Education and the Benedict Option

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has received a good deal of commentary recently.   Certainly we are living in post-Christian times.  This review makes me more interested in reading it.

In Fearing Dreher: Why the Benedict Option Scares Christians, Thomas Ascik writes:

But it is most interesting that Mr. Dreher barely talks about the curriculum of public elementary and secondary schools. He emphasizes, instead, the peer culture of the school environment. Christian parents may try very hard, but everything can be undone by “the toxic peer culture” of public schools. In addition, the parents themselves may neither understand nor be capable of resisting. The effects are pervasive. Mr. Dreher quotes communications to him from parents of children in public schools who describe the startling number of public-school students who have come to believe that that they are transgender or bisexual. In the bluntest statement of his whole book, and one aimed directly at Christian parents, Mr. Dreher asserts that “two or three hours of religious education weekly is unlikely to counteract the forty or more hours spent in school or school-related programming.” The conclusion: Christian parents should remove their children from public schools.

A senior in a large public high school located in a major western city recently told this reviewer that he did not know any Christians at his school. Now, since there are obviously students there who are Christians, that means that the Christian students never identify themselves as Christians nor say or do anything identifiably Christian. Plainly, those students think that a public school is not an environment where it is appropriate or even permissible to be an open Christian. So, we may ask, if you never express who you really are, aren’t you inevitably changing who you really are?

***

In order to combine Christian education with an education in the liberal learning of Western civilization, Mr. Dreher endorses the classical Christian school movement and gives both Catholic and Evangelical examples. If such schools are too expensive or not available, the alternative is to homeschool.

I couldn’t agree more that the public schools in our country are a disaster and the best thing you could do for your kids is to keep them out.  Here are a couple recent examples of the sort of negative influences in school he’s talking about.

A Florida teacher demanded her 9th grade student remove a cross necklace that she was wearing.  The teacher’s room is full of LGBT posters and rainbows.  She’s allowed to proselytize the kids, but the kids can’t even wear a symbol of their faith?  Although the girl obeyed the teacher’s demand at the time, she and her parents aren’t taking this without a fight:

Together with her attorneys, this brave ninth grader is asking for the right to express her faith, which is already guaranteed to her by the Constitution. Students should never have to check their beliefs at the school house door — or anywhere else for that matter.

Emily Zinos writes “A ‘transgender’ kindergartner registered at my kids’ school. That’s when the madness began.”  She goes on to describe what happened in her school district: the school’s attempts at accommodation, the “trans” kid’s parents suing anyway, school sponsored meetings telling the rest of the parents they had to comply and when these parents funded a meeting to counterpoint the school’s presentation, “Well over a hundred local pro-LGBTQ protesters came to the presentation, prompting the local police to send a sergeant and two patrolling squads as protection.”  Because tolerance, folks!

The rest of Ms. Zinos’ article is interesting, especially that a group of feminists has joined the fight against transgender activism because of common ground of ensuring the rights of biological women.  Here is her conclusion about what’s happening in the schools:

institutionalizing gender ideology will require that schools ignore the evidence that it causes real harm to children. You can’t extol the virtues of gender ideology and question its soundness at the same time. By celebrating transgenderism as a valid identity, schools are promoting a body-mind disconnect that may very well bring on the gender dysphoric state they were attempting to prevent. And when the widely accepted “affirmative” medical treatments of gender dysphoria in children are both poorly studied and glaringly injurious, we have nothing to celebrate.

We’re building a school-to-gender-clinic pipeline that will feed this new pediatric specialty with young patients. There are now more than thirty gender clinics specializing in youth across the United States, and the young patients who are under their care are often given bone-destroying puberty blockers at eleven, potentially sterilized with cross-sex hormones at sixteen, and permanently mutilated by plastic surgery soon after that.

Make no mistake, schools that endorse and celebrate transgenderism as valid are endorsing child abuse.

Given examples like those (and those are only two, only the tip of the ice berg where trans-issues are but one problem among many), I’d say Dreher isn’t wrong about the state of education in America.  He also opines that most of the American colleges may be beyond saving – unless they are replaced by truer places of secondary learning.  What about his other ideas?

Mr. Dreher, who visited the Benedictine monastery at Nursia, Italy, in preparing his book, holds that the Rule is a “manual of practices, and its precepts simple and “plain enough to be adapted by lay Christians for their own use.” He derives eight main principles from the Rule and states why each would literally be a godsend for Christians in the modern, secular world. Against the disorder and loss of tradition of the modern world, the first principle is that it is order—ordered daily life, rather than today’s randomness—that sets the stage for “internal order.”

The second is prayer. “Prayer is the life of the soul,” Mr. Dreher quotes a Benedictine monk, and time must be set aside for it. The monastic emphasis on regular, daily prayer is the precisely needed antidote to the maniacal busyness of the contemporary world. Echoing the standard understanding of the role of prayer in Christian life, Mr. Dreher suggests that “if we spend all our time in activity, even when that activity serves Christ, and neglect prayer and contemplation, we put our faith in danger.”

Third, against the intellectualizing of everything today, Benedict’s Rule understands that the involvement of the body in manual labor is an essential part of human work. Again, Christians today, having been forced out of some of the professions, may have to resort to more labor by hand, Mr. Dreher concludes.

Fourth, contrary to the supreme modern principle of satisfying one’s own desires, “relearning asceticism—that is, how to suffer for the faith—is critical training for Christians living in the world today and the world of the near future.”

Fifth, even that most monastic principle of stability—that is, staying in one place—has some relevance to lay Christians, for what is the overall benefit of our constant mobility?

Sixth is community, the human architecture of a monastery, but also of a family, a neighborhood, a city, a society, and a polity. We readers might add to Mr. Dreher’s analysis the observation that we now increasingly live without a sense of shared life, without a “collective consciousness,” as Emile Durkheim put it. We are “free, equal, and independent,” but, pace John Locke, we are alone.

Seventh, contrary to Mr. Dreher’s critics and to a true understanding of the Rule, hospitality is a daily duty not only of monastic life but also of lay Christian life. Pilgrims and visitors are to “be received like Christ.” But hospitality, like all the virtues, must be practiced with prudence and according to the other principles of the Rule. A visitor cannot disturb or disrupt the community.

Mr. Dreher adds an eighth principle—balance, partly derived from the Benedictines but also from his own reflection and observation. By being too strict, some Christian communities have fallen apart or become “cultlike.” On the other hand, since abandonment to the will of God is the goal, Christian communities cannot be based on “spiritual mediocrity.”

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