Wednesday, April 04, 2018

From the archives: Mozart, long division, and the tough stuff

First posted April 2010

Last night I found myself deep in Charlotte Mason's School Education (the third volume in the Home Education series), because I was thinking hard about how what we do for school here does or doesn't match up with CM goals. (Sometimes it doesn't!) I did take some time out to watch Mr. Holland's Opus, including the part where Mr. Holland's school cuts out all the music and drama courses because of lack of funds and because the administration does not value those things.

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I'm forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.
Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about.
It's hard to get away from the discussion and thinking over educational questions in Ontario over the past couple of weeks, questions about political correctness, about the school vs. the family's role in teaching anything beyond the "basic" subjects. The Toronto weekend papers were full of comments from people who would seemingly like nothing better to get their hands squeezed tightly around the minds of my children. We've also been talking about spiritual warfare as part of a study at church. It all leads me to a sense not so much of despair but of urgency, a sense that if our children are to have a chance to stand against not only systematic reprogramming of personal values but against the Vice Principal Wolters of the world, we need to give them some very strong tools to do it with and we need to do that now.

Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley, though not necessarily kindred spirits to CM, agreed on one point: that books, real books, are the strongest of those tools. Take books away from people, either physically or by taking away their ability to read them (or their belief that books are valuable, or their understanding that some books are just paper with covers while others are more than that), and you can reprogram your subjects to think any way you want. Find them again, and the winter of frozen minds starts to thaw and bud into spring. It even happened in the Bible.

That's why slaves were forbidden to read. That's why printing presses and newspapers are often damaged or closed down during times of political turmoil. Knowledge (not just information, as Charlotte Mason repeatedly said) is power. Thinking is power. Reading is power. We have the natural world, we have Mozart, we have paintings, we have so much more there to discover...but beyond that, we have books. They are still there. We can still read them. They disappear from the library shelves and from publishers' lists, but they often show up (as if in retaliation) as e-books and on used booksellers' sites. Nobody's taken away the Harvard Classics online. Nobody's yet taken away your right to buy books by David Hicks and Richard Mitchell. Or Bibles, at least for the time being and at least in this country. Or Shakespeare. Or the books that inspired Frankenstein's monster. If they humanized him, can they do less for us?

The definition proposed here for "a leisurely education" was having the freedom (time, space, opportunity) to discover what makes you fully human. Without a doubt, that freedom is being pulled away. Pull back as hard as you can, as long as you can.

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