ANNOUNCEMENT!!

Andrew Kern, President of the CiRCE Institute in America, will be touring Australia for the very first time at the end of May and early June. Andrew will be giving public talks, offering professional development opportunities to teachers and sharing his passion and work in classical education. ACES is very proud to be part of this unprecedented event. Andrew will visit Toowoomba, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. If any person wants further information or wishes to help in any way please email Mr John Smyth. His email is jtsmyth@gmail.com.

The time has come Australia…… YOU ARE ALL INVITED! Classical education is growing in Australia.

Andrew Kern

Andy McLaurin

The mainstream educational landscape stresses an understanding of history that is characterised by an economy of power and oppression. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of ‘social capital’ verbalises the status of individuals based on the sum total of their group identities, e.g., race, sexuality, and economic class. It is the dominant currency through which students are called to understand their own place in the world. By extension, literature serves as an important discourse through which these phenomena may be articulated.

English students are expected to dutifully evaluate their own level of culpability in contributing to a systemically flawed and pathological society. This is the primary moral imperative offered in this discipline.

This is thinly veiled tribalism, and it dictates the way teenagers relate to their study of English in Australian schools. At least, this has been my experience in diocesan Catholic and state institutions. The curriculum outlined in VCE literature provides an explicit example of this approach. It insists that students project postmodern lenses (postcolonial, Marxist, feminist) onto select texts and analyse them in those ‘traditions’. Outcomes of this approach vary from a range of dedicated socio-political fervour in high achieving students, to a distinct sense of apathetic nihilism in middle and low achieving students. Operating at its peak, the modern English classroom perpetuates social extremism. However, for all students, it is undeniably a barren wasteland of ideological tyranny.

I have been in a position where I was professionally obliged to stress the value of literature that serves ideologies like critical race theory. I have taught poetry that is subordinated to these ends and could never provide any meaningful rationale for doing so beyond the utility of a sound understanding of the technical conventions of writing. It was precisely these lessons that led me to feel disenfranchised with teaching as a whole, after only a matter of months in the profession. The elephant in the room was a keen awareness of a lack of intellectual integrity on the part of teacher and student alike. Everyone was profoundly aware of the ruse taking place.

Conversely, I have been afforded the opportunity to pursue subject English in accordance with a classical appreciation of education. The reality could not be more starkly different.

What is most fundamental to this approach is an appreciation for learning as a virtue unto itself. Students are facilitated to approach their studies with a sense of ‘miranda’ or marvel in the Aristotelian tradition, free of ideological possession. This has a profound impact on their relationship with subject English in two ways.

Firstly, an approach such as this behoves the selection of Canonical literature: texts that have been traditionally celebrated for their articulation of the human experience across time and cultures. In this sense, text selection cannot be vogue but instead must be ordered through a keen understanding of univocal meritocracy.

Secondly, each lesson offers students a purposeful segue into the greatest conversations of humanity. A class reading on the concept of ‘hubris’ as it applies to book nine of Homer’s Odyssey leaves students with a profound love of culture. They are humbled before the wisdom that has been gifted to them and to which they are being inducted.

Both impacts culminate in an appreciation of a cosmology that insists on the primacy of goodness in being. What becomes paramount is the conclusion that man is fundamentally sacred. This experience of subject English offers an alternative moral imperative to that of Bourdieu’s. The ‘new’ imperative invites students to reverently contend with the wisdom of men and women who have come before them in the Canon and to perhaps contribute to that tradition themselves. This is radically uplifting and an approach that has helped me to develop a palpable love for this profession.

Qualitatively, teaching English in this manner lends itself to a narrative understanding of the world. Students are ecstatic once the gravity of that worldview substantiates itself through their encounter with meaningful literature.

In summation and to ‘nail my colours’ to the proverbial mast of education, I would argue that what I have described hitherto may be visualised as the following tropes of Canonical literature:

The modern English student is like the Corinthian King, Sisyphus, submissively pushing the boulder of postmodern ideology up a steep and unforgiving incline. He is predestined to laborious and meaningless encounters with the world around him. This leaves him perpetually embittered and resentful.

The classical English student is like Dante Alighieri in the third and final book of The Divine Comedy. He reverently astounds at refractions of the beatific vision in Canonical literature. An acute sense of love for the harmony of creation permeates his disposition.

“O grace abounding and allowing me to dare

To fix my gaze upon the Eternal Light,

So deep my vision was consumed in it!

 

I saw how it contains within its depths

All things bound in a single book by love

Of which creation is the scattered leaves.

 

How substance, accident, and their relation

Were fused in such a way that what I now

Describe is but a glimmer of that Light.”

 

Dante Alighieri ‘Paradiso’