Know the marks of a worthwhile education
As the new school year gets underway, it’s a good time to be thinking about the quality of education that our children are getting, or in all too many cases the education that they are not getting.
The first test of what constitutes a good education is the way that one of the most important questions is asked and answered. It is Pilate’s famous question to Christ: Quid est veritas? What is truth? If the asking of this question is not at the heart of a school’s curriculum, it is not a school offering a true education. If, on the other hand, the question is asked but only with the tired indifference of the relativist who believes that it is a question that is unanswerable, the school is likewise failing to offer an authentic education. The question needs to be asked as one that needs to be answered and, furthermore, as one to which the answer is ultimately knowable and known.
As for the answer to the question, a school offering a good and true education will answer it in the words that Christ gave to His disciples when He told them that He is “the way, the truth and the life.” The way to truth can only come through Christ, which means that it can only come with an understanding of the Gospel and the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which is nothing less than the Mystical Body of Christ in the world. An education that sidelines Christ, or ignores Him, or which treats Christianity as only one of several equally valid religions is not a true education at all. How can it be? In denying Christ, it denies the way, the truth, and the life, without which, or whom, there is nothing ultimately but darkness.
Having established the centrality of Christ to all authentic education, the other essential element of a true education is an acceptance of the unbreakable bond between fides et ratio, the indissoluble marriage of faith and reason, which is at the heart of true Christian philosophy. At the heart of this rational path to truth is a proper understanding of “science.” The word science comes from the Latin word scientia, which simply means knowledge. It is for this reason that the Church has always taught that theology is the queen of the sciences. Theology is the knowledge of God, the first and most important of all the sciences. Another science that is often neglected is philosophy, which is the knowledge of reality to be discovered in the love of wisdom. It is the science of wisdom. History is the knowledge of reality to be discovered by understanding the past. It is the science of the past, or, to put it another way, it is the science of human experience. If an education is neglecting these crucial and authentic paths of knowledge in favor of the so-called “hard” sciences, the latter of which are encapsulated in the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), it is not an authentic or adequate education. These subjects are important, of course, but only as part of a wider knowledge, which includes the other sciences.
Last, but emphatically not least (indeed the last shall be first!), a good and true education must be an education that teaches what it means to be good. It must teach virtue, and it must teach the Christian understanding of love, the very heart of all virtue, which is the conscious choosing of the sacrifice of the self for others. Such an education, which teaches the good and the true, can be said to be truly beautiful.
JOSEPH PEARCE is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal.