A young Argentine teacher tweeted what it seems to me a very revealing short phrase. I read it in passing and I was instantly interested in it.
“I dream of an education that teaches kids to think and produce … and not just to reproduce.”
Although I chose to comment within the Argentine cultural context, I am sure many will find this applicable to other cultures. I barely know the person that wrote that phrase but I can assure you she wrote with the best intentions.
I detect a wordplay in the use of “produce” and “reproduce” meaning on one hand the ability to duplicate or repeat what the child was taught and on the other hand, the economic sense of “production” and the sexual sense of “reproduction” — Mind the fact that perhaps the wordplay was not intentional and I may be adding meaning to the ambiguity of the phrase. If that is the case, I am at fault and not the author. I cannot tell if there are subconscious impulses at play. I do not claim to read minds.
For my commentary, I will take the meaning that most worried Argentines will read because the country currently suffers from terminal non-productivity and the poorest Argentines are the less educated and the ones reproducing the fastest, and quickly growing in number in this society rapidly approaching social anarchy.
Being Catholic, I think of the family as the first church and the first school a child will know. Most of the men and women that set the foundations of our civilization had very little of what we know now as schooling. To give one local example: Jorge Luis Borges, arguably the most influential Argentine writer of the 20th century, was home schooled by his grandmother, attending a Swiss Gymnasium briefly from 1914 to 1919. In contrast, some of the best schooled individuals in this country — including our current President — have been responsible for colossal errors of judgment in spite of their superior education.
Teaching children to think and produce is a tall order. There are precocious talents like W. A. Mozart and late bloomers like Albert Einstein or Thomas Aquinas. Some may remember that Aquinas was considered dumb at first. No one could possibly notice that the slow-learning Thomas was developing an extraordinary ability to comprehend and catalogue nearly any kind of phenomena in his unique mind.
For the globalist mentality it is imperative to get a youngster into production mode as quickly as possible, to extract the most profit during the young years. That is a desirable thing when taken in the proper context but we must remember that the drive for maximum corporate efficiency has generated some bad output: older adults become unemployable after a certain age, and societies begin to see some ‘unproductive individuals’ as a burden. That mentality is a contributing factor to the push for euthanasia, abortion, and the promotion of sterile lifestyles.
Ideally, human reproduction should be ordered to reason. Our problem since the days of Adam and Eve is that concupiscence gets in the way. Different cultures learned to deal with that problem in different ways. We owe to the ancient Hebrews a series of rules that tried to keep the problem under control for many centuries. Human sexual impulse is a very dangerous weapon that human beings carry around loaded almost all the time. The force of Eros is such that we can affirm that the beginning of all laws is the human attempt to keep the useful part of it while trying to control Pan, the wild destructive part of the same force.
But reproduce we must. It is the first commandment that mankind received: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it …” From that simple commandment we understand that sterile sexuality thwarts the will of God. Eros was always understood to be a life giving force even for pagans. A pro-life Catholic not only rejects abortion but also any kind of practice that separates marital pleasure from its life-giving purpose. That includes same-sex relations and all kinds of contraception. I do not have the time and space to develop this theme but there is a very good book written on this subject: The Bible and Birth Control by Charles D. Provan. (Psalm 127: 4)
Some may believe the author of the phrase was simply talking about the mission of educators: that children must be taught the ways of creativity and not merely to reproduce what others have previously thought. That is a lofty ideal. Many years ago I took to read the history of the Roman Empire in much detail. I observed that, as the Roman civilization declined, so did the originality of their thinkers. That process of merely repeating and enumerating the achievements of previous generations continued and accentuated the decline of the Empire, perhaps even accelerated it.
I do believe that we have to build upon what previous generations have left for us. Let us not forget that great creative masters like Picasso and Dalí where studious copiers of Goya, Rembrandt, Sanzio, and DaVinci before they decided to explore their own paths of creativity. There is a great phrase that is attributed to Picasso: “The small artist copies but the great artist steals!” meaning that one has to grasp the spirit of the preceding masters and dare to be like them not only in their style but also in the very sources of their artistry. Thus the artist develops the ability to transcend the received model and moves on to create meaningful new ideas without abandoning tradition but giving it a new voice.
To instill in children that kind of fire is —most unfortunately— a gift that only a few teachers have. In a sense, it has a lot to do with the kind of reproduction that makes sons and daughters of every disciple. If anyone could synthesize the methods of those like Nadia Boulanger, Maria Montessori, or the great masters of Christianity in such a way that any ordinary teacher could learn to teach like them, well … that would be wonderful indeed.
Teaching the soul
“Those who are nonspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for such gifts are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because the gifts of God’s spirit are discerned spiritually.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
One more time we revisit T. S. Eliot’s most prophetic paragraph:
“The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.” – T. S. Eliot, Thoughts After Lambeth, 1931.
When applied to the education of children, this insightful thought is truly frightening because the failure of the education experiment means the failure to launch a soul on to the realization of its own destiny. Christ said very clearly: “Without me you can accomplish nothing!” (John 15:5) Thus we must conclude that achieving the knowledge of Christ and a measure of intellectual intimacy with Him, are essential to develop a human being to the fullest.
I think this is the form of education our young teacher rightly dreams of. The kind of learning able to conform the mind to the Logos, giving children the impulse to produce on their own, not merely teaching to reproduce results but adding their own contributions to a society that is truly Catholic.
We must add — even running the risk of being unpopular — that the only kind of society that can survive over time and thrive is a Catholic society and thus we must educate with that in mind. The current experiment is failing. Many of us are aware that we are living in the dark age that Eliot predicted. The good news is: these dark ages won’t last forever and the dream of our young teacher will be realized. Reconstruction is around the corner.