Monday, March 05, 2007

C. S. Lewis on Education

I just finished reading The Screwtape Letters. For those unfamiliar, the book consists of thirty-one letters from Screwtape, an administrator demon, to his nephew, Wormwood, who is a Tempter. We don't get to read Wormwood's letters, though we can tell how he is progressing based on Screwtape's letters.

In any event, after all the letters, C. S. Lewis includes a toast as offered by Screwtape. Therein the demon says:

In that promising land the spirit of I'm as good as you has already become something more than a generally social influence. It begins to work itself into their educational system...

The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to fell inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be 'undemocratic'... At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not... The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age-group throughout his entire school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coaeval's attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON THE MAT...

[T]he teachers--or should I say nurses?--will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any real time on real teaching...

Of course this would not follow unless all education becomes state education. But it will.

I absolutely love it when dead people agree with me. I mean when I agree with them. I have a meeting to get to, so I've no time to add commentary, but I think C. S. Lewis would be quite receptive to home-schooling. And anyway, Screwtape would be opposed--impetus enough for a Christian I should fancy.

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