C.S. Lewis had a privileged education: he attended private schools, had personal tutoring, and graduated from a great university. He enjoyed the benefits of parents who read widely and encouraged him to do the same. Despite all of his advantages, Lewis saw education quite differently than some of his peers, who were more interested about social status than educating the common person.
Lewis was not elitist. For example, his advice to Sarah (his godchild) was practical. His counsel about language was that someone was not either “good” or “bad” at them and if she ever wanted to read something badly that wasn’t in English “you’ll find you can learn a foreign language all right.” To someone named Joan he gave some hints on writing:
Make sure you know what you mean and use clear language to say so
Prefer plain direct words to long, vague ones
Don’t use abstract nouns if concrete ones will do
Don’t use adjectives instead of telling something about the item
Don’t use words too big for the subject, e.g. “infinitely” when you mean “very”
In “Men without Chests,” Lewis gives a critical and negative review of a small book on English intended for upper grade high school students. He said, “The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called “Men without Chests.” He thought it an outrage that such people should be spoken of as Intellectuals because it gives them the chance to say that those who attacks them attack Intellectuals. “Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.” He also makes a valid and important note about translation: “If you are to translate from a language which has a large vocabulary into a language that has a small vocabulary, then you must be allowed to use several words in more than one sense.”
Lewis asked another provocative question “Is English doomed? “Not quite—the “death-warrant is not yet signed, but it has been made out.” Despite all the great things written about and in English, he believes the “Board of Education... [is] resolved to sink us.” However, the public should be made aware of what is going on. Does that sound current and familiar?
Joel D. Heck, in his book Irrigating deserts: C.S. Lewis on education. (2006): reviews Lewis as teacher, Oxford Fellow, at Cambridge and his role as tutor and lecturer; Chapter 10 outlines a several lessons we can learn from Lewis:
He taught students to think creatively—the purpose of learning
He demonstrated the role of questioning, encouraging and commitment
He demonstrated teaching, scholarship and service
He wrote in favor of the liberal arts and objective truth
Louis Markos In his book, Lewis Agonistes: How C.S. Lewis can train us to wrestle with the modern and postmodern world, challenges readers: “It is my firm belief that if Christians of today are to make full use of Lewis’s legacy in taking up the specific challenges of their moment in history, then they will need a resource that does three basic things: 1) explains in lay terms exactly what the challenges in modernity-postmodernity are and how these challenges surface in various areas; 2) forges the arguments, illustrations and overall vision of the fictional and nonfictional writings of C.S. Lewis into weapons with which the Christian can do battle 3) encourages and enables its readers to become participants themselves in the agon, or wrestling match of the twenty-first century” (xii).
“The word 'mere', used in the title of Mark A. Pike’s book Mere education: C.S. Lewis as teacher for our time, has as its sense the Middle English meaning 'nothing less than, complete'. Pike supports C.S. Lewis’ belief in the role of educators and has written his book to show how we might go about it so that 'the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isaiah 35:1).
Carolyn Keefe (in the Encyclopedia) notes several items concerning Lewis’s view of education:
He disliked the continual changing variety and depth of subjects added to the curriculum
He believed that values should be taught to the students
He believed the laws and duties common to cultures for centuries should be passed on
He foresaw the government power to issue directives about education and a lowering of educational standards
He was not fond of vocational studies to provide mental and spiritual growth
He believed English would be (and was) taught by those not really qualified
Again, throughout Lewis’s writings we see the prophetic nature of his comments about education, and we should take note.