Tuesday, March 11, 2008

TS Eliot on education and the arts

Have you ever lamented the decline of the arts in our culture? Have you ever looked at the proliferation of, um, trash in Border's bookstores and wondered, "Whence?" "Wherefore?" "Foresooth!?"

Listen to TS Eliot:

"You cannot expect continuity and coherence in literature and the arts, unless you have a certain uniformity of culture, expressed in education by a settled, though not rigid agreement as to what everyone should know to some degree, and a positive distinction--however undemocratic it may sound--between the educated and the uneducated. I observed in America, that with a very high level of intelligence among undergraduates, progress was impeded by the fact that one could never assume that any two, unless they had been at the same school ... had studied the same subjects or read the same books, though the number of subjects in which they had been instructed was surprising ... In a negative liberal society you have no agreement as to there being any body of knowledge which any educated person should have acquired at any particular stage: the idea of wisdom disappears, and you get sporadic and unrelated experimentation."

~Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society

Happily, there are a number of concurrent and related experiments going on around our nation now, in the form the the classical homeschool and private academy curricula. I wonder, however, what the outcome will be.

Are the children of the public schools going to become Eliot's "uncritical and illiterate mob" that digs into any scintillating piece of writing/TV/cinema that comes their way? Do the children given the gift of classical education sequester themselves in a community--provincial and isolated--of "educated"? How to bridge the gap?

Of course, there will always be the odd ducks: the "mob members" who actually seek wisdom, the "educated" who graduate and never ask another question (is that so odd?).

But my heart bleeds to perceive that Eliot's rallying cry has been heard by so few, themselves fragmented, torn by disagreement, and isolated.