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Category: Monticello College Comments: 4

The Dark Age of Education

By Andrew Palmer – May 2020

This essay is part of a student essay series showcasing student work.

The average college or university today professes to follow the ancient scholastic method. In practice however, it has forsaken the philosophical intent of that methodology. Modern university educations have the same purpose as that of trade school educations, the only difference being that university educations are tailored to train students for different vocations than their so named counterparts. We must stop educating in the same way that reigned only one other time in history: the Dark Ages. 

Educators from Aristotle to Augustine have had surprisingly similar philosophies of education. They agreed that the purpose of education was to instill virtue in the learner. Their methodologies, though varied, followed a similar format: Teach by example, give the learner liberty to choose their own curriculum, ask questions, and lead the learner to discover truth through critical thinking. This critical thinking was the soul of education. A student would learn to ponder, question, and challenge current paradigms. Throughout history we see great debates of thought on science, economy, law, governance, and education itself… until the Dark Ages.

It may surprise you to learn that there was widespread education during the Dark Ages. The new educational philosophy of universities, the scholastic model, became the dominant voice in the western world. Initially, it was a diverse system of teaching and scholarly interaction. Gradually, lecture began to replace debate as the primary format of higher education. Now, instead of debating, students had prewritten debates read to them. Moral absolutes were promoted to moral relatives in the name of free thinking. Of the three ancient pillars of education literacy, morality, and critical thinking, only the first remained.

The humanists were first to speak out in favor of returning to thought-based education. Soon, the reformation swept Europe, in large part, because people, despite being educated in the style of the later dark ages, gathered on their own time for discussion and debate. Martin Luther, Wesley, William of Orange and so many others, served as the flint and steel that lit the powder keg of the inquisition and religious oppression. Amidst the chaos and bloodshed of the reformation, education was widely restored to its previous purposes and methodologies.

In the nineteenth century, Prussia developed what was considered a new form of education. Essentially, they re-adopted the pre-renaissance approach to education by favoring math and science over philosophy and debate. Then, after losing two world wars, Germany’s “new and improved” education system caught on. Why? According to John Taylor Gatto, a nation with Prussian education is better at warfare. Though they lost, the Germans inflicted staggering casualties, due to their superior technologies, tactics, and discipline. Russia adopted the Prussian education system and created the first orbital satellite. In response, the U.S. adopted this type of education to compete with the communist bloc. Thus, American education fell to fear. And what do we have to show for it?

Prussian Primary Education

America’s temple of Janus has not closed its doors within the living memory of all but its oldest inhabitants. Her citizens and politicians argue about policies of lesser import. They discuss how to manage the foreign wars, never the morality of waging foreign wars in the first place. They discuss whether to have a planned economy, but never discuss the dangers of a fiat currency. They discuss making new laws and provisions to provide greater prosperity, but never consider decreasing the oppressive number of complex laws already in place that we as a nation must hire specialists (lawyers) to interpret. 

The general population of the U.S. has lost the ability to question their paradigm. Moral relativism reigns supreme. If the solution is in fact education, like everyone says, then we are doing it wrong.

We must return to our original pillars of education. The U.S. as a nation is a lost cause as far as I’m concerned. But you individually can get educated, educate your children, and have real debates about topics that matter. Be like the flint and steel that ignited Europe. Re-forge your family’s educational methodology’s and help give birth to a new renaissance. 

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Comments (4)

  • Catrina Baum

    What a well written essay, Andrew! Thank you for sharing. I plan to share this essay or at least part of it with my family and my Key of Liberty Class. We just had our first debate last week in class and my students loved it. What a great way to learn and grow.

    March 12, 2021 at 3:41 am
  • Zach Foxley

    Awesome essay! It really got me thinking about how I’m going to educate my own family and children. Truly, the small circle that we have the power to influence in our lives is far more important than we realize. We are not powerless in today’s world; we have our families, our churches, our close friends. The effects we leave there, if we work earnestly, will be felt in the future of society. Salt and leaven are never the ingredient with the majority, but they affect and change everything.

    March 12, 2021 at 8:38 am
  • Allen Levie

    Andrew, I’m curious about your line “The U.S. as a nation is a lost cause”. I think I substantively agree with this sentiment, and I’m confident much of it stems from political exhaustion.
    Still, I believe that there were some seeds planted here before the industrial and militaristic phases of the USA that can bare fruit again. Perhaps not as a nation among nations but in other ways. What is your take? Is education a part of this new fruit?
    Is there something that can be added to the ancient educational model from this seed planted in American soil? What are the pros and cons of the debate model from a point of view which includes the message of Jesus Christ?

    March 12, 2021 at 9:01 am
    • Kristy Chandler

      Great questions! I particularly like the last one bringing Jesus Christ and His message into the question.
      Awesome article, Andrew. I hadn’t considered the idea that the current education model of today is on par with that during the Dark Ages; gives me something to think about and look into more!

      March 13, 2021 at 3:09 pm

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