Not cool, C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair begins in a fictional school called Experiment House. The school is obviously based on ‘modern’ or ‘progressive’ schools along the lines of the real life Summerhill.

In Experiment House, children are allowed to do as they like. In the book, this inevitably leads to institutionalized bullying, which isn’t punished because the Head sees them as interesting psychological cases.

Incidentally, Lewis also seems to see boys and girls attending the same school, and a female Head, as signs of a school gone mad.

However, my main problem with the thesis that ‘modern’ schooling = bullying is that Lewis himself went to the most traditional kinds of schools, and suffered bullying there.

This post points out that Lewis called his old school, Wynard, ‘Belsen’, after the Nazi concentration camp. The headmaster of this school was actually eventually criminally charged and sent to an insane asylum.

He then moved to another school which used the British system of fagging: that is, older boys being able to give orders to younger boys. This system was associated with abuse, which was generally ignored or even approved of. In some cases (though apparently not Lewis’) it went as far as rape.

For a relatively recent example of the culture of abuse in the most ‘traditional’ schools, see this article.

So Lewis must have known that thesis he presented in The Silver Chair, that bullying was associated with then-modern methods of education, was the opposite of the truth.

He seems to have lied for ideological reasons: that is, because he associated ‘modern schooling’ with skepticism about Christianity.

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4 thoughts on “Not cool, C.S. Lewis

  1. “However, my main problem with the thesis that ‘modern’ schooling = bullying is that Lewis himself went to the most traditional kinds of schools, and suffered bullying there.”

    So the presence of bullying in traditional schools proves that “modern” schooling do not equal bullying? It could be that bullying is an aspect inherent in institutional schools of the traditional and modern schools, and that C.S. Lewis’ criticism of the latter doesn’t necessarily translate into an endorsement of the former?

    • He doesn’t specifically say that there’s no, or less, bullying at conventional schools, but I certainly think he intended to imply it.

      He does directly say that the bullying at Experiment House happens because the children are allowed to do what they want. And he clearly intends this freedom to be the distinctive feature of the place, and hence of ‘modern’ schools.

      I certainly took it that way when I first read the book as a child.

      If I say that “there’s a culture of bullying in boarding schools”, I haven’t literally said that boarding schools are worse than other schools. But I think most people would assume that that was my intention (both people who agreed with the statement, and people who disagreed with it).

      Similarly, if someone said “white people are hateful”, and when accused of racism said “well, I never said any other race wasn’t hateful”, I don’t think that would be accepted, even though it’s literally correct.

  2. Huh. I was never a fan of CS Lewis but I know he some seriously regressive views (see: The Screwtape Letters). I think you are right, it is a mind under the yoke of an ideology that doesn’t care about facts or evidence.

    • I find it a great shame, because he’s often very insightful about other people’s intellectual dishonesty.

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