John Henry Newman, long before receiving his red hat, pondered with deep passion the issue of what education actually is. The result, published in 1854, was his once-celebrated treatise The Idea of a University.
He realised – even if such a realisation transcends modern educrats’ limited cognisance – that a thing is most easily defined by negatives. To re-read this treatise, then, is to be forcibly reminded of what a university, as explained by Newman, was not and did not do.
- It did not include thousands, let alone tens of thousands, who called themselves students merely through government campaigns to massage unemployment statistics. It defied the whole mass-production syndrome afterwards deified by R. A. Butler, John Dewey and Gunnar Myrdal. It rejoiced in its elitism. That a technical institute, or a broiler-house, or a day-care centre, or a zoo, should dare exceed its recognised functions (themselves legitimate) and usurp the title “university”, Newman neither desired nor imagined.
- It did not ensure despair, suicidal loneliness, atrocious overcrowding, and eventual violence – either self- or other-directed – by its physically isolated locale; by buildings of an aesthetic squalour to match anything in Ceausescu’s Bucharest; or by repeatedly demonstrating that any kind of student social life presupposes infantile leftism combined with booze and drug intakes gross enough to scandalise the late Kurt Cobain.
To Newman’s original readers, his emphasis upon a university’s appearance must have seemed, amid the 19th century’s “dreaming spires”, positively weird. We, contemplating the redbrick spirit, know better.
- It did not include the language of “rights”: the plagiarist’s “right” to steal others’ creations; the professor’s “right” to debauch his students; the student’s “right” to demand high marks in response; the undergraduate proletariat’s “right” to scream obscenities, to greet public appearances by Geoffrey Blainey or Hans Eysenck with threats of mayhem, to defecate upon “fascist” lecturers’ carpets.
Even this simplistic epitome indicates the abysmal gulf between Newman’s concept of education on the one hand, and post-Christendom’s on the other.
Newman largely recapitulated, with his superb prose style, that which leading Protestants – as well as Catholics – realised centuries before. Note, in what follows, the complete absence of references to “self-esteem”, “multiculturalism”, and “empowerment”.
Martin Luther (1537) on education’s purpose: “Schools will prove to be great gates of hell unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no-one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount.”
John Milton (1673): “The end, then, of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him, to be like Him.”
The Armenian-born, US-domiciled Calvinist theologian R. J. Rushdoony (1985): “Until we recognise that all education is inescapably a religious activity, we cannot come to terms with our cultural crisis.”
None of this material differs in essence from Rappresentanti in Terra, Pius XI’s 1929 encyclical: “Every form of teaching . . . which, confined to the mere forces of nature, rejects or neglects those matters which contribute with God’s help to the right formation of Christian life, is false and full of error.”
To suggest that these gentlemen meant the precise opposite of what they said – that they were somehow using the word “God” to mean Monash, “formation” to mean Arizona U, “religious activity” to mean “atheism”, or “Christian” to mean “walking cesspit of Hollywood’s dung-culture” – is to insult their memory.
Meanwhile in Australia, millions of Christians betray their principles because they naively assume that their children can acquire (particularly in the hard sciences) what is euphemistically known as “tertiary education” on wholly atheised campuses, without exposure to the wider campus Zeitgeist. Well, of course some can square this philosophical circle; just as some can drive past stop-signs and stay unkilled, or can swim in shark-infested waters and stay unbitten. But the sane person does not use such banal truths as a justification for avoiding the brake pedal, or for plunging open-eyed into a grey-nurse-filled aquarium.
Why, then, the assumption by Christian parents that, though others’ offspring may succumb as students to collegiate nihilism, their own offspring indubitably will not? And what do these parents imagine the disasters at Monash and Arizona U denote, if not the prevalent spiritual depravity taking acute and murderous forms?
Humanities for three decades have flung our taxes at upholders of Mao’s dogma “All power comes from the barrel of a gun”. They deserve only contempt whenever, and wherever, a lunatic assassin takes this dogma literally.
- R.J. Stove