Aerial Reconnaissance of The Run-and-Gun Battle in CCE over Wokeness
A Chronicle of Articles and Sources
UPDATE: A section was added in September of 2023 for “racial” wokeness, positioned below the first section on feminism.
Dubbed "The Canon Wars," the recent controversy over Western classical education is really a battle in a much broader culture war that is affecting CCE schools. We've seen more than a handful of schools run aground on debates that started with seemingly borderline woke sensibilities. These created a crack that opened into a fissure. They originate with subtle oppressor/oppressed undertones that fuel a call for justice (of the “social” kind) in some form (i.e., women were kept out, so now we need to right that wrong…).
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In Voddie Baucham's prophetic 2020 book, Fault Lines, he says: “In other words, Critical Theory is not just an analytical tool, as some have suggested; it is a philosophy, a worldview.” And of this worldview, he says: “The fault lies in believing that such a vision can be attained by affiliating with, using the terminology of, or doing anything other than opposing in the most forceful terms the ideology that lies at the root of the social justice movement.” ― Voddie T. Baucham Jr., Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism's Looming Catastrophe
Below is a chronicling of the back-and-forth within the movement. It is meant to provide a map of the fault line, so to speak. Please add updates to the comments below so that I can keep this updated. This map will become more important as the divide becomes deeper.
THE DIVIDE OVER CT-BASED FEMINISM
It began with Hooten Wilson's article: “Is White Supremacy a Bug or a Feature of Classical Christian Education?” in Current, an online publication. In this publication, Hooten Wilson initially claimed that Douglas Wilson was a racist and implied he was a misogynist. She later retracted that claim. But the rest of the article, including claims that CCE needed to be more inclusive, remained.
David Goodwin responded in the Federalist: “Wokeness Is Coming For Classical Christian Education.” Goodwin claimed Hooten Wilson was compromising the classical canon by adding people who had no previous claim to greatness, but who were now added by Hooten Wilson and others to conform to woke pressure. “If classical Christian education is to survive, it has to reject the foolishness of our age and embrace Christ’s way alone. Christ’s church favors neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.”
Douglas Wilson responded to Hooten Wilson: “A Woke Framing of the Classical Christian School Movement.” In his response, he claimed this was not an in-house debate, but rather a question on another order. “This is what indicates the presence of the woke narrative. In the woke narrative, any form of inequality is equivalent to oppression. But this is critical theory, and is not the scriptural view.”
Hooten Wilson published in the Dallas Morning News: “Must schools choose between dead white men and pop culture YA novels?” Because this article is behind an email wall, I'll pick a few quotes from her thesis, which uses the "Third Way" category to suggest more inclusiveness in the CCE canon: “[Mortimer Adler's] list became the ‘canon,’ as we refer to it today. When it was updated in 1990, four women were added and no writers of color. Adler defended his decision, saying in a New York Times interview, ‘Before the 19th century, for instance, there were almost no women and Black writers.’”
Note: In context, Adler meant of comparable greatness to the list he had formerly published. [This quote has been contextualized by Jeff Wilson here.]
“Despite knowledge of [sources she lists] authored by women and persons of color, adversaries of a fluid canon contend a scarcity of time to allocate to these writers: if we add women and writers of color, we will be required to cut canonical authors, meaning white men. Expanders of the canon have no interest in lowering the mountain of Parnassus, to borrow Swift’s metaphor, but simply want to raise up to their rightful place the quality works by other writers that have been ignored because of superficial prejudices created by race and gender.”
“… if we staunchly assert that no changes be made to a 20th-century list, we inhibit women and persons of color from fully recognizing themselves in this tradition. Not to mention that both reduced versions of tradition are untruthful.”
Hooten Wilson published on her Substack a series of topics including: “Disagreeing: Classical Education & the Church” in which she said, “...celebrating the great tradition by reclaiming from outside the narrowly defined canon the voices of indigenous people, Africans, South Americans, Asians, Middle Eastern writers, and others who have been contributing for centuries—millennia even!—but ignored by a certain contingent in the West.” And, “In the same way that Christian educators sought out Christian texts missed by Adler, we are seeking the women and persons of color that he missed. To do so is not to be influenced by critical theory, but to not be blinded by the fallacies of the past.”
Matthew Freeman published in the American Conservative: “Classical Education’s Woke Co-Morbidity,” which called out Hooten Wilson, Prather, Parham, Tate, and to some degree myself (David Goodwin) because of what Freeman believed was a capitulation to the ideology of woke position in my Federalist piece.
David Goodwin responds in his Substack: “Misquoted in The American Conservative.” In this, Goodwin restated his position and clarified that he did not capitulate to Hooten Wilson's core argument. “Classical educators are at risk of gathering our forces, trying to defeat a balloon army that claims we are ‘racist’ or ‘misogynist.’ We need to stop. We should view all of these descendent calls to inclusiveness and diversity as diversionary tactics to be ignored. If they draw our focus, the enemy has already achieved their purpose.”
Ben Merkle of New Saint Andrew's College responded: “Is the CLT going Woke?” in which Merkle addresses matters later released to the public on April 14th. “I really dislike the stripping of ‘Christian’ from Classical Christian Education. Once you strip Christian out of there you will either end up with cultural Marxism on the one hand – you can’t say that one culture is better than another, so there is no reason to prefer one tradition over another. Or, on the other hand, you will end up with an academic version of white boy summer – we pick white authors because we just like white people. Both of these paths are the death of classical education.”
Clifford Humphrey published in the American Reformer “The Ends of ‘Mere Classical’ Schools” in which he reflects upon Freeman’s piece and the purpose of classical Christian Education. He proposes two meanings of classical and education. “The two opinions on the meaning of the term education diverge on two points. First, they diverge on faith that the tradition as generally received is trustworthy or not, and second, they diverge on the purpose of education. These two points are related.”
Jeremy Tate responded to Freeman in the American Conservative: “Diverse Classics and Whole Persons,” in which he defended the breadth of voices in CCE, and pointed to Ben Merkle's work at the CLT. “There is also disagreement over the scope of classical education. One could quite reasonably limit one’s study to the works of the Western world. After all, this is an inexhaustible store of wisdom that no individual could come close to exploring fully in a lifetime. Yet the great minds of the canon chose the more diverse path.”
A new piece in Law and Liberty is published by Josh Herring of Thales Academy: “What Is the Future of Classical Education?” in which he argues, referencing Freeman's piece, that Hooten Wilson and the others are "opening the movement to the forces that derailed mainstream education a century ago."
Jessica Hooten Wilson responded to Herring's article in Law and Liberty: “Restoration, Not Representation” where she claims to point to discrimination in the past: “But that means we cannot repeat the errors of the past — we cannot limit ourselves to those writers listed by Adler or curated by the first few classical schools in America. We exclude too many people from the invitation to classical education when we refuse to admit certain authors to our canon, which should be dynamic and alive, not static and dead.”
Scott Yenor responds to Hooten Wilson in the American Conservative: “Maintaining a Canon in Woke Times: Jessica Hooten Wilson proposes a revolution in classical Christian education under the guise of restoration.” Yenor points out inconsistencies in what Hooten Wilson claims to believe and what she wrote in previous articles, and he challenges her standard for the Canon. “Hooten Wilson polishes her revolution with a patina of restoration and reform. But as with Greeks bearing gifts, classical Christian educators should scrutinize her intent before opening the gates to her canon.”
Nathan Ristuccia published “Combat rules for a Canon War,” where he nuanced the back and forth and proposed some rules.
Douglas Wilson weighed in with “Fault Lines: The Classical Christian Ed Kind.” In it, Wilson argues that woke will be the death of our movement, if we let it take hold. "What do you get when you make room for feminist sensibilities? For woke nonsense? You get the death of a movement." and “I want to argue that the woke disease is the single greatest threat to the resurgent classical Christian school movement. I regard it as the biggest threat we have faced thus far—and there have been many threats to choose from.” His argument is the most direct and clear of the set, in my opinion.
Colin Redemer wrote in an American Reformer article, “Classical Education and its Discontents,” that Tate's description of CCE of April 14th mischaracterizes Aristotle's view of education — it's not about diversity, but unity in the trunk of theology.
Matthew Freeman is back in the American Conservative with a response to the responses: “Toward a Classical Counter-Elite: An education in hero-worship will aim to produce new heroes.” In it he says “My anti-woke comrade-in-arms, Ben Merkle, goes so far as to say that only Christianity justifies the study of the classical pagans. How? Why? It is not clear. Josh Herring, writing in Law & Liberty, relatedly warns that ‘classical Greece must be tempered by both Christianity and modernity.’” And “Does self-consciously and artificially re-creating a pious and patriotic folk culture count as ‘tempering’ classicism with Christianity and modernity? If so, I will take it, even though sowing and caring for a folk culture is almost the antithesis of what the word ‘classical’ implies.”
UPDATED on 9/21/23:
THE DIVIDE OVER CRT BASED “RACISM”
With the release of “The Black Intellectual Tradition” by Angel Partham and Anika Prather in 2022, the woke-leery among us were curious. As a work exploring the African American subculture’s literature as part of American folk literature, it makes many compelling points. (one reader provided a link to a review in the comments below). The unfortunate title implies “black” as a race? a people? a nation? has a tradition. This might surprise those with black skin in Africa today who know next to nothing of African American culture and have their own traditions. Was TBIT altering the canon based on race? That was unclear. But, a number of CCE schools began doing just that, along with soft compromises for diversity committees or activities like black history month celebrations. These moves were raising yellow, though not yet red flags. The same logic for a special month or intellectual tradition based on the color of one’s skin could lead to…
And, that seems to be where things have lead.
September 2, 2023:
Over the past few years, the Society for Classical Learning, a competitor of the ACCS in the CCE market, has added "kingdom diversity" tracks, speakers who promote "diversity", and they host urban school efforts that often, unfortunately, speak of racial equity when they could just speak about serving the poor. Those in close alliance with the SCL have been interested in distancing from pastor Douglas Wilson because he is too controversial-- in matters of race (falsely accused) and biblical gender roles. Anika Prather, co-author of The Black Intellectual Tradition, is now concerned that the SCL leadership isn’t going far enough.
From this blog post by Anika Prather: "I think of the Society for Classical Learning and how right after George Floyd’s murder, they invited me, Angel Parham, Aaron Howard and others to HAVE THE CONVERSATION. I still am moved by the beautiful time that I had… We were trying to carefully move together in fellowship to have this conversation… Before long, White school leaders who serve diverse communities were chosen to have this conversation and the only way I was welcomed to present is if a White male interviewed me on the stage. I was not welcomed to speak without that supervision or without being segregated to help someone who was asked to lead a pre-conference session (always a White male who had started a school in a diverse community). I do not believe this shift happened out of malice or even racism. I actually believe that the leaders of SCL still want to have the conversation and they want to invite people of color to help lead that effort (and the effort should be joint), but like [America's] Founders feared losing the country, maybe the leaders of SCL feared losing the organization.”
And, in a social media post on LinkedIn, Anika writes regarding a classical Christian conference in Africa in October of 2023:
“We cannot protect efforts that are rooted in White supremacy, even if the hearts of the people are unaware of what is happening… [speaking of RAFIKI, a CCE Africa mission— that used an African symbol, criticized by Anika, seemingly as appropriation] To host a conference where most of the featured speakers are not Black. The one Black speaker is considered to be offensive to many African Americans and who openly attacks very strong Christian Black preachers. Yet this conference is being created to promote what appears to be a very imbalanced effort to bring classical education to the African people. Why aren’t the teachers of these schools in Africa who are also African, invited to speak and FEATURED?”
Of course, the subtext of this criticism is as we could anticipate: race is the definitive measure of whether something is diverse, who can speak, and who and how people engage CCE. This is what critical theory sought— division along lines that were not economic, but that were indelible— our sex and our DNA. This division could then be used to create animosity that could foment revolution against the Western tradition.
ADDITIONAL PIECES that tap on the fringes of the woke issue…
November of 2022: (background)
Jeremy Tate of the Classic Learning Test made a bold and courageous decision to invite Anika Prather and Douglas Wilson onto his popular podcast Anchored, hosted by himself and Chris Perrin of Classical Academic Press. The conversation was between Christian brothers and sisters, and seemed so. Wilson explained a writing of his long ago, and Prather expressed her feelings about the inclusiveness of classical Christian institutions.
Anika Prather and Angel Parham wrote an op ed in the Washington Post titled, “As Black educators, we endorse classical studies” where they repeated CRT talking points about race: “We recognize the vapidity of this debate, which recalls the sometime description of Black people who are Christians as dupes of the ‘White man’s religion’. Has Christianity been identified with Western European colonizers generally described as ‘White’?”
Scott Yenor published in the American Conservative: “A More Sex-Sensitive Classical Christian Education: The Christian and Western traditions offer a refreshing alternative.” Here he argues we are not doing enough in CCE to promote traditional feminine values.
Gregory Soderberg published in The Consortium a review of The Black Intellectual Tradition which was favorable in some respects, but also asked some important questions. (This original is hard to read in the online format).
“It’s not clear to me how it is “inherent” in the classical education philosophy to value all voices. In fact, this seems to contradict one of the central tenets of the classical tradition— that there are works of literature, art, history, philosophy, and theology that are inherently better than others, and that these should be the focus of our studies and our life-long pursuit of wisdom.”
In summary, the two sides are growing apart. The conservative side, on which I sit, believes there is grave danger in adopting critical theory, even when it is presented as a nuanced or kinder, gentler version. On the other, Hooten Wilson and associates are trying to correct the classical Christian model because of its presumed racism and sexism. Their position calls for and will inevitably lead to our acquiescence to the culture's demands.
The "third way" suggested by Hooten Wilson is not really an alternative, but rather a quiet version of acceptable wokeness. We've seen this type of compromise disrupt countless denominations, ministries, Christian publications, and pastors over the years. J. Greshem Machen's Liberalism and Christianity is still the best resource for spotting and rejecting these types of compromise. John O'Sullivan, a speech writer for Margaret Thatcher, asserted his law: "All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing." In his May 15th article, Douglas Wilson attributes an updated version of this from the Hoover institution's Robert Conquest. Hooten Wilson's call for a third way is the same path taken by so many other Christian ministries in recent times, leading to decline and compromise, and the acceptance of whispered lies, disguised as something else.
If you are at a classical Christian school, even one that holds the line on the canon, do not let the cultural Marxist narrative infiltrate your classrooms quietly. Hold to historical integrity, especially as it involves popular talking points like colonialism, slavery, and women's roles. These are the most likely to be distorted (by one side or the other!). Respect the views of authors like Milton or Austen as they characterize sexual differences. Make it clear who you are when you admit new families to your school so that, when the zeitgeist of our age comes calling, you can remind them that you were true to your advertising.
I will leave you with sound advice from Voddie Baucham … written to pastors, but applicable to schools:
“Pastors, I beg you to consider what I have written here. I believe the Church—your church—is under attack. As shepherds, we must defend the sheep. We must repel the wolves. And yes, the wolves are many. However, this one is within the gates and has the worst of intentions. He desires to use your genuine love for the brethren as leverage. Don’t let him! Recognize the difference between the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls you to love all the sheep and the voice of the enemy that tells you some of them are guilty, blind, ignorant oppressors and that others are oppressed—all based on their melanin. Reject cries that take principles and stories of individual restitution (Numbers 5:7; Luke 19) and eisegetically twist them into calls for multi-generational reparations. Reject the cries of those who twist the repentance of Daniel and Ezra 1) on behalf of theocratic Israel and 2) for sin that took place during their lifetime, in an effort to promote multi-generational, ethnic guilt that rests upon all white people by virtue of their whiteness.” ― Voddie T. Baucham Jr., Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism's Looming Catastrophe
Up Next: “The Universal Canon of Great Books, the Value of Works that Speak to Different Groups, and What Goes Where”
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