Exploring Nature and Technology

One of the beautiful aspects of classical Christian education is that it teaches students perspective and priority. Specifically, it teaches them to look to God first, then to man; to the universal, then to the particular; to nature, then to technology. Each element has value, so the distinctions are in terms of order and hierarchy, not of better and worse. I'd like to take a brief look at the last pair, the relationship between nature and technology in classical Christian education.

A knowledge of the natural, physical world is key to a primary education. Students learn about the nature of reality, its potential and its limitations. The human mind, a physical organ with intangible thoughts, links the natural world with the supernatural. This creates a greater sense of wonder, and a paradoxical union of opposites: students are aware of the ingredients of the world in all their near-infinite variety and order; they learn of the world's preposterous smallness and stupendous magnitude; they see their bodies, that they can be used in wonderful ways, but that reality is not defined by our senses, or by the physical world; that there is the heavenly and immortal realm of the Creator, which is our ultimate home. They learn to ask the question the psalmist asked: "When I look at the heavens . . . what is man that You are mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:3-4)

In a small way, these are some of the reasons why classical Christian education emphasizes simpler, purer uses of the human body and mind: nature walks to complement scientific studies; cursive, with its intimate and dance-like motions; the feel of paper between fingers and the tactile work of pencil annotation; the study of the stars, drawing our eyes physically upward, as when the psalmist lifted his eyes to the hills (Ps. 121:1); the study of traditional music on acoustic instruments, made and performed by human hands; the emphasis on the spoken word, conversation, and speech as ways of imitating the living Word, and of most perfectly developing loving relationships with each other.

Does this mean that technology is a detriment to education? Not at all. Even the word "technology" does not mean what we might think it means: it is any "science of craft," which therefore applies to book-binding, not just to smartphone manufacturing. The point of the emphasis of nature over technology is one of priority only. A study and love of nature leads to a study and love of technology. It is a natural, God-given progression to take the glorious fundamental elements of creation and to use them to create further gifts that glorify God and are a benefit to mankind. Problems only surface when that perspective, or progressional hierarchy, is ignored. Then, technology, in a limited and restricting sense, usurps the tools and the imaginations of students, stealing their work ethic, robbing them of their thoughts, conjuring false and impossibly romantic alternate realities, and deadening their senses to the beauty of creation. The gift of technology becomes a curse. In The Screwtape Letters, a similar scheme is used to drive humanity subtly from God: "The more often [a man] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel."

Classical Christian education is at root about developing thankfulness, both of the natural elements of the world, and of its invented glories, like smartphones, Bugatti supercars, and treat-tossing dog cameras. But like every other good gift from God, timing is key. Imagine if Man had been created on the first day, not the sixth! (Just Adam floating in the void, like in Kubrick's "2001.") We are teaching students the same thing: First know who you are, who created you, and what the gifts are that you have been given. Then, get busy creating and enjoying gifts of your own.