Cover Story

Dollars and sense

Education drifted from classical Greek and biblical worldviews and became just another form of training-whether its intent was to shape a better citizenry or create a more productive and wealthy workforce

Issue: "2000: The Millennium," July 31, 1999

This 'New Math' is going to ruin me! My teacher doesn't understand it, my parents don't understand it, and, I'm sure I don't understand it!" This lament could be heard throughout America in the early 1960s as the United States tried to supercharge its math and science curriculum in an attempt to "catch up" with the Soviet Union. Many Americans perceived the Soviets were outpacing U.S. education because they won the race into space with the first satellite (Sputnik, 1957). Historians will debate whether America really trailed the Soviets, but the trauma experienced in education when the Soviets jumped ahead in the space race was indicative of the new, more utilitarian role of education in U.S. society. By the end of the millennium education had dramatically changed its function. Educating, nurturing, and training children had always been a constant in human societies. But what has changed, and changed significantly, is the ways that schooling has become formalized. A thousand years ago, Western civilization was nearing the pinnacle of the medieval period. The 13th century enjoyed a flowering of culture and thought, especially in the brilliance of Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas believed he had perfectly combined Christianity with what scholars believed was the epitome of the medieval worldview, the thought of Aristotle. In the early centuries Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire like a wildfire. While the expansion was rapid and extensive, it occurred in the context of Hellenistic (Greek) culture. Classical Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle systematically and brilliantly laid the foundations for an ideal society. However, nearly 50 percent of Greek city-states were made up of servant/slaves, and women had no formal standing. Education was a privilege for men of wealth and position. These men studied either in a small academy or with a tutor. They were taught to contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful by investigating a curriculum that came to be known as the Trivium (logic, grammar, and rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy). Christians were surrounded by the Greek way of thinking; those who heard the Christian message thought in Greek categories. The coercion of Christian thinking by Greek philosophy was facilitated by Emperor Constantine's conversion in 324 B.C. It was the synthesizing of Christianity with Hellenistic thought that established the medieval worldview. It is impossible to understand the unfolding of education in the West without understanding this synthesized worldview. This worldview found its fullest expression in Thomas Aquinas but was dominant for many centuries before him and many centuries after him. To recognize the power of this worldview one only needs to think of the culture-forming power of worldviews today that are only decades old to imagine what power would come from a worldview that went virtually unchallenged for over a millennium. So dominant was this worldview in education that both style and curriculum content went unchanged for this vast period of time. It's Greek to me
Educational needs at this time were very different. In an agrarian society, education revolved around the family. Education was informal for most people. It was accomplished by families passing on trades or farming knowledge as well as whatever catechizing the church did. Schooling only existed for the elite of society and those preparing to serve the church. While the layered society of Aquinas's day may seem remote, it was built on a foundation that had dominated the West for hundreds of years. It seems appropriate to describe such bedrock for education in the West as a monolith. Even after this worldview began to break up philosophically, it continued to have a dominant place in education well into the 19th century. (Even today it continues to have impact through the work of philosopher Jacques Maritan and the Classical Christian school movement.) By the 16th century the church had exhausted the synthesis of Aristotle with Christianity. Theological deterioration (such as the selling of indulgences) coupled with moral corruption called forth reform in the church. An Augustinian monk, who for 10 years had practiced the austere regimen of the monastery, took center stage. Martin Luther, as much as anyone, saw the insufficiency of the medieval worldview. To oppose the monolith was very dangerous. Yet Luther's passion for theological reform centered on the doctrine of justification by faith had a spillover effect for education. Luther sensed the urgency of education in some minimal form for the life of faith. If a person was to stand before God on an individual basis to give account for his response of faith, the need to have the Scripture in an understandable form was paramount. Some five years after he had nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door, he finished the translation of the New Testament into German, the language of the people. Luther's focus on the individual life of faith had a shaping effect. University begins with "you"
The monolith of the medieval worldview was breaking up. However, three key changes set the direction for education:

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