The contemporary controversy concerning education centers around the institutions tasked with providing it. We ask ourselves what curricula should be implemented, what teaching methods are most effective, and how governmental agencies can assist in the growth of educational institutions—we debate the morality of teachers and their influence, the rights to speech and questioning, the difficulty of grading and assessment and so on and on. All too rarely, especially as these disputes intensify, do we pause to question our presuppositions concerning the true nature and purpose of education itself. Indeed: long is it overdue that we turn our gaze away from the institutional structure and instead towards the individual, the family, and especially the parents who themselves are not only the first teachers of their children, but who ought to teach them always—who ought to be models from which their children learn throughout life.
This is not to deny the necessity of educational institutions—not only as pragmatic necessities for parents who cannot afford to homeschool but also for higher learning of every kind. Yet, though necessary, institutions will always be insufficient. We cannot outsource or offload the responsibility for education to any institution or collection of institutions. Institutions are lenses that help bring clarity and focus; but they are not the light.
Education, as any experienced educator knows, consists in guiding rather than informing; in fostering the right questions rather than the correct answers. Intellectual nourishment, however, requires a holistic approach. Going to the gym five days a week will do relatively little for one’s health if all other hours of the day are marked by constant consumption of junk food and buttery baked goods. So too, the best teaching in school cannot eradicate contrary examples given at home—nor, for that matter, should this be required. For the student to see his parents’ leisure hours consumed whole by television or distractions encourages inheritance of the same infertile habit. Every human being signifies to every other not only through words and actions, but by the virtues and vices cultivated in one’s person. We not only think through signs; we are ourselves symbols, signifiers of the truths and goods in which we believe, shown through our actions.
Thus, we must reorient our perspective on education: the foundation—the first symbol by which its merit is conveyed to the child and spread throughout the culture—cannot be found in the institution but rather only within the household and particularly in parents aflame with their own love for wisdom and learning. This love becomes a first spark in the lives of children—to be focused and brightened by the lenses of educational institutions. But they can neither start nor maintain that fire.
This love of learning and discovery passed from parent to child need not be of abstruse topics—neither metaphysics nor science, theological controversy nor philosophical dialectic—but can be rooted in the very life of the home: in the tradition of family, in the cultivation of land, in the play of language through story and invention. Principally, this love must kindle the natural desire to know, that sits at the heart of every human being. That parents may seek development of their own higher education, of course, serves all the better, for this demonstrates that learning not only satisfies curiosity or amusement, but that it requires discipline, and that this discipline earns the soul richer rewards.
By showing this intellectual discipline to children—and, indeed, one’s whole community—the parent (or even the unmarried and childless adult) exposes the lie that education after childhood constitutes a mere hobby or pastime. At the Lyceum Institute we aim to provide a digital community which supports this continued pursuit of learning—as, indeed, education always is enriched by being shared with others. In fact, no education occurs alone; it is handed down by ourselves and by others and flourishes thereby, through books and records of findings and thought. But a living engagement takes it further: brings it into the life possible only through conversation, through disputation, through real questioning. Community, structured by an institution, helps shape the lens through which the lights of learning shine brighter.