III. THE MEANING OF EDUCATION
At this stage in the discussion, education is now placed firmly in the context of the family. As was pointed out previously, it is the education of the children which provides the basis in nature for the existence of matrimony. Education is the right and responsibility of the parents of the child, and it is the goal toward which all common work and resources among the spouses ought to be directed. We must now turn to the question of the specific nature of this education in order to understand more fully the crowning goal of matrimony.
A. Distinctively Human Education
First, the kind of education which is the primary end of matrimony must be a truly human education. That is, it must be aimed at the possession of all that human maturity and perfection implies. Hence, education can only be rightly carried out if it is inspired by a deep understanding of the nature of man and his highest end. The perfection at which education is most properly aimed must be the perfection most benefiting man precisely as man. Education must not take as its primary goal to equip a child with tools he needs to attain the kinds of goods he shares with other, lower creatures. These include the things toward which other living creatures are directed as much as man is, namely, bodily survival and the goods necessary for that end, finding a mate, and the pleasure that attends all sensual goods. Although all of these things are real goods for man, they are not the kinds of goods which are distinctly and specifically human goods. This is because man is not distinctly and specifically a mere animal. He is a rational animal. Thus the perfections most proper to man must also be rational perfections. The goods of the mind and the heart, the intellectual and moral virtues, are the kinds of perfection aimed at by a distinctively human education.
What this means is that vocational training, while good in its own way and even necessary, is not the essence of education as the primary good of matrimony. Surely, it has its place, since man is not simply “other” than the animals. He is rather animal and more, containing all the potency of animal life raised and enlightened in the spiritual powers of intellect and will. But the place occupied by vocational training must be subordinate to the kind of education with which we are here concerned. That is to say, the trades and arts learned must always themselves be ordered by and to the virtues, both intellectual and moral. Not only will this end up producing people with the kind of general practical competency so much lacking in today’s youth, so that the pupil will be prepared to succeed in whatever path seems best, but it will more importantly equip him to actually discern which path is truly best. More importantly, what is best not only for his material success, but for the perfection of his soul.
What follows is that the role of parents is to form their children not just to the point where they can make it on their own in the world by material success, but even to the much loftier goal of the eventual perfection of their children in virtue. This, as was stated in Part Two, is the basis for the life-long bond between the spouses. For such a goal seems practically impossible to finally attain, and it is especially not attained by the time a child reaches bodily maturity. The maturity of the spiritual soul, as all reflective people know well, is something which continues even long after bodily maturity has been attained. The soul continues to mature even as the body fails in old-age. Yet, as the true goal of education, it remains even then the ultimate duty of the parents to continue to direct and guide their children in the way of virtue. Further, it is fundamental to the formation of the children in virtue that the parents themselves always model the virtues for as long as their children are alive. Practically speaking, it is at least extremely rare that divorce is not preceded (and then succeeded again) by other acts contrary to virtue. Thus it appears that divorce is a sin against the primary good of matrimony, that is, the education of the children. A truly human education, therefore, is one which is aimed at the mastery of mind and heart and that is carried out principally and through natural right by the parents themselves, bound together in a lifelong communion for the sake of this goal.
B. The Aim of Modern Education
It should not take much in the way of argument to discern that typically modern education fundamentally contradicts both of these general characteristics of education. How the modern method of education contradicts the second of these characteristics, the natural right of the parents to educate, will be made clear below in the context of the part schools might play in education. Here, let us address the first characteristic, which is the focus upon the mastery of mind and heart. What is aimed at in modern education instead is a basic possession of facts and understanding considered necessary to “make it in the world.” The order of goods has been exactly reversed--the goods of material success now order the goods of the mind and heart. The attainment of truth, goodness, and beauty, are now themselves subordinate to the attainment of the all important “good job.”
It must be made clear to prevent misunderstanding that a good job is a very good and necessary thing to have. But when a good job replaces virtue as the highest good of education, it cannot be denied that what we have done is replaced a distinctively human education with one which could only be called “animalistic,” which consists primarily in the attainment of material survival and pleasure. This disorder cannot fail to end in the general withering of the spirit in a society, and the vitiating of the distinctively human perfection found in the civilizations of our ancestors. This has, as we now well know, not only moral consequences, but even intellectual consequences. The state of modern universities is deplorable, riddled as they are with the intellectual faddism that follows upon the publishing rat race. The situation is such that even at the university level, the pursuits of philosophy, history, literature, and physical science are aimed more and more at material gains, rather than at wisdom.
Saint Thomas Aquinas’ discussion about the virtue of studiositas and its contrary vice of curiositas helps us to put a finer point upon how disordered is the modern educational situation. Studiositas, according to Saint Thomas, is the part of temperance which moderates the desire to know, while the vice of curiositas consists in a lack of that moderation. But what does “moderation” mean here? How can we desire to know things immoderately? In his Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas gives two general ways this can happen with regard to intellectual knowledge: First, by seeking to know for the sake of pride or in order to to commit some other evil by that knowledge; Second, by seeking to learn truth in a way that is inordinate. This latter kind of curiositas is divided again four ways: First, when one is withdrawn from his proper study by desire for a less profitable study; Secondly, when one seeks to learn from “whom it is unlawful to be taught” (the example given by Saint Thomas is seeking to learn the future by divination); Thirdly, when one desires to learn about the created world alone without in any way desiring to refer that to the higher knowledge of the Creator; Fourthly, when one desires to know under his own power those things which are clearly above that power to grasp, such as the unsearchable contents of Divine Providence. In addition to these ways, man might inordinately seek sensitive knowledge by going beyond the two-fold use of that kind of knowledge, namely, its utility for man’s bodily survival and its ultimate ordination to deliver to the intellect more material to mine for wisdom. Thus, by seeking too much trivialities or entertainment, or else by seeking to take in those things which are positively harmful (as staring at a woman to inflame lust), our sensitive powers tend neither to our own bodily good, nor to the good of the intellect. In fact, this leads inevitably to a dullness of both body and of mind. (Who has not felt this ‘dullness’ after, for example, a day full of television?)
If we consider these distinctions carefully, a common thread emerges. Each of these acts of curiositas have to do with a lack of discipline, where the desire, even the natural desire for knowledge, is drawn to things in a way that is not moderated and mastered by reason. Our powers of knowing become withdrawn from their primary ends of wisdom and understanding, and instead gravitate almost solely to the knowledge of creaturely things. But, as Saint Thomas says, knowledge of sensible things ought to be directed ultimately to intellectual knowledge, which is itself only perfected by the virtues which allow it to attain to the Truth Himself, God. Without this order, disorder results. The mind becomes obsessed with curiosities for their own sake, and ends up in the mere desire of new experience, what Saint Augustine calls the “lust of making trial.” As soon as one experience is “known” and falls away, not being meaningfully incorporated by wisdom, a new experience is sought. Boredom becomes the only fear, always looming, and progress and change the only refuges from the terror of the emptiness of silence for the soul without the discipline of a well-formed mind. It is not enough, therefore, to simply appease the child’s natural desire of knowledge by feeding him facts. Further, it is straightforwardly detrimental to the maturity of a child to direct that desire, as modern education tends to do, toward earthly things alone and for merely utilitarian ends. To do so by way of entertainment, another method typical in the modern classroom, further exacerbates the problem. All of this only encourages a lack of virtue, a lack of docility and self-mastery which are the hallmarks of maturity. Modern education thus tends to instill in students, not the virtue of studiositas, but rather the vice of curiositas. And let one sober look across the current generation suffice as confirmatory evidence.
This inversion of the goods of education, much like the inversion of the marital goods themselves, inevitably reeks havoc on the very foundations of society. A cycle is perpetuated of malformed parents and educators who malform their children and pupils, and what is produced in just a few generations is a society of men whose minds are controlled by everyone and everything but themselves, fed by a constant diet of propaganda which demands the praise of progress and the repudiation of tradition. There can be no dialogue because there is no dialectic. What remains is a hollow “acceptance,” which, if it means anything at all, means the abandonment of human excellence in favor of mediocrity. Everything must be reduced to the lowest common denominator--a modern dogma which is perhaps nowhere more clearly observed than in the modern classroom. No culture can grow up in such a tangle of smothering weeds, yet a culture is just what is needed. Sometimes, however, to cultivate means first to burn the field. Let us therefore start again at the beginning, the family, which is the source of culture through its primary vocation of education.
C. Culture and Education
At this point, it can be seen how vital education is for the thriving of culture. For culture consists in human beings doing with excellence those things which are distinctively human. Culture is a manifestation on a societal scale of a particular excellence in the whole spectrum of rational behavior of mankind developed over multiple generations and informed by a common tradition. Without an education which focuses on distinctively human perfection rather than the mere animalistic ends of material wealth and pleasure, a generation will be left culturally orphaned, at best superficially incorporated into the culture of their parents, which will shortly become hardly more than the corpse of a culture. What is more probable, and what I think we have begun to experience over the last century, is the breakdown of common culture into a parody of culture that lasts just as long as one generation remains in its prime, if even that long. This is the age of the fad, the praise of novelty, the restless pursuit of change and progress for the sake of progress.
If culture is ever to be recovered, then, it will not be accomplished by any Pontifical Council or governmental movement. Rather, this is a work that will be, as it has always been, a work of education, and as such, a work that takes place most fundamentally in the home. In the rigorous and patient formation of children to master those powers which are distinctively human, and to do so by filling them with the greatest products of a venerable tradition, we find the real seed of all cultural development. It is the family that is the only fertile ground of culture, and the man and woman united in matrimony are the gardeners, tasked with the tilling of the soil, the sowing of the seed, and the tender care unto mature fruition. If the gardeners forget what they are about, thinking of themselves only, the harvest will be exposed to the pestilence of faddism, of animalistic sensuality, and with the eventual withering of the spirit. And this not only for their own children, but for society at large. For since matrimony is aimed at the most basic common good of society, namely, its very preservation, any violation of the goods of matrimony is a detriment not merely to the spouses or the children, but even to the whole community. Indeed, it is for this very reason that the state has the right to make laws regarding the sexual union.
D. The Role of Schools in Education
The last thing to consider in this reflection on the relationship between education and matrimony is what light has been shown on the issue of the schools. Seeing that education is primarily the responsibility of the parents, what role ought schools play in the education of the young?
The first and most obvious point to make is that the schools can never replace the parents as educators of their children. They must always exercise only the role of the instrument in the hands of the parents, serving in what remains primarily the latter’s responsibility. Thus, the more detached a school is from the family, the more detached it is from the right to educate. From this law, we can see that a number of conclusions regarding the institutional make-up of schools follow. Schools ought to be small enough to be based upon individual families. Class sizes must be small enough to allow a teacher to have genuine relationships with all the parents of his students. Only then could the parents justly bestow a share of their own natural office of educator upon the teacher of their children. Bureaucracy within the school, which tends to place more and more “middle-men” between parents and teachers should be eliminated as much as possible. Extra-curricular activities ought to be of the kind which fosters primarily the community of the family, rather than those which tend to erect a kind of “sub-community,” in which parents often have no part to play at all. (Even worse, some such activities in modern schools seem to foster a sub-community of only the children themselves, the social and moral formation of the children being carried out by their peers than by any adult, much less the parents.) This lends a great deal of weight to arguments for the older models of education, even to the classical tutor being brought into the home and treated almost as a member of the household. On the other hand, it is very difficult to see how the typical modern school with hundreds or even thousands of students, sometimes 30 to a class, could effectively meet this requirement of true education.
A second point that follows from what has been said regards the curriculum of schools. Since a true education of the children must be a distinctively human education, the curriculum of schools must be geared not primarily to vocational training, but rather to the possession of virtues of the mind and heart which dispose the child well for all distinctively human actions--most fundamentally, to think well, to interpret and express thought well, and to have a taste for that which is best in all fields. Children must be given the tools of the mind before they are given the tools of the hand, since how they use the latter and to what end is wholly dependent upon their mastery of the former. The goal of the school ought not to be turning out good politicians, businessmen, athletes, scientists, or doctors. Rather, it must be to help parents bring their children to a point of real and fundamental human maturity, which consists precisely in the mastery of mind and heart. In this way alone can the education of schools be ordered to the true nature of education as a good of matrimony. Teachers themselves must have, first and foremost, a deep understanding of the human person and his development, and have a mastery over the tools of the mind such that he can exercise them on any number of subjects. Thus, the neat separation of teachers and their curricula into departments often having little to no interaction, all vying for the attention of the student, ought to be abandoned as much as possible.
Here again it will be noticed that a more classical curriculum is naturally more favorable than modern programs. The classical Trivium, which places emphasis on the “tools of learning,” as Dorothy Sayers called them, rather than on more or less detached and intimidatingly numerous “subjects,” more closely approaches a natural and organic education than the current model. This seems more analogous to a factory assembly line where “educated people” are mass produced, where graduation is dependent not upon the mastery of the powers of the mind itself, but merely the ability to repeat back to the teacher a certain number (a ‘C’ will do!) of given facts.
This Third Part of the series on the goods of matrimony concludes then with a very brief, if somewhat superficial sketch of what an educational institution might look like if it were to be based upon the right understanding of education as the primary good of matrimony. It will be a small, family based institution, with little to no bureaucratic elements, not broken up into distinct and highly specialized departments, with teachers who form deep relationships with the families of their pupils. The curriculum, like the classical Trivium, will focus on the mastery of the tools of the mind, aimed at virtue. Parents themselves will be encouraged to enter as much as possible into the life of the institution, since the latter only exists as a servant of the former. Extra-curricular activities will take the form of communal activities, since they will be ordered to the building up of the individual families and also their relationship to other families. In short, the truly classical school, and even better the classical homeschool in conjunction with tutors as needed by the parents, is most naturally fitted to the true education of human beings.
We have seen, therefore, how far reaching is the error of displacing the goods of matrimony. From the failure to place these goods in their proper order, society itself is threatened at its very foundation. On the other hand, if and only if we preserve the order of these goods, society may be refreshed, re-cultivated, and defended against the destructive tide of modernism.
In the next and final part of this series, we will conclude our discussion by reflecting upon matrimony as a Sacrament in relation to all that has been said.
Written by Peter Youngblood, DRE and Choir Director at Saint Leo IV Roman Catholic Church in Roberts Cove, La, and Co-founder & Tutor of Saint John of the Cross Academy.
Here it becomes obvious that one’s view of matrimony and, consequently, one’s view of education, actually implies an entire anthropology and morality. For if education as a good of matrimony does not primarily mean the development of virtue, man is reduced to a mere animal whose ultimate end does not consist in communion with the perfect object of his rational powers, being the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Himself. Thus “morals” would exist, at best, to help man in his natural society to attain material success and to ensure the mere material survival of his species.
IIa-IIae, Q. 167, art. 1
ibid, art. 2
Confessions, Bk. X, xxxv: “To this is added another form of temptation more manifoldly dangerous. For besides that concupiscence of the flesh which consisteth in the delight of all senses and pleasures, wherein its slaves, who go far from Thee, waste and perish, the soul hath, through the same senses of the body, a certain vain and curious desire, veiled under the title of knowledge and learning, not of delighting in the flesh, but of making experiments through the flesh. The seat whereof being in the appetite of knowledge, and sight being the sense chiefly used for attaining knowledge, it is in Divine language called the lust of the eyes. For, to see, belongeth properly to the eyes; yet we use this word of the other senses also, when we employ them in seeking knowledge. [...] But by this may more evidently be discerned, wherein pleasure and wherein curiosity is the object of the senses; for pleasure seeketh objects beautiful, melodious, fragrant, savoury, soft; but curiosity, for trial's sake, the contrary as well, not for the sake of suffering annoyance, but out of the lust of making trial and knowing them. For what pleasure hath it, to see in a mangled carcase what will make you shudder? and yet if it be lying near, they flock thither, to be made sad, and to turn pale. Even in sleep they are afraid to see it. As if when awake, any one forced them to see it, or any report of its beauty drew them thither! Thus also in the other senses, which it were long to go through. From this disease of curiosity are all those strange sights exhibited in the theatre. Hence men go on to search out the hidden powers of nature (which is besides our end), which to know profits not, and wherein men desire nothing but to know. Hence also, if with that same end of perverted knowledge magical arts be enquired by. Hence also in religion itself, is God tempted, when signs and wonders are demanded of Him, not desired for any good end, but merely to make trial of.”
[5 ]It is very important to note that “well-formed” is not the same as “talented,” “sharp,” or “intelligent.” As any parent or teacher knows, a child can be naturally gifted in intellectual things, yet still suffer the dulling effects of curiositas. What is needed, then, is not talent, but discipline.
 It would be worth studying the extent to which this corresponds to the modern notion that the child’s natural desires need only be supported and facilitated, but never disciplined. Many modern examples can be found of this notion, such as this disturbing NPR story on the “gender transition” of a 3-year old little boy (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/07/04/419498242/at-age-3-transitioning-from-jack-to-jackie)