No emerald set in a band of gold shines brighter or lovelier than a Maine garden in autumn. Each ear of corn, each jewel-like pea is a wonder of perfection. We gather in the harvest under the watchful gaze of sunflowers, each one a second sun in an azure sky.
It was heart-warming to see incoming students from the University of Maine happily gathering in the harvest from a community garden in Orono. The teacher who gave them this introduction to college life was wise indeed, because life is a garden, in which seeds are planted, labor expended and the harvest gathered in, for good or bad. Therein lies the key to how schools can teach the most important lesson of all – how to lead a moral life.
The course of life is like a year, autumn being the season of maturity and completion and the time for asking, “What harvest has my life brought?”
The frailty of man, his vulnerability to physical and moral weakness, prompted the theologian Thomas Aquinas to say, “Most men meet with a bad end.” Yet given the proper conditions, young lives may thrive and yield a good harvest. One does not gather good fruit from a bad tree. That is to say, the proper teachings lead to a good life.
Soil covers the earth, just as each inch of land inhabited by man has its own history and traditions. Nations and individuals are rooted in these traditions, and their lives grow out of this soil.
Water is the moving matrix of life, rising upward with the plant as it grows, always flowing and circulating, sustaining and protecting the life of the plant. Just as water may be pure or impure, the ideas which govern the life of society may be life-enhancing or life-destroying.
Light is the inexhaustible fountain of reason which pours down from above, enabling us to put in proper order each existing belief. The pond lily being different from the cactus, each plant requires the proper combination of soil, water and light, just as each man and nation requires a unique combination of reason, tradition and ideology for optimum growth.
No such formula for life is presented at our public institutions of higher learning. Each life-giving doctrine of Christian civilization is contradicted and refuted. Socialism makes war on private property. Materialism wars on the life of the spirit. The sexual revolution wars on marriage and the family. In the end, the graduate leaves school with a confused muddle of conflicting ideals and theories.
But the test of all theory is practice. America has succeeded magnificently in the realm of matter and material goods but has failed miserably in the realm of the human heart.
We are plagued with rampant crime, high rates of divorce, an unnatural war between the sexes and the world’s highest rate of incarceration. Beauty and right order have died back under a withering blight of disorder, a calamity that is spiritual in nature and not economic or political.
The desire of all young people — the full development of their powers, a pleasant home and a loving spouse, fruition, the next generation — even these may be frustrated by the flawed ideas of our failed society.
If we are to achieve a common core, it will not be achieved through the proposed Common Core State Standards Initiative, or through any form of education that views man as the mere product of economic or evolutionary forces. The common core of mankind is the human soul, which is more in need of a gentle touch than any tender plant. To not discuss man as a spiritual being is to leave man prey to envy, lust, greed and the other sins that blight human existence as surely as drought and storm waste any garden.
To make no effort to guide the human spirit is to leave a garden untilled, until the garden grows rank and filled with dodder, each plant warring against the other, and each generation giving way to plants that are more vigorous, but more vicious, until the garden is finally ruled by the strongest but most pernicious and poisonous weeds.
Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.