Milton opposed the leading humanities teachers of his day, the “monsieurs of Paris [who] take our hopeful youth into their slight and prodigal custodies and send them over back again transformed into mimics, apes, and kickshaws.” In general, that’s what the presidents of Duke, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, George Washington, Amherst, NYU, University of Miami, and Cornell—all members of the AAAS commission—do.
The goal of education, Milton wrote, should be “to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him.” Milton wanted professors to train students “in the knowledge of virtue and the hatred of vice [by] infusing into their young breasts such an ingenuous and noble ardor, as would not fail to make many of them renowned and matchless men.” The heart of the matter is to help our grinch-like hearts, through God’s grace, to grow at least two sizes.
Milton derided the medieval practice of presenting to young students “the most intellective abstractions of logic and metaphysics.” He proposed “beginning with arts most easy”; that is to say, those “most obvious to the sense”—only after learning to observe well “sensible things” would students move on to study “things invisible.” The heart of the matter is to start low on the ladder of abstraction, minimizing abstract theorizing.
Milton emphasized induction over deduction, and put rhetoric and logic at the end of the curriculum, not the beginning. He wanted students to study God’s creations throughout the week, and spend evenings and Sundays “in the highest matters of theology, and church history ancient and modern.” The heart of the matter, Milton knew, is to learn about God’s world and so learn about Him.