Moral greatness

If I managed to prove my point last week with the help of Lewis and Pascal, that education should seek to raise the “taste” of its students, then that argument leads inevitably to my next point: that education must steer a child toward moral greatness. And this point needs some defending in our day to be sure. To be able to do such requires first that believe moral greatness exists and second that it can be “taught” or at least held up before our students for them to see. So many of us continue to play the Beatles over again because we have not been led out of the “pop” cave into a place where we can judge Bach or even Dave Brubeck to be morally greater than the Fab Four.

Way too many of our current educational choices dwell in the land of “can” rather than the higher plains of “ought.” If we have the power, need, and ability to teach thus or so, we do. If we think the kids will like it, or can turn it into a buck, we put it in the course offerings. More and more, if it’s on the test that our funding is tied to, then it gets our full attention to the expense of everything else. But ought this to be our focus? In the end, far too much of this kind of thinking is simply the natural outpouring of our love affair with pragmatism. Our culture kneels at the altar of “what works.” This has cost us our very culture.

Great education (and I still mean “Christian Classical” every time I use that adjective) will always focus on the “ought” over the simple “can.” It will raise the tastes of its students (and teachers) to the point where they seek so much more than simply doing what can be done to pursuing the noble, the highest, the greatest ends. But to defeat modern pragmatism, we must raise our eyes. Looking only a few feet ahead to our next step, or our next graduation, or degree, etc. is going to keep us from seeing what we must see to pursue moral greatness.

Another way to put this is that we need to recover our heroes. We need to recover our own unashamed love of heroes and restore such to our children as well. The modern “leveling” of everything and everyone to equal status has resulted in moving nobility and moral greatness from being exemplified in people to being somewhat stilted and generalized platitudes about the “idea” of the heroic. A truly great education should almost overwhelm a student with examples of both moral greatness (really really good guys) and moral shoddiness (bad guys who get their just dessert at the end).

And there is nothing like the story to provide these missing heroes. The modern story all too often rejects the heroic character for the plain one, the guy just like us, who is mostly struggling with moral ambivalence. I mean, after all, who radically gives themselves over to anything today? Who wants to read about passionately good people? Where’s the action? How would I ever feel good about myself if I was reading about someone whose rectitude and fortitude far surpassed my own? But isn’t that the point? Am I not supposed to be rising higher rather than finding permission to stay where I am, morally?

The final point to be made is that I am not preaching a form of human contrived, “pull yourself up by your own reading of great books” or something. I believe I am aiming education right toward the center of the biblical target. Consider how many and wonderful are the stories of Scripture that God has chosen to teach us with. The grace of God is in part His desire to lead us up higher, closer to true joy, but to get us there He must through the Holy Spirit raise our eyes, and our taste, and our perception of Where we can best find that joy – in Him. Good education leads the student to moral greatness by making him discontent with anything less.

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