From Pastor Hinton…
One of the presenters at this month's conference of the Consortium for Classical and Christian Education (CCLE) was Dr. E. Christian Kopff, whose list of accolades and qualifications to speak to such an audience is far too long to list. He presented a pamphlet written by John Milton in 1644, called Of Education. You might remember Milton by his epic poem Paradise Lost, or by the lament of how "boring" he seemed to Donald Sutherland's character in the film Animal House. For the record, I have found Milton to be refreshingly straight-forward, even if a bit long-winded, and not in the least boring.
The pamphlet was written in response to a request from a Master Samuel Hartlib to give his thoughts on what comprised a good education. The whole pamphlet, which can be found here, is not long but contains a very dense treatise on Milton's view of education (the website also contains helpful footnotes to explain archaic language and unfamiliar idioms). In short, what he advocates is what we would call a classical Christian education. I highly recommend you read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts to highlight what this looks like:
(nota bene: All these spellings are original.) Milton acknowledges the problem of the Fall, and that its consequences affect the mind and our knowledge of God. Obviously, there was not the sharp division between church and state which we came come to take for granted. Also, public schools as we have come to know them are at this point still two centuries away. That said, he believed that the knowledge of God is "the end of Learning." Here end means the goal, or what is hoped to be accomplished.
Here Milton briefly lays out his reason for advocating the classical languages, namely, Latin and Greek. If education is about teaching students to pursue truth (both the One who is Truth, and the truth as revealed in creation), then the classical languages open up the world of those civilizations who best exemplified this pursuit.
Here he is addressing a problem that came with medieval thoughts about education. Specifically, the trivium (grammar, then logic, then rhetoric) wasn't being followed in proper order: rhetoric was being forced too early. Rhetoric is the art of expressing one's self in a language. If, however, one is asked to express himself in a language he doesn't yet completely understand, it is of little use. Expressing one's self here does not mean something like asking directions in Spanish when you visit Cancun; it's more like composing poetry and songs. Instead, Milton advocates a longer period of logic (think of the Catechism questions that ask "What does this mean?") in order for students to have a firm grasp of language first.
This is probably the best summary of Milton's writing on education. An education ought to be liberal (from the Latin libera – "free") — that is, it is what a free man needs to know in order to be a good citizen, husband, and father, regardless of his station in life. Thus, both the farmer and the statesman ought to be able to consider what it means to live and die, recall and discuss the great works of literature, and speak in a persuasive manner about all sorts of important topics. This doesn't mean that what we would call vocational education is not of value, but all citizens (and in our context, "citizen" has a much broader meaning than it did in Milton's day) ought to be taught the liberal arts.
Again, this is not merely about a high-quality education, but about training young people to become citizens. They must be able to weigh good and evil and make decisions according to a right understanding of ethics. This skill has become more important and less common since Milton's day.
For Milton, the well-educated citizen should, regardless of his career in life, be able to compose poetry and make persuasive oratories to Parliament. Interesting that Milton should say that, since he is known for having written epic poetry and composed well-known oratory to Parliament.
The full text is worth a read; even though he is writing to an audience far removed from 21st Century Western culture, he addresses many of the same concerns we still face today. The prose takes some effort to get through, but then again, few things worth doing are ever easy.