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Spring 2015 · Vol. 44 No. 1 · pp. 113–115 

Book Review

Mere Education: C. S. Lewis as Teacher for Our Time

Mark A. Pike. Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth Press, 2013. 194 pages.

Reviewed by Pierre Gilbert

In a short article entitled, “On the Transmission of Christianity,” in which he reflects on the root cause of the decline of religion in England among young people, C. S. Lewis’s verdict is remarkably clear, lucid, and most revealing. In typical Lewis fashion, he cuts through the fog and identifies the most obvious and immediate cause of this trend: the schools. A generation of school teachers who had themselves been conditioned to ignore Christianity could not be expected to offer anything positive or substantive about the Christian faith to their own students.

Whether or not we agree with Lewis, an undeniable fact remains: education matters and it is not value neutral. In fact, not only is education not value neutral, it can become a surprisingly efficient vehicle with respect to transmitting ideas that may prove to be detrimental to the students {114} themselves and to society.

In Mere Education, Mark A. Pike, Professor in Educational Values and Pedagogy and Head of the School of Education at the University of Leeds, draws on Lewis’s writings to reflect on the current state of educational theory and practice.

Pike is ideally suited for this task. In addition to Mere Education, he has also published Citizenship and Moral Education (2006) and Teaching Secondary English (2004). His research focuses on a wide range of educational issues, such as leadership and policy, educational values and pedagogy, “moral and character education including Christian-ethos schooling and faith-based approaches to education.” In addition to his sterling academic credentials, Pike shows a remarkably insightful knowledge of Lewis’s body of work and writes about his subject in a way that is broadly accessible and applicable.

Mere Education is organized into four sections, each containing three chapters. Part 1 examines core values that are too often neglected today. Lewis had observed that while academic success and head knowledge were prized, scant attention was given to moral education and character development. But Pike is no religious isolationist. Like Lewis, he is careful to show that what constitutes Christian moral values is not unique to Christianity but has much in common with what Lewis called the Tao, the God-given, innate, and universal moral law. This law, Pike suggests, could serve as a foundation for a renewed attention to teaching morality, an increasingly difficult and delicate task, particularly so in a pluralistic and relativistic context. In that respect, Pike underlines the importance for teachers to question the near-consensus notion that morality is “subjective and just a matter of taste or opinion” (24).

Part 2 is devoted to what should ideally constitute a liberal education. In chapter 4, he reflects on the challenge of inculcating the type of schooling that will emphasize the development of a certain kind of character from which ethical decisions can be made. Chapter 5 is devoted to the thorny and ever-so-delicate topic of sex education, where he addresses, among other topics, the dangers (the “curse”) of internet pornography. He notes that much of sex education today is entirely divorced from a discussion of marriage, commitment, and love.

Pike believes that if Lewis were alive today, he would insist on the necessity of teaching values such as self-control, respect for others, and the importance of boundaries. He would also seek to equip young people with the intellectual skills required to resist the militant efforts of those who are eager to foist their agenda on them, particularly in the field of sexual ethics. Lewis would not fall prey to the kind of popular ideological colonialism that many theologians and churches are prone to welcome and celebrate when it comes to morality. While Lewis would have been respectful of {115} other people’s choices, he could not have promoted beliefs and practices that he believed transgressed the teaching of Scripture.

In chapter 6, Pike reflects on the importance of exposing school children to Scripture, not primarily for the purpose of religious indoctrination, but because of the critical role the Bible, particularly the King James Version, has played in the development of the English language and the articulation of the values that have been foundational to Western civilization.

In Part 3, Pike reflects on three basic themes that should be integral to a liberal education. Chapter 7 looks at the important role of the Bible in defining such key concepts as liberty, political equality, and rationality. In the following chapter, Pike addresses the question of citizenship education by examining Lewis’s position on the proper role of the state, the character of democracy, and the meaning of citizenship. It should be noted that Lewis did not view democracy as necessarily the best system of governance. His endorsement was a function of his belief that “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his citizens” (105). In chapter 9, Pike cautions against the impulse to apply the concept of political equality to ethical and intellectual spheres. Lewis notes that when “democratic” power is taken beyond its legitimate bounds, such democracy can only be described as “death” (107).

Part 4 reflects on the role school administrators play in creating an appropriate school ethos and promoting excellence in teaching. Mere Education’s final chapter is probably the most significant, for it doesn’t simply describe where we are but seeks to discern where we are going. This is where Pike discusses the harmful consequences of promoting a materialistic view of human nature. But as Lewis predicted, there will come a time when some will indeed seek to eliminate the Christian paradigm in order to impose their own anti-human and anti-Christian agenda.

Over the years, I have observed a growing reluctance on the part of academics to challenge the ideological consensus that is increasingly found in our institutions of higher learning, particularly with respect to the notion of absolute truth, human sexuality, and the intrinsic value of human nature. In contrast, Pike does not hesitate to challenge the very issues that would certainly offend a liberal audience. He pursues his agenda honestly and with integrity. He even manages to inject a prophetic perspective in a manner entirely consistent with how Lewis would address our situation if he were still with us.

Pierre Gilbert
Associate Professor of Bible and Theology
MBBS Canada and Canadian Mennonite University
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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