C.S. Lewis and a Philosophy of Education

C.S. Lewis once said, “Education without values only helps create more clever devils.” As an educator, I cannot imagine educating without teaching values, but I am in private education. I believe having values is essential. But, not just having values for the sake of having values, but having reasons for values, and having a means of evaluating various value judgments. As a human who has studied history and who keeps up with news, I see what happens when a poor educational philosophy is embraced.

If you go into a science classroom and you teach a group of people how to split an atom, you have given them either a powerful tool for good, or a weapon of unimaginable evil. And, if you only teach the “how” and never comment on the “why” and “for what purpose”, you have implied that what you do with the “how” does not matter. It would be equally right to use the split atom for evil as for good. Scary world, right?

Well, this is our current world. In public education where no one value can be preferred over another, you are not able to guide young minds towards what is right and good, only what each individual finds preferable. Biblically speaking, I don’t think my preferences on given moments would create a better world. Actually, I know many of my preferences over the years likely would’ve brought much sorrow to myself and others. I believe this is true of all humanity, not just me. Multiply my evil impulses by 8 billion and you get a world much like we  have now: selfish, arrogant, angry, lustful, conniving, etc. The problem, though, is without values, you are unable to say which values are “good” or “bad”. You can only speak of preference.  When you read the news, do you find yourself saying, “that is evil”, or do you say, “Hey! I’m glad that person is acting upon his personal preference.” Our world is pushing young people to say the latter.

In one of my World Religions classes this year, we were discussing some topic on biblical interpretation. We had been in class a few weeks at this point and covered a good many topics. I suppose this student finally had enough and said, “That’s just your opinion. This class is just opinions.” What if it is my opinion Stalin’s elimination of over 10 million of his own people was right? And, what if I said such a thing could and should happen regularly for “population control”? Lewis was referring to this years ago when he warned of simply teaching information without teaching the values to judge information. Without realizing it, we are creating a world in which we encourage people to always say (about everything) the same thing my student said, “It’s all a matter of opinion.”

Did you know more people were killed in the last century than the previous 19 centuries combined. Over 100 million people in one century killed in various wars. And, these centuries are supposed to be the supreme example of human’s progress. That doesn’t look like progress to me. Does it look like progress to you?

With the explosion of information on the internet, there is not a single school that is going to teach any student information they cannot already learn, should they so choose. Yet, the internet does not teach values. It simply gives you data. The internet can be used for great good, or unspeakable (and illegal) evil. The internet doesn’t care.  Do we want young people like this? Do we want young people who are simply “clever devils”? Do we want young people moving on to run our businesses, government, and educational institutions who don’t believe any one values set is better than another? I certainly hope not. Yet, it is the logical outworking of our current cultural trend.

What’s scary is how logical our culture is becoming. Our post-Christian nation is proclaiming boldly we are products of nature, here by chance, and governed only by our DNA. We have smashed the foundations of reason and judgment and laid a new foundation of absolute, individual autonomy. And, we champion this as evidence of more human progress. But, take a step back. When you think about a creature who only does what it wants all the time without awareness of a bigger story, do you think of humans or animals? I think of animals, my dog in particular. My dog does what she wants, when she wants to do it. Yes, we’ve conditioned her to not climb on furniture, but in essence, she happily and unassumingly “dances to her DNA” (Richard Dawkins). And, one day, when she finally catches that squirrel, kills it and eats it, she will have done nothing morally wrong. Her DNA will have finally overpowered a weaker creature. Is that what we hope for in humanity? Is it morally wrong when any animal kills another animal? And, what if our culture begins treating us as mere animals, bound by our DNA, unable to take various ideas and judge one as better than another? Will we finally reach the logical conclusion that whatever we do, good or ill, we are freely, and simply, doing what we were “made” to do?

Lord, have mercy.

Lewis saw this coming. He saw a time society would create “men without chests” (Abolition of Man). These men would be filled with facts in their brains. These men would also know full well the appetites of their stomachs (whether food, sex, money, power, etc.). But these men would have their hearts removed. Their ability to weigh the goodness of one idea or appetite would be forfeited. These men would either be ruled by their biology, without heart, without right and wrong. Scary world. Yet, turn on the news and what do you see? You see “men without chests, more clever devils.”

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