Here is an excerpt from the rich and profound article “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education” by Russell Kirk. The article is from Kirk’s book Redeeming the Time. I commend the entire article, which can be found at the web address below. Kirk captures the essence of a classical education, needful for our culture now more than ever.
Our term “liberal education” is far older than the use of the word “liberal” as a term of politics. What we now call “liberal studies” go back to classical times, while political liberalism commences only in the first decade of the nineteenth century. By “liberal education” we mean an ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person—as contrasted with technical or professional schooling, now somewhat vaingloriously called “career education.”
Liberal education is conservative in this way: it defends order against disorder. In its practical effects, liberal education works for order in the soul and order in the republic. Liberal learning enables those who benefit from its discipline to achieve some degree of harmony within themselves. As John Henry Newman put it, in Discourse V of his Idea of a University, by a liberal intellectual discipline, “a habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; of what… I have ventured to call the philosophical habit of mind.”
The primary purpose of a liberal education, then, is the cultivation of the person’s own intellect and imagination, for the person’s own sake. It ought not to be forgotten, in this mass-age when the state aspires to be all-in-all, that genuine education is something higher than an instrument of public policy. True education is meant to develop the individual human being, the person, rather than to serve the state. We tend to ignore the fact that schooling was not originated by the modern nation-state. Formal schooling actually commenced as an endeavor to acquaint the rising generation with religious knowledge: with awareness of the transcendent and with moral truths. Its purpose was not to indoctrinate a young person in civics, but rather to teach what it is to be a true human being, living within a moral order. The person has primacy in liberal education.
Yet, a system of liberal education has a social purpose, or at least a social result, as well. It helps to provide a society with a body of people who become leaders in many walks of life, on a large scale or a small. It was the expectation of the founders of the early American colleges that there would be graduated from those little institutions young men, soundly schooled in old intellectual disciplines, who would nurture in the New World the intellectual and moral patrimony received from the Old World. And for generation upon generation, the American liberal-arts colleges (peculiar to North America), and later the liberal arts schools and programs of American universities, did graduate young men and women who leavened the lump of the rough expanding nation, having acquired some degree of a philosophical habit of mind.
If all schools, colleges, and universities were abolished tomorrow, still most young people would find lucrative employment, and means would exist, or would be developed, for training them for their particular types of work. Instead, a highly beneficial result of liberal education, conservative again, is that it gives to society a body of young people, introduced in some degree to wisdom and virtue, who may become honest leaders in many walks of life.
Here at the beginning of a new school year – the start of another year, the beginning of a never-to-be-repeated moment in your child’s life – it is good to talk about the end. Not the end of this year, which will be here in just a couple of ticks of the clock. The end of the year – as in, the purpose of the year. We begin another year, and what is the end of the year? Why are you educating your children? I’m not asking merely about your immediate goals for your children (learning how to read, getting a high SAT score, seeking a career, earning money, etc.). I am asking about ultimate motivations. Why educate at all?
Over seven hundred years ago, Bernard of Clairvaux taught that love is the greatest motivation for education. “There are many,” he suggested, “who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they may themselves be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are some who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love.”
St. Paul wrote, “Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). This is to say that to love your neighbor is to serve your neighbor. If our children will be educated in order to edify and serve others in love, then service should be just as much a part of the curriculum as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Students should be trained to serve their fellow students, their teachers, their families, and ultimately their community. Their training in service will habituate them to look beyond themselves and their own narrow concerns to the concerns of others. This is what our Lord modeled for us in His life and commands us in His Word.
Author David Hicks wrote in his classic work Norms and Nobility that “the purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” Knowing is not enough; knowing needs to eventuate in doing, in serving others, whether that service is holding the door open for a fellow student or raking the school’s lawn or entering the U.S. military or becoming an architect.
Peter H. Vande Brake, in an article titled “Cultivating the Affections,” wrote, “If we want students who will be servant leaders, then we need to train them through a liturgy [a practice that shapes our habits] of servant leadership. We need to give them the opportunities to serve others. We need to find ways to help our students practice humility and instill a strong work ethic. We need to give students the chance to lead their peers in authentic ways. In order for students to act in accordance with what they know, they must be trained to know how to act. This involves the mind, but it also involves the will and the body. If our schools are only interested in training the minds of our students, then we are cheating them out of the most important facets of an education.” I hear a warning in that last sentence: beware chopping education down to a merely intellectual endeavor, but instead see true education as affecting the whole person: body, mind, soul.
Poet John Donne famously wrote that “no man is an island” and warned that each of us is “involved in mankind,/And therefore” we never need ask “for whom the bell tolls” because “it tolls for thee.” As human beings, bearers of the divine image, and children of God in Christ, each of is joined to each other. Our children are being educated in a community – a web of relationships – where they will be taught how to respect authority, develop friendships, show compassion, use wise words, contend for the truth, and learn humility. These things are the things that matter most.
So as we begin this new year, join me in pondering the end of the year. What is your vision for your children?
Regents Academy was honored to host Dr. George Grant for its 2016 Commencement Ceremony. Dr. Grant addressed the graduates, faculty, and assembly with stirring a message titled “Culture, Covenant, and Education.”
Regents Academy is very happy to welcome Mrs. Sylvia Baker to its staff for the 2016-17 school year. Mrs. Baker will be serving as assistant teacher in the kindergarten class alongside Mrs. Duke, and she will also work several hours per week in the Regents office alongside Mrs. Gilbreath. Sylvia and her husband Jerry are the proud parents of Regents students Cate and Mason, and we are so glad to welcome her to our school’s staff.
Welcome, Mrs. Baker!
Regents Academy is very happy to welcome Mrs. Andreza Owens to its faculty for the 2016-17 school year. Mrs. Owens will be teaching Spanish in the Regents high school. Pictured below is Andreza with her husband Bryan and their daughter Bethel.
Welcome, Mrs. Owens!
Regents Academy is very happy to welcome Mrs. Tanya Kelly to its faculty for the 2016-17 school year. Mrs. Kelly will be teaching a number of subjects in the 6th grade classroom, including history, language arts, and science. Mrs. Kelly is certainly no stranger to Regents or to classical Christian education. She and her husband Todd, proud parents of their son, Holden, have been Regents parents for a number of years, and Mrs. Kelly has been a faithful volunteer. We are excited that she is bringing her passion and experience to the classroom.
Welcome, Mrs. Kelly!
At the Regents Academy Commencement Ceremony on May 27, 2016, our school chaplain, Pastor Randy Booth, delivered some closing remarks that are well worth reading and taking to heart. Here they are, with Pastor Booth’s closing prayer of blessing for the graduates below.
Well, we come now to close the door on another year of labor, love, tears and joys. I’ve watched this scene over and over for about thirty years. My three grown children all received classical Christian educations and now I have the joy of seeing my grandchildren follow in those paths we blazed. I’ve known several of tonight’s graduates their whole lives, and have witnessed the faithfulness of their families and teachers, year after year.
Like other routines, Christian education can become a wearisome task. It is, indeed, often hard to see the forest for the trees. Every day doesn’t seem to be a good day. Not every child is a motivated genius, and not every parent or teacher finds the work so easy and delightful. Those daily routines can be a grind and we can lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing. Sometimes we have never even thought about the fact that there is a forest—something bigger than this child or this week. And so, as we close this academic year, I want to remind you that this vision for this work of educating children transcends the year and even the individual child. You must look beyond the moment and see the hundreds of lives that will be touched by your seemingly obscure labor.
Why make the sacrifice—why spend the extra money and time—why do this hard work of educating our children? Well, we do it, as Dr. R. L. Dabney put it, because it “is the most important business done on earth.” We don’t do it because it’s easy; we do it because it’s important! It’s important because our lives and our futures depend on it.
God gives encouragement through His promises to parents:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart ―Galatians 6:9
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth children for trouble; for they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. ―Isaiah 65:22-23
Living in Christian circles, we sometimes lose sight of just how ugly the world really is and how desperate it is for answers. This should serve to highlight how important the work of Christian education really is. You are engaged in the most important and powerful work imaginable. Yes, most of it goes unseen and unappreciated, but we didn’t see, and we do not fully appreciate the millions of hours of faithful Christian service that have gone before us. Yet, the impact of that labor lives on. We are part of a great river that flows ever downward through history, and it matters what was up stream, and it matters what we contribute, for it will flow downstream for many generations. May the Lord bless your faithfulness in little things and may He fill your life with His abundant and often unimaginable blessings.
Heavenly Father, thank you for providing this Christian community full of family, friends and other supporters who have served and sacrificed, and continue to generously give of their time and resources to enable the important work of Regents Academy. We’re grateful for the parents, teachers, staff and board who daily give their dedicated labor of love to enable the young people of this school to receive a sound education which will prepare them to continue to learn and to serve You all the days of their lives.
This young woman and these young men stand here today having been instructed by their parents, families, teachers and churches in the way they should go, and now they’re about commence on that journey. We pray that You would go with them and govern them by Your Spirit, and that with genuine humility they would depend on Your Word, which is a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. May they surround themselves with wise counselors and remain conscious of their own ignorance and dependence upon You and other people. May they always seek first Your kingdom and never be drawn aside in any way by lessor pursuits.
As You direct the course of their lives, may Kyla, Aaron, Caleb, Luke, Jake and Will serve You with gladness and remain so fixed in Your truth so as to never turn aside from this high calling. And when the trials and storms of this life are before them, teach them to quickly flee to You and hide themselves under the shadow of Your wings with full confidence in Your wisdom and salvation. And no matter how disturbed the state of the world may be, may they never doubt Your goodness toward them and may they remember that You have always been their deliverer; and that they may therefore persevere in full confidence of Your grace and mercy.
And now, O Lord, may their eyes be so fixed on Jesus so as not go astray or be led here and there after wicked temptations and the allurements of this world: continuing firm in the obedience of faith and perseverance in it, until they are fully transformed into the image of Your eternal glory, which now in part shines in them, though the same Jesus Christ our Lord. We commit them now into Your mighty hand. Amen.