The Teaching Machine and the Church School

“[W]hy would I say that only a Catholic education can bring young people to the threshold of the love that threatens to batter down the gates of the heart? One reason is simple enough. There are no more pagans like Plato among us, and the worthy Protestants who remain, who understand that education without the wonder of love, education that leaves the heart cold and barren, is not true education at all, are taking their lead from Catholics present and past. The pagans and sub-pagans at Yale are not reading St. Augustine, while the ardent Christians at Patrick Henry College, most of them our worthy Protestant brethren, are reading him, as they are learning Latin and ancient Greek, and reading Dante and Aquinas, and Spenser and Milton. In other words, that cor ad cor education that Newman enjoyed has its roots in the educational habits of the medieval schools, which preserved and purified the best of what the wisest pagans had to offer. There is nothing left, except the cold steel and fiberglass Teaching Machine, that inhuman thing, and the Church school. It is either John Dewey, Bill Gates, and Henry Ford, or it is Thomas Aquinas, Michelangelo, and Teresa of Avila. Matthew Arnold with his cultural classicism is dead; and not even Presbyterians read John Calvin.”

Anthony Esolen, “The Common Core: A Curriculum for Clever Robots”,
New Oxford Review, March 2015.

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3 thoughts on “The Teaching Machine and the Church School

  1. Yep. The “cor ad cor” was the basis of Classical Greek education. After Alexander the Great, a young man, even a young man who was poor and often not even ethnically Greek, was introduced into Greek culture, which he was expected to *love*, because his teachers loved it, and, often, loved him, the student. (The homoerotic overtones of this love are both greatly exaggerated and misunderstood).

    A John Bosco first loved his students, and saw what we’d call Vo-Tech as a means to an end – if a young man were to have a meaningful life, he’d most likely want to be married, and so, in preparation for this *vocation*, he would need a way to make a living. It’s the difference between a person having value in and of himself – the classical view – versus a person’s value deriving from his place in the economy – the modern view with its roots in Marx and Fichte.


  2. One more thought: My main problem with Catholic schools is that they are trying to do the substance of Catholic education within the form of Prussian education, which won’t and doesn’t work. One of the things I’d do if I came into a fortune, somehow, is research the point at which Catholics cut the deal: the state (it was NYC in the mid 1800s) will let us have Catholic schools, provided we run them on the state school model. That was a terrible bargain, when Catholics had the great universities and the classical model to build from.


  3. I’m not sure what “Prussian education” is, but otherwise I’m with you. : )

    “the state … will let us have Catholic schools, provided we run them on the state school model”

    That’s precisely the feeling I had when my kids attended a diocesan school: that it was just public school with crucifixes. At the time, we thought that was enough; the mere fact of having crucifixes in the classroom felt deliciously subversive. But as my sons grew older I realized that the faith was not being imparted to them. The focus was not on faith but on the “Academic Decathlon” and so forth.

    The school where they were happy and their faith thrived was the non-diocesan Catholic school in which the faith was the nexus of everything, and [non-]coincidentally, the teachers showed love for them in the form of caring e.g. whether they understood and exhibited the virtues, and took seriously their obligation to be role models in that regard.


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