ILLA Blogs

Commentary and reviews by classical Lutheran education commentators.
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Forbes: Whatever Happened to Common Core?

Peter Greene offers an interesting perspective in a July 12, 2018 article found in Forbes entitled Whatever Happened to Common Core? While not addressing philosophical issues underlying Common Core's creation, it does demonstrate how quickly something can become passe in the world of education.

Already in 2005, the CSRQ Center Report on Elementary School Comprehensive School Reform Models stated: "In 1998, education researcher Sam Stringfield observed, 'There is no shortage of programs that promise to turn around low-performing schools, but how can you tell which ones will live up to their claims?' Since those words were written, more than 500 distinct comprehensive school reform (CSR) approaches have been adopted in more than 5,000 schools across the country."

Classical Lutheran education is not a reform model. It is a renaissance. Dr. Veith's 1996 article Renaissance, Not Reform is as poignant today as it was 20 years ago . . .

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Rev. Joel A. Brondos
Veith's article is extremely difficult to find online. Websites which used to carry it no longer have those pages available. I jus... Read More
Friday, 13 July 2018 13:04

Marshall McLuhan and The Classical Trivium

McLuhanMany people quickly associate the name "Marshall McLuhan" with his quip "The medium is the message."

Not as many are aware, however, that McLuhan held a doctorate from Cambridge University or that his dissertation, The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time.

McLuhan mapped out the Trivium from its earliest days and through Augustine, Abelard, and Erasmus through to Thomas Nashe, following a structure of Grammar, Dialectics, and Rhetoric for each stage.

This work is not for the timid initiate, but it is replete with thought-provoking perspectives, references, and citations which ought not be overlooked. A sample:

"One can see here a typical instance of the problems which unavoidably arise when a Christian thinks that the disciplines which he has learned are fundamentally sound, but have to be transformed by grace. Thus St. Augustine felt that all of Cicero's doctrines had to be overhauled. He was in a position to do it; for with the great Christian orators of the four centuries before him, Roman eloquence was coming back to life in the purity of the Ciceronian ideal; not merely the written eloquence of Quintilian. The difference was that instead of addressing men to guide them toward the common good of the city as Brutus, Crassus, Cicero, and others had done, St. Augustine and the Christian orators resorted to eloquence to  guide Christians to God and the common good of the City of God."

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C.S. Lewis - Our English Syllabus

The title of this lecture might lead readers to think that Clive Staples intended to comment on grammar and literature, but what we find in these opening paragraphs is a distinction between education and vocational training. The full text of the essay may be found here.


Schoolmasters in our time are fighting hard in defence of education against vocational training; universities, on the other hand, are fighting against education on behalf of learning.
Let me explain.

The purpose of education has been described by Milton as that of fitting a man ‘to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.’ Provided we do not overstress ‘skilfully,’ Aristotle would substantially agree with this, but would add the conception that it should also be a preparation for leisure, which according to him is the end of all human activity. ‘We wage war in order to have peace; we work in order to have leisure.’ Neither of them would dispute that the purpose of education is to produce the good man and the good citizen, though it must be remembered that we are not here using the word ‘good’ in any narrowly ethical sense.

The ‘good man’ here means the man of good taste and good feeling, the interesting and interested man, and almost the happy man. With such an end in view, education in most civilized communities has taken much the same path; it has taught civil behaviour by direct and indirect discipline, has awakened the logical faculty by mathematics or dialectic, and has endeavoured to produce right sentiments -- which are to the passions what right habits are to the body -- by steeping the pupil in the literature both sacred and profane on which the culture of the community is based.

Vocational training, on the other hand, hand,prepares the pupil not for leisure, but for work; it aims at making not a  good man, but a good banker, a good electrician, a good scavenger, or a good surgeon. You see at once that  education is essentially for free men and vocational training for slaves. That is  how they were distributed in the old unequal societies; the poor man’s son was apprenticed to  a trade, the rich man’s son went to Eton and Oxford and then made the grand tour.

When societies became, in effort if not in achievement, egalitarian, we are presented with a  difficulty. To give everyone education and to give no one vocational training is impossible, for electricians and surgeons we must have and they must be trained. Our ideal must be to find time for both education and training: our danger is that equality may mean training for all and education for none – that everyone will learn commercial French instead of Latin, book-keeping instead of geometry, and knowledge of the world we live in instead of great literature. It  is  against this danger that schoolmasters have to fight, for if education is beaten by training, civilization dies. That is a thing very likely to happen.

One of the most dangerous errors instilled into us by nineteenth-century progressive optimism is the idea that civilization is automatically bound to increase and spread. The lesson of history is the opposite; civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism, just as the normal surface of our planet is saltwater. Land looms large in our imagination of the planet and civilization in our history books, only because sea and savagery are, to us, less interesting. And if you press to know what I mean by civilization, I reply ‘Humanity’, by which I do not mean kindness so much as the realization of the human idea. Human life means to me the life of beings for whom the leisured activities of thought, art, literature, conversation are the end,’ and the preservation and propagation of life merely the means. That is why education seems to me so important: it actualizes that potentiality for leisure, if you like, for amateurishness, which is  man’s prerogative.

You have noticed, I  hope, that man is the only amateur animal; all the others are professionals. They have no leisure and do not desire it. When the cow has finished eating she chews the cud; when she has finished chewing,  she sleeps; when she has finished sleeping, she eats again. She is a machine for turning grass into calves and milk – in other words, for producing more cows. The lion cannot stop hunting, nor the beaver building dams, nor the bee making honey. When God made the beasts dumb He saved the world from infinite boredom, for if  they could speak they would all of them, all day, talk nothing but shop. That is my idea of education.

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Students (and Disciples) Asking Questions

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One skill I try to engender in every subject is the students' ability to ask questions. It is so much easier to teach a class which is curious about a subject. It is so much more rewarding when a student who does not understand something is able to ask questions of the teacher.

This past week, I asked my students in math class why they didn't ask questions when they got problems wrong or when they didn't understand a concept. For some, homework is a drudgery. They just want to get it done in class so they don't have to do it at home -- and asking questions keeps them from doing their problems. For others, my explanations simply took too much time. For still others, they did not want to appear ignorant in the presence of their peers (in spite of my attempts to make all students feel comfortable about the learning environment). It was worth the time it took to address these issues in class.

In the historic lectionary for Jubilate, the Third Sunday after Easter (John 16:19 which we read today), we read, "Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said . . .  ?" There are other similar instances recorded in the Gospels. After three years with Jesus, why didn't the disciples just come right out and ask Jesus? Jesus apparently had to teach His disciples how to ask questions as well.

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Playing With Words: Luder and Ludus

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Playing? In school? First, a couple of words about playing in school.

Luder (Luther) “Now since the young must always be hopping and skipping, or at least doing something that they enjoy, and since one cannot very well forbid this — nor would it be wise to forbid them everything — why then should we not set up such schools for them and introduce them to such studies? By the grace of God it is now possible for children to study with pleasure and in play languages, or other arts, or history. Today, schools are not what they once were, a X and purgatory in which we were tormented with casualibus and temporalibus, and yet learned less than nothing despite all the flogging, trembling, anguish, and misery. If we take so much time and trouble to teach children card-playing, singing, and dancing, why do we not take as much time to teach them reading and other disciplines while they are young and have the time, and are apt and eager to learn?(The American Edition of Luther's Works, vol. 45, pp. 369-370)

Ludus in Latin was associated with a number of things, two of which included "play" and "school." One definition given on Wikipedia relates that a ludus was "an elementary or primary school or the school of the “litterator" attended by boys and girls up to the age of 11 was a ludus. Ludi were to be found throughout the city, and were run by a ludi magister (schoolmaster) who was often an educated slave or freedman. School started around six o'clock each morning and finished just after midday. Students were taught math, reading, writing, poetry, geometry and sometimes rhetoric."

Whenever I tell my students that one Latin word for school is a synonym for fun, they find it difficult to believe. (In the spirit of full disclosure: I am vigorously opposed to attempts to make school fun, but I am altogether in favor of making school fascinating. More on that in a later blog.)

That being said, there are a number of ways to play (or should I say, "to fascinate"?) with words  such as Jumble, Boggle (anagrams), Scrabble, WordMorph, Crosswords, Hangman, Palindromes, Rootonym, UnoLingo, and Lexigo.

You might begin pulling this thread at The Puzzle Society, USA Today Puzzles, and even AARP (besides the games you might find on SpellingCity wherein you could add your own spelling/vocabulary list).

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Orwell or Huxley?

Postman AmusingHave you ever had the sensation of reading something profound? Have you ever been impressed that san author could write something so timely -- but had written it decades ago?

One might not be surprised to have that experience while reading or listening to the Holy Scriptures regarding faith, hope, and love in Christ -- but there are other spheres in which something similar may happen. That was my reaction when I read this Foreward to Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death (pp. vii-viii):


 We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another-slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

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TED . . . and Classical Education

indexTED lectures run the gamut from liberal to conservative. One can even find some lectures on classical education. You may enjoy watching What If Everyone Had a Classical Education? There are also numerous YouTube videos which may provide some grist for your mill like Classical Education vs. Common Core.


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The Case for One-Room School Houses

The numbers of LCMS schools which have closed their doors in the last 20 years is alarming -- if anyone cares to take notice. Generally, I suspect that the issue is economics: congregations cannot afford to maintain the school budget. But can we afford to be without Lutheran schools?

I think it's time for an old paradigm to become redivivus among LCMS schools: the one-room school house.

Granted, people might have to begin thinking a little bit differently about education -- and that's something rather difficult for many LCMS folk to do. (I won't put a smiling face emoji here, but I could . . .)

In the first place, families in the LCMS need to be awakened to the idea of classical Lutheran education in contrast to what education has become in our society today. I think it's possible. And secondly, I think the success of LCMS home school families has trailblazed the way so that more people might be open to the idea. (By this, I don't necessarily mean homeschoolers, but rather others might consider one-room schools in light of the success which classical Lutheran home school families have had.)

It's not just a novel idea for LCMS elementary education. Other schools are doing it, too. See this article: The Case for One-Room School Houses. I believe some teacher colleges in our western states currently train teachers for this sort of experience. Even here in Chicago, we have a few members in our congregation who attended one-room school houses in rural areas when they were children, and they grew up to have very sucessful lives in the big city.

This year, our school has been "right-sizing." Everything has been going as well as one might expect at our school without any major contentious controversies, but due to budget issues and a demographically-typical decline in enrollment, we are moving toward three grades per classroom where we have had two.

One of the major concerns of parents (a few of which withdrew their children to enroll them in public school) was whether it was humanly possible to teach three levels of math and other subjects in the same length of school day when only two were taught. If they thought back for a moment, however, they would have realized that some people may have thought the same thing when the decision was made to go from one grade per classroom to two. Notwithstanding, our school has shown that academic accomplishment has by no means diminished. I believe the same could be said of a one-room school -- especially given the technological advances available today.

Perhaps a more detailed description of how this can be done is the subject for another blog -- this one is too long already. But if you have other anecdotes or resources about one-room school house experiences, please share them in the comments! 

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College Entrance Exams and Classical Education

CNN recently reported that there are several hundred classical schools in the United States:

Classical schools are less concerned about whether students can handle iPads than if they grasp Plato. They generally aim to cultivate wisdom and virtue through teaching students Latin, exposing them to great books of Western civilization and focusing on appreciation of “truth, goodness and beauty.” Students are typically held to strict behavioral standards in terms of conduct and politeness, and given examples of characters from history to copy, ranging from the Roman nobleman Cincinnatus to St. Augustine of Hippo.

There is such a revival in classical education that there is a new college entry examination, intended as an alternative to the SATs. A dozen colleges are now accepting the results of the Classic Learning Test (CLT).

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Gentlemen vis-a-vis Saints

An excerpt from The Genteel Imposter: Newman's Social Criticism

Newman remarks in his Idea of a University that it is far easier to find examples of gentlemen than saints. The reason should be obvious: “The world is content with setting right the surface of things; the Church aims at regenerating the very depths of the heart” [Idea, p. 203]. So Newman sees the gentleman as superficial. In this he has many literary precedents from Horace to Moliere; but Newman’s objection does not vent itself in high satire and then depart with good-fellow handshakes all around.

There is genuine danger; in Newman’s view, something is being disguised: “The splendours of a’ court, and the charms of good society, wit, imagination, taste, and high breeding, the prestige of rank, and the resources of wealth, are a screen, an instrument, and an apology for vice and irreligion” [Idea, p. 202]. What is being hidden by the fine ways of genteel society is original sin: “What, indeed, is the very function of society, as it is at present, but a rude attempt to cover the degradation of the fall, and to make men feel respect for themselves, and enjoy it in the eyes of others, without returning to God” [P.S. VIII, p.266].

What is missing is virtue which comes with holiness; and any attempt to supplant the role of virtue with that of liberal education is futile: “Quarry the granite rocks with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man” [Idea, p. 121]

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Education: From Luther to Lutheran

Luther 02If we read Luther's treatises on education, introductions to the catechisms, and the visitation articles which describe a Lutheran school curriculum, would we find anything remotely similar to Lutheran education today? Is there any reason why it should?

In the introduction to his 1963 dissertation for the EdD program at Columbia University entitled The Growth and Decline of Lutheran Parochial Schools in the United States, 1638-1962, John Silber Damm notes the following:

"This project is concerned with the growth and decline of the parochial school among the Lutherans of the older bodies and the Missouri Synod. What happened? Why is it that, although both groups developed their school systems from the same basic commitment of the church to provide a Christian education for their children, the schools of the older Lutheran bodies declined during those very decades of the nineteenth century when the Missouri Synod was active in establishing schools? Why were the older Lutheran bodies unsuccessful in their attempts to revive interest in parochial education? Why was the Missouri Synod able to withstand attempts to close its schools and continue its system of parochial education to this day? The present study seeks to answer these questions.

It is the thesis of this study that, although the Lutheran parochial school was troubled with many problems that threatened its existence - lack of teachers and training institutions, meager financial support, immigration and language difficulties, and the rise of the common school, the growth and decline of the Lutheran parochial school is essentially dependent upon the confessional stand and organizational structure of the respective sponsoring bodies.

The historic confessional stand of the Lutheran Church insists that the Christian Church is to be found wherever the Word of God is correctly and purely taught and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. The form of polity which the Church adopts is secondary and does not alter the nature of the Church. Hence, the more determined a synod is to maintain purity of teaching, the stronger the organizational arrangement will be to insure this.

This study will attempt to demonstrate that the older Lutheran synods, due to their decentralized organizational structure and minimal doctrinal requirements, were not able to maintain or develop the school system an earlier generation had planted, and that the Missouri Synod, with its conservative confessional basis and stronger organizational structure was able, not only to establish a parochial school system, but to maintain it throughout the synod’s history in this country."

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Catechesis vis-a-vis Lutheran Education

Jules Alexis Muenier La Leçon de catéchismeReligion? Bible Study? Catechesis? Didache? Some struggle a bit with what to call the subject of teaching the faith whether it is referenced in a school's curriculum or on a congregation's calendar. The disambiguation of these might be taken up elsewhere, but I'd like to consider for a moment the juxtaposition of "catechesis," referencing in particular Luther's Small Catechism and "Lutheran education" in general.

There have been conferences and papers devoted specifically to "catechesis" almost as if it were something which existed in its own niche. I have not often found a treatment of catechesis depicted in the big picture of Lutheran education. Are the methods of catechezing markedly different from educational methods in general? And how does a commercially-produced religion curriculum from a Lutheran publishing house relate or compare to catechesis as such? Are they two different disciplines?

Can various approaches to catechesis range from nominalist to the progressive? On one hand, there can be an emphazing of teaching faith as if it consisted primarily of memorizing definitions of every concrete and abstract term in the Bible and memorizing the facts of Biblical accounts. On the other, it could be a pietistic, Romanticized moralizing of life.

Can one find examples of teaching-the-faith in the context of the liberal arts, an age-appropriate grammatical, dialectical and rhetorical Trivium of the faith? What would catechesis look like if one construed catechesis into the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stages?

I'd like to see a more deliberate approach towards how children can make the transition from concrete Biblical narratives to abstract Scriptural epistles. To date, I have not seen any curriculum achieve that. (And in the limited time I have between writing lesson plans, grading papers, fixing computers and ordering supplies, there is little leisure fo attempt one myself.)

Additionally, consider a list of distinctively Lutheran doctrines dealing with aspects of faith such as the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, simul iustus et peccator, the theology of glory as opposed to the theology of the cross, the two kingdoms, the priesthood of all believers (and there are many more). And consider the dangers which our children are facing in high school and college designed to fleece them of faith in the Good Shepherd: constructivism, materialism, nihilism, feminism, not to mention all the other powers and principalities which are set against them.

Can encouragements and cautions, promises and threats, be sufficiently covered in once-a-week Saturday catechism classes? And if not (and if a congregation or home school has the opportunity for extended teaching of the faith) where does one find a curriculum which deliberately nurtures, disciplines, and trains children to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, propelling them into a lifelong education of faith, hope, and love in Christ?

While I am familiar with the Concordia Curriculum Guide which purports to be "a practical, easy-to-use, dynamic new resource that equips Christian educators to incorporate the faith into every lesson throughout the school day" integrating "the Christian faith into every aspect of your curriculum," I don't get the impression that this fits the bill. Is it too contrived and stilted? Is it possible that there could be something better wherein one could conceive of a K-8 curriculum which treats catechesis in the way of the liberal arts, giving attention in content and method to the grammar, dialectic and rhetoric stages of the Trivium?

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Marshall McLuhan and the Classical Trivium

Perhaps like many people, I knew little more of Marshall McLuhan than a few of his pithy witticisms like "The medium is the message," and "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." (Or even "Diaper spelled backwards spells repaid. Think about it.") These were sufficient for me to have a skin-deep appreciation for one who liked to play with words.

But to my surprise, when milling about in some backwater website, I came across a used book entitled The Classical Trivium by Marshall McLuhan. I couldn't not buy it. It turned out that this book, edited by W. Terrence Gordon, is the publication of his doctoral thesis from Cambridge University where he studied between 1934 and 1936.

While I have only begun to turn the pages, I wanted to post this in hopes that someone else here might know something about it -- or to tip off others for whom this book might also offer some helpful threads to pull. The Table of Contents runs like this:

     I: The Trivium Until St. Augustine

    II: The Trivium from St. Augustine to Abelard

   III: The Trivium from Abelard to Erasmus

   IV: Thomas Nashe

and for each section, there are A, B, and C sub-sections entitled Grammar, Dialectics, and Rhetoric.

There is little which could be deemed pithy in this dissertaion -- perhaps the Cambridge dons would not have suffered such. Witticisms would have appeared out of place in this substantive treatment, but one cannot help but wonder how this laid the foundation for McLuhan's later observations of Western media. 

While not writing for the casual reader, McLuhan introduces us to other works such as Aubrey Gwynn's Roman Education from Cicero to Quintilian which might be more readily accessible: "when the Church became the inheritor of the Graeco-Roman civilization, she used the artes liberales as a convenient framework for the new Christian education taught in her schools" (p. 246).

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So Little for the Mind

NeatbyIn 1953, a Canadian educator by the name of Hilda Neatby, hit a nerve with her book, So Little for the Mind. She drew the title from a Cardinal Newman quote, "Any self-education in any shape, in the most restricted sense, is preferable to a system of teaching which, professing so much, really does so little for the mind."

Neatby caused a stir because of her disrespectful use of the expression "expert in education," considering it to be an insult to a noble calling. "It degrades the most difficult art of nourishing and disciplining and inspiring the mind to the level of a special technique. It de-humanizes education. I could pay no higher compliment to an educational leader than to say that, although he may have expert knowledge in certain fields, that is the leat of his qualifications for the extremely important work that is given him to do."

Even though some of the details of her work address issues in the Canadian system of education, she has much that is worthwhile for the consideration of education as a whole. I include this extended excerpt from her Introduction, in which it is declared that Progressive education is anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and amoral (p. 15 f):

"Democratic equalitarianism encouraged the idea of a uniform low standard easily obtainable by almost all. Special attention was given to all physical, emotional, and mental abnormalities, but the old-fashioned things called the mind, the imagination, and the conscience of the average and of the better-than-average child, not not exactly forgotten, slipped into the background. As a result, the much-maligned tranditionalist is now retorting with some pretty rigorous criticisms of progressive education as he sees it.

"It is frankly anti-intellectual. There is no attempt to exercise, train, and discipline th mind. This is old-fashioned language, now forbidden by the experts, but its meaning is still clear to the literate person. The traditionalist firmly and even brutally conveyed a body of facts which must be learned precisely, and which provided, as it were, the material of thought. Or he might demonstrate the process of thought through the admittedly painful process of causing the pupil to memorize a mathematical proposition and its proof. True, the matter often began and ended with memorizing, and never reached the stage of thinking. The progressivist noted this, but instead of taking over and doing the thing properly, he threw up the sponge. Because, he argued, inteelectual training is difficult and painful and many fall by the wayside, throw it out alltogether. Failures spoil the record. The denial by the schools of the duty of intellectual training is neatly reflected by the current fashion of lightly dismissing in argument an unanswerable fashion of lightly dismmissing in argument an unanswerable proposition as "a question of semantics."

"Progressivism is anti-cultural. This is quite in keeping with the revolutionary, pseudo-scientific materialist fashions of the day. In this scientific age, we find that everything, not just educational methods, but everything, is better than it used to be. It is the pride of the machine age that we can now understand, manipulate, and control men as we do machines. Why should we look at the evidence of human joys, sorrows, failures, and achievenments of the past? It would almost be an admission of defeat. We manage everything better now. . . .

"Progressive education is, or has been, amoral. There is something of a reaction today, but for a generation it has been unfashionable, to say the least, to speak openly of right and wrong actions. Teachers take cover instead under "desireable" and "undesirable" "attitudes" or "responses." But these are not enough. The pupil soon learns that in a democratice society he has as much right as anyone else. Even the elementary discipline of establishing rules which the child was required to keep was questioned. True, rules certainly existed in practice; but pragmatic theory frowned on all external control and therefore rules were enforced uneasily and with a bad conscience. The general tendency of the progressive approach has been to weaken respect for law and authority as such, and to dull discrimination between right and wrong, by the teaching, implied if not expressed, that "desireable" actions on the part of the child (actions pelasing to others) will bring "desireable" responses (actions pleasing to him)."

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Theology by Analogy

Many pastors and teachers resort to analogies,  allegories, and abstractions -- figures of speech -- when explaining the Bible and theology to children. Some of them are quite creatively-presented in puppet shows, "object lessons," Children’s sermons, skits, and multimedia. Such practices, however, deserve some scrutiny among classical Lutheran educators.

One red flag regarding the use of use of analogies to teach children comes from some of the heroes of progressive education themselves, e.g. Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. While classical educators may look askance at the prescriptions of such child developmentalists, they need  not entirely eschew the descriptions of their observations. So, for example, the demonstration that young children are not capable of comprehending the kind of analogies likely to be present in an object lesson, not to mention distinguishing between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, good and bad, silly and serious.

It is beyond the scope of this brief essay to relate the basic principles of concrete, formal, operational stages and moral development -- which can easily be found online. The point of this informal composition is to highlight some considerations about teaching theology by analogy -- and if someone wishes to address it more fully, formally and carefully than I have do here -- well and good.

In the realm of theology, if one asks, "Why did Jesus teach with parables?" many people are likely to repond with something to the effect that Jesus was using parables as illustrations to explain a thological point.

But if one rephrases the question thus: "What did Jesus Himself say was the reason that He told parables?" one might get a blank expression from the same respondents as they hear Luke 8:10, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND" [Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:13-14; Mark 4:11-12].

Additionally one might point out that if parables were intended to make things easier to understand, then why did Jesus' own disciples fail so frequently to understand what Jesus meant by His parables, asking Him to explain them? Indeed, why do they say, "See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!" (John 16:29; cf. v. 25)

Furthermore, when Jesus makes statements like "I am the Door" or "I am the Bread of Life," we must ask, "Is our Lord merely using a figure of speech to convey an esoteric truth?" If Jesus is only a metaphorical door or if He is only a symbolic bread of life, then where is the REAL door? Where is the REAL bread of life? I cannot live by metaphor. My faith cannot cling to a figure of speech. I need true door and an actual bread of life. I don't need an analogous Christ -- I need a real Savior.

The following quote (a secular acknowledgement of the limitations of metaphor attributed to the French philosopher Paul Valery), makes a good point: “The folly of mistaking a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself as an oracle, is inborn in us.”

And this essay regarding the doing of theology by analogy by Dr. James E. Smith, "The Bible Professor," also presents some arguments worthy of consideration:

An allegorical approach to Scripture is something which Luther held in contempt:

"For an allegory is like a beautiful harlot who fondles men in such a way that it is impossible for her not to be loved, especially by idle men who are free from a trial. Men of this kind think that they are in the middle of Paradise and on God’s lap whenever they indulge in such speculations. At first, allegories originated from stupid and idle monks. Finally they spread so widely that some men turned Ovid’s Metamorphoses into allegories. They made a laurel tree Mary and Apollo they made Christ. Although this is absurd, nevertheless, when it is set forth to youths who lack experience but are lovers and students of literature, it is so pleasing to them at the outset that they devote themselves completely to those interpretations. Consequently, I hate allegories. But if anyone wants to make use of them, let him see to it that he handles them with discretion." [On Genesis 30:9-11; AE 5:347-348].

Or again, 

"But it was very difficult for me to break away from my habitual zeal for allegory; and yet I was aware that allegories were empty speculations and the froth, as it were, of the Holy Scriptures. It is the historical sense alone which supplies the true and sound doctrine. After this has been treated and correctly understood, then one may also employ allegories as an adornment and flowers to embellish or illuminate the account. The bare allegories, which stand in no relation to the account and do not illuminate it, should simply be disapproved as empty dreams. This is the kind which Origen and those who followed him employ. Where can it be proved from Scripture that Paradise denotes heaven, and that the trees of Paradise refer to the angels? These ideas have been thought up as something most absurd and altogether useless. Therefore let those who want to make use of allegories base them on the historical account itself. The historical account is like logic in that it teaches what is certainly true; the allegory, on the other hand, is like rhetoric in that it ought to illustrate the historical account but has no value at all for giving proof." [AE 1:231f]

By this post, I do not intend in any sense to throw out all analogies, metaphors, similies and other figures of speech the way that Karlstadt called for the effacing and destruction of ecclesiastical art in Luther's day. In fact, I encourage readers to take a look at Bullinger's monumental Figures of Speech Used in the Bible in print or online. The intent and hope of this essay is that all parents, teachers, and pastors would be conscientious regarding the limitations of analogies in communicating Law and Gospel, God's living and holy Word.

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Liberal Arts Curriculum or Common Core?

The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod has posted its position on Common Core here:

In contrast, we note these opening paragraphs from the Heartland Institute which relate details about how . . . "The Diocese of Marquette in Michigan is in the process of adopting a Catholic liberal arts curriculum for all of its schools, instead of using the Common Core State Standards." (The full article is worth consideration -- and note other sites such as these from the Angelicum Academy and a Thomistic View on Common Core vs. Classical Education.)

A spokesman for the diocese says the program has experienced early success.

Common Core is a set of federal standards dictating what students should know at the end of each grade level. As of 2011, 46 states and Washington, DC had adopted the standards. Since then, three  states have officially repealed the standards, and of 45 the states that joined the Common Core Consortia, an association that provides states with Common Core-aligned exams,  25 have dropped out.  Two bills to replace Common Core in Michigan are progressing through the state’s legislature.

The Diocese of Marquette, which operates 10 schools in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, previously had no set curriculum. Marquette Bishop John Doerfler said in a statement in June, “After much consideration, the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette will not adapt or adopt the Common Core State Standards which were developed for the public school system. That said, we acknowledge that there is a base of adequate secular material in the Common Core State Standards that faith-based schools could reference as part of their educational programming. While we respectfully understand that other private and Catholic schools may discern to adapt or adopt the standards for these and other reasons, we do not believe that such actions would benefit the mission, Catholic identity or academic excellence of our schools.”

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