Apparently in response to my engagement with him, Gary North has written a bit more on classical Christian education. He was already down in a hole with his very own shovel, and instead of heeding the adage to — when in such circumstances — stop digging, he decided to hire a backhoe.
My first response was titled North Heads South. This follow-up could be labeled — I will have to work up something — as North Heads Souther, or Almost to the Equator Now.
Let me say at the top that someone with North’s ostensible concerns could easily offer an intellectually honest (and helpful) version of his critique of the classical Christian school movement. It would go something like this:
“I understand that the founders and promoters of classical Christian education are trying to establish a distinctively Christian approach to education. I know that they have repeatedly rejected the idea of syncretism, and have also rejected the idea that we can in any way accommodate the destructive elements of paganism. They have certainly stated that our participation in the ‘great conversation’ should be as preachers of the gospel and proclaimers of God’s holy law, and not as dialogue partners. I know they mean well by all this, but here is why I believe the content of their curriculum will necessarily overwhelm their stated intentions . . .”
But in order to say something like this, North would have to know what our stated intentions have been. He would have to know the literature of the movement, and nothing is more apparent than that he knows nothing of the kind. He can’t tip his hat to all the arguments, qualifications, exhortations, and admonitions we have made on this topic, for the excellent reason that he assumes we must not have made them. When it comes to what we actually teach and say, if ignorance is bliss, then North has almost achieved Arahant Enlightenment. If Nirvana were not knowing anything about this particular subject, North is floating down an endless river in a rowboat, at night, in a fog, in a coma.
“What is palmed off as trivium-based education today is classical paganism to the core,” “But this is not the sales pitch . . .” “But this is not how Latin is being peddled to naive homeschool mothers.” “We never read about the importance of learning the medieval Church fathers” (emphasis mine). Notice the confidence, not just about the merits of Latin or not, but rather about how we are promoting the work we do. We never say, according to North, the kinds of things that we are actually saying all the time. If bombast were pearls, and ignorance the thread, North has written an article that the Duchess of Windsor would not be embarrassed to wear.
“I regard this as one more example of poorly educated people teaching poorly educated people how to give their children theologically schizophrenic educations.”
He honestly, seriously, advances statements that are like six or seven fluffed up pillows: “We are never told any of this by promoters of . . .” Sure, we might add, finishing his sentence for him — “we are never told any of this by classical Christian educators in any of the books that I plainly haven’t read.”
So that I don’t do the same thing that North is doing — assert without citing — let me give just two examples. The first is from my Introduction to Repairing the Ruins.
“Are not classical and Christ-centered themselves on opposite sides of this antithetical divide? So how can a school purport to be pursuing both? Why do we even want to try?” (p. 20). In what follows, I distinguish three different kinds of classicism, the third of which is what we are seeking to do, and which is “an antithetical classicism, best illustrated by the relationship of the apostle Paul to . . . the learning of the classical world” (p. 23). The point here is not whether we have been successful. The point is whether North knows what he is talking about when he says that we have never declared that we were making the attempt.
“I believe that because of the enmity God established between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, all education has to emphasize the sharp divide between truth and error, goodness and sinfulness, loveliness and ugliness” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 231).
If this is syncretism, I think it is time for me to acknowledge that I am really bad at it.
Look — and I am taking a page here from the old North, the one who used to actually read the books of his adversaries — if you are going to debate with somebody, CITE THEM. Use a footnote or two, for pity’s sake. Tell us who you are talking about. A big part of this article of his was all about the overall uselessness of Latin, but when it came to the specific arguments we have advanced for Latin, it turns out his response is entirely homeopathic. Hardly any trace elements there at all.
If his object was to make a hearty and robust pot of chicken soup for the recovering classicist, he ought to have done more than have an anemic chicken walk through a pot of boiling water on stilts.
If North were a lady from Austen, and if I were Mr. Knightley, I would by this point be saying, “Badly done, Emma!” Also, if I were Mr. Knightley, I would find myself stuck in outlandish metaphors far less often.
North really needs to write a book on the history of the modern resurgence of classical Christian education. He should call it Great Experiments in Telepathy.
North still has a small coterie of dogmatists who read his stuff, basing everything on the plausibility structure of “we know.” Their motto is In “We Know” Veritas. That’s another argument. You have to know Latin to make jokes like that. Not that it is a good joke, but it is a joke that is on par with my Latin.
This whole thing is beyond sad and pathetic. I have read 26 of North’s books — and I have learned a great deal from them. But I am starting to feel the same way I felt years ago about Rushdoony — his early books were magnificent, but in his later years he really lost his grip. It must be Recon Rule 7. “Go out crotchety and irascible.”
North calls it a day with this particular non sequitur, pardon my French.
“If you want to teach the trivium, use the King James Bible . . . Or just use the King James Bible. The language is magisterial.”
But . . . if you try to rebuild the kind of education that the translators of the King James Version received, the kind of education that equipped and enabled them to do what they did, then it is plain that you are a temporizing idiot. But I will speak as one of them, on this wise. This maketh no sense, man.