eliminate such devotions in preference to a universalized embrace of toleration and detached selves. Perceiving that a globalizing economic system required deracinated workers who could live anywhere and perform any task without curiosity about ultimate goals and effects [telos!], a main task of education became instillation of certain dispositions rather than grounded knowledge – flexibility, non-judgmentalism, contentless “skills,” detached “ways of knowing,” praise for social justice even as students were girded for a winner-take-all economy, and a fetish for diversity that left unquestioned why it was that everyone was identically educated at indistinguishable institutions. At first this meant the hollowing of local, regional, and religious specificity in the name of national identity. Today it has come to mean the hollowing of national specificity in the name of globalized cosmopolitanism, which above all requires studied oblivion to anything culturally defining. The inability to answer basic questions about America or the West is not a consequence of bad education; it is a marker of a successful education.
Students who graduate from a classical Christian school are not prep school resumè-building pros primed for maximum income potential. They have not been schooled in diversity cleansing in order to become puritanical “wokescolds” who know how to join a mob but have no idea how to think and talk about goodness, morality, philosophy, and history. Instead, the telos of their education is the cultivation of Christian virtue and wisdom, the building of a distinctly biblical worldview that takes aim at all human thought and endeavor in order to weigh it according to God’s Word. They know how to have a conversation about books and ideas, even those they vigorously disagree with. Their knowledge is tempered by humility, seasoned by wit, and cultivated for living. They understand their cultural inheritance and are marked by gratitude. They are not boring. They believe courageously.
Providence Classical Christian School partners with parents to work toward the same telos that our forefathers sought: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). As we pursue this aim, there is no doubt that we are swimming against the stream. But isn’t that our calling as Christian parents?