The “Preacher” in the book of Ecclesiastes is adamant about there being “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). Yet, the whole of humanity, or so it seems, only sits up and pays attention at the promise of something new. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly are introduced to new i-phones with some regularity, and every fall without fail new car models are unveiled in Detroit. Fashions are renewed every season, and some of us can hardly wait to see each season’s new look on the runways or in stores. No, I think it is unlikely the wise Preacher doubted the progressive nature of invention; rather, he speaks of something deeper.
What is not new, you see, is our desire for something new. That desire is indicative of the human condition, and the Preacher seems to doubt that humans will get over it. When he says there is nothing new under the sun, he means that the hearts of Adam and Eve are still beating in us today. Make no mistake, for all who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ they are regenerated hearts; still, they are of the sort that dwell on evil continually and will, day-in-and-day-out, make Adam-and Eve-like mistakes in spite of our Lord and Savior. We haven’t changed a bit. Trust the Preacher—there is nothing new under the sun.
If man hasn’t changed since the dawn of his creation, doesn’t it seem as though he ought to know himself really well by now? Maybe not. Remember, we long for the new, and so much so that we spurn the old, yet the only way to know ourselves is to embrace the old, to look backwards, to learn from our fathers’ fathers. To do that we must go to the old stories and learn of the great men and women who have gone before us, from their failures as well as their successes. What we find there is that the trials and struggles man has faced, his reaction to them, his succumbing to or overcoming them transcend time. Their trials are our trials. The issues of the heart are the same in them as in us. There is everything for us to learn about ourselves from them.
But progressive education doesn’t have much use for the old stories.
We are living in an age that has cast off what it might call the burdensome prescriptives of its forbears so it can run footloose. It fancies itself free of the constraints of the past. It has eschewed the transcendent norms that can be learned from the men and women who were authors or characters of the old stories in the name of what it believes to be personal liberty. What a cruel joke. We are a people more enslaved now than ever before, enslaved to our own selfish and destructive desires. And the modern education system has made it all possible by pitching out the old stories in favor of the progressive view—looking ahead instead of behind.
We ought to know better. And if we knew the old stories and how they turned out, we would know better. If we embraced the lessons from Odysseus and Penelope, asked ourselves what we might do if we were in their place, we would know ourselves better than we do. If we suffered with Job, were brave with Esther, resolved like Hector, who bore up at last to fight the good fight even though the outcome was all but certain, finally we would know ourselves. These are the men and women that we ought to be. When we know them intimately, we know that we can be them. If we don’t know them because we don’t know the old stories, it is unlikely we will ever measure up to them, and therefore, we inevitably become something that is unrecognizable in human history until recently. You don’t believe me? Watch the news.
Classical schools often get a bad rap for spending too much time in old books and not enough time on STEM like most progressive schools do. I say give me a young man or woman who knows what it means to be a responsible citizen of heaven and earth because he has learned the norms of being human and his or her math and science will be the stronger for it. Education is formative, and what we ought to be forming is good human beings, not automatons. The role the school plays in that formation cannot be overstated. Rather than focusing on turning out cogs for the country’s economic engine, the school ought to be turning out the kind of men and women who can save the country that is currently on a runaway rocket ship careening toward hell. At this moment, I don’t want to know what a mathematician with no soul is going to do about it; I want a man like Pericles or Odysseus or Jesus at the helm. Where is he?! Better start reading the old stories, friends, because there’s nothing new under the sun.