Bookreview: Mere education

Mark A. Pike. Mere Education: C.S. Lewis as Teacher for our Time.

(Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2013)

The film Shadowlands depicts C S Lewis speaking at ‘the annual conference of the Association of Christian Teachers’. However, since ACT was not founded until 1971 and Lewis had died in 1963, such an occurrence seems unlikely! It is nevertheless true that Lewis was a Christian teacher whose approach to education was deeply influenced by his faith and who would probably have been very much at home speaking at a conference of ACT had it been in existence in his lifetime.

In Mere Education, Mark Pike has given us a clear and well-written account of central themes that he finds in Lewis’s philosophy of education.  He relates these themes to developments in western education in these early decades of the twenty-first century.  His aim in doing so is “to help parents, teachers and leaders to set boundaries so that they can protect schools and schooling from the incoming tide of ideological assumptions that threaten to erode and undermine the wholeness and purity of education” (pp. 11-12).

The book is in four parts, each sub-divided into three short chapters. The chapter subjects are: character education, Christian education and spiritual education (Part 1); liberal education, sex education and biblical education (Part 2); cultural education, citizenship education and democratic education (Part 3); and teacher education, leadership education and future education (Part 4). Each chapter concludes with a helpful  ‘study guide’ consisting of twelve ‘tasks and questions for discussion’.

Mark Pike (and, from what he says, his wife and children) are clearly lovers of the work of Lewis. The book provides abundant evidence of this and of very thorough research not only in Lewis’s own writings but also in those of a number of contemporary writers. The chapters, although relatively short, have an average of over forty footnotes and the bibliography includes over forty books and articles by Lewis and no fewer than two hundred by other writers, of which twenty are from the author’s own pen.

This book makes an original and substantial contribution to the already large volume of research on Lewis’s life and work. With its focus on Lewis as a teacher, it was surely a book waiting to be written and one wonders why nobody had taken on the task before now.  Happily for fans of Lewis and enthusiasts for Christian perspectives on education, Mark Pike has done so and this important book has now appeared, some fifty years after the great man passed away.

Lewis’s view of education as interpreted and applied to the contemporary scene by Mark Pike is clearly deeply influenced by the Christian faith. Having said that, it should be noted that the particular approach that this book takes to “the reclamation of education and schooling” (as the author terms it on p. 12) would not be universally endorsed by contemporary Christian educators. It seems quite close to the ‘Classical Christian Education’ approach which has come to be influential among many Christian home-educators and in some Christian schools. An important inspiration for this approach is an essay by Dorothy L Sayers entitled ‘The Lost Tools of Learning’. Sayers was a contemporary of Lewis at Oxford and Mark Pike notes that Lewis corresponded with her and goes on to give some detail of her ‘tools’ of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) highly regarded in Ancient Greece and in Medieval Europe (p. 57). Lewis has much to teach us about Christian education but we should be aware that there are other Christian ‘teachers for our time’ to whom we should also listen.

John Shortt, Leighton Buzzard

This review was first published in Anvil (, and is published here with their permission.