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Seeking Truth, Goodness, and Beauty through Classical Education: Lessons Learned from C.S. Lewis

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

This blog continues our overview of the Equipping Event, an inspirational day of learning and sharing from Classical Christian leaders, both local and national. For the previous post, see here.

Our own Head of School, Dr. Christine McLean, spoke in the second session. She has served in various areas of higher education after earning her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to her expertise on student engagement, success, and learning, enrollment management and strategic planning, Dr. McLean has also Classically educated her five children from pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade. During that time, she opened and directed two thriving Classical Conversations communities. Dr. McLean has led the establishment of Donum Dei Classical Academy in San Francisco since June, 2018.

Dr. McLean’s session was titled “C.S. Lewis, An Apologist for Classical Education.” She discussed C.S. Lewis’ classical education, and how he became one of the most prominent defenders of the Christian faith. Lewis’ rich imagination gravitated toward fantasy and fairy tales; this interest began when he and his brother created their own magical land called Boxen, in an old wardrobe located in the upper floor of their large, drafty home.

Throughout his childhood, he experienced moments of intense LONGING that he came to refer to as JOY—these longings helped form his Christian writings. As he later reasoned, we are designed to yearn for something that our natural, physical world cannot supply. Lewis - who started off his academic career as an atheist and thought Christianity was irrational - was formed by both atheists and believers. Early on, Sir Kirkpatrick, an atheist, equipped Lewis with his methods of Logic, sharpening Lewis’ skills in critical thinking and debate. George MacDonald, a Scottish minister, later influenced Lewis’ work through inspiration of his book, Phantastes. As Lewis matured in his thinking, G.K. Chesterton, another believer, would teach Lewis how to use irony to deflate modern arrogance.

Dr. McLean described Lewis’ life as a model for why Classical Christian schools employ Latin, Greek, Logic, and the classics with an underscoring of a solid Biblical foundation. As a believer and educator, Lewis held together in creative tension both reason and imagination. He employed strongly classical pedagogical methods, but he infused them with longing and desire. Lewis would argue that a student should aim to learn Greek so that he could some day enjoy Homer, Aeschylus, and Sophocles.

Lewis warned his readers to be aware of “men without chests,” and asserted in The Abolition of Man that “the heart never takes place of the head, but it can and should obey it.” Do you think that Lewis is right to say that “in order for humans to think rightly about something, they must feel rightly about it”? How do we form students’ affections toward what is good, true, and beautiful - that they might think rightly and feel rightly? In the learning process, must one come before the other?

At the famous “sublime” or “pretty” waterfall, Lewis breaks down the fallacy that students are taught that truth is to be found only in the natural and social sciences. In this view, the humanities, including religion, only provide us with subjective opinions that make us feel happy or sad, but have no bearing on the way things really are.

Our yearning for beauty, our deepest moral values, and our experience of the sacred: they all are jumbled together under the category of personal feelings. However, when beauty is relativized, goodness and truth often follow. Knowing that human beings are created in the divine image of God, would it not make sense that we would have innate yearning for beauty in ways in which we could see the true, the good, and the beautiful in the natural and social sciences, humanities, and religion?

Stay tuned for the final blog post on our Equipping Event, to come on Wednesday! And don’t forget to download Dr. Turley’s eBook on Classical vs. Modern Education if you are left with questions!

References: The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis, An Apologist for Classical Education by Louis Markos Ph.D. and CSLewisDoodle.


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