Growing up I went to a church with the word ‘missionary’ in its name. Somehow this translated out in practice to the idea that everyone should be a foreign missionary. If you were a nice girl and wanted all the little old ladies to pat you on the head and smile then it was best to always answer the question, “What do you want be when you grow up?” with “missionary.” It was no surprise in my public school 2nd grade class this was my answer to that question. I am sure I must have felt a bit baffled when I was not immediately showered with approval. Wasn’t ‘missionary’ the right answer? If you had talked to anyone in our denomination they would have told you that God could use anyone, even a plumber (Quelle horreur!), not everyone had to be a missionary, but in reality, it felt like missionary or nothing.
We are far enough into this newest version of classical education to begin to see our students grow up and chose life paths and careers. What exactly does one do when he or she is classically educated? Become a classical linguist? Teach Latin? Get a Ph.D? Start a classical school? Worthy choices but not the only ones. It almost seems like this new movement is creating another subcategory of specialists, at least among the good boys and girls.
What started me thinking about this was my rereading of The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, my own experiences helping my family of 8 sons and 1 daughter find vocations, and current events.
In the second half of the book’s first essay, Men without Chests, Lewis uses an illustration of a Roman father. “When a Roman father told his son that it was a sweet and seemly thing to die for his country, he believed what he said. He was communicating to the son an emotion which he himself shared and which he believed to be in accord with the value which his judgments discerned in noble death. He was giving the boy the best he had, giving of his spirit to humanize him as he had given of his body to beget him.”
If we are successfully transmitting true values, right judgment and good virtues to our sons and daughters then we need to overcome the trap that measures success by specialties. The liberal arts were designed for the freeborn. In our age that doesn’t mean free from vocation as it might have once meant; it means that the liberal arts should under-gird every free thinking human being. The biologist, lawyer, engineer and our good friend the plumber, all benefit from learning to think as free beings. The liberal arts were not just designed for the classicist. Of course, we all know this but I wonder if it is the message our students are absorbing?
In my own family, my two oldest sons chose careers based on the ideal of honor. Careers mostly ‘debunked,’ a word Lewis used in his essay, by the culture. My oldest son is in the military special forces and my second born is a police detective. They did not choose their careers in spite of their somewhat classical education; they chose their careers because of their education. I would never have chosen those roads for my boys and ‘worser and worser’ I didn’t even see them coming, but today I could not be more proud.
You see, men want to have chests. I don’t mean that they want to go to the gym, update their Facebook statuses and flex; I mean that they want their lives and their work to mean something. The work of the honorably educated is as varied as teaching logic or changing diapers but it is not confined to the liberal arts. The liberal arts are the means not the end. We need our Latin teachers and professors but we need so much more than that.
You don’t have to look far to see what men without chests look like. Men without chests ‘occupy’ things they don’t understand, defecating in the streets all in a mad search for the meaning we have laughed to scorn out of them. They can’t fight wars, protect innocent people, grow their own food, or think their own thoughts. They are the Circus Maximus and they behave accordingly. Bless their shriveled hearts.