“While we are planning the education of the future we can be rid of the illusion that we shall ever replace destiny. Make the plans as good as you can, of course. But be sure that the deep and final effect on every single boy [and girl] will be something you never envisaged and will spring from little free movements in your machine which neither your blueprint nor your working model gave any hint of.”C.S. Lewis, “My First School” in Present Concerns, 22.
Education is stressful. C.S. Lewis hated his early education. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he contemptuously refers to one of his schools as “Belsen”–the name of a Nazi concentration camp. The quote above is from an essay entitled “My first School.” He opens the piece relating a conversation he had with a young man who was about to head back to boarding school for the term. Lewis was surprised to learn that the boy wasn’t dreading it–since Lewis always dreaded it.
Turns out the schools had improved–they were happier places, according to Lewis, than what his generation endured. Obviously, a good thing.
Next, Lewis says that, even though he hated those boarding schools, he learned a lot from the cycle of longing. This cycle included (while at school) his longing for the End of Term (so he could go home); and then (while he was at home on break) his dread of Returning to School. This cycle, he says, taught him a lot about living according to longing, hope, and joy. Longing, and the Christian explanation of our longing (where it comes from, how it works, why it’s frustrated, and how it will ultimately be fulfilled), is very important to Lewis–a strong evidence that the Christian Story provides the best landscape for finding answers to our deepest questions. Though his early schooling was very negative, that negative experience, for him, has been redeemed.
His essay concludes with the hopeful quote I’ve placed at the top of this post. By “destiny”, I believe he means “Providence.” Lewis is glad the schools are happier for children. He’s also glad for the lessons he learned through his trials. Now he reassures us–that for all the planning, expense, and anxiety we have related to educating our children–Providence will work toward His mighty ends. We must do our best to make good plans and to execute those plans. We’ll often fall short of our ideal. We’ll often be frustrated to tears. Our Lord is a Redeemer. Hang in there, parents. Hang in there, teachers. Hang in there, students.