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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Talking of which -

- the bizarre use of 'medieval' as an insult, that is - A.L. Kennedy does just that in the Guardian today. Her piece is about how bad education is in the USA, the accuracy of which judgement I am not qualified to judge. But note this peculiar usage:

... And beyond a horrifying national curriculum lies the strange land of home schooling and Christian Reconstructionist institutions like the Robertson School of Government and Patrick Henry College. (The same Patrick Henry College that supplies so many White House interns.)

Here, in the intellectual equivalent of Tupperware boxes, students are isolated from the media, the internet and any information which is not "biblical". Which is to say, most sciences, much of literature, medicine and history - and definitely no astronomy or archaeology.

And even in this rarefied, if not medieval, atmosphere, it's reckoned risky to attempt anything beyond a masters degree for fear of undermining your "core values".

But expose its adherents to an uncensored news broadcast, a CS Lewis novel, a snippet of Jerry Springer - The Opera, or a single Private Eye cover, and you can expect a replay of The Exorcist within moments.

Perhaps it's simply tricky to keep people who believe themselves to be good, inside what is effectively a cult devoted to death - intellectual death, imaginative death and (for other people) physical death.

Whether this is a recognisable description I don't know; but what an odd notion of the middle ages is implied! A thirteenth-century university (to choose berenike's preferred century) would have every 'science' of the day, to use the word in its older meaning. Indeed the debate of the century was precisely over openness to pre-Christian Aristotelian learning. Those who wished to restrict the books permitted did not, you will recall, come out on top - and Thomas showed that there was nothing to fear in seeking the truth wherever it might be found. Aristotle was successfully 'baptised' (as a splendid tutor always put it). Yes, this is stating the obvious; but it clearly needs stated a bit more often in the hope that otherwise well-educated authors like Ms Kennedy will begin to catch on.

Mind you, the recognition of the existence of truth, assumption of the non-contradiction principle, and acknowledgement of the possibility of revelation are fundamentals of medieval learning which (alas, alas) the Guardian would no doubt consider to render 'medieval' a term of abuse.

O tempora, o mores...