Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Teaching and Being Taught

James v. Schall, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. ST. Augustine's Press, 2016. 194 pages. ISBN 978-1-57831-182-6

I am always interested when a new book by Father Schall comes out. I have been reading his books for over 15 years. He has written over thirty books, and I have read most of them if not all of them. Some of them, I have read multiple times. I have never been disappointed in reading a book by Schall and I was not disappointed in reading his new book, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. Docilitas is a Latin word that means being teachable. Schall writes, "the emphasis should be on one's openess, on one's delight, in being taught" (6). This book contains sixteen chapters, each of these chapters were lectures Schall delivered at different colleges and universities. Some of the titles are: "Knowledge is not owned," "Patron Saint of Teachers," "Questions Proper to the University," "Reading without Learning," "What Makes Liberal Education 'Liberal'?, "Aquinas and the Life of the Mind," "What Must I Read to be Saved," and "Seneca on Personal Libraries." Docilitas is a good companion to some other books Schall wrote on teaching and learning: Another Sort of Learning, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs,  and The Life of the Mind.

In the introduction, Schall asserts, "Undergraduate and most graduates on leaving school in the springtime, are not really old enough to know what fully goes on within them" (16). One is not educated after receiving a college education. Aristotle said youth itself is an obstacle to learning. Both Schall and Mortimer Adler both have said that one cannot be educated till after fifty. The best that a college education can do is to provide the tools of learning and a minimum knowledge of general learning that the student can go on learning once they leave school and if they continue this learning, they have a good chance of being a general education human being. The student, however, needs an introduction to learning. Schall believes the professor exists "to facilitate the first reading" of a great work. A great work is not really read if it is only read once. College gives the student a beginning on the road of knowledge. Schall states, "We thus must wonder about the difference between knowledge, information, and wisdom" (30). One wonders if many even realize a difference between the three. Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom. The end of education should be wisdom.

The author makes some good points in his chapter on, "What Makes Liberal Education 'Liberal'?" Schall notes, "Ultimately, I think, what is 'liberal' about liberal education is the awareness that our minds are measured by reality. Truth is, as Aquinas said, the conformity of mind with what is" (99). The truth of things is an important emphasis in all of Schall's writings. We might not learn the truth of things in the modern academy. Sometimes, we will study the important truths outside of the academy. Liberal, basically, means the freeing arts. The arts that enable us to pursue the truth of things. We must also have good moral habits to pursue the truth of things.

Schall, in "Aquinas and the Life of the Mind" states that Aquinas was the only saint canonized for his thinking? Does this suggest the importance the Catholic church puts on thinking. Schall asserts that Aquinas is "most famous for his defense of ordinary things along with our natural ability to know them and speak in our words to indicate what they are. We can and do, like Adam name things, whereby we can communicate with one another about the reality that surrounds us, the reality within us" (103-104). Thomas Aquinas is a great thinker and he is worth reading. Thomas supports both the life of the mind and the spiritual life or the life of faith. Schall states, "To be able to understand and explain a text, as it stands, not as we would like it to stand, must be the beginning of any true education" (105). The ability to read and understand a book is a great skill. It is falsely thought that once you learn to read that you now have the skill of reading which is not true. There is a big difference between beginning to read and the skill to be able to read almost anything and to understand it. We grow as a reader by reading things over our head. Schall asserts, "There is no intellectual pleasure, I think, quite like reading and understanding even one article in the works of Thomas Aquinas. To learn to do so is worth your whole college career" (106). Schall likes to say that you do not have a college education if you have not reading Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. I believe he is correct.

Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught is a great book on teaching and learning. It teaches us how to be the right kind of learner. It provides guidance on how to continue learning our whole life. It tells us how to discern the wrong kind of teachers. In other words, it is classic Schall.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Choose a Catholic Education?

Mark W. Roche, The Intellectual Appeal of Catholicism and the Idea of a Catholic University. University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. 51 pages. ISBN 0-268-01196-6

"One of the strengths of Catholicism is that it has always been a great defender of reason in religious belief, of the attempt to show that belief in God is a rational belief, and that religious belief is more rational than any atheistic alternative. In his recent encyclical Fides et ratio ("Faith and Reason"), Pope John Paul II made a very interesting point when he noted the irony that it is now the Church who is among the foremost defenders of reason and truth, of the objectivity of knowledge, of common sense, whereas many times throughout history those who claimed to defend reason and truth ridiculed the Church for being on the side of superstition and myth. The Catholic Church, in particular, has always insisted on a significant role for reason in religious belief and in theology. It has always defended the view that faith and reason are compatible--that the truths of faith are compatible with reason, and, more significantly, that religious faith is a rational response to the ultimate mystery of the universe and of human life. The Catholic Church has great resources to defend its worldview and its philosophy of the human person against secular opposition and criticism. This is one of the reasons the Catholic Church is much disliked by many intellectuals--because it represents a serious rational alternative to their worldview, and hence is a threat to their worldview."
--Brendan Sweetman, "A Rational Approach to Religious Belief"

"It is not a small thing, either, to turn your back on two thousand years of rational thinking and hard work and science and art and the Judeo-Christian tradition."
--Walker Percy

I like Roche's title: The Intellectual Appeal of Catholicism and the Idea of a Catholic University. This review will attempt to ask at least two questions: What is a Catholic University and Why choose a Catholic University? What motivated me to ask these questions is that my daughter is considering attending a Catholic University next year. So, I have weighed the pros and cons in my own head for why should a Protestant attend a Catholic University. Many Protestants and others are attracted to Catholic universities. Why?

Previously, I wrote a review on Why Choose the Liberal Arts by the same author. Mark Roche was Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. He is currently Professor of German Language and Literature and Professor of Philosophy. The author's book is ecumenical, in the sense, he points out the positive contributions made by Secular, Protestant, and Catholic Universities.

Roche in this essay seeks to clarify the mission of a catholic university. Why does it exist? He states that many Protestant universities "have divested themselves of their Christian heritage, the Catholic university has become one of the few places where religious scholarship can truly flourish alongside secular scholarships" (5). Some Protestants seem to think the church fell at the end of the New Testament period and did not come into being till the Reformation. Maybe, this is the reason some Protestants tend to neglect Christian history before the reformation. For example, it bothers me extremely when Protestants make blanket condemnations of the Middle Ages by calling it the Dark Ages. It seems the real dark ages is modern times.

The author states that Catholic universities emphasize liberal arts education. He believes that Catholicism "enriches" the liberal arts experience. In addition, "religion brings to the liberal arts ideal a strong existential component" (6). Both values and "existential aspirations shapes intellectual inquiry" at Catholic universities. A second main point is that "religion is not separated from the curriculum or from scholarship but is fully integrated into both areas" (7). In other words, faith and religion is not an add-on to the curriculum. However, these things are not the main aspects of what differentiates Catholic Universities from other universities. Roche there are four main characteristics of a Catholic University: universalism, sacramental vision, elevation of tradition and reason, and its emphasis on the unity of knowledge.

First, the author emphasizes the communal aspect of Catholicism verses modern individualism. Roche asserts that Catholicism "elevates to an unusual degree the embeddedness of the individual within a collective identity. Catholic students, therefore, may find it easy to identify with larger institutions and with tradition" (11). There seems to be an overemphasis on the individual in Protestantism and the secular university. The author argues, "America has been fertile ground for the Protestant elevation of individuality. Indeed, individuals and autonomy are distinguishing dimensions of American culture" (12). There is a tendency to put loyalty to the American religion of democracy over Christianity.

Catholic Christianity recognizes the equality of persons before God. From this belief, the concept of "universal human rights" were developed were developed by Christianity "with its emphasis on the dignity of the individual and the value of the common good. This concept and the concomitant obligations toward other persons, especially the underprivileged and underserved, are the inspiration behind the scholarly focus on social justice issues, including issues of poverty and development, that we find in Catholic universities" (12-13). Individual human rights must be balanced with the common good. Jesuit institutions, for example, emphasize service to others as part of the mission of the Catholic university.

The second characteristic of the Catholic university is a sacramental vision "that finds God in and through the world; correspondingly, it upholds the innate dignity of every human being and argues for the binding nature of the moral law"(18-19). The creation witnesses to God's being. The author contrasts different parts of this emphasis with Protestant views. Some Protestants think of God "as wholly other; in contrast, the Catholic emphasize the "presence of God in reality." Even when Catholics "rightly stress that the mystery of God is inexhaustible, there is a greater optimism about our ability to make discoveries about God" (19). For example, the Catholic position is that the existence of God can be proven by reason. The author states that Protestants tend to emphasize the fallenness of humans. For example, the teaching that states the total depravity of man. Roche argues, "Protestants tend to be skeptical of the view that through human inquiry we can approach the knowledge of God. The Catholic position argues that divine truth, beauty, and goodness are reflected in this world and that effects of original are not so severe as to prevent humans from knowing this reflection and through such knowledge, coming closer to God" (19). One is reminded of Thomas Aquinas' statement that grace perfects nature.

Two teachings emphasized by Catholic Christianity are the incarnation and the trinity. Roche asserts, "The Catholic tradition seeks to celebrate both of the defining features of Christianity: the incarnation, or God's entering the world as a human being, which gives rise to the sacramental vision of Catholicism; and the trinity, including not not only the concept of God as a relation or community, but also the idea that the Holy Spirit infuses the world with divinity in ways that extend beyond the singular appearance of Christ" (20). In addition, these beliefs argue for the importance of studying about God's world. Catholicism emphasizes both transcendence and  immanence, God is both in the world and above the world. This balanced position contrasts with "two mirroring elements of modernity: the secular tendency to see only immanence and no higher meaning in the world, and the Protestant tendency to project meaning beyond this world and so, by a different route, to divest this world of its higher meaning" (20). Basically, in my Protestant tradition we were taught that the only world that mattered was in the next life, heaven. In addition, we were taught that the only reason God leaves us here is to win souls.

The sacramental vision also teaches about the moral law that is open to reason and how the different disciplines reveal God. Roche states, "The Catholic intellectual sees the moral law as independent of human invention and as sacred. At the same time, it can be discovered via reason and is tested by argument; it not need not simply on faith" (21). This is important in a disoriented age. The sacramental view argues for the importance of the different disciplines in the university. The author argues that "Biology, chemistry, and physics give us windows onto the divine structure of reality" (21). In other words, there are natural revelation and special revelation. Ultimately, these two books do not conflict. The social sciences provide important knowledge about humans and society. Roche states, "the customs, institutions, and interaction of human beings have a hidden wisdom, which we are invited to explore through the social sciences" (22). In addition, the sacramental vision "ennobles the arts" (22). The arts, like the sacraments, "Not only gives us a window onto the transcendent, it leaves us with a sense of mystery and multivalence" (23). Art is also "inexhaustible".

The third characteristic of the Catholic university is the "elevation of tradition and reason" (25). Roche asserts, "Through the centuries Roman Catholicism has placed great emphasis on philosophical argument and historical tradition. Instead of basing its claims solely on the Scriptures, it has attended to the philosophical development of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit" (25). This is another area where Catholicism and Protestantism differ from each other. Protestants tend to emphasize individual, private interpretations of scripture. They also promote the Bible "as the singular source of religious wisdom" (25). I have thought often about this difference over the years. It seems like that some Protestants think of the Bible as an exhaustive revelation. That it speaks on every possible issue in life. For example, I pulled this book off the shelf: Politics: According to the Bible: A comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem. The author of this book is a research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary. I do not know if he has any degrees in Political Science, but it seems to imply that one can be a theologian and discuss the issues of a particular discipline solely from a knowledge of the Bible. I mean no disrespect to Grudem. I just want to show how Catholics and Protestants think of this issue differently.

There are four consequences to the elevation of reason and tradition. First, philosophy and theology "have always played central roles in the Catholic Church." For example, students at Catholic Universities are required to take both philosophy and theology courses. In the past, I think they were required to take more philosophy courses than they do now. Spring Hill College in Mobile requires their students to take eighteen hours of philosophy and theology. In contrast, at evangelical Christian colleges, the students are required to take multiple courses on the Bible. This just shows a different emphasis by Evangelical and Catholic schools. I used Evangelical, instead of Protestant because. many Protestant colleges require little if any Bible, philosophy, or theology courses.

A second consequence of elevating reason and tradition "suggests that the Catholic intellectual is eager to learn from other traditions and new perspectives" (27). The Catholic view of the value of all persons lead a Catholic university to welcome persons of diverse faiths" (27). Catholic universities believe other views can complement the Catholic university. Roche writes, "Such a university gladly embraces those who, with intelligence and respect, can challenge and complement the Catholic character of an institution" (27). An example of this is the Medieval scholars "from the three great montheistic religion who so elevated reason that they sought out competing traditions in order to see what was of value in them and to ask how these might relate to their own" (27). It seems the willingness of the Catholic university to entertain other views strengthens the education of the college student. Catholic universities practice religious and intellectual freedom and allows room for students to develop their own views. Roche writes, "A great Catholic university pursues alternative positions either to ensure that its own positions measure up to reason, or to adjust them accordingly. The Catholic university challenges its students in ways that requires them to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic tradition and to confront Catholic values with other religious values and with contemporary cultural values" (27). This encourages dialogue and respecting the views of others.

A third consequence of emphasizing tradition, "the Catholic Church gives us a rich array of intellectual and artistic works to study" (28). The student finds at a Catholic university great respect "for artistic creations and the wisdom of the ages" (28). The Catholic church was often a patron of the arts. The study of law at Catholic universities "has drawn considerably on the natural law tradition in order to shed light on modern dilemmas" (28). This emphasis on the wisdom of the past enables the student to discuss with others the great achievements of the past.

A fourth consequence of the emphasis of tradition and reason is that the Catholic university "cannot shy away from philosophy and science, as they lead to unexpected insights" (29). The Catholic university believes that truth will "prevail". This is the reason that the Catholic university emphasizes academic freedom. Academic freedom can originate from the Protestant emphasis on the autonomy of the individual; but, it can also arise "from the Catholic elevation of truth as that which is best discovered by our having listened carefully to all possible solutions" (30). We discover truth in conversation with others. The Catholic tradition gives the student a foundation in their search for truth.

The last characteristic of the Catholic university is its emphasis on the unity of knowledge. Roche asserts, "The modern secular university has become 'an intellectual department store', a 'multiversity', where disciplines develop side by side and scholars pursue independent pursuits with no connection or overarching purpose" (34). In other words, in the modern university you have fragmentation, instead of the unity of knowledge. The author writes, "The Catholic tradition, inspired by the concept of the unity of knowledge, seeks in contrast to cultivate meaningful and integrative thought across the disciplines and argues that morality is not one sphere separate from the others but that it infuses all spheres: one can and should ask moral questions of architecture, art, business, engineering, law, politics, science, society, even religion" (34). It does seem the Catholic university is able to counteract the modern fragmentation of knowledge dominant in the secular university. The idea that truth is one is a belief that has been held in the Catholic church throughout its history. It includes that all truth is from God, and truth is truth, no matter where it is found.

Christopher Dawson, in his book, The Crisis of Western Education, highlighted some of the problems of modern education: utilitarianism, careerism, specialization, and the expanse of the state over all areas of society. A major solution to this crisis Dawson argued was to introduce"the study of Christian culture as an objective historical reality into the curriculum of university studies." Mark Roche has given us four characteristics of the Catholic university: its universalism, its sacramental vision, its elevation of tradition and reason, and its emphasis on the unity of knowledge. It seems that Dawson's solution can work in the Catholic university, but it can also work in universities willing to institute a Christian studies program as an academic discipline. 



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Part 5

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

This is the last part of my review of the excellent book, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? This is the second time I read it and I believe I like it better on the second reading. I assume there are so many good points in the book it requires a second reading to take it all in. In the last part of the book, Roche writes, "The idea of participation in a higher reality, a connection to the transcendent, is for the most part forgotten in contemporary culture, but it is common to both a liberal arts education's intrinsic value and its cultivation of a sense of vocation, of identity and purpose" (147). The intrinsic value of a liberal arts education and the cultivation of a sense of vocation are two of the most beneficial aspects of a liberal arts education. I first when to college to get a degree, so I would be able to go to a graduate, theological institution, and ultimately to become a minister. However, something unexpected happened along the way. I fell in love with learning. I began to appreciate learning for its intrinsic end. It was not so much what I could do with an education, but what an education could do with me. My experience in college converted me to a life of learning.

The author believes there are three purposes are reasons for a liberal arts education. The first purpose is the "intrinsic value" of a liberal arts education that is associated with "the value of the lost art of contemplation, with which the Greeks called theoria, which is independent of practical aims" (148). Developing the skills of critical thinking and other virtues and skills enable us to make an impact on the world. The second purpose emphasizes action. The third purpose emphasizes virtue and vocation. Roche states, "All of us are engaged in praxis, but in its richest form, praxis involves not only awareness of higher values and the development of formal capacities in our relations with others but also an existential commitment, a calling to serve others in addition to ourselves" (149). The author thinks we can view these three purposes as "knowledge, action, and love" (149).

Students, do want to be able to make a living when they finish formal schooling. Roche asserts, "Students of course want to get a job and make a living, but they also want to be able to say why the life they have chosen makes sense, in what way it is connected to something higher, above and beyond simply earning money. One wants to find something that is absorbing and challenging, and at the same time will make a difference for others. Work can become an opportunity to fulfill one's potential and develop one's talent and make a difference in the world" (152). It seems that a liberal arts education will help the student to accomplish this task. Many students go into careers where they will make the most money. Later, they take a lower paying position for a job that is more fulfilling for them. Many wish they had had a broader education, than the specialized education they received.

A liberal arts education equips the student for using leisure effectively. A liberal arts educated student can draw on the riches of her education throughout her life. The wide exposure to the arts, for example, makes it possible for the student to have a richer life after college. Roche states, "the liberal arts seek to cultivate a love for the life of the mind that can flourish not only on the job but also beyond one's occupation. If work becomes simply a means to make a living, the liberal arts graduate should be able to find a purpose in other realms, beyond work. Such a graduate has more resources at her disposal than someone whose education found its purpose in mastering the technical aspects of a given profession" (155). A liberal arts education cultivates the ability to live a fuller, more rich life. It helps one to live the good life. In some sense, it makes us more human.

Some students who graduate from a liberal arts education may be called to pursue learning as a vocation either through their job or through leisure. The author writes, "While every liberal arts graduate will have experienced all three dimensions of a liberal education--the intrinsic, the practical, and the idealistic--graduates may be especially drawn by internal inclination or external opportunity to one dimension or another. A certain percentage of them will pursue the life of the mind, becoming artists, scientists, scholars, or teachers. Many will draw on their formal capacities and enter mainstream professions in business, law, medicine, and public service. And some will take the unusual path, pursuing distinctive opportunities as diverse as foreign correspondent, social activist, or minister. Many will combine all three simultaneously, be it in their professional lives or in a combination of their personal and professional lives. . . .Another way of understanding this point is by recognizing that the life-long desire for learning that is cultivated as a formal skill helps graduates as they discern, over time, that their vocation and sense of purpose may well develop in unexpected directions" (156). This last point seems especially, important since many people will change their careers many times.

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? is a passionate defense of the liberal arts. The author gives important reasons why a student should choose a liberal arts education: Engaging great question; cultivating intellectual and practical virtues; forming character; and integrating the value of the liberal arts. He has shown that a liberal arts education better prepares for the uncertainties of the future than a specialized education.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Part 4

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

When people value liberal arts education it is not usually because of its intrinsic value, but because it develops the skill of thinking critically. Roche writes, "The emphasis educators place on critical thinking, on liberating the mind from parochialism, is indeed important, but not exhaustive" (102). The author thinks that what is often not emphasized is forming character. Roche states, "Often neglected within a culture that elevates critical thinking is formation, the goal of helping students develop virtues, build character, and gain a sense of vocation, the moral and social purpose of education" (102). Educators tend to say that education is for the intellect not for the soul. It is important to think what we want students to look like when they graduate. In other words, what skills, knowledge, character traits should they receive from their education. It is also important to understand one's calling, vocation, or mission in life.

Why is character development neglected in higher education? The author thinks it is because of  skepticism and relativism, or even tolerance. He asserts, "The contemporary hesitancy to engage personal development and moral formation derives from many factors, including the strong 'epistemological skepticism' that holds sway among rival versions of liberal education. The elevation of critical thinking, with its implicit suggestion that liberal education means viewing everything with a a distant and disinterested eye, seems to work against the idea that what one is studying could have meaning for one's development and identity as a person, for one's heart and soul" (102). This reason does not seem to be supported with of evidence. It seems to be based on the myth of neutrality.

Some might say that formation is for religious colleges only. However, the Greeks and Romans emphasize both liberal education and moral formation. The author writes, "For the ancient Greeks, education was not only about cognition but also about longing, motivation, and inspiration as well as attaining self-knowledge and developing virtues" (102). Some would even argue that without cultivating virtue, the passions would distort the ability to see truth.

Roche thinks that education "is often reduced to mastery of information and the acquisition of techniques; it is rarely viewed as serving a loftier purpose of helping them develop a philosophy of life and preparing them to answer a moral obligation or discern a sense of vocation" (103). It seems to me these latter things are very important. College is an important time to decide who we are and where we want to go. It is also an important time to decide on a life-view. What is the purpose of life? The author thinks the college years "represent a privileged time in our lives for the exploration of new ideas and the formation of personal and social identity; as a result, for many students, the college years become crucial markers for who they are to become. During these years students develop, or fail to develop, capacities for integrity and courage, for diligence and self-sacrifice, for responsibility and service to others. They also develop, or fail to develop, a love of knowledge, a capacity to learn from criticism, and a sense of higher purpose" (103-104). College lays a foundation that students will build on the rest of their lives. It seems that it is crucial what is in that foundation and to neglect formation is a short-coming in one's education.

The author thinks character and the intellect often develops together. Roche asserts, "Many intellectual pursuits presuppose virtues of character, and so the two often develop in tandem. The author list different virtues that  may develop from intellectual pursuits: temperance, generosity, modesty, justice, respect, intellectual hospitality, diplomacy, humility, attentiveness, honesty, integrity, discipline, resilience, gratitude, and courage. The author states, "to prepare well for each class completing all assignments, rereading materials, making appropriate notes, and reflecting thoughtfully is to elevate study over other available pleasures and is as such an illustration of temperance. To renounce pleasure, despite its legitimate allure, for a higher value, is both a character virtue and an intellectual virtue. . . . To consider that every author I study may have ideas that are worthy of my attention presupposes generosity of spirit. . . . To listen carefully to the views of others and to weigh them honestly, giving them a full hearing with your utmost attention, even if they contradict your own initial inclinations, is to practice a form of justice. . . . To participate in the give-and-take of discussion by asking clarifying questions of other students, offering evidence to support your own positions, or proposing alternative perspectives in the light of disagreements is to exhibit respect for other people and the common value of truth. . . . Humility is evident whenever I recognize that I must withdraw an idea from discussion in the face of decisive counter-arguments, that I haven't myself discovered the answers to a particular puzzle, and that I continue to listen attentively to the views of others" (110-111). The author gives more examples, but this is enough to support his point that character virtue and intellectual pursuits often work in tandem. In addition, he describes vices that the student should avoid: arrogance, cowardice, indifference, sloth, envy, and greed.

The author suggest that the liberal arts foster personal development. Roche states, "through their engagement with literature, students encounter imaginative and compelling situations that they have yet to experience and which are capable of giving them a more differentiated grasp of life as well as a more nuanced compass. Character is formed and leadership developed as much by models and the imagination as by theory and practice, and meaningful models are readily available through history and literature" (136). Before modern times  cultures emphasized the telling of stories for moral development. Aseop's fables would be one example. The popularity of William Bennett's Moral Virtues suggests there is a need for stories that will encouragemoral development.

Last, a liberal arts education will help students to develop a higher purpose for life than just personal fulfillment. It seems that students need a meaning and purpose for their life. The author thinks we need an education that focuses "on ends and the value of ideas in the service of the common good" (135). He thinks education "should foster not simply formal skills to gain employment, but a calling that gives our pursuit dignity, higher meaning, and a sense of fulfillment" (135). Education should help students understand their giftedness and how they can use their gifts in service to others. A liberal arts education will help students discern their own calling in life.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Part 3

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

The first reason why we should choose the liberal arts because it is an end in itself. A second reason is because through it we engage great questions or essential questions. In this part we add another reason. We should choose the liberal arts because it cultivates intellectual and practical virtues.

To emphasize contemplation is not to devalue action. The tendency of our culture is to emphasize action over contemplation. Roche writes, "Students are called away from the contemplative to the active life, from college to work, in order to address their most basic needs, to develop further through experience, to participate in shaping the world, and to aid in the welfare of others. It is, therefore, not only ironic but also appealing that the very education we elevate for intrinsic value cultivates virtues that serve meaningful external ends and prepares students for the needs and challenges of practical life, even if that is not its primary purpose" (51). Liberal arts is both an end in itself, and it is also an education to fulfill one's calling in life. I think it is better to think of the active life with the idea of service and calling, instead of career.

A liberal arts education cultivates the skills of reading, writing, thinking, listening, and speaking. The author writes, "A liberal arts education helps students develop formal virtues, such as the ability to listen, analyze, weigh evidence, and articulate a worldview" (52). Because of the exposure "to enduring achievements of diverse cultures, the liberal arts graduate is at home in a world of ideas" (52). Roche adds, "The abilities to communicate clearly, think critically, and solve complicated problems; the capacity to draw on a breadth of knowledge. . . and the desire to continue to learn are all fostered in the liberal arts setting" (52-53). Unlike job training, a liberal arts education develops skills that are applicable in many callings or careers.

Of course, writing is applicable in most jobs. How are oral skills developed? "A student's capacity for oral articulation is further fostered by conversations outside of class with faculty members and other students. Students who engage the great questions seek out conversation to discover and weigh new perspectives as well as put their own views to the test. Conversation is for students both a search for truth and an arena in which to develop their capacities for argument and wit" (56). Liberal arts colleges tend to have low student to faculty ratio. Many of these schools emphasize communication outside of the classroom between students and faculty, and student to student. Formal education in a classroom is just a part of the education a student receives at a liberal arts college.

In liberal arts colleges students learn to express themselves clearly is essays and oral speeches. They learn how to develop a thesis; develop ideas; write an appealing introduction; logical and coherent paragraphs; and a powerful conclusion. They learn how to research important questions and to find solutions to research problems. Roche asserts, "Students develop the capacity to be receptive to new ideas, to gather a wide range of information, to research and read diverse kinds of materials, and to organize information and ideas in a coherent whole" (67). They learn how to evaluate evidence. They learn how to communicate their ideas with eloquence.

In addition, a liberal arts education develops critical thinking skills. Roche writes, "A liberal arts education encourages students to challenge ideas that may be widely shared but lack merit; in this sense, it shields against bias and fosters independence of thought, that is, a liberal mind" (64). One of the most important skills is learning to think for oneself. In addition, to weigh opposing, or conflicting arguments and come to your own conclusion. The author states, "A liberal arts education teaches them to review evidence carefully and thoroughly. . . . They learn to recognize whether a reason is compelling or flawed" (65). These are important skills that will serve the student throughout her life.

A liberal arts education encourages a love for learning. It creates a desire for life-long learning. Roche states, a liberal arts education inspires "a hunger for knowledge and an innate curiosity, a love of ideas and a passion for meaningful information" (79-80). The author adds, "A love of learning that encourages the capacity to continue to learn is the greatest hallmark of a liberal arts education" (80). It is sad that so many think learning ends with graduation; instead, it is just beginning. I like what John Dewey says: "The aim of education is to enable the individual to continue their education" (80). Roche thinks a liberal arts education is "not preparation for a career, but preparation for continual learning" (80). John Dewey makes another good point: "To predetermine some future occupation for which education is to be a strict preparation is to injure the possibilities of present development and thereby reduce the adequacy of preparation for a future right employment" (80). A liberal arts education prepare a student better for the future than professional education. Roche makes an important statement: "Liberal arts graduates are more likely than more technically trained students to engage after college in the kinds of broad learning experiences that prepares for unanticipated developments and discoveries. They are also more likely to take continuing education courses for intellectual growth and personal development" (80-81). This desire for learning will increase their ability to achieve job and life satisfaction. A liberal arts education prepares the student to "excel in any endeavor" (99).

As we have seen, a liberal arts education develops "advanced skills" in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking. It provides experience with a wide range of disciplines. It exposes them to different cultures and traditions. Last, it creates a desire to learn even after college. In the next part, we will discuss how a liberal arts education forms character.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Part 2

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? University of Notre Dame Press, 2010.

In the first part, I introduced Roche's Why Choose the Liberal Arts. In this part, I will discuss the first reason to choose a liberal arts education. Roche writes, "A liberal arts education can be defended first and foremost as an end in itself; that is, it is of value for its own sake independently of its preparing students for eventual employment" (15). In this statement the author is contrasting intrinsic versus external ends. Intrinsic ends is rewarding from doing the activity. External ends are rewards you get outside of the activity. For example, you go to college to get a job. A recent study showed that "students and parents overwhelmingly believe the reason to go to college is to prepare for a prosperous career" (15). There are several reasons why this is not wise. One reason is that a person typically changes careers or jobs often in their life-time. Another reason is people usually work in careers other than in the field they majored in college. Third, this type of education does not teach you how to use leisure wisely.

Roche thinks a great benefit of a liberal arts education is because it encourages students to ask ultimate questions. The author states, "Through the liberal arts, students explore profound and evocative questions, engaging issues that appeal to their curiosity and desire for knowledge and deepening the restless urge to see how ideas fit together and relate to life. Great questions naturally form themselves in the minds of young persons" (16). Asking great questions will encourage the students curiosity to know what is life is all about. Some of these questions will address the being of God. Who is God? Is there a God? "Is there a concept of God that is compatible with reason (16)?" Other questions concern the physical world and the place of the student in it. Some of these questions are how can I know reality. What is virtue? Why does evil exist? Why do innocent people suffer? Does free will exist or is everyone determined? How can I live a good life? These are the types of questions that matter to students.

Different disciplines help students explore different areas of knowledge. In mathematics, students "study patterns, both empirical and imagined" (18). They study proofs, probabilities, and randomness. Through logic, they cultivate their ability for clear thinking. Students obtain through science a better understanding of the natural world. The author asserts, "They learn to apply reason to evidence, to form concepts that relate to experience, and induce laws from the sequence of phenomena" (18). Students learn from psychology how the human mind works. They learn about the different stages of human development. Through the social sciences, "students learn to analyze and appreciate the diverse ways in which social and political structures are organized" (19). In history, the students are exposed to diverse cultures and traditions. They learn how causal forces influence events. They learn"what is involved in the analysis and interpretation of the past, including the sifting of a wide variety of documents and the close study of pertinent materials" (19). Their imagination and emotions are developed through the arts. In addition, they gain "a greater understanding of nonverbal communication" through the arts (20). The student's study of language and literature develops their abilities in the skillful use of words. They better understand how others use words. Reading great literature develops their imagination, empathy, ability to see things from diverse points of view. Their close reading of texts develop their ability to interpret different kinds of writings. "The study of religion" develops their ability to sense the transcendent in daily life. It cultivates the spiritual development of the person. In philosophy, the student learns the art of reasoning. In addition, philosophy "cultivates the love of wisdom and teaches them that thought is its own end" (21). All these different disciplines will cultivate a holistic education in the student. The student not only develops "an awareness of knowledge intrinsic to their major but a recognition of the discipline's position within the larger mosaic of knowledge" (21). They also become aware of how the universe of knowledge fits together. The student recognizes a unity in knowledge. It is wisdom to see how the whole fits together. The author states, "Wisdom is also the ability to understand and interpret individual phenomena from the whole.

A liberal arts education cultivates the ability of using leisure wisely. Augustine writes, "the love of truth seeks sacred leisure" (24). It is surprising to the modern person that Augustine connects sacred and leisure, but probably not the ancients. Leisure seems to disappear in modernity. Life seems to accelerate with technology and invention. Roche asserts, "Contemporary society has little patience for the apparent idleness of learning for its own sake" (25). Many see the idea of learning for its own sake as beyond belife. They think of doing things for some type of external reward. The author thinks that a liberal arts education "is more than a means to an end; it is a dose of otium (leisure) in a world driven by speed and utility" (25). Liberal arts education teaches how to use leisure wisely and it is acquired through leisure. The word for school comes from a Greek term meaning leisure. The typical person sees school as work. It is, however, better seen as leisure. Roche writes, "It represents the values of rest, and focus in advance of, as a respite from, and as a reward for, daily work, and it is analogous to repose and silence as presuppositions for meaningful communications with God" (26). It is more like Sabbath rest than like work. The author continues, "When we are gripped by substantive works and great questions, we may be so immersed in them that we forget the external world" (26). It is similar to the medieval distinction between the contemplative and active life. Leisure is more like the contemplative life; while, work is more like the active life. The author believes in the "leisure of contemplation we abandon the contingent and engage the eternal; we conceive of ourselves as more than material beings" (26). We often experience joy in the experience of contemplation. We do not live to work; but, instead we work to live or we work, so we can participate in leisurely activities. The only type of education that equips us for the leisure of contemplation is a liberal arts education.

One might ask why should be participate in the leisure of contemplation. It is because it makes us more human. Both Aristotle and Aquinas argued that the "contemplative person is more self-sufficient, closer to the divine, engaged in what is distinctive about human beings, and more removed from our common preoccupation with externals" (27). The author states, "What is distinctive about us as human beings is thought, love of wisdom, and love of one another in the contemplation of the highest values, including goodness" (27). Why choose a liberal arts education? Because it will cultivate the ability to pursue the activities that is distinctive about us as human beings, reason and the love of wisdom.

In the next part we will discuss cultivating both intellectual and practical values.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Divine Callings, but One God

Divine Callings, But One God
            The story of Mary and Martha was popular in the Middle Ages and was used to compare the active versus the contemplative life. Gregory writes, “Those two women well signify these two ways of life, viz, Martha and Mary, one of whom was cumbered about much serving but the other sat at the Lord’s feet and heard His words. But when Martha complained against her sister because she neglected to help her the Lord replied saying: ‘Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things; But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part which shall not be taken away from her’(Lk.12:41-42, GT, 239). Gregory adds, “Martha’s part is not censured but Mary’s is praised” (GT, 239). Gregory seems to present a balanced perspective of these two ways of life, the active and the contemplative.
            Paul states, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not have the same function. . .” (ESV, Rom.12:4). In Corinthians, he writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (ESV, I Cor. 12:4). These two scriptural references support the idea that there are a variety of callings, but the same God. The question is--are the active life and the contemplative life different callings or are they different aspects of a person’s life? St. Thomas Aquinas states, “It is necessary for the perfection of human society that there should be men who devote their lives to contemplation.” Aquinas seems to think that the active life and the contemplative life are different callings.
            Before taking a position on whether or not the active and contemplative life are different callings we must define these two concepts. Gregory writes, “So the active life is to give bread to the hungry, to teach the ignorant with the word of wisdom, to set aright the lost, to recall a proud neighbor to the life of humility, to care for the weak. . . (GT, 238). In contrast, Gregory says of the contemplative life, “Truly the contemplative life is to hold fast with the whole mind, at least to the charity of God, our neighbor but to abstain from external action; to cleave to the sole desire for the Creator, so that the only recourse for the spirit is, scorning all cares, to burn to see the face of its Creator. . .” (238). Gregory warns us of two dangers. The first danger is to falsely think that busyness is a characteristic of the active life. The second danger is to abandon doing good works.

            It is true that all Christians need to pursue an inward, contemplative life reflecting on their relationship with God. Second, it seems true that all Christians are called to practice good works. Most Christians, probably, lean closer either to the active or the contemplative life. In addition, at different times in the Christian journey either the active or the contemplative life will be more prominent. Finally, it is true that some Christians are called to pursue the contemplative life, and others, the active life.