I have a 16 year old American cousin who lives in England I visited with today who is attending one of those English Prep schools that are all the rage among the arts and “ugly culture” crowd. These schools charge exorbitant fees to parents for tuition on the basis of what famous alumni attended in misty days past. As I recall, St. David’s is famous for the fact that former PM Gordon Brown was expelled from St. David’s when he was a tender lad.
As I was conversing with Paul (my cousin), Paul revealed that they did not teach History at St. David ’s choosing instead to go with a more integrative approach where one gets their history in their literature classes as they study certain period pieces of literature. Paul tells me that this method is now all the rage in English Prep schools as history is swallowed by what is being styled as the humanities.
When Paul mentioned the emphasis on literature this caused me to inquire whether or not they were teaching “literary theory,” in these literature classes. He affirmed that they indeed were. Figuring that liberal English prep schools were likely deconstructionist in their literary theory I asked Paul if he had come across names like Ricoeur, Rorty, de Man or Derrida in his class. He did not recognize those names. As such I asked him if he had come across the label of postmodernism for his literary theory. Again that drew a blank from Paul.
So, I tried and third route and just asked him to explain what they were being taught in literary theory. Paul responded by saying that they were being taught that while there may be meaning in the text there is no way that the reader could get back to the meaning of the text. Therefore, the student is taught to discover meaning in the text for themselves. Paul told me stories about how he and some of his peers would mock other students as they went “symbol hunting” in a text in order to come up with the most outlandish possible interpretations of texts.
Currently Paul’s class reading Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and he noted that it was incredible all the different meanings that “Frankenstein” had as students went on their “symbol hunt.” Because Paul had seen this abuse of the text he had concluded that “Frankenstein” was just a good story. Though Paul conceded that doubtless there were some worldview truths that Shelley was trying to get at in the novel (depravity of man, danger of technology, danger of unbounded knowledge, etc.) he was insistent that it was just a good story.
What Paul was saying is that “Frankenstein” had no deeper meaning then the story itself. My son, who was also there, blurted out, “then you have concluded that the deeper meaning of “Frankenstein” is that it has no deeper meaning. “ Paul, reluctantly conceded that point.
What I found most interesting in the conversation is that when teachers communicate that a text only has the meaning in it that the autonomous reader can find by going on un–anchored symbol hunts the consequence is both that some students conclude that it really can have any meaning while the smart students (like my cousin) realize that if a text can have any meaning then it has no meaning. Perhaps we should call this the Seinfeldian educational method. After all the “Seinfeld Show” sold itself as being a “show about nothing.”
However the Biblical Christian realizes that even if one concludes that a text has no meaning that itself is the meaning that is being attributed to the text. The meaning of a meaningless text is that there is no meaning.
Sadly, Paul had not been trained to think as a Biblical Christian and His older cousin is seen as some kind of extremist Christian quack.
I weep for my cousin as his thinking is being ruined by the spirit of the age. He is effectively being educated into anti-Christ thinking. My tears are kept hot at my rage against those who are chaining a generation in the nether realms of utterly depraved thinking.