A few months ago we had kind of a set-to about wokeness in the classical Christian education world. If you missed that, you can catch up on at least some of it both here and here. And I am now preparing to let you know that the discussion continues, as it clearly needs to. The only thing I would add here is that there obviously needs to be much more than a discussion. There needs to be a parting of the ways.
Josh Herring has written more about it here, and Jessica Hooten Wilson makes her contribution here. And to top off this latest round, Scott Yenor also gives us his take on these woke incursions into the world of classical Christian education. For my money, Scott Yenor is exactly right. As he put it in an introductory tweet: This “is not how classicists argue.” Real classicists don’t frame their case the way Hooten Wilson does, and more about all that down below.
I want to argue that the woke disease is the single greatest threat to the resurgent classical Christian school movement. I regard it as the biggest threat we have faced thus far—and there have been many threats to choose from. This is not because I think we have had the earthquake yet, because I don’t believe that we have. But the fact that we haven’t had the “big one” doesn’t mean that we have no idea where the fault lines are.
We know exactly where the fault lines are.
How to Frame the Question
In a movement as large as the classical Christian world has become, parents of a kindergartner who are just now checking it out need to know where the burden of proof lies, or as your child might put it in his valedictory address thirteen years from now—if you make the right choice— where is the onus probandi? And because he had a good rhetoric teacher, he used that phrase without any swank, without putting on airs, and he actually made it into kind of a macaronic joke. But that is neither here nor there.
This is what I mean by the burden of proof. If some prospective parents come to an ACCS school, and they somehow think that the school with its “Eurocentric” curriculum has the burden of demonstrating that they are not white supremacists, this means that such parents have been marinating in the zeitgeist. Now I grant that the zeitgeist is not the usual thing one marinates in, but still, there it is. To hear some Christians talk these days, that is all they marinate in.
But if some prospective parents are visiting an SCL school, and they believe that school has the burden of proving that they are not in the process of going woke, then they are merely showing us all that they are paying attention. Is Jessica Hooten Wilson showcased at SCL events? And if someone who reasons in the way she does is showcased by them, what does that mean? It surely means something. And if a classical Christian school is considering signing up for the Classical Learning Test (CLT), does the person answering the phone down at CLT have the task of showing the inquiring school that they are not going woke? Yes, they actually do. And why is that?
Because in times like ours, any kind of big tent approach is clearly and plainly vulnerable. How easy would it be for the woke and/or semi-woke to make their way into a big tent? Those canvas doors are tied back and wide open. So any organization that wants to tolerate woke input without actually going woke is wanting something that cannot be.
Someone will reply that I am simply playing “guilt by association.” After all, wasn’t Thomas Achord the head of Sequitur Classical Academy until his views on race were uncovered? What is the difference, they might ask, between Thomas Achord on the right and Jessica Hooten Wilson on the left? The difference is that Achord lost his position and influence as soon as his views became known and Wilson continues on merrily.
I am not saying that every SCL school is woke. Or that CRT is. Of course not. I am simply saying that to raise the question is quite reasonable, given our troublous times and circumstances. I am saying that each SCL school that is not woke needs to be acutely aware of the peril their broader association is in. If one of your basic principles is that of broad inclusion, you need to be truly sensitive to the fact that we live in a time when the woke commies are going to line up in order to be included, taking full advantage of that broad inclusion. So the truly solid SCL school needs to gladly assume the burden of showing that their school is a true counter-cultural force, and not a conforming jelly with a thin Latin veneer.
You know that your school is an aforementioned conforming jelly if any of your board members or faculty voted for Biden. No need to peer into hearts. Just walk through the parking lot and look at the bumper stickers.
So if I might take a page from Ibram X. Kendi, with all appropriate thanks, it it not enough to not be woke. We must be anti-woke. If I might take another page from Robert Conquest, any organization that is not actively and openly anti-woke is in the process of becoming woke. So the good folks at the CLT need to do far more than to not be woke, and to say that they are not woke. It is not good enough to “not be woke.” They need to be vocally and loudly anti-woke.
This is because the classical Christian vision and the woke vision go together like Oreos and Dijon mustard. They go together like orange slices in your milk. They go together like Mozart and the Ramones.
Patriarchal, Not Misogynistic
So having set the stage, let me get to my central point. This may be a surprising one to some, and so I would like to ask you to work with me here. I would like to plead guilty. According to the “representation metric” that Scott Yenor showed us that Jessica Hooten Wilson is actually using, the classical canon is most certainly lopsided and patriarchal. According to the standards of our current and very deluded day, the classical canon is really is misogynistic and needs to be fixed.
But, as I am fond of asking, by what standard? This metric is being quietly assumed, and applied to Plato and Homer and Calvin and Herodotus and Augustine and the other dead white worthies that we find in the classical canon. But she does not (yet) apply the metric to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That comes later on in the downgrade.
She maintains that women are grossly underrepresented in the classical canon. Instead of disputing this—for I do not dispute it—I ask rather what’s wrong with it? The feminist tendency to argue like this is a bluestocking giveaway. The canon is overwhelmingly masculine for the same reason the NFL is.
If you would like a really bracing read along these lines, I would highly recommend the book No Apologies by Anthony Esolen. The subtitle is “Why Civilization Depends Upon the Strength of Men.” To bring his point to bear on the issue we are discussing here, we should inquire into why the classical canon depends upon the strength of men. In other words, I am disputing the feminist premise that men and women need to be equitably represented in every human endeavor.
As we are seeing with the trans movement, this does not end with the women being included. It ends with both men and women (as men and women) being erased, and replaced by androgynous post-surgical carbon units. And during the transition period, the nature of the thing is completely transformed, making way for the next slosh as we all circle the drain together.
To introduce women into the “great conversation” is not going to “include them” in that great conversation, but rather will radically alter what we are even talking about. This is because men and women have different interests, and this is because men and women are different. I know, I know, but work with me here. There is a creation order here.
Men talk about whether the good is what it is because the gods will it, or whether the gods will it because it is good. Women talk about whether everyone was included on the invitation list to the symposium. Jessica Hooten Wilson’s inclusion project is reinforcing this stereotype, and is not refuting it. She talking about whether a certain class of person has been left out. She does not emphasize the missing topics that the students never learn because they did not read the authors who wrote about them—because any such topic could be introduced by a man. But there is nevertheless “a truth” that she is surreptitiously introducing. Her missing truth is equitable representation. Put another way, her missing truth is feminism.
Make no mistake. The students should debate and discuss feminism. But they should not do so under a structure that has already decided the victor in the debate before it is even held.
Jessica Hooten Wilson defends herself against the charge of being woke because she says she spends all her time with medieval writers, and the medieval period was no bastion of wokeness. That part is quite true. But if we were to ask her to mount her case for equal representation of women in the canon, using only medieval sources, I suspect that she would be hard pressed. She can only make that case by appealing to our current egalitarian vibe—which is compelling only to those who have not been classically educated. The fact that few recognize what she is doing, or, if they see it, are afraid to say anything about it, is a sign of how much we need the old school classical canon—now more than ever.
Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. True enough. But it is also true that the unexamined curriculum adjustment is not worth implementing.
C.S. Lewis for the Balance
The counter charge will be that I am saying (quite the misogynist, I) that women don’t care about truth and that men don’t care about fairness for all. Not at all. But the masculine and feminine emphases here will nevertheless be quite different. They both care, but they both care differently. And it is also true that a feminine grounding is absolutely necessary to keep the men from floating off into a lunatic headiness.
“Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant ‘a bastard nursed in a bureau’, and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.”
C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pp. 59-60
Men and women have different roles to play in the building of civilization. There are exceptions here and there, and we can all be glad for the historical presence of Deborah the judge of Israel, and Queen Elizabeth I, and Joan of Arc. We budget for them. But if you start with the expectation that you need equal representation of male and female engineers on the Apollo moon landing project, what you will end up with is no moon landing. If you demand an equal number of women who are stone masons in the building of Yorkminster, what you will have at the end of the day is no cathedral. If you require a priori that half the troops that hit Normandy beach be women, what you will win for your pains is a Nazi-occupied Europe.
I say all these things subtracting the full contribution of the men, and observing the shambolic results. And I grant that if you were to subtract the contribution of the women from our corporate life together, the results would be equally disastrous . . . but still different. It would be a different disaster. You lose the sanity and the grounding that the women provide—as Lewis saw, and also Chesterton, and every other sensible man in the history of the world. You also lose one of the main reasons men have for accomplishing what they do. As I have noted before, civilizations are built by men with families to feed.
The Lord Jesus identified bad teaching as something like leaven (Matt. 16:6). That is, just allow for its presence, and it will start to do bad things. The apostle Paul compared a particular kind of doctrinal babble as a form of gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17)—and if gangrene knows anything, it knows how to grow and spread.
There is a certain kind of big tent approach to classical education which is healthy and wise. What do you get when you foster debate between those who favor Recovering the Lost Tools and those who favor Wisdom and Eloquence? You get iron sharpening iron. What do you get when you debate the best time to introduce the teaching of Latin? You get more iron sharpening iron. What do you get when you work through when would be the best time for teaching formal logic? You get productive ideas, that’s what.
What do you get when you make room for feminist sensibilities? For woke nonsense? You get the death of a movement.
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