We all know of Luther’s most famous uttering: ‘Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy faith has.’ What fewer know is the next line ‘…it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.’ The context is apposite – a Western intelligentsia that had rediscovered Aristotle and with it had pursued a shallow intellectualism that left the heart, and no less the soul, cold. Luther was not the first to tread this path – the vexatious issue of the relationship between faith and reason was/is as old as the hills.
Luther was wrong, of course, though one cannot help but suspect that, as with most of history’s greatest heretics, it was for an excess of piety rather than deficiency of it. But he was edging at something important, something instinctive, difficult to communicate, particularly to those who already reject the rules by which we play – that in the heart of life there is mystery, and reason can not always take us there. That trying to subdue life to the rational can impoverish it. That wisdom can make fools of the educated. If Aquinas services the head then Augustine wraps up the heart, and it is the strength of the Church to value both equally.
I’ve always seen myself a traditionalist in education, something which I saw as splitting two ways. The first was pedagogical, the desire to emulate those who transformed me, and not have to jump through hoops doing daft things to please people with daft ideas. But there was a second strand, and this was the belief that students should have access to something greater, to high culture, to aesthetic ideals, to the good, the true and the beautiful. The traditionalist, as I saw it, was every bit the rebel and for that reason entirely the romantic.
Yeats once described, in his poem the Seven Sages, the whiggish mind; ‘a levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind/That never looked out the eye of a saint/Or out of drunkards eye.’ The Seventh sage responds to the Sixth mournfully: ‘All’s Whiggery now/But we old men are massed against the world.’ Looking around at the education revolution, one cannot help but feel the sympathy of the traditionalist must be with the Seventh Sage. For the NeoTraddie chorus, remarkably uniform and increasingly shrill, seems to have become that which so provoked Yeats’s ire. Clutching academic journals, divinising research, yoking everything to the demand for ‘evidence!’ – rationalistic, technocratic, and above all, cold. Or at least it often feels like it. And as the mob is whipped up with mock outrage and witty blogposts against the latest idea or practice that contravenes their rulings, and indeed against anyone who holds or practices them, then it often looks like it, too.
Is it this lack – of wonder, of awe, of mystery – that marks the technocrats of the education revolution? If it is it puts it at odds with traditionalism as I understand it. Teaching is now a profession, a career no less, of which it is increasingly conscious, and with it the language and logic of learning has come to ape that of process and manufacture over growth and flourishing. And it is that coldness that causes one to well up with discomfort and shout ‘No!’, even at erstwhile allies. If there is anything to redeem Ken Robinson, it is that he gets this, the importance of the intangible, even if his greatest error is to force it into a realm in which it does not belong.
As we (rightly) speak of reason, of the rational, of evidence, we must not forget to balance this with the mystery at the heart of life, the romance in the heart of mystery, and love in the heart of both. I suppose it is from here that I look at the revolution and see in the heart of it something lacking – and, for all it sounds daft, maybe it is love. That can raise a guffaw, provoke laughter, a dismissive huff and a roll of the eyes, but maybe in so doing the point is better illustrated. Education is about love, because in the end all that is good is about love. Which means it is about the heart as well as the head. And the traditionalist must straddle these two. Aquinas must waltz with Augustine.