independent thinking

Classically Educated Cyborgs

At ACA, we're behind the times.

We make students memorize things.  We require them to recite, chant, and argue.  We make them use their brains.

What could we be thinking?  Haven't we heard of Google?  Of Siri, the cheerful, all-knowing informational guru, who can tell us in an instant how to get from our house to Mt. Everest base camp (useful), and who knows how to differentiate among definitions of free masonry, Rosicrucianism, and theosophy?  Haven't we heard of smartphones, those delightful boxes-of-ten-thousand-servants that fit in your back pocket?  And of the informational age, in which nearly every human being on the planet has access to near omniscience?

A friend recently shared with me how her children had been told that classical education, and specifically memorization, were "a waste of time."  Our fast-paced, technological society is beyond all that stuff now.

If the purpose of education is to transform our children into machines, then ACA has got it all wrong.  If "the mannishness of man" (as Francis Schaeffer put it) is an outmoded concept, or if the arts, culture, imagination, and morality are the antiquated projections of God-biased thinkers, then our students are just spinning their wheels every day in class.  Poor things.

Of course, we hold robustly to the happy truth that this isn't the case.  Our students aren't wasting their time.  We affirm that there is a profound distinction between knowledge and wisdom, between information and understanding, and between facts and beauty.  While we gladly affirm that knowledge, information, and facts are necessary and good, we also understand what they are not.  Running a Google search doesn't mean you know something (though it's a handy tool), processing a peer-reviewed statistical set does not mean you understand the moral question at hand, and plotting the species distribution of organisms in an ecosystem does not mean you appreciate natural beauty or understand its greater significance.

Does this mean that numbers are bad and imagination is good?  That we should discourage statistics majors in preference for budding artists?  Not a bit of it.

What we should do is understand the right place for information and technology on the one hand, and the right place for wisdom and beauty on the other.  Both categories are important, but they are vastly different.  And we must understand that one of the fundamental purposes of true education is to develop an appreciation for, and an ability to reproduce, great ideas, great works of art, and great arguments.  An educated human being thinks for himself, communicates with his own thoughts, and creates his own works.  He is not a slave.  He has made the world's knowledge his own; he has developed what is called copiousness. He feeds his brain just like he feeds his body, and then he digests it.  He meditates on the knowledge he has gained.  He turns it over, considers it, and makes it his own.  He is a man, with plenty of "mannishness," and so he takes his knowledge-turned-wisdom and creates.  Made in the image of creator-God, this is only natural.

But this overflow of rich, composted knowledge -- this copiousness -- is never achieved by smartphone thumb-tapping.  Your pocket-sized ten thousand servants have their time and place, but they are your occasional dessert, never your entree.  Homer, Sophocles, King David, Pericles, Caesar, King Alfred, da Vinci, Galen, Faraday, Washington, Curie, Einstein, Churchill, Chesterton, Schaeffer -- these were all great humans exercising their own minds.

To create -- or to be able to influence our culture for Christ -- our students must have something to say, and they must be able to say it winsomely themselves.  Heartfelt apologies, Siri.

Grace and Peace, Nate Ahern