Education and a Free Society
There is an interesting conversation that takes place between Peter, Susan, and the professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have gone to live with an old professor because of World War II. One day while they were playing hide and seek, Lucy stumbled upon a wardrobe and hid in it. While moving to the back of the wardrobe, she discovered a whole new world. She has adventures in this new world, Narnia, and comes back and excitedly tells the others about it. The others thought she was pretending and later after much arguing, check out Lucy’s wardrobe and find it to be an ordinary wardrobe. Lucy is miserable and tries to forget about the whole experience. Not many days later, they are playing hide and seek, Lucy reluctantly hides in the wardrobe again. This time she is followed by Edmund and they both enter Narnia. Lucy is excited when she finds Edmund in Narnia, and now she thinks the others will have to believe her. Then Edmund still influenced by the Witch’s Turkish delight does an awful thing. He tells the others he was just pretending with Lucy that her Narnia was real. Peter and Susan are very upset and thought Lucy might be losing her mind. So they decided to discuss the whole matter with the professor. The professor asked them a series of Socratic questions. He wanted to know in the past who were more truthful, Lucy or Edmund. Peter tells him, “that’s the funny thing about it, sir, up till now, I have said Lucy every time…” Then the professor asked Susan what she thought. She told him she would say the same as Peter, but she adds:
“but this couldn’t be true-all this about the wood and the Faun. That is more than I know, said the professor, and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed. We were afraid it mightn’t be lying said Susan, we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy. Madness, you mean? Said the Professor quite coolly.”
He told her that she could put that out of her mind.
The Professor said, “one has only to look at her and talk to her and see that she is not mad.”
“But then, said Susan, and stopped.” He then muttered,
“Half to himself, logic. Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities: Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 46-48).
In another section, the professor tells the children that it is all in Plato you know. Then he says, what do they teach them at these schools anyway? This excerpt is used to illustrate C.S. Lewis’ concerns about modern education. This paper will try to discover what C.S. Lewis can teach us about education and a free society.
Liberal Arts Education
Lewis received an excellent liberal arts education both under the guidance of Kirkpatrick and as a student of Oxford. Joel Heck notes that “the entire Oxford education was based upon the medieval liberal arts curriculum” (Heck, Irrigating Deserts, 31). Lewis received three Firsts at Oxford: the first in Greek and Latin texts; the second in ancient history and classical philosophy; and the third in English language and literature. Lewis, therefore, was well versed in a liberal arts education and well qualified to provide a liberal arts education to his students (Heck, 31).
According to Heck, Lewis thought “the purpose of education … [was] to develop the character through developing the mind” (Heck, 32). Lewis believed the development of the mind was accomplished through a liberal arts education. In the Discarded Image, Lewis wrote about the world-view of the Medieval period. He stated that a liberal arts education was emphasized during this period and he affirmed this prioritizing of the liberal arts. Lewis also affirmed learning as an end in itself. “Lewis valued,” writes Heck, “knowledge as an end in itself–knowing for the sake of knowing, learning for the sake of learning, knowledge that as of yet had no practical value was most practical of all. A literary kind of reader who receives a text rather than uses a text will likely be one who values learning for its own sake” (Heck, 35).
Students attending college are usually more concerned about what degree will help them make lots of money, rather than the degree that will help them live well. Liberal Arts education is more about making a good life. Lewis believed it to be different from job training and vocational education. Liberal education is more about acquiring skills that will help you to keep on learning the rest of your life. It is about engaging the great ideas: truth, justice, beauty and others. It teaches us how to think, read, speak, and think critically. It teaches us how to be human. Liberal arts education is about the search for truth through the use of reason.
In addition, the liberal arts are thought of as the arts of freedom. Historically, this was thought as the arts for free men, not slaves. The liberal arts are chosen not out of necessity, but for the sake of the “good life.” Lewis observes that liberal comes from the Latin, liber, which means free. A liberal arts education makes one free. He noted that “it changes the student from an unregenerate little bundle of appetites into the good man and the good citizen” (Gregory Dunn, “C.S. Lewis on Liberal Arts Education). When our actions are guided by reason, we are most human-like. When our actions are controlled by our appetites, we are more like animals. A liberal arts education should help us to rule ourselves. It also helps us to exercise our duties, both publicly and privately (Dunn, C.S. Lewis).