There is an unwritten rule in parenting that prohibits a parent from ever admitting that he has done irreparable damage to the intellectual formation of his children.
A parent might admit that he has spoiled his child, or perhaps has been too severe. But how many parents do you know that look back on all the educational choices they have made for their children and have said,
“Wow… did I ever make some stupid educational choices for my children or what! I mean look at them now. Their minds have been practically wrecked beyond repair!?”
I think the implications of this admission are just too horrible to think about. What would some of the outcomes be? What are the symptoms of a wrecked mind?
I suppose a person with a wrecked mind might vote for politicians that refuse to obey the natural law. Or perhaps this person might live a life that is directly contrary to the moral teachings of the Catholic church. Or perhaps he would participate cheerfully in the dictatorship of relativism!
I just throw these three examples out – off the top of my head – without even really making an effort to be creative.
But I think they are quite apt.
I mean, when you think about it, why would someone participate cheerfully in the dictatorship of relativism?
But rather than admit that they have wrecked the mind of their children, most parents have an inbuilt system that will “kick in” and rationalize every educational choice that they have made almost without any conscious effort.
And this rationalization will shield a parent from the horrible realization that he or she really hasn’t a well-developed and “grounded” philosophy about education. It might even make a parent blind to the fact that he doesn’t even really know what an education is.
Consequently all his decisions, about education, were made in the dark. They were made on the spur of the moment; based on temporary feelings and passing desires. In most cases they were probably decisions based on the desire to please the child rather than to form him correctly.
I suppose a parent might not really think it is possible to wreck a child intellectually – even though he will admit that it is possible to wreck a child in many other ways.
For example serious musicians will always talk about the importance of getting just the right teacher. If one happens to choose the wrong teacher… and one happens to stick with that teacher for 10 years then… forget about it…you have wrecked your child’s musical chances forever.
But could it be that obtaining an excellent intellectual formation is more difficult than becoming a virtuoso violinist?
Just consider the staggering amount of intelligent reading one has to do. Think about the thirteen books of Euclid’s Elements that one has to study and learn proposition by proposition.
Think of all that Latin and Greek that one has to master.
Think of the 1000 works of imaginative literature with which one needs to nourish his imagination, feed the soul and purge one’s passions.
Think of all the work that one has to do to understand the natural world- so many insects to read about with Jean Henri Fabre and so little time!
What about all that Shakespeare to read and memorize!?!
Heck… Herodotus and Thucydides takes at least an entire year to read and by the time one is done- it is time to begin them again so that they might actually be understood the second time around!
Think of all that careful painstaking discussion that one has to have about every conceivable subject lest one does not live up to the Socratic exhortation to examine one’s life.
I could go on and on…we haven’t even gotten to Aristotle and St Thomas yet… and we can’t because strictly speaking we shouldn’t read these things until we are good and ready…at great peril to our own minds and the prospect of becoming wise one day.
(I haven’t really studied this chart- but I thought it looked sufficiently complex to make the point that when I sit around thinking all day…it is not as easy as my wife might think it is.)
But the point is clear…all this intellectual work will take years and years.
Now add to this the fact that if one does not undertake all of these things with just the right teachers… well it will be hopeless.
Read any of these works with the wrong teacher and the student is set back. Nay perhaps even ruined!
There are so many errors to avoid, so many pitfalls. Never mind that all of it is very difficult to do in the first place!
The right teacher….a crucial choice!
And if one happens to accomplish all this but forgets to pay attention to the fine arts…singing two and three times a week learning Palestrina and Tallis and Gregorian Chant, acting in plays and learning to do calligraphy and draw at a tolerable level…. well now ….congratulations you are nothing but an educated barbarian!
There is no doubt about it, obtaining an excellent intellectual formation is as tough as it gets and if one does not start early and choose the right program and the right teachers and the right friends, and if one does not stick with it for years and years and years, then one might just as well forget about it.
But cheer up, because maybe you can say
“although I myself do not claim to be educated, at least I’m married to someone who is”
“I happen to know someone who is educated”
“at least I’m a Catholic and can get my answers from the priest…or the Bishop….or the Pope or, or … somebody.”