It would be a mistake or, at any rate, an exaggeration to say that modern education has turned its back on morality.
It has not. It’s just that the morality it pursues is that of radical relativism with its radical skepticism about the benefits of the “great conversation” that has animated educated discourse for almost three millennia. Its morality is, therefore, that of Polonius in Hamlet whose declaration to his son Laertes as the latter prepares to leave for college serves as the motto for all modern secularized and relativized education: “This above all: to thine own self be true”.
Since, according to the tenets of modern education, there is no objective truth, all “truth” must be subjective. It is, therefore, subject to what we care to make of it and do with it. Like Laertes, we are told that we only need, above all else, to be true to our own self. We are not truth’s subjects, existing to serve it. It, like everything else, is subject to us. It exists to serve us. In such a relativist light, it is little surprise that such education becomes self-serving.
One consequence of this subjection of truth to selfishness is the rupture between modern education and traditional virtue. It’s not simply that modern educators have abandoned what has been traditionally considered true; they have also abandoned what has been traditionally considered good. This being so, it is hardly surprising that those who value the great conversation and the light it has shed on the objective reality of goodness and truth have sought to salvage the fruits of traditional knowledge and wisdom from the wreckage of modern education. This has led to the founding of a new generation of colleges and universities rooted in the truths and traditions upon which our civilization rests and without which it crumbles.
Up until now, these colleges and universities have had to rely on standardized college admissions tests, designed by proponents of the modern education which they exist to counter and correct. Now, however, and at long last, there is an alternative. The Classic Learning Test, or CLT, offers a standardized test for college admission representing an unabashed adherence to the belief that education and virtue are inextricably connected. As the CLT website declares, the “failed attempt” to remain “values neutral” by standardized college admissions tests “has stripped much of American education of the rich intellectual inheritance of Western civilization”:
“Many exceptional educators must bleach out the values inherent in any discussion of depth concerning historical, literary, and scientific endeavor in order to prepare students for a standardized test requiring only a regurgitation of disconnected facts, or the careful presentation of a ‘value neutral’ argument. In truth, even scientific laboratory discoveries have moral implications as the world so painfully rediscovered at Hiroshima. In fact, the term ‘value neutral’ is an oxymoron. Existing standardized tests which require students to deny the moral implications of decisions, ideas, and discoveries train them to both moral and intellectual disability.”
In similarly strident fashion, the website speaks of “the endeavor to repair the rupture between intellectual pursuit and virtue”, drawing parallels between the way that the ancient Greek philosophers understood the meaning and purpose of education with the way that it is viewed by today’s home-school parents and classical school educators:
“How someone learns to think, what they read, and how they live, are all intricately connected. Mainstream education in America is failing because the pursuit of virtue, as classically understood, has been lost.”
Those wishing to find out more about this noble initiative to repair the rupture between education and virtue should check out the website and also the recently released video:
Joseph Pearce is Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. A native of England, Mr. Pearce is Director of Book Publishing at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review, editor of Faith & Culture, and series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. He is the author of numerous books, which include The Quest for Shakespeare, Tolkien: Man and Myth, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde, C. S. Lewis and The Catholic Church, Literary Converts, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile and Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc.