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Education and the church

Published: 
Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pope Francis proclaimed in his Ash Wednesday Homily that Lent is the opportunity to ‘unmask’—to ‘see’ the faces of children yearning for the future.

Moral education was accentuated in the Middle Ages, not intellectual enlightenment. Today, prowess is prized over discipline. At one time, the church attended mostly to formation, rather than the transmission of secular knowledge. But under Charlemagne, cathedrals, ministries, parish churches and convents opened schools for general education. The School of Canterbury, now called the King’s School, Canterbury, was funded by Cathedral funds. It is held to be the oldest continuously operating school in the world. Founded in 597 AD, it almost became a university with its abundant library. Such is the ambition of those who teach.

Blackfriars is the Art School and Gallery at the King’s School, Canterbury. The curriculum encircles fencing, formation, drama, the classics, English, politics, economics, pottery, sailing and rowing, mathematics and natural sciences. At the Recreation Centre, there is a gym, hockey pitches and a swimming pool. The Pupils’ Social Centre has a Junior Common Room with billiards tables and student services.

By The Fourth Lateran Council (1215), schools were required to establish a chair of grammar in every cathedral-school along with chairs in philosophy. Grammar was not a ‘crime scene investigation’ of the bones of a language; it was the art of writing. It was defined as the study of great poetry and oratory to empower students to write with correctness and elegance. It opened with the Psalms and ran through the works of Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Statius and Ovid. Rhetoric included considerable study of literature. The teaching of logic safeguarded that students learned to reason as early as they loved to argue. Not unlike the education received to some degree by Dr Eric Williams and Rudranath Capildeo at QCS/QRC.

Pope Gregory IX once directed that every parish organise a school of elementary instruction. Teachers were clerks in minor orders. Discipline was as necessary as hell in religion. Winchester School ushered in pupils with a frank hexameter: ‘Aut disce, aut discede; manet sors tertai, caedi’—‘Learn or leave: a third alternative is to be flogged’. ‘Disce aut Discede’ remains the motto of Cornwall College in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The curriculum at Canterbury once embraced the ‘trivium’—grammar, rhetoric and logic to be followed by the ‘quadrivium’—arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Together they constitute the seven liberal arts.

The industrial revolution and its carter, the transatlantic trade, gave rise to the establishment of secular schools with lay teachers salaried by parents. Secular schools appeared in Flanders in the twelfth century and by mid-thirteenth century in Lubeck and the Baltic cities. Schoolmistresses appeared in private schools in Paris around 1292. The secularisation of education was on its way. In the cloisters of Notre Dame and St Genevieve the ‘professores’ emerged. Forbidden to read their lectures, the expectation was to speak—extempore. In addition, informal discussions or ‘quodlibeta’—‘whatever you please’—were held.

Disputants took up any question propounded at the moment creating a literary form as in the minor writings of St Thomas. Such discussions sharpened the mind and promoted a cleverness that could prove anything, or a logorrhea that piled mountains of arguments on trivial points—Santimanitay!

Our Calypso Monarch Helon Francis fittingly called out to ‘restructure what is regular’—and reconsider every foundation; to change the ethnography of schooling and its epistemology. To follow Francis of the papacy and Francis of the podium is to future-proof the society. To influence the future, The King’s School, Canterbury, gives us the opportunity to unmask our plantation past with the gait of a moko jumbie and balance the other stilt inside futures like AltSchool in California to find our place in the world. After all, Nobel Laurate V S Naipaul reminds us that, “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” The parents and the children at Harrow, Fettes, Stowe and Benenden already know their places in the world.

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