Marvin Olasky, the editor of World Magazine, was passing through a few weeks ago and stopped for a visit. We took him and his wife Susan to our famous local Mexican restaurant, and afterwards he recorded an interview me on the topic of education.
The interview came out in the Back to School issue. I thought you might like to see it.
Most notable, for me, is the accompanying picture. I don’t think anyone has ever drawn me before. Having a portrait of myself is gratifying, yet unsettling, as if I have already taken my place with the dead white guys of the past.
Anyway, here are excerpts from the interview, entitled Education without tribalism, with the deck “What parents should look (and listen) for at Christian schools and colleges”:
Gene Edward Veith is a scholar but not a scowler. He shows joy in his writing and did so in his teaching: He is professor emeritus of literature at Patrick Henry College, where he was a dean and provost. Before that he was a dean and professor at Concordia University in Wisconsin, and then WORLD’s culture editor. He has written more than 20 books, including Modern Fascism, Reading Between the Lines, State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe, and Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Here’s an edited and tightened version of the interview we had at the Veith home in Blackwell, Okla.
What should parents look for in a Christian school? Two things: Christianity, of course. That’s not always something you can take for granted. Secondly, a school that isn’t just a place for socialization: It’s a place to learn knowledge.
Let’s say parents are aware of the decline of public schools and have decided to send their children to a Christian school. If several options exist, what should parents particularly look for? I’m excited by Christian classical education that emphasizes forming virtues and focuses on content, truth, objectivity, and a Christian worldview. A lot of schools are self-consciously cultivating that.
What questions should a parent be sure to ask? Ask about the reading list. What do the students read at different levels? If they are classic works, that’s a good sign. If they read exclusively contemporary works with an obvious ideology behind them, not good. It’s good to teach students about the world God has made and its history, so they don’t think Christianity is a narrow thing we are walling off from the rest of reality. They should learn how Christianity is the bigger reality that embraces every area of knowledge. . . .
As my wife and I drove into Blackwell, we saw signs about the many wrestling champions who grew up in this city. How important are sports in a Christian school? Sports grow out of a classical education. Plato thought the highest part of a liberal education was gymnastics because that taught how the mind can control the body. Overemphasized sports can be a distraction, though. So here’s the critical question: Are sports unconnected to learning, or part of a curriculum designed to develop the whole human being to the highest degree possible?
How have we misdefined science? There were three sciences. First, the natural sciences, the knowledge of the objective creation that God has made. That includes most of what we think of as physics, chemistry, and the like. There were the moral sciences, knowledge of human beings. History was a moral science: You could draw moral lessons from both the good and the bad. The third science was theological science, the knowledge of God, His revelation, the Christian faith. It’s God who is the source of nature, human beings, language, mathematics. That’s what gave everything its coherence.
Have we wrongly defined “practical”? A lot of people, even Christians, when they talk about being practical, mean “How can I make money from this? How can my child get a job?” But God’s calling is not limited to what you do to make a living. Learning to become a good parent or a good spouse is probably more important than learning to be a good worker at a certain specialty that brings in a lot of income. Working and getting paid are important, but a comprehensive vision will look at other things too: What do you do in your leisure time? Do you waste it? Do you do harmful things with it? A full education is about how people actually live their lives.
Illustration: Gene Edward Veith by Bruce Morser, World Magazine