I recently read the short essay by CS Lewis, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in one of his essay collections. If you are unfamiliar, Screwtape is a fictional character created by Lewis to help us understand how Satan and his demons might work to harm us. In short, Screwtape is an accomplished administrator for the cause of demonic activity. He supports up-and-coming Junior Temptors as they enter the field. Lewis’s essay records Screwtape’s speech for the graduation of a new class of temptors.
About halfway through the speech, Screwtape comes the to the topic of education. He has a great deal to say about how education can be, and is being, used for evil. He latches on ideas that are popular in education even today. However, his main point relates to a warped view of democracy: treating different people as if they are the same.
He says that if we can get schools to teach students as if they are all the same—equally gifted, equally engaged, equally hardworking—then many future leaders will be damaged. If the future theologians, teachers, poets, scientists, doctors, musicians, and philosophers are treated as identical they will be held back. If their learning is frustrated, we can be confident that their contributions in the world will be held back too.
Every person (yes, this includes students) is equally valuable as an individual created in the image of God. However, people do have different aptitudes, strengths/weakness, characteristics. We know this is true. And in most areas of life we live with the differences in mind. For example, a tall, athletic student will likely excel at basketball more than a small, uncoordinated student. Therefore, we should help each of them achieve their full potential, but we should not give them the same standard for success. Greatness for small student in this area might be mediocrity for the large one.
Screwtape’s plan is to keep students from learning because an accurate understanding of the world, and their place in it, has the power to unleash godly leaders in all fields. In other words, Screwtape is adamently opposed to biblical integration. And part of his plan to harm the process of biblically integrated education is to diminish education as a whole.
So what are we to do as Christian educators?
- Know the students. We need to understand their gifts and struggles and teach accordingly. Screwtape celebrate a child able read great literature like Dante being slowed down because of other students his age who are still spelling out, “a cat sat on a mat.”
- Call the students to their giftedness. Expect great effort and great results in areas of great gifting. Screwtape intends that, “All incentives to learn and all penalities for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows?”
There is no shame in recognizing differences of gifting. A great athlete is great. A great musician is great. A great writer is great. A great scientist is great. But there is a great shame in treating all students as if they have been created identical. They are equal in value, but not identical in design. This is why my school (and many others) emphasize individualized learning.
To integrate well, we must know the students well. And then we must help them grow to be successful in the areas in which God has gifted them. Why? Because just as He shows his glory to students as they study the world, He also shows us his glory as we note how He uniquely designed each student.