his essay on the “Educahon of Children,” Montaigne wanted torndebunk the French schooHng of his da’, and in writing al)outrnthe proper subjects of study, he puts moral studies first, addingrnthis curious aphorism: “Among the liberal arts, let us begin withrnthe art that makes us free.” (“Entre les arts liberaux, commen^rnons par I’art qui nous fait lihres.”) Free from what? fierndoes not say, although the purpose of Montaigne’s essay—of allrnhis essays, in fact—is the type of liberation that has been soughtrnb’ schoolmen throughout this century, and it is worth our effortrnto spend a little time wrestiing w ith this slipperv Frenchman ofrnfive centuries ago.rnMontaigne began his education at home, under a svstemrndevised by an indulgent father who prescribed thatrnnothing but Latin should be spoken in young Michel’s presence.rnBy the age of five or six, he had learned enough to be ablernto read Latin for the rest of his life as if it w ere his motherrntongue. Sent to an ordinar}- school, Michel rebelled against thernroutine and especially against the discipline: “I have alwas dislikedrnthis svstem of discipline in most of our schools. Theyrnmight have erred with less damage on the side of indulgence. Itrnis a eritable jail for imprisoned vouth.”rnLike nearlv all modern educators, Montaigne belieed tliatrnstrict rules and severe punishments were counterproductive,rnand he wanted education to proceed according to the naturalrnbent of the child. He was an early advocate, in other words, ofrn”child-centered” learning, and he would make a science out ofrnchildren’s games, which “arc not games,” he said, and “have tornbe judged as their most serious activities.” What Montaignernfailed —or refused—to consider is the basic purpose of education,rnwhich is not to stuff information into children’s heads orrneven to teach them Latin. “The end.” as Caldcr Willinghamrnexpressed it in the titie of the onl real nocl eer written aboutrnthe Citadel, “is a man.”rnMontaigne agreed that the purpose of studying was notrnpedantr)’ but character development, but like many social parvenusrn(his father was descended from a long line of increasinglyrnwealthy merchants; his mother was a Protestant of SpanishrnJewish background), he was more concerned with being a genriemanrnthan with being merely a man, much less a good man.rnAll healthy and successful cultures have been aggressiveK irile:rnAthens almost as much as Sparta, the Hebrews of Joshua’s timernand the Romans of the early republic, medieval Europe andrnmedieal Japan, frontier .America.rnTo produce the tough and resolute men who create, sustain,rnand defend civilization requires a discipline that more eioseh’rnresembles Parris Lland than the Fantas’ Island schooling inrnAmerica that leaves no whim unfulfilled, no icious tendenc-rnunstimulated. Imposing academic rigor and tough disciplinernma’ be the most difficult challenge faced by homcsehoolingrnparents, even those less indulgent than Michel’s father—in mvrnown case, I have to confess to complete fiiilure.rnTo make the process of learning ea,sv and “fun” has been thernobject of educational reformers for tlie past se eral centuries.rnWalter Scott complained of this tendency in his own day, w arningrnthat, if children are taught to regard learning as a game, the’rnwill rebel against anv learning which is ncccssariK serious.rnMontaigne was too dense even to learn from his own experience.rnLearning I ,atin as a native language, he never had to slogrnthrough day after dav of rote memorization of oeabu!ar- andrngrammatical paradigms. As a result, when the time came forrnhim to learn Creek, as he confesses, he made no headway—norrnwith an’ otiicr demanding subject.rnWell, there is no harm in a gentieman not know ing Creek,rnhe would sa, but Montaigne’s indulged childhood had morernserious consequences. His father, in the belief that childrenrnshoidd not be startled first thing in the morning, had him awakenedrnto music, and there is a luxurious, cowardly streak thatrnruns through Michel’s life. As nunor, he refused to return tornBordeaux when plague broke out in the cih. A pardonable offense,rnperhaps, but he was a weak sensualist in otiier matters. Inrnhis essay “On Experience,” he confesses that his sexual activihrnbegan so earh’ tiiat he could not remember when he had e’errnbeen chaste, and the dirt’ little stain running tiiroughout hisrnwritings is an obsession with talking about sex, describing hisrnbowel movements, and referring offliandedK’ to urination.rnw here was the Inquisitionrnwhen we needed it?rnMontaigne had, quite simph, a dirt}’ mind that he wanted tornsliare with the world. It was wrong, he tlionght, to shield cliildrenrnfrom the fticts of life. Even in dissipation, he savs, the modelrnstudent should outdo his comrades, and the ideal sage (as hernobsercs in “On Experience”) should be as well ersed in thernmsteries of Venus and Bacclurs as in other areas of life. Phis isrnnot the robust paganism of the ancient wodd, but the sh” andrndrooling neopaganism that dares not confront Christianit^ exceptrnw itii a sneer and a lie.rnMontaigne spent his whole life alternateh’ undermining thernChurch’s authority and ingratiating himself w ith those who exercisedrnit. Een the Catholic Encyclopedia takes his deathbedrnHieatrieal dispkn scriousK —or pretends to. Perhaps he was serious.rnIt is not for us to judge, but 1 hae more confidence in thernconversion of the combatixe atiieist tiian in the professions of arnlifelong hypocrite who feigned obedience w bile insinuafing thernpoison of infidclit’ into the mainstream of French cultural life.rnShelle, it has been thought, might ha’e beconre a Christian,rnhad he lived longer. Montaigne could hae outiivcd Draeularnand still died with a sneer.rnIf Christianity- were superstitious bigotr, compared with thernwisdom of Socrates and Plutarch, tiicn tire civilization of Christendomrnwould be a barbaric deiation from the true path of enlightenment.rnThis is preciseK- the position Montaigne takes inrnone of his most significant essas, “On the Cannibals,” wherernhe sli- undermines tiie monarcln, the Church, and France itselfrnb comparing them with tire Latin American saages whornare ph)sicall-superior to Europeans and inferior in no other res|rn3ect.rnMontaigne ma liave been die first important multiculturalistrnin Europe, and his feigned preference for saages he hadrnmerel seen witiiout know ing was only a plo — just as his intellectualrndescendants in .American universities prate about culturalrndiersih’ without ever learning the languages or cultures ofrnother nations. “On the Cannibals” is not a singular outburst:rnI lis contempt for Christendom is a recurrent theme. In “OnrnExperience,” for example, he preaches a doctrine of cultural di-rn-crsit- and human ariabilit) that would have delighted MargaretrnMead. Mer a summan- of tire strange things other peoplerndo, Montaigne concludes: “Each nation has man’ customs andrnhabits that are not onh- not known, but seem savage and bizarrernSEPTEMBER 2000/11rnrnrn