All education programs enculturate students. There is no neutrality here. The question is not whether education will form our students, but how they will be formed. Proverbs (22:6) says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Any curriculum and set of standards will base itself on certain ideas about the nature of the human person, how persons are shaped, and what kind of person society needs.
As we approach the new academic year, we, like Sisyphus, are condemned to roll the rock up the hill only for it to roll back down. However, this does not have to be a meaningless task – we can escape the absurdity of our condition. We give ourselves meaning by following either the dogmatist, the activist, or the healer.
Donnelly’s scope of transformation may seem like an impossible undertaking, yet even if it is not possible for everyone to achieve the level of faith integration suggested here, anyone can still benefit by choosing particular areas for improvement.
The 1619 Project states that its purpose is to remember the history of slavery and racism that American schools have sometimes tried to forget. But mostly it teaches students the wrong way to go about remembering. It abuses remembering to promote forgetting America’s history of reconciliation and unity on race, so as to frame the nation’s identity as irredeemably stained and systemically, irreparably flawed.
We academics unfortunately often fall into the trap of pride (particularly of the self-involved, self-satisfying, institutional kind), and hence a humbling such as this conference delivered was probably much needed. I have a Christian duty, as an educator and as a member of a Christian community, to think systematically about how I can live up, as a teacher and scholar, to the values of inclusion and equality
Reviving campus newspapers and radio stations and student-led clubs, and putting resources behind them, could create more space for speech, help foster campus community, and model a level of comfort with differing views. The classroom may still need adjustment, but antagonistic wrangling with, or under the gaze of, professors is not the path to enlightenment.
Montás deserves great credit for illuminating the perverse priorities of American higher education throughout Rescuing Socrates. It must be admitted, however, that the book suffers from occasional missteps. A fuller engagement with the history of the liberal arts than Montás musters would have enriched the book.
Fran Liebowitz suggests that “a book isn’t supposed to be a mirror, it’s supposed to be a door.” Universities are the same. They are not meant to simply reflect the times and trends. They are intended to open doors to existing knowledge and doors to a reimagined future.
Life is ambiguous, murky, rife with situations that elude dogma’s capture. When the seas get rough, however, our tolerance of this is one of the first things hucked overboard. For example: have we felt into what it’s like to be a five-year-old walking into school in the morning?
The imagined student’s intentions are honorable: to promote racial justice. But when the conversation begins, she has already set herself against the teacher and the course. The task of the teacher is to encourage her pursuit of justice while showing that the Great Books are not enemies, but allies. If this can be done, the student and teacher may even realize the same about each other.