Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Great Ordinary Means

As I prepare for a new homeschooling year, I have been contemplating the similarities between coronations and graduations.

The standard music for graduations is Pomp and Circumstance , written in 1901 by Sir Edward Elgar. The title comes from a line in Shakespeare's Othello, Act III, Scene iii:

Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The Royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance of glorious war!".

England's King Edward VII liked the music, so Elgar used it as part of the Coronation Ode for Edward's 1902 coronation ceremony. It was not used for a graduation ceremony until 1905, when an honorary music degree was bestowed upon the composer at Yale. It is dignified, stately music, befitting a ruler of a country or of one's own mind. No wonder it became the accompaniment of choice for graduations. Sadly, we've kept the music but thrown out the kind of education that music represents.

Education is no longer hierarchial. The glorious robes of the scholar/professor have been exchanged for the faded t-shirt with the college name emblazoned across the front. You can't tell the Ph.D.s from the undergrads.

Nathaniel enters this brave new world of public education on Monday through the dual enrollment program at a nearby community college. It's exciting and worrisome at the same time: exciting because he's going out into the world, worrisome because he's going out into the world.

On the positive side, his two college classes will be in an attractive and clean new building; the school's library stacks feature lots of old, quality books; the teachers and staff have been especially friendly and helpful.

On the negative side, it's completely secular--right down to its school-sponsored gay-lesbian club--and the overwhelming atmosphere communicates that the diploma is the goal, not education, not a life-changing formation like Cardinal Newman wrote about:

But a university training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end; it aims at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. It is education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to get right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant.

I plan to counteract the negatives as much as I can by downloading and playing MP3 lectures from Catholic scholars like Dr. John Rao, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, and Dr. William Marra via Keep the Faith during our evening family time. I am also determined to read and discuss with Nathaniel Dr. Marian Horvat's translation of Catholic Manual of Civility.

No comments: