In this section I briefly outline some of the things Lewis said about education, as well as what other scholars noted he said about learning related topics.
C.S. Lewis had a privileged education: he attended private schools, had personal tutoring and graduated from a great university. He enjoyed the benefits of parents who read widely and encouraged him to do the same. Despite all of his advantages, Lewis saw education quite differently than some of his peers, who were more interested in social status and advantage than educating the common person.
However, Lewis was not elitist. His advice to Sarah (his godchild) was practical. His counsel about language was that someone was not either “good” or “bad” at them and if she ever wanted to read something badly that wasn’t in English “you’ll find you can learn a foreign language all right” (37) and to someone named Joan he gave some hints on writing:
- Make sure you know what you mean and use clear language to say so
- Prefer plain direct words to long, vague ones
- Don’t use abstract nouns if concrete ones will do
- Don’t use adjectives instead of telling something about the item
- Don’t use words too big for the subject, e.g. “infinitely” when you mean “very”
C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children, 1985, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead and published by MacMillan. (64)
- The abolition of man: Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools. NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Chapter 1, “Men without Chests, is a critical and negative review of a small book on English intended for upper grade high school students. “ The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intellectuals…. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so” (25). “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful” (26).
In Chapter 2, “The Way,” Lewis continues his assault upon what he calls “The spirit of The Green Book,” which is “to produce certain states of mind in the rising generation….” (28). He calls the authors Gaius and Titus and points out their skepticism of traditional values and their reliance on obeying “instinct” to explain how one ought to live. Lewis believes that certain values should be self-evident and that if nothing is such then “nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all” (40). Lewis reminds us of “Natural Law or Traditional Morality” and says that the “effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory” (43). And further, that the human mind cannot invent new values.
In Chapter 3, “The Abolition of Man,” Lewis analyzes the conception of our culture that claims Man has an increasing power over Nature. He asks if this is the “final stage in the conquest” given all that Man has done (59). However, it “is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all…they are artifacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man” (64). And whereas once “we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements” (74).
The Appendix, “Illustrations of the Tao” is divided as follows: 1) The Law of General Beneficence, with both negative and positive examples; 2) The Law of Special Beneficence, with special regard to the young; 3) Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors; 4) Duties to Children and Posterity; 5) The Law of Justice, with quotes about honesty, sexuality and court; 6) The Law of Good Faith and Veracity; 7) The Law of Mercy, especially towards the poor; 8) The Law of Magnanimity, concerning courage in particular. Notes.
The following summary of the appendix is taken from Hooper, 1996:329-341: Background: I: “The Hegemony of Moral Values”; II: The Riddell Memorial Lectures. Summary: I: The Problem; II: The Educational Predicament. III: ‘Real; or ‘Basic’ Values. IV: An Appeal to ‘Instinct’. V: How Does Instinct Help Us Find ‘Real’ Values; VI: Which Instinct Should We Obey? VII: Where is there an Instinct to ‘preserve the species’? VIII: The Tao the Sole Source of All Value Judgments. IX. Is Progress in Values Possible? X: The Power of Earlier Generations over Later Ones. XI: Moulding the New Men. XII: What Motivates the New Creators of Motives? XIII: The Rule of Nature. XIV: How Man Brings About His Subjection to Nature. XV: From Science the Cure Might Come. Reviews.
Hooper noted that Chad Walsh, in his review, said “This quiet little book is uniquely calculated to infuriate John Dewey’s disciples and all other moralists who want to pick and choose from among the scraps of universal morality, who what to have their cake and eat it too” (Hooper, p.341).
- The weight of glory: and other essays. New York: The Macmillan Company.
In this small book, with a chapter called the same as the book’s title, Lewis explores heavenly glory which results in God’s commendation to us as a servant and the brightness we received in our glorified body. He sees that the Christian “is in much the same position as this schoolboy,” 2), one who has to begin with the basics so that he can enjoy the proper reward for his study, because “enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery” but it begins with a desire to learn (3). However, in the sense of pleasing God, “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door” (13).
Lewis makes a valid and important note about translation: “If you are to translate from a language which has a large vocabulary into a language that has a small vocabulary, then you must be allowed to use several words in more than one sense” (21).
- God in the Dock: Essays on theology and ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
“What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent. You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly” (93).
- Fern-seed and elephants and other essays on Christianity. Edited by Walter Hooper. Collins Fount Paperbacks.
Published as chapter IV in 1949, based on a sermon preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, autumn, 1939. Lewis warns us that there are always distractions against learning and that the only people who achieve much “are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable” because “[f]avourable conditions never come” (36). Even though knowledge and beauty can be pursued for their own sake, it “does not exclude their being for God’s sake” (33). Those who are educated need to protect the uneducated who have “no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen” (34).
- Present concerns: Ethical essays. Edited, with a preface by Walter Hooper. London: Collins [Fount Paperbacks].
Chapter 4, “My first school,” gives some of Lewis’s recollections of his difficulties at Wynyard where the headmaster turned out to be insane. He learned to live by hope at the school—hope for and pleasure in something better.
In Chapter 5, Lewis asks the provocative question “Is English doomed? “ Not quite—the “death-warrant is not yet signed, but it has been made out” (27). Despite all the great things that have been written about and in English, he believes the “Board of Education… [is] resolved to sink us” (31). However, the public should be made aware of what is going on.
Lewis’s chapter on “Democratic education” (6) could speak as well to American education today. In a desire to make everything equal for students and for there to be no advantage. Yesterday it was Latin, tomorrow it will be mathematics. And, of course, English grammar. “Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves” (36).
Abate, Michelle Ann and Lance Weldy, eds. C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia. Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St Martin’s Press, New York: NY.
Chapter 3, “Moving Beyond ‘All that Rot’: Redeeming Education in The Chronicles of Narnia” is by Keith Dorwick. The author points out that Lewis’s own negative classroom experiences influenced his concerns about education and learning as given in the Chronicles series. Lewis was firmly against simply knowing something without any moral judgment of the contents. In Lewis’s comments on the Experiment House, he has much to say about bad pedagogy (60). In summary, “mere memorization of facts is nothing compared to the ontological task of becoming more and more like Christ” (67).
“I believe it is safe to say that this community of Narnia participants actually consists of a combination of both the first [the nostalgic, oneiric one] and second [problematic, sexualized]. As the essays in this New Casebook suggest, there are as many doors to enter the study of Narnia as there are critical perspectives and textualities, and who is to say that a scholar cannot also be a fan? (10).
Michelle Ann Abate is Associate Professor of English at Hollins University; Lance Weldy is Associate Professor of English at Francis Marion University.
Keith Dorwick is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Aeschilman, Michael D. 1983. The restitution of man: C.S. Lewis and the case against scientism. Eerdmans.
Contents: Foreword to the Reissued Edition. Foreword by Malcolm Muggeridge. 1) Common Sense and the Common Man; 2) Scientism vs. Sapientia; 3) Scientism: The Current Debate; 4) C.S. Lewis and the Two Cultures; 5) The Abolition of Man. Afterword. Notes. Index.
“Concerned as Lewis was with the destructiveness of science without ethics or conscience…he was always aware of a converse danger and temptation. If we are most in danger of ‘deifying’ science, we can also be seduced into ‘defying’ it, as does the neo-romantic ‘New Age’ movement, a variant of the Gnosticism that Lewis understood and opposed in the occult quest of W.B. Yeats and the anthroposophy of his own close friend Owen Barfield” (84).
Michael D. Aeschliman is associate professor of education at Boston University and lecturer in English at the University of Italian Switzerland, Lugano.
Heck, Joel D. 2006. Irrigating deserts: C.S. Lewis on education. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
“For the frequent reader of C.S. Lewis, we will traverse rather familiar territory, though only the territory that has relevance for Lewis’s educational views. We will gain insights into the Oxbridge system of education. We will see various references to education gathered widely from the Leis corpus into one place. We will begin to see a Lewis whom most have seen only in glimpses” (12).
Irrigating deserts is the most comprehensive book I have read on the educational and scholastic career of C.S. Lewis. It outlines what Lewis felt was the purpose of education and what the curriculum should include. It provides detailed insights into Lewis’s life as a student and teacher, with quotations and personal recollections throughout. Heck’s book can be summarized as follows:
Contents: Permissions and Acknowledgments and an introduction, called “The Mind of C.S. Lewis,” which quotes Lewis as saying “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts,” hence the title for the book (from The Abolition of Man, p.7).
Part I: “C.S. Lewis on Education”: too little reading of literature and too much reading about literature (23); Chapter 2, outlined C.S. Lewis on the “Purpose and Practice of Education,” which was basically to teach students to think. He was against dumbing down education to suit the “dunces and idlers” (40), but it was not to indoctrinate the student. Chapter 3 is entitled “C.S. Lewis on the Curriculum of Education The purpose should be to have “concrete knowledge combined with abstraction, practical education combined with literary appreciation, the ability to think theologically, rhetorically, and legally” (50).
Part II: “C.S. Lewis as Student,” reviews his education, including (in chapter 5) “The Early Education of C.S. Lewis” 6) C.S. Lewis at Oxford;
Part III: reviews Lewis as teacher, Oxford Fellow, at Cambridge and his role as tutor and lecturer; Chapter 10 outlines a number of lessons we can learn f. Lewis:
- He taught students to think creatively—the purpose of learning
- He demonstrated the role of questioning, encouraging and commitment
- He demonstrated teaching, scholarship and service
- He wrote in favor of the liberal arts and objective truth
Appendix I: Books C.S. Lewis Read 1922-1927—an imposing list of poets, philosophers, drama and opera, and many others!
Appendix II: The Norwood Report, from a committee studying the secondary school examinations.
Appendix III: The Green Book, which he comments on in The Abolition of Man.
Appendix IV: Orbilius, referring to E.G. Biaggini, who authored the Green Book.
Appendix V: The Colleagues of C.S. Lewis: Fellows of Magdalen College Oxford, the English fellows of Oxford University, the Fellows of Magdalene College, Cambridge, the English Fellows of Cambridge University, and other fellows of both universities.
Appendix VI: closes the book with an “Educational Timeline of C.S. Lewis,” followed by a glossary, notes and a bibliography.
Markos, Louis. 2003. Lewis Agonistes: How C.S. Lewis can train us to wrestle with the modern and postmodern world. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.
Contents: Preface. The Education of Lewis Agonistes: 1) Early Days: The War of Reason and Intuition; 2) Schooldays: Building a Wall of Reason; 3) Oxford: Breaking Down the Wall; 4) Christian Apologist: The Marriage of Reason and Intuition; 5) The Last Battle: Wrestling with Love and Pain. Wrestling with Science: 6) Unpacking the Modernist Paradigm; 7) The things That Could Not Have Evolved; 8) It’s Your God Who’s Too Small. Wrestling with the New Age: 9) The Return to Paganism; 10) The Medieval Net Was Wider than Our Own; 11) Rehabilitating the Medieval Model; Wrestling with Evil and Suffering: 12) The Problem of Pain; 13) God’s Free Will Experiment; 14) Suffering into Wisdom. Wrestling with the Arts: 15) The Death of Language; 16) The Aesthetics of Incarnation; 17) The Sub-Creator at Work. Wrestling with Heaven and Hell: 18) The Deconstruction of Heaven and Hell; 19) The Psychology of Sin; 20) Our Desires Are Too Weak for Heaven. Conclusion: Seeing Past the Lines.
“It is my firm belief that if Christians of today are to make full use of Lewis’s legacy in taking up the specific challenges of their moment in history, then they will need a resource that does three basic things: 1) explains in lay terms exactly what the challenges in modernity-postmodernity are and how these challenges surface in various areas; 2) forges the arguments, illustrations and overall vision of the fictional and nonfictional writings of C.S. Lewis into weapons with which the Christian can do battle 3) encourages and enables its readers to become participants themselves in the agon, or wrestling match of the twenty-first century” (xii).
Louis Markos, Ph.D., is professor in English and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University and holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities.
Markos, Louis. 2010. Restoring beauty: The good, the true, and the beautiful in the writings of C.S. Lewis. Biblica.
Part III: Men Without Chests: 13) Losing the Tao; 14) The Dangers of a Values-Free Education; 15) From Tao-less Students to Tao-less Citizens; 16) The Scientist and the Magician’ 17) The Chest-less Tyrant; 18) The Death of Language.
Epilogue: Know Thy Enemy: Screwtape’s Millennial Toast; Lewis on Education and the Arts: A Bibliographical Essay.
Markos, Louis. 2015. C.S. Lewis: An apologist for education. Camp Hill, PA: Classical Academic Press.
Contents: Introduction. 1) The education of C.S. Lewis: The loss of Joy and the Inner Ring; Three new mentors; The great war; Tolkien and the myth made fact; Broadcast talks, Oxford Socratic and the Inklings; Cambridge to the rescue and the return of joy; 2) C.S. Lewis on education: Putting on the knights’ armor; Envy and egalitarianism; Men without chests; How to be a good reader; 3) What educators can learn from C.S. Lewis: C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer; C.S. Lewis University. Bibliography. Annotated bibliography of works by Lewis; Annotated bibliography of works about Lewis; Questions for discussion.
McGrath, Alister. 2014. If I had lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the ideas of C.S. Lewis on the meaning of life. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
6) A Love of Learning: C.S. Lewis on Education.
McGrath asks his readers to imagine they are having lunch with C.S. Lewis, a formidable leap of faith and imagination, not only because most of Lewis’s discussions took place in the evening, but also because one must know so much to even talk to him. Here McGrath comes to our rescue: He helps us by discussing what Lewis would have said by quoting or paraphrasing him on the topics of friends, stories, faith, apologetics, education, pain and suffering, heaven and, of course, Aslan.
Pike, Mark A. 2013: Mere education: C.S. Lewis as teacher for our time. The Lutterworth Press.
“The word ‘mere’ is used in the title of this book in its Middle English sense as an adjective ‘nothing less than, complete’. This book is about schooling for a fair and vibrant society; it is about an education of hope, education that completes a person. In ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ (1955), the first in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, Digory and Polly are dragged back through time into a world that is “devoid of life and barren of vegetation”. Such a world is not a safe place for children and young people. When C.S. Lewis wrote that the task of the modern educator is ‘to irrigate deserts’ he was making the point that it is teachers who ‘inculcate just sentiments’ (Lewis 1978/1943, p.13) and enable the moral sense of their students to flourish. Mark A. Pike supports C.S. Lewis’ belief in the role of educators and has written ‘Mere Education’ to show how we might go about it so that ‘the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose’ (Isaiah 35:1).” Contents:
Part 1: The Hinge of the Wardrobe Door: Core Values, Character and Christianity
1. Character Education: Learning for Life
2. Christian Education: Liberating Faith, Hope and Love
3. Spiritual Education: Why you need a Map when you walk on the Beach
Part 2: The Furniture of the House: Educating Children
4. Liberal Education: Living Well in a Liberal Society
5. Sex Education: Self-Control and Sales Resistance
6. Biblical Education: The Basis of Liberty
Part 3: Professor Lewis: Cultural Interpreter for Educators
7. Cultural Education: Understanding the Foundations
8. Citizenship Education: Molding Minds
9. Democratic Education: How to Avoid ‘dumping down’
Part 4: The Professor’s House: Leading on School Ethos and Excellence in Teaching
10. Teacher Education: How to be an Excellent Teacher
11. Leadership Education: How to be an Excellent Leader
12. Future Education: A Prophecy
Schakel, Peter J. 2002. Imagination and the arts in C.S. Lewis. Columbia, MO: U. of Missouri Press.
“Peter Schakel begins by concentrating on the way reading or engaging with the other arts is an imaginative activity. He focuses on three books in which imagination is the central theme—Surprised by Joy, An Experiment in Criticism, and The Discarded Image—and shows the important role of imagination in Lewis’s theory of education.
Schultz, Jeffrey D. and John G. West Jr., eds. 1998. The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia. Zondervan. Foreword by Christopher Mitchell.
“To begin with, the C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia (CSLRE) is designed chiefly to help the reader to get more out of his reading Lewis—to gain a deeper and richer understanding of Lewis’s own work and thinking….The CSLRE helps facilitate this wider investigation by offering entries on hundreds of relate and interconnecting facets of Lewis’s intellectual and literary interests along with bibliographies directed toward further study” (8).
In two columns on education (149), Carolyn Keefe notes several items on Lewis’s view:
- He disliked the continual changing variety and depth of subjects added to the curriculum
- He believed that values should be taught to the students
- He believed the laws and duties common to cultures for centuries should be passed on
- He foresaw the government power to issue directives about education and a lowering of educational standards
- He was not fond of vocational studies to provide mental and spiritual growth
- He believed English would be (and was) taught by those not really qualified
Walker, Andrew, and James Patrick, ed. 1998. Rumours of heaven: Essays in celebration of C. S. Lewis, Guildford, Surrey: Eagle, an imprint of Inter Publishing Service. Originally published by the C.S. Lewis Centre as A Christian for all Christians.
“This book is a reissue of a collection of original essays written for the C.S. Lewis Centre and first published in 1990 as A Christian for All Christians: Essays in Honour of C.S. Lewis (Hodder & Stoughton, 1990). The C.S. Lewis—1987-1994—was a Christian educational trust under the patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury…In 1994 it merged with Gospel and Culture under the presidency of Bishop Lesslie Newbigen while still retaining the Archbishop of Canterbury as it patron. Since the summer of 1997 Gospel and Culture has become part of the work of the Bible Society” (ix).
“The essays in this volume are arranged in a ‘family resemblance’ or ‘cluster’ approach, beginning with biography and apologetics, and moving on to literary and personal influences of Lewis” (x, xi).
James Patrick is Provost of the College of Saint Thomas More in Fort Worth, Texas and …is a Roman Catholic theologian; Andrew Walker is at present  director of the Centre for Theology and Culture at King’s College, London.
West, John G., ed. 2012. The magician’s twin: C.S. Lewis on science, scientism and society. Seattle: Discovery Institute Press.
Chapter 11 is on “The education of Mark Studdock: How a sociologist learns the lessons of The Abolition of Man.” In chapter 12 we read of what Lewis thought of scientism and the battle of the books, which is followed in chapter 13 on scientism, and the moral imagination.
Lewis was concerned ab out the importance of “elementary text-books” because there the “intellectual scaffold of scientism” took place. Lewis felt that we need to read good stories, re-sensitize ourselves to good and evil, recover objective beauty, re-build authentic subjectivity, rehabilitate the heart and cultivate silence so that the ‘moral imagination’ can take place.