Episode # 12
The Case for Classical Education Part 2 | Dr. Scott Masson – Truth Talks with Dr. Ann
November 20, 2023

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Truth Talks with Dr. Ann
The Case for Classical Education Part 2 | Dr. Scott Masson - Truth Talks with Dr. Ann
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In this episode of Truth Talks, Dr. Ann is joined by Dr. Scott Masson to delve into the significance of classical education intertwined with Christian faith. They critique the current state of public education, highlighting a shift towards therapy and inclusivity at the expense of teaching truth and morality.

Dr. Masson is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Tyndale University in Toronto, Canada. With a background as a tenured professor, former pastor, public intellectual, and proud Member of the Upper Mohawk band in Canada, he has delivered lectures and written extensively on a wide range of topics. As a dedicated husband and father of two, Dr. Masson resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His passion for classical education has influenced his children, who now share his love for literature, music, mathematics, and the life sciences. Join him on YouTube as he shares his expertise and fosters a lifelong love of learning.

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See Podcast Transcript

Dr. Ann Gillies (00:00):

Welcome back to Truth Talks with Dr. Ann. So, we are privileged to have Dr. Scott Masson with us again. If you missed his first video on just basically education, academic education, his perspective, but also his trajectory in that endeavor, you really need to go back and watch that. But today we’re going to talk to Dr. Masson and he’s going to talk a little bit, well, hopefully a lot on classical education because that really is his passion and he’s got lots of experience with it. So welcome again, Dr. Masson. This is going to be an exciting opportunity.

Dr. Scott Masson (00:42):

Great to be with you. Thank you again, Ann, and look forward to talking about this. Yeah, so classical education for me, Ann was connected to what I talked about last time in my own journey in going to Germany and trying to get what I saw as a classical education, which Milton describes in his little treatise Of Education. He talks about learning Greek and Latin and various European languages. So, I tried to do that myself, but it wasn’t just the education I found. There was a whole worldview that came with that, which I wanted for myself. And I felt like I had been deprived by going to the public schools. And so, I was upset about that and I was sufficiently upset to do something about it. And I spent years of my life trying to acquire a classical education for myself. And when I came back to Canada after studying in Durham and came to teach at Tyndale University, I came back because they were offering in a Christian university a great books program effectively.

(02:07):

So it was teaching the great texts and trying to do so in a way that would integrate the Christian faith with these great texts. And I think that is a tried and true way. There are other ways, but a tried and true way of educating classically. And so, I, I thought I was joining when I joined Tyndale, something in that of that nature. And I was hoping that I would start be able to start classical schools here. And as I carried on, I learned more and more about the history even of education in Canada. And I discovered actually that there was a lady by the name of Hilda Neatby. Now I don’t know, do you know who Hilda Neatby is by chance? No. No, I don’t. Okay. She wrote a book called So Little For the Mind. She was on the first Massey Commission, a very interesting lady, a historian out from Saskatchewan. She was a member of the 1949 to 1951 Massey Commission, and she wrote a scathing review of the influence of ideas and education that came out of the US.

(03:27):

And I want to read that. Yeah, you should. Most people haven’t read it. And she was complaining that they kept talking about John Dewey, and they were all enthused about John Dewey. And her response was that Dewey was effectively attacking a classical education. In my year I was very interested in this and was substituting the classical education with what was effectively from my perspective as a romantic scholar, a romantic worldview, and talking about education now being a place where children find sympathy and understanding and encouragement. And it’s not about right and wrong. It’s about being happy and being satisfied and being content and being accepted and included. That was the purpose of education. So, it wasn’t an educational purpose, it was more of a therapeutic purpose. So, education was becoming more and more therapeutic and less and less about acquainting people with right and wrong and true and false and so forth.

(04:41):

So that philosophy, education, which she critiqued, she said that it’s anti-intellectual, it goes against cultural and it’s opposed to the teaching morality, it actually regards moral education as effectively non-education. It’s not really a matter that is of interest to us as educators. And she said, this is just plain nonsense. Education is always involved, training in morality, in right and wrong. And that very much resonated with me because I’d read another book by CS Lewis called The Abolition of Man, and he complained about exactly the same thing. It was happening in England. They were not teaching that morality was connected to human nature. Morality was a thing that we have feelings about, but our feelings are not objective and real. They’re just subjective, and they vary from person to person. Simply not true. And Lewis said that if that was our view, then we were already at odds with the whole of the ancient world, the medieval world, and even the 18th century world. This is a very new opinion. And so, I’m finding reinforcement for my own sense of reading history that is actually what has just happened. So, Hilda Neatby, in her book, again, it’s called So Little For the Mind, and it’s a critique of education in Canada public education. This is back in the 1940s, and she’s part of the Massey Commission. She was the only woman in that Massey Commission. Very interesting. A Saskatchewan historian. You should look her up. Very, very interesting.

Dr. Ann Gillies (06:30):

I’m going to do that. And just one thing I’m thinking about there, just in very simple terms, simplistic for me, this whole, your truth is your truth. My truth is my truth got spurred all out of that. So that was 1949.

Dr. Scott Masson (06:53):

So, she’s on the Massey Commission from 49 to 51. I can’t remember when the book is published, but I think it’s 1952.

Dr. Ann Gillies (07:00):

She’s talking, that’s a long time ago. Yeah.

Dr. Scott Masson (07:03):

She’s complaining about the influence of everybody coming from the field of education is going on and on and on about John Dewey. And she said, these American ideas are ridiculous, and yet they’re gaining traction in the public education of Upper Canada. And she says, and it needs to stop. And well, it didn’t stop, it kept on moving, and it keeps on moving and it will. And my perspective is that there’s no way of stopping it from within the system of progressivism. There’s no hand break for it. It just keeps on going in the direction of being more and more child-centered more and more therapeutic and less and less educational. And that’s what we’re seeing in the public system as we speak

Dr. Ann Gillies (07:56):

On steroids. I was just reading how they don’t have enough mental health workers in the schools across Canada. They wouldn’t. Oh, of course not. I mean, the reality is now, there were no mental health workers in the school when I grew up. And something else that has changed, I mean, so much has changed in the last 70 years, of course. And the reality is we were taught, we had moral guidelines. In fact, I’ll tell you a little story because I think this is really pertinent. My husband was at a funeral yesterday and he met his principal as he was still living, and they had a great conversation. And the principal was saying, when I was principal, it was I think up to grade eight school at that point. Anyways, he said we would meet in the gym every morning and we would pray and we would sing, Oh, Canada.

(09:02):

And he said, and there was a time it probably was reversed, they sang, Oh, Canada as a group. And then they would pray, he would pray the Lord’s Prayer, they would pray it together. And then one day a student, and I think I have this right, asked if the student asked if they could pray for, I think his mom or his aunt or something just spoke out and said, could we pray for? And he said, absolutely. Let’s do that right now. This was in the school, so this is like 60 years ago, 60 plus years ago. And they pray. The next day. He said, I’ll put up a bulletin board a little thing, and if you have a prayer request, just put it on. Next day there were six prayer requests to pray about, and they prayed as a group for the individuals. You see, there was a connectedness of community there as well, that we totally are disconnected from. We’re disconnected from God, we’re disconnected from a moral absolute. We’re disconnected educationally and we’re disconnected communally from one another. But there’s something about that. When he was talking about that my husband was sharing, I’m thinking, well, how much we have lost, how much we have lost in the last 60 years? It’s just overwhelming.

Dr. Scott Masson (10:35):

And we usually peg it to the sixties and the sexual revolution. And of course it is there and there it really starts to become expressed flagrantly and in a revolutionary way. There’s a deliberate anti authority measure there. But as I say, Hilda Neatby is identifying it back in the late forties as being an American import, a type of way of, and you’ll find that the exact same thing is going on in Britain in 1947. There’s a Labor Party politician named Graham Savage that introduces the London School Plan, which brings the British educational system more in line with the American model. So same thing happening across the Anglosphere, exactly what Hilda Neatby is talking about. And CS Lewis is already complaining about. Well, then it just keeps going further down that path. So education has largely been lost in the public school education system is no longer an educational system.

Dr. Ann Gillies (11:38):

Exactly. And you said something earlier that I’ve been saying for a while, and that is that you’ve probably been saying for long before me that we cannot fix the public education system the way it is. We cannot go fix it from inside. There’s something else we must do. And I mean, for teachers that are watching this today, I know that I’ve just pressed a real hot button for you, but I want you to think really, really deeply about this because this is about, we need to make this about what’s best for our children and what’s happening, what’s being under the guise of education taught in our public schools is just atrocious. So, what’s the solution?

Dr. Scott Masson (12:28):

Well, I think classical education is just a recovery of the basic structure and purpose of education. And it will be rooted in not just Christian. I mean when I say it’s going to be Christian, those who are not Christians say, well, that’s only going to apply for Christians. So, it’s sort of like it’s relative to Christians that this will hold true. And my response is, a Christian education is going to fulfill a classical education best. But a classical approach to education existed before Christians came on the scene. It was rooted in what they called eventually got called the seven liberal arts, which begin with grammar. And when you went to school, you would’ve been taught phonics. Oh, yes. When I went to school, I was taught phonics. And phonics is the way you sound out when you read these letters together and they make a certain sound.

(13:24):

And if you’re taught phonics and there’s a certain number of phonemes that you can learn, it’s 70 odd phonemes. If you learn those sounds connected to these letters, you can sound out any word that you read and you’ll be able to roughly speaking, guess how it sounds immediately without ever even having read the word before, you’ll be able to sound it out and be able to read it out loud. Now, phonics has not been taught in schools for decades, probably about 40, at least 40 years, maybe even longer than that, 45 years or so. And the result of that is that children find it very difficult to read because they don’t have things broken down to the most basic building blocks. And without the building blocks that build the foundation, they can’t move on to the higher forms of learning. In the classical education, they speak of it in terms of phases. There’s a grammar phase and then a logic phase, and then a rhetoric phase. And these are all building on top of one another. Our children don’t know how to read or write or do arithmetic. People have been complaining about it for years. Well, that’s because of an educational approach. They’re not interested in acquainting kids with a reality that is linguistically understood or mathematically understood. They want to give the kids therapy, and the therapy is there just to make them feel included. And that’s the whole purpose.

Dr. Ann Gillies (14:59):

To feel good about themselves.

(15:02):

That’s all it is.

(15:04):

And I’m thinking, I remember my school years, my elementary school, my whole school. I didn’t come from a very good home situation, but school was my safe place. It was my safe place because I went there to learn. I really liked learning and I really enjoyed my teachers who took an interest in me. Not all of them, but a couple of them. I remember my grade eight teacher particularly, and I mean, it wasn’t therapeutic in one sense, but it was in another. She was just interested in my learning, not about my personal life. And if I had told her what was going on in my home, she would’ve become very interested very quickly. I know that. But the reality is that she was there to teach and to teach well, and because she was able to do that well, we really connected.

(16:05):

And I think children miss all of that. And it was that teacher and a couple others who really inspired me, even though I did not go on to higher education until I was in my second marriage. But I mean, the reality is I loved to read. I just loved it. It created a passion in my early years. And it’s because exactly what you’re saying, I find I don’t sound things out as well at this age. I don’t know what’s going on with my brain. It’s the age, I think. But what you’re saying is right on, because we were talking,

Dr. Scott Masson (16:44):

It’s acquainting people with a certain stable reality that is outside of themselves that they can trust will be there. And it’s not going to change based on how they feel. It’s not going to change on how their parents are treating them or mistreating them. It’s still there. And they can have confidence in that. And of course that is a therapeutic effect because it means that they’re not anxious about things. But if everything’s dependent on their feelings and we’re going to decide that the whole world is going to fit around my feelings, well then I’m stuck. If my feelings are all over the place, then that means the whole world is all over the place and there is no stability. Well, that just makes me even more nervous.

Dr. Ann Gillies (17:26):

Well, and that’s why we have the mental health crisis, Scott.

Dr. Scott Masson (17:30):

We genuinely do have these mental health crises. They’re very real.

Dr. Ann Gillies (17:33):

Oh, yeah. I’ve been saying to people that we’ve created the greatest mental health crisis the world’s ever seen, and our children are the ones who are the victims of that. But I never thought until I just got talking about my own experience of going to school, I’ve always known it was a safe place for me. I felt safe at school and learning itself felt very safe for me because my home situation was absolutely chaotic. But what you’re saying there, I just think that people need to hear this, that we didn’t need mental health people in the school system because the school and education itself and the teachers actually were very safe. Safe. It was a healthy place to be. So, when I came there, even though I could have left the most horrendous situation, and most often did, I came to school and it was like I was able to put that behind me so that I could actually learn things. And so, what we’re doing now, wow, I think I’ve just, so

Dr. Scott Masson (18:46):

Jordan Peterson’s wrote a book about the antidote to chaos, and it’s about the rules of life. Yes. But really what the rules of life are is they’re just acquainting with you that your habits should fit with an order. The order’s already out there, and you need to act in accordance with an orderly universe because it is basically orderly. Even if your own domestic situation is chaotic and disruptive and even abusive, that doesn’t mean that there is no order out there. You need to recognize that there’s order and you need to live in accordance with that order because that will make your life, you’ll be able to escape the traumatic situation you’re in right now. But in education, they’ve moved away from that. So of course, it destroys all the children to some degree, but those who actually come from situations of domestic violence, abuse, whatever, it offers them no refuge, it’s just more of the same. And of course, those are the kids that tend to break.

Dr. Ann Gillies (19:42):

Those are the vulnerable ones. And I would’ve been so vulnerable in this education system.

(19:46):

Oh, you would’ve, absolutely.

(19:48):

Absolutely. And I think that’s why I have such a passion for what children are going through right now and trying to rescue to protect them, because I see the vulnerabilities. I don’t have the solutions all the time, but just even talking to you, I just see how, and I’ve always believed that this is my belief, and I don’t even know well, because I didn’t accept Christ until I was 18, so it wasn’t part of my growing up structure of the church or anything like that. So that kind of order in that kind of sense. But when you’re talking about order and this whole rational sense that there’s a plan and there’s a purpose, and here’s safety in this plan and purpose, that being lost in our education is crippling. It’s crippled now for four generations, four decades of education. And so now coming back to that and then being able to provide a classical education that will build those structures in to a child’s life to build safety, it’ll build safety.

Dr. Scott Masson (21:07):

It does build safety.

Dr. Ann Gillies (21:08):

And this place where they can,

Dr. Scott Masson (21:10):

It’s ironic that at present in the public education system, they keep talking about safety and we need to make the children safe. And yet what they’re giving them is making the children feel unsafe. So, there’s no way of, so the abusers are the protectors, and they don’t even really realize that they are abusers. Some of them do, of course, but many of them, they’re just, you are producing an environment which destabilizes the child and makes them feel even more unsafe than they were before. And telling everybody else not to upset them is not helping the child. Acquainting them with truth and falsehood, with the fact that there is a reality that they can trust and live in – that would help them feel safe. But you can’t just do it by not contradicting them when they say crazy things.

Dr. Ann Gillies (22:03):

Well, that’s right. And having expectations, teachers having expectations, there’s a guideline, there’s a certain expectation for each child, and not every child is intellectual. The expectations of course aren’t about you have to do this this way. It’s about how can we make this into a learning experience and that the expectation is that you will complete it, that you will do your very best.

Dr. Scott Masson (22:36):

You’ll graduate, you’ll go up a grados in Latin as a step. You go up a degree, you go further and further up, you go up the steps, and then you reach the top step and you graduate, you move on. But the reason you can move on is because you are somebody who has a sufficient grasp of reality that you can now function as an adult.

Dr. Ann Gillies (22:59):

And along with that comes this real sense of achievement. Honestly, I think I lived for all those little stars, those little wee stars I, am probably was a people pleaser, right, from my earliest age. But at the same time, I really, really wanted to learn. And so, I think children, we’re doing such a disservice because children have, I think, an underlying desire to learn. I mean, they love it. Look at babies, look all the way through, but it’s the structure, the repetition, those things that have been so annihilated in our education system. So how do you bring that into a classroom, a classical classroom? You’ve touched on it a little bit.

Dr. Scott Masson (23:51):

So, it’s not the way you might think that it begins. Well, let’s start with the foundation, and then we keep on building that, and then the child adds what he or she wants in accordance with the sort of things that they like. It’s more that you have an idea of what the ideal person is to begin with. And that ideal person from a Christian vantage point is Christ, your aim is to make people be Christ-like in their character and in their knowledge, and in every attribute. And so obviously you’re not going to succeed in this because of the problem of human sin, but it’s still, what would that look like if somebody was to be a human being acting like Christ? Well, they would’ve certain character attributes. And so we can encourage those in the classroom at all times. You are to act like Christians. That we can see,

(24:53):

but what would it mean in terms of knowledge, what it would mean to have a firm grasp of the reality that God created around us? And we can understand that reality in two ways. We can either understand it through words or we can understand it through numbers. And because those are the two basic ways that we determine truth and falsehood. We can talk, we can make logical fallacies, we can make truthful statements. Those are the linguistic ways in terms of numbers, well, basically it’s just mathematics. It’s equations. Two plus two is always four. It can’t be five. That’s not white math as the crazy slur that we hear even in the sciences. It’s creeping into the universities now in the sciences as well, they’re starting to question mathematical truths, but we would acquaint them with reality in that way and with the idea that at the end of that, the person who is well-educated, will have a firm grasp of reality through numbers and through words, and weave the disciplines together and connect Christian character to it.

(26:04):

You will get a fully functional adult who will be, in some ways, a master of his or her sphere. And the sphere is very small. It’ll probably be the home, the domestic sphere, but some will be able to go beyond that. And that’s very important. If you can master your home, the children in your home, you create a stability in which they can grow up and be educated and nurtured. And that will mean that they’re able to flourish in life with that certitude around you, you’re gaining mastery or dominion over that little sphere of which you have control over. And then you can go on to that to go into the realm of business and civic life and so forth. But it builds from a circle of dominion out further and further to express dominion even over cities and perhaps even nations. The child in your home may be a future prime minister of Canada. Well, they’re only going to be able to do that if they have mastery over themselves to begin with. They have to control their own emotions. They have to control their own minds. They have be able to understand.

Dr. Ann Gillies (27:15):

I’m thinking about our prime minister anyways. I know.

Dr. Scott Masson (27:19):

Oops, don’t do that.

Dr. Ann Gillies (27:21):

Yeah, that’s okay. I digress. But you’re right. Everything that you do then builds. One thing, builds on another, and if you don’t have the building right through the whole process, then you don’t graduate, so to speak. You don’t graduate.

Dr. Scott Masson (27:41):

So, you have to master yourself, first of all. If you can’t master yourself and control yourself and be able to relate to other people in a way that shows self-possession and a respect for other people and their ability to love other people, then you’re never going to be able to run your own household, let alone a business, let alone a country. If you can’t get up in the morning and go to bed at a certain time and you can’t prepare meals for yourself, if you can’t keep yourself physically fit, if you can’t relate to other people without getting into quarrels, then there’s no way you’re going to be able to govern other people. You have to be able to govern yourself, first of all. And a classical education is teaching you the principles of self-governance, which you’re then going to apply in more areas where you have greater responsibility.

(28:37):

But again, because it focuses on what a human person is ideally, which we know in Jesus, this is the model, this is what we are like, then we can start to govern ourselves and live godly, harmonious, blessed lives of grace and love characterized by those things. And if we treat other people with love, we find that when we smile at people, they smile back. If we treat people with grace and compassion, we receive grace and compassion back. If we’re destructive in our actions and conduct, we’re going to get that in kind as well. So there’s a foundation for that. But again, it’s rooted not in giving us therapy, it’s giving us an acquaintance with reality and an ability to interact with that reality and do so in a way where we have dominion over it.

Dr. Ann Gillies (29:32):

I think it’s been phenomenal just listening to you talk about this. This’ll be our last question, or how do people begin a classical school? And I mean, I’m going to be talking to Bruce Friesen your friend next week, so he may want to expand on this, but just very quickly, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Scott Masson (30:05):

Well, to begin a classical school, I mean, again, it sort of goes back to what I just said. You have to have the education yourself. You have to be committed to, if you’ve been publicly educated, which most of us have, you’re going to have to revisit, visit a lot of things, areas that were really untouched by your education. So, you’re going to have to be committed to do probably on a less extravagant scale, what I did, which is to say, I want to know these things because I was never taught them. So, I’m going to decide I’m going to learn myself as an adult. I have now the ability to concentrate and devote time in a way that I couldn’t when I was young. Children don’t have a big attention span, but I have a pretty good one now, and I’m going to take a great deal of time and devote myself to learning things, and I’m going to find people that will be there to help me understand these things.

(31:02):

There are a lot of resources out there now in the homeschooling community, and its materials are almost all classical. I say predicated on a classical education. So almost all homeschool materials are that. And so people are doing it at a small scale. But if you wanted to start a school, then you need to find others that will be committed to the same ideals and want to do it as a community. And that will require cooperation, and it should ideally be supported by a local church or churches where they can gather and pool resources and collaborate and function together. And I think that’s a good outcome because it expands the classical education from beyond just my individual family to a community. Because at the end of the day, our kids are going to have to marry somebody and live with other people. And why not go for the bigger prize? But I mean, if you can only save your family, well then save your family. That’s good. Do that. But that’s how you would start. Go for the resources. My YouTube channel, I’ve put up my lectures from my classes at Tyndale, and anybody can go and watch those at any time they read the books, and you can listen to my lectures and hopefully they’ll help guide you as well.

Dr. Ann Gillies (32:24):

That sounds wonderful. I am excited to do some of that. So, thank you. I think this has been a learning curve. It’s been a learning curve for me. I expect others have felt the same. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That what life is always about. We are constantly learning.

(32:43):

Yep, yep, yep. I do all the time.

(32:46):

Exactly. And then when you stop learning, well, I always heard you stop learning, you stop living in a sense. We have to keep that up. So I want to thank you, Dr. Masson, and I think as time permits in the future, hopefully you’ll be able to come back on and talk more about this because it’s such an important subject. Thanks a lot.

(33:09):

Thank you.

(33:14):

Thank you for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed more than Enjoyed. I hope you really take away a lot from Dr. Masson’s interview, and that you will think very deeply on the whole issue of education and what’s happening in our public system, what could be the antidote to that in classical education as he talks about that. So please pick up his book and check out his YouTube channel, and we’ll see you again next week.

Narrator (33:50):

You’ve been listening to Truth Talks with Dr. Ann. Thank you so much for joining us today. You can find Ann’s books, blog, and sign up for the newsletter by going to RestoringTheMosaic.ca.

 

Restoring the Mosaic seeks to strengthen Canadian national unity by educating and informing policy-makers, legislators, and educational leaders with clinical research that will assist them to establish programs and policies that allow individuals with crises in identity to recover wholeness.

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