We humans are forever chasing desirable traits that are really the natural by-product of other, more neglected things. In the sphere of marriage, we pursue feelings of excitement and attachment for their own sake, forgetting that feelings of love must be anchored and restored by service and commitment. In the sphere of religion, we fall into the trap of focusing our energies on our own good works, forgetting that good works are the result and not the cause of faith in God’s promise of forgiveness. In the world of education…. oh, we are dreadfully inclined to chase the wrong things. We see that good readers have good vocabularies, so we print lists of words and hand them out, instead of guiding children to good books. We see that successful learners believe that they are intelligent enough to learn, and so we tell all children that they are smart, even while handing them “F’s” on their half-blank quizzes.
It is hard to see that just because a thing is good, it may not be helpful to chase it. It is hard to recognize the essential sources of the good things we desire.
It is especially hard to know how to provide a good education, because the dominant educational outlook (progressivism) is problematic, and vibrant, cohesive alternatives (such as the current classical education movement) are still in youthful form. We think of classical ed as a return to past educational ideals, but structurally, it is really a re-invention. The classical education of the past was something that began after the young student’s primary education and centered on what we would now call high school and college. The classical education of the present is something that begins with pre-school or Kindergarten and often ends with eighth grade or, at most, twelfth grade.