The Miseducation of Eustace Scrubb
It is not especially difficult to imagine a classroom in which Eustace Clarence Scrubb, a character in C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, might be considered a very good student. Eustace likes to read, provided the books in question are sufficiently informative, and he’s curious about the natural world, at least so long as specimens are presented to him dead and pinned on cards. He’s precociously familiar with literary terms such as “assonance,” and when he finds himself on an unexpected adventure, he has the initiative to keep a journal, repurposing the notebook he carries in his pocket at all times in order to keep a careful record of his school marks. Above all, Eustace is a critical thinker, unwilling to be taken in by paintings, stories, or the supposed virtues of other people.
As readers of The Dawn Treader know, however, Eustace Scrubb is insufferable. He is selfish and cowardly and cruel - a “record stinker,” according to his cousin Edmund (who ought to know). Arrogant and unwilling to recognize the wisdom of others, Eustace is a danger to himself and his companions aboard ship. But even when he is more of a nuisance than a risk, there is something pitiable and impoverished about him. While smart and studious Eustace may check a great many legitimate academic boxes, it is clear to his companions (and to the reader) that his education thus far has left him lacking qualities that would enable him not only to face adversity at sea, but also to enjoy friendship, delight in a beautiful world, and long to know that world’s creator, Aslan.
Poor Eustace's reading about the natural and human world has somehow not equipped him to greet new places and people with anything but disgust and fear. His fastidious sense of order and decorum have far more to do with securing his own comfort than with honouring other people. And an impoverished imagination has left him with affections that are ill-equipped to respond in love either to his companions, or to Aslan. It is clear that Eustace’s deficiency lies not so much in what he knows, but in what and how he loves. He lacks what Augustine calls the “ordo amoris,” the proper ordering of the affections.
When our affections are properly ordered, we love what we ought to love in the right measure, and in the right way. As Christians, we look to Christ to understand what it means to have loves that are rightly ordered:
"Teacher," asks the lawyer in Matthew chapter 30, "which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
Christ the Teacher answers: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Education undertaken in light of this great double commandment has an objective that cannot be guaranteed by any curriculum or measured by any test: the making of people better able to love God and our neighbours. The aim of Christian education is the proper ordering of our loves in accordance with this great commandment of Love.
At its best, Eustace’s schooling has fostered a love of knowledge. It has given him a critical disposition, and has likely laid the foundation for a future career. But the education of Eustace Scrubb has not formed him to be a creature capable of obeying the great commandment of Love - the commandment to love God and his neighbour. In teaching Eustace to value power and comfort (and thus himself) above all else, Eustace’s teachers and parents have participated in a kind of deformation. They have worked against the proper ordering of his affections, and even his good loves have become sickly as a result.
By the mercy of Aslan, Eustace receives a new education in Narnia. It is a wonderful though painful education, and a humanizing one, because it enables Eustace to be the truly human creature he was created to be. We cannot claim, at St. Timothy’s, to offer our students anything like a Narnian experience. We do hope and pray, however, that their time with us will serve them well as they learn to order their affections and become ever more obedient to the great commandment of Love.
Emily Martin is the Grade 2 homeroom teacher, and teaches Grade 3 writing at St. Timothy's Classical Academy. She also lectures in Western Literature at Augustine College, Ottawa.