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. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010. 198 pages. ISBN 978-0-268-04032-1

Mark William Roche is the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C. S. C., Professor of German Language and Literature and Concurrent Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. From 1997 to 2008, Roche served as dean of Notre Dame's College of Arts and Letters. Roche, in Why Choose the Liberal Arts?, presents three overarching reasons for liberal arts education: "First, its intrinsic value, or the distinction of learning for its own sake, the sheer joy associated with exploring the life of the mind and asking the great questions that give meaning to life; second, the cultivation of those intellectual virtues that are requisite for success beyond the academy; a liberal arts education as preparation for a career; and third, character formation and the development of a sense of vocation, the connection to a higher purpose or calling" (10). These three reasons serves as a sort of road map for the book. In part one of the book the author argues that a liberal arts education engages the great questions of life. It asks questions about the purpose of life. In part two Roche shows how a liberal arts education cultivates both intellectual and practical virtues. He suggests that a liberal arts education "helps students develop formal virtues, such as the ability to listen, analyze, weigh evidence, and articulate a complex view" (52). Forming character is the focus of part three. The author 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). A holistic education is the subject of the final section of the book. According to Roche, "The threefold value of a liberal arts education involves an experience of intrinsic value, the development of formal skills and capacities, and a recognition of greater purpose and service to others, including a modest overestimation of one's abilities, with the recognition that one must stretch to reach one's potential" (149). Roche believes that a liberal arts education "entails the goal of educating the whole person" (6). The author believes that a liberal arts education will not only prepare the student for a career, but even more important, it will help them to fulfill their personal calling.

What are the liberal arts? The author explains that its origin is found in the ancient world. Roche writes, "The term has its origin in the medieval concept of artes liberalis, the seven liberal arts that were appropriate for a free man in contrast to the artes illiberalis or artes mechanicae, which were pursued for economic purposes and involved vocational and practical arts, which prepared young persons to become weavers, blacksmiths, farmers, hunters, navigators, soldiers, or doctors" (5). The seven liberal arts were made up of the trivium--grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic--and the quadrivium which was made up of geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy. These areas have been expanded in our own time. Roche states, "In contemporary liberal arts education, in contrast to the specialized orientation of professional or technical curricula, students receive a general education that is a broad grounding in the diverse disciplines" (5). In other words, a liberal arts education is not professional training, technical training, nor training for a career. It is the cultivation of the mind and moral character. Education is in some sense should make us human. Roche asserts, "the liberal arts ideal entails the goal of educating the whole person, which presupposes a meaningful community of learning and a rich residential experience. Its success demands intensive intellectual dialogue among students and between students and faculty across the diverse spheres of human inquiry and concerning the highest of human values. The formal dimensions of discussion and active student engagement are as much distinguishing characteristics of a liberal arts education as is the curricular content" (6). Let us try to unpack these ideas. First, he suggests that the goal of liberal arts education is to educate the whole person. This seems to imply educating the mind, soul, and body. This idea has been an emphasis in the Jesuit community since its founding. There is a tendency among some who want to say education is only about educating the mind. However, historically, liberal arts education has emphasized educating students intellectually, morally, and religiously. Second, he argues that education does not only occur in the classroom. It is something that occurs outside of the classroom in conversations between students and faculty, and students with students.

A liberal arts education is built upon Socratic questioning and active learning. Roche states, "For Socrates it was clear that we learn effectively when we pursue questions ourselves and seek the answers ourselves" (6). This is what is called active learning. The author writes, "The student is actively engaged in the learning process, asking questions, being asked questions, pursuing often elusive answers in dialogue with others" (6). The learning is actually taking place inside of the student. Some people false believe that education is knowledge being "poured like water from one larger container to an emptier one" (6). This reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago in Tastee's  Donuts. The owner's wife that many of my students were making bad grades. She was wondering why I was not learning them. I could not because learning is a personal responsibility. To learn anything we must be actively involved. Socrates second principle is that active learning take place when it is meaningful to the student. This happens when students "are engaged in meaningful discussions, asking questions that will determine who they are and what they think about life's most significant issues" (6). What is a person? What is life's purpose? A third principle beyond active learning and meaningful learning is "engaging great issues through a question-and-answer format" which prepares the student for "further learning" (7). To know something means more than the ability to repeat what the teacher said which seems to be a common practice in formal schooling. Instead, it is to be "able to give reasons and arguments for that truth; this level of reflection ensures that the student will be able to defend a view against the arguments of future opponents instead of simply succumbing to their persuasive rhetoric; will be ready to apply knowledge in changing circumstances; and will be equipped to build on existing knowledge and extend it, via the same principle of searching inquiry and rational reflection, into new areas" (7). This is why indoctrination is not real education. True education helps the student to think for themselves. It provides them with the tools to be life-long learners. Education means to "lead out, to bring out from within" (7). In Montaigne's essays on education he encourages students "not simply to listen and receive wisdom based on authority, but instead grasp the value of doubting, learn to own knowledge independently, and to be able to apply it in new and unexpected contexts" (7). Many studies have documented that students "learn more when they are themselves existentially engaged and active in the learning process, and when they themselves generate their own questions" (8). This is the type of education pursued in liberal learning. Roche asserts, "Liberal arts students are frequently engaged in those activities that involve student-centered learning, such as small discussion classes, seminar papers, discussions outside of class with peers, service learning, study abroad, and independent research projects, including senior theses" (8). This type of learning is most prominent is small residential liberal arts colleges. However, liberal learning can take place in other contexts. This type of learning can even "resurface" in graduate schools which emphasize the great questions and "foster a community of learning" (10).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Faith and Learning

John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon

Faith and Learning in John of Salisbury’s The Metalogicon
            Some Christians are suspicious of Liberal Arts Education, Higher Education and the life of the mind. Others see an unbridgeable gulf built between faith and liberal learning. Some Christians think that believers should only read Christian books. I was told by friends that going to a public university might endanger my faith. Personally, I experienced a separation between the life of learning and the life of faith as a college student. It seemed that my church emphasized the life of faith; while, the university emphasized reason. I spent most of my undergraduate years bringing these two worlds together--the life of the mind and the life of faith. Has this conflict between faith and learning always existed? Tertullian did say, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” However, this was a minority position in the Christian Church. The release of a twelfth century work on education, The Metalogicon by John of Salisbury provides an example of the relationship of faith and learning in the Middle Ages. McGarry states that this work might even be the birth of modern pedagogy. The Metalogicon was originally completed in 1159 and it is basically “a defense of logic in its broad sense” (xvi).
John of Salisbury (ca. 1115-1180) studied with many of the greatest scholars of the twelfth century. He was born of "humble origin at Old Sarum (Salisbury) in southern England, between 1115 and 1120" (xvi). He showed sign while a child of an "above-average intellect" and was considered a prospect for a future church leader. Though he lacked the financial means, "we soon find him 'learning the psalter from a local priest" (xvi). Because of his earnest desire for additional learning, he went to France in 1136. He studied in Paris and Chartres for about twelve years with some of the most brilliant scholars of the time. With the assistance of his teachers, John "became thoroughly grounded  in the seven liberal arts. In addition, he studied theology under Simon of Poissy, and was "ordained to the priesthood" (xvii). He spent six years or more training and working for the papal court. John was requested to return to England "in 1154 to assume the important position of secretary to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury" (xvii). As assistant to Theobald , "he served on many important diplomatic missions, and journeyed several times to Italy (xvii)," France and around England. He later served Theobald's replacement, Thomas Becket, as his assistant. He completed the Metalogicon and the Policratius by 1159. After Beckett's death, he was befriended by Louis VII and appointed to the episcopate of Chartres. John's writings were more influential than his political activities. McGarry states, "Although he was influential in the affairs of his day, John of Salisbury is especially admired by posterity for his writings. Particularly important are his Policratius, or 'Statesman's Book, his Metalogicon, or 'Defense of the Trivium,' and his letters" (xviii). 
The Metalogicon demonstrates the author extensive knowledge of both Christian and pagan writers. His chief sources are works of "classical antiquity" (xxiii). Some of the major authors he quotes are Plato, Aristotle, Porphyry, Cicero, Seneca, Quintilian, Vergil, and many of the Church Fathers and medieval writers. The Metalogicon is a major work on medieval pedagogy. McGarry claims that it is "a classic in the history of educational theory" (xxv). The Metalogicon, observes McGarry, "reflecting its versatile author, sparkles with many facets. It is important enough to be something of a landmark in several fields of learning, including philosophy, theology, psychology, , and education" (xxvi). "In philosophy," it is the first major work "to urge and provide a blueprint for a widespread study of the whole of Aristotelian logic" (xxvi). Its promotion of inductive and deductive reasoning "led naturally, not only into thirteenth-century scholasticism, but also even in modern science" (xxvi).  McGarry asserts, “In theology, its concept of the cooperative relation between faith and reason suggests the maxim of mutual corroboration accepted by thirteenth-century thinkers” (xxvi).  "In psychology," it is an early example "of empirical psychology" (xxvi).  McGarry notes, "Finally, it is a treasure-trove of information concerning twelfth-century pedagogy, as well as an enduring classic by its own right in the field of educational theory" (xxvii). In addition, it is a great example of  "spoiling the Egyptians;" the compatibility of faith and learning; and cultivating virtue.
Even though the author was quite busy with “administrative concerns and trifles of court life,” he thought it was necessary to answer Cornificius who “claimed that logical studies are useless” (9). John describes Cornificius, “Barring no means in his effort to console himself for his own want of knowledge, he has contrived to improve his own reputation by making many others ignoramuses like himself” (9). It seems that Cornificius discouraged people from studying the liberal arts. The author states that Cornificius and his followers “preferred remaining foolish to learning the truth from the humble, to whom God gives grace. Having prematurely seated themselves in the master’s chair, they blush to descend to the pupil’s bench”(17). In other words, they are not teachable. They lack the virtue of humility. John repeatedly makes the point that the intellectual life needs the moral virtues.  In addition, he discouraged people from learning eloquence. John writes, “I consequently wonder (though not sufficiently, as it is beyond me) what is the real aim of one who denies that eloquence should be studied; who asserts that it comes as a natural gift to one who is not mute, just as sight does to one who is not blind, and hearing to one who is not deaf; and who further maintains that although nature’s gift is strengthened by exercise, nothing is to be gained by learning the art [of eloquence], or at least that the benefit accruing is not worth the effort that must be expended” (9). John is strongly opposed to this idea arguing instead, “Just as eloquence, unenlightened by reason, is rash and blind, so wisdom, without the power of expression, is feeble and maimed. He believes that the end of education is wisdom and eloquence. This idea was also believed by Greek and Roman writers, including Cicero.
John also argues for the importance of effort in our studies. The student must help nature by “use and exercise” (28). In addition, they must curb their appetites. He thinks it is important that a student has an aptitude for learning, but talent without hard work is useless. He uses Scaurus Rufus as an example. He “was far from naturally bright, but that by assiduously employing his meager natural talents, he became so accomplished that he even called Cicero himself a barbarian” (30). In other words, students can improve their minds if they put forth the effort. John argues, “just as natural ability easily deteriorates when neglected, so it is strengthened by cultivation and care” (30). In the rest of book I he discusses logic, grammar, and the liberal arts. John states, “The nature of art, the various kinds of innate abilities, and the fact that natural talents should be cultivated and developed by the arts” (33). In other words, art is the means for developing the intellectual virtues. There are different types of art. In describing the liberal arts, he notes, “The liberal arts are said to have become so efficacious among our ancestors, who studied them diligently, that they enabled them to comprehend everything they read, elevated their understanding to all things, and empowered them to cut through the knots of all problems of solutions” (36). The liberal arts enables the student to acquire knowledge and the skills of reading, writing, listening, speaking, and thinking. John states that grammar “is the science of speaking and writing correctly--the starting point of all liberal studies” (37). Grammar is the foundation, the beginning of all learning. Liberal studies provides the tools for lifelong learning. The author notes, "Quintilian also praises this art [grammar] to the point of declaring that we should continue the use of grammar and the love of reading 'not merely during our school days, but to the end of our life" (61). Though the body grows weaker as we age, the mind, in contrast, can grow stroger during our lifetime. Grammar is important be cause "it equips us both to receive and impart knowledge" (61).  The author asks, “do not our forefathers tell us that liberal studies are so useful that one who has mastered them can, without a teacher, understand all books and everything written (63)?” There is a close connection between books and learning as stated by Schall in The Life of the Mind.
John states, "The chief aids to philosophical inquiry and the practice of virtue are reading, learning, meditation, and assiduous application" (64). The author describes what these different terms mean. Reading analyzes the written words in a text. Learning "likewise generally studies what is written, but also some times moves on to what is preserved in the memory and is not in the writing, or to those things that become evident when one understands the given subject" (64). Meditation goes deeper than reading because it goes beyond the apparent meaning of the written work. Assiduous application depends on "scientific knowledge" which is produced through reading, learning, and meditation. This scientific knowledge prepares the ground for virtue. John asserts, "Scientific knowledge, by the nature of things, must precede the practice and cultivation of virtue, 'which does not run without knowing where it is going' " (64). The author believes for all this to bear fruit requires grace. He writes, "It is accordingly evident that grammar, which is the basis and root of scientific knowledge, implants, as it were, the seed [of virtue] in nature's furrow after grace has readied the ground. This seed, provided again that cooperating grace is present, increases in substance and strength until it becomes solid virtue, and it grows in manifold respects until it fructifies in good works, wherefore men are called and actually are 'good' " (65). What does he mean by the term, good works? Next, he says that it is "grace alone which makes a man good" (65). What does this mean? It is grace "that brings about the willing and the doing of good" (65). This seems to refer to a passage in Philippians, chapter 2. He even says that it is grace that "imparts the faculty of writing and speaking correctly to those whom it is given, and supplies them with the various arts" (65). John seems to be saying if we have the ability to master the liberal arts this is a gift of God's grace. He adds that if we despise or scorn God's grace, it will leave. This seems to imply that some are gifted for learning and some are not. Finally John states, "One who aspires to become a philosopher should therefore apply himself to reading, learning, and meditation, as well as the performance of good works, lest the Lord becomes angry and take away what he seems to possess" (65). Later on, the author seems to define what he means by good works. He asserts, "Since, however, it is not right to allow any school or day be without religion, subject matter was presented to foster faith, to build up morals and to . . . perform good works" (68). In this passage we have many of the themes of this book. It argues for cultivating both the intellectual and moral virtues, and the doing of good works. 
The author gives another example of the interrelationship of learning and virtue. He states, "A man cannot be the servant of both learning and carnal vice" (70-71). Second, he says it is important that the student cultivate the virtues of charity and humility. It is easy to lose humility as the student progresses in learning. An exampple of temperance is the discernment in the selection of books. John notes, "That which preempts the place that something is better is, for this reason, disadvantageous, and does not deserve tobe called 'good.' To examine and pore over everything that has been written, regardless of whether it is worth reading, is as pointless as to fritter away one's time with old wives' tales" (70). This is an example of the medieval distinction between study and curiosity.
Book II defines logic and reasoning and shows how it is valuable to “all fields of philosophy” (74). He defines logic as “the science of argumentative reasoning which provides a solid basis for the whole activity of prudence” (74). Prudence is practical wisdom and it the “root of all the virtues” (74). It seems prudence is both an intellectual and a moral virtue. It connects the moral and intellectual virtues together. The author says that the most desirable thing is wisdom, “whose fruit consists in the love of what is good and the practice of virtue” (74). He believes that the “human mind must apply itself to the quest of wisdom” (74). He shows how the moral and intellectual life are related in this part of his book. This is a theme that is prominent in The Great Tradition. John states,  "Logic is exercised in inquiry into the truth. The latter [truth]. . . is the subject matter of the primary virtue which is called 'prudence'; whereas various utilities and necessities constitute the subject matter of the remaining three [basic virtues]. Prudence consists entirely in insight into the truth, together with a certain skill in investigating the latter; whereas justice embraces the truth and fortitude defends it, while temperance moderates the activities of the aforesaid virtues" (74). Cultivating the moral virtues s necessary if we are going to pursue the intellectual life. John makes an important point about civility in conversation. He writes, "One who [really loves the truth hates wrangling, whereas one who is charitable instinctively and spontaneously withdraws from contention" (73). And people say the Medieval period was the dark ages. What would they say about us? 
The author makes a remarkable assertion, "One who comprehends truth is wise, one who loves it is good, 'one who orders his life according with it happy' (75)." This is a reference to Proverbs 3:18: "She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast is blessed" (ESV). This passage is referring to getting wisdom. Both the Bible and John thinks there is a connection between happiness and wisdom. Later, he says that those who get understanding are happy. John thinks part of this knowledge is understanding what is temporal and what is eternal. In addition, knowing the truth "will set us free, and will lead us from slavery to liberty" by freeing us from vice (75). The author thinks vanity and truth are opposed to each other. He who understands truth will escape the clutches of vanity.
John states that the reason for the need of logic is because "There was [evident] need of a science to discriminate between what is true and what is false, and to show which reasoning really adheres to the path of valid argumentative proof, and which [merely] has the [external] appearance of truth, or, in other words, which reasoning warrants assent, and which should be held in suspicion. Otherwise, it would be impossible to ascertain the truth by reasoning" (76). We need not only the art of grammar, but also the art of logic. He sees Aristotle as the founder of this logic: "Aristotle perceived and explained the rules of the art ]of logic], . . . and he is honored as its principal founder. While Aristotle shares the distinction of being an authority in other branches of learning, he has a monopoly on this one, which is his very own" (77). This is high praise indeed. Aristotle "esteemed knowledge of the truth as the greatest good in human life" (76). Since it is through logic we acquire truth, then, the art of logic is essential to learning. John states, "Logic derives its name from the fact it is rational. For it both provides and examines reasons" (79). There are three different subdivisions of logic: demonstration, probability, and sophistry. "Demonstrative logic flourishes in the [basic] principles of [the various] sciences, and progresses further to deducing conclusions from these. . . . Probable logic [on the other hand] is concerned with propositions which, to all or many men, or at least to the wis, seem to be valid. . . . Probable logic includes dialectic and rhetoric. . . . But sophistry, which is 'seeming, rather than real' wisdom, merely wears a disguise of probability or necessity. It has no care at all for the facts. Its only objective is to lose its adversary in a fog of delusions. . . . [Dialectic] "makes inquiry into the truth, using the ready instruments of moderate probability" (79). Dialectic is basically, "effective argumentation" (80). The author believes that the "only sure road to truth is humility" (88).
In Book III John analyzes different works of Aristotle: Categories, On Interpretation, and Topics. The most detailed of the analysis is of Aristotle's Topics. He does make an important observation while discussing Aristotle's On Interpretation: "Our own generation enjoys the legacy bequeathed to it by that which preceded it. We frequently know more, not because we have moved ahead by our own natural ability, but because we are supported by the [mental] strength of others, and possess riches that we have inherited from our forefathers. Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to [puny] dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature" (167). John and Bernard demonstrate a different spirit than intellectuals in our own time. John would think it was a sin not to acknowledge our debt to those who preceded us.
John states that three of Aristotle's books are essential for understanding the art of logic: Topics, Analytics, and Refutations. He thinks if these three "are thoroughly mastered, and the habit of employing them is firmly fixed by practice and exercise, then one who applies them in demonstration, dialectic, and sophistry will have a wide command of invention and judgement in every branch of learning" (171). He believes the most essential of the three are the Topics, "especially for those whose aim is [to prove with] probability. While the science of the Topics chiefly builds up our power of invention, it also assists our judgement in no small measure" (171). This ability is very helpful to the dialectician and the orator. Syllogisms are an important part of the Topics and logic. He defines different types of syllogisms. "A sophism is a contentious syllogism, a philosopheme is a demonstrative syllogism; an argument is a dialectical syllogism; an aporeme is a dialectical syllogism that reasons to a contradiction. A knowledge of all [these kinds of] syllogisms is necessary, and they are employed with great utility in every branch of study" (196). He thinks a student should "become well versed in disputation" (196). We can see why disputations were so important to students in the Medieval period.
John emphasizes reason as an important guide: "Nothing, however, is less becoming a craftsman than to let the whims of [blind] chance replace the [enlightened] decision of reason as his guide. We should search everywhere to find abundant reasons whereby we may [convincingly] establish or overthrow a thesis, and thus we will become masters for proof and refutation" (198). Disputations train the student to successfully argue to a conclusion. The author, does not think disputations are for the purpose of beating an opponent in debate. In stead, its aim is the search for truth. 
John believes that the search for truth is a joint venture. John argues, "In the samr way the logician must become a skilled master of the instruments of his art, so that he is familiar with its principles, is amply provided with likely proofs, and is ready with all the methods of deductive and inductive reasoning. He should also carefully estimate the strength of his opponent, since the issue frequently depends on the accurate appraisal of this. 'It does not lie in the power of one person alone to bring to a successful conclusion, by himself, a joint enterprise, which requires the cooperation of another" (199). Another example that the aim is truth: "A good intellect readily assents to what is true, and rejects what is false" (199). Mortimer Adler mentions in his writings that the goal of a debate is truth, not victory. John give other reasons for the importance of others in our search for truth. He writes, "Although one may sometimes profitably exercise [his reason] alone, just as he does with a partner, still [mutual] discussion is evidently more profitable than [solitary] meditation" (200).

In Book III he speaks of the need for temperance in the moral life by saying that not every disputable issue should be debated. He writes, “Many subjects do not admit of disputation. Some transcend human reasoning, and are consecrated entirely to faith” (201). John demonstrates his humility: "I am willing to admit my ignorance of what I do not know and of what, furthermore, there is no point of knowing" (201). This makes two point. The first point is that humility is needed for learning. Second, not everything is worth knowing.This agrees with what Thomas Aquinas taught about the relationship between faith and reason. Some things can be known by reason; other things can only be known by faith. In addition, John says faith and reason are different things. He would argue that the student needs both faith and reason in the quest for wisdom. 
In Book IV John notes his limited time for study because of his responsibilities. However, because of those who are speaking against the usefulness of liberal learning and being requested by others, he has summarized his ideas on this issue. In this book he analyzes Aristotle's Analytics. This book by Aristotle "examines reasoning" (204). John says that rhetoric is "clothing with words" (206). Wisdom needs eloquence which is the "ability to express oneself easily and adequately in a given language" (206). So, logic needs rhetoric. The Analytics "teaches what necessarily must be known. . . It explains the nature of dialectical, demonstrative, universal, particular, and indefinite propositions; as well as of terms, namely, predicates and subjects; and of perfect and imperfect syllogisms" (207). 
John gives his judgement on those opposing liberal learning: "Our Cornificius, opponent of logic, may likewise deservedly despised as the clown of philosophers. Not to mention Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, who, as our forefathers relate, initiated {the science of] philosophy  and brought it to perfection, Father Augustine, with whom it is rash to disagree, praised logic so highly that only the foolhardy and presumptuous would dare to rail against it" (241). Augustine argues that dialectics teaches us to learn. John gives a strong argument for pagan learning through his commendation of Aristotle. John states, "even though Aristotle has made several mistakes . . . his equal iin logic has yet to be found. Hence he should be regarded as a [learned] master of argumentative reasoning . . ." (244).
John argues that logic is not useful by itself. He notes, "By itself, logic is practically useless. Only when it is associated with other studies does logic shine" (244). This seems to suggest that liberal arts are not complete by themselves because they require disciplinary knowledge to work on. John shows prudence when he says that a certain leniency should be shown to students as they exercise their rhetorical skills. His comments also showing the importance of subject knowledge. John writes, "Considerable indulgence should, however, be shown to the young, in whom verbosity should be temporarily tolerated, so that they may thus acquire an abundance of eloquence" (244). In addition, "The minds of the immature, even as their [growing] bodies, must first be [well] fed, lest they become emaciated" (244-245). This reminds me of C. S. Lewis' comments about "irrigating desserts." However, "as students mature and grow in understanding, our tolerance of unrestrained verbosity should diminish" (245). This responsibility is laid on the teachers. 
John believes the students need "genuine goodness, unadulterated truth, and sound, trustworthy reasoning" (246). The combining of moral formation and intellectual learning is a constant theme in this work. In addition, the student needs both wisdom and eloquence. John believes the "appetite [for truth, goodness, and reason] has been implanted in man's nature by God; but it cannot obtain its objectives by nature alone, for it needs the assistance of grace" (246). This statement points to two other themes in this work. First, that the desire for truth is natural to our being. By our nature, we desire to know. Second, pursuing liberal learning and moral formation requires grace. John believes education should help us to love reason, wisdom, and beauty. John writes, "Although human infirmity dares not arrogantly promise these [three] to itself, it continually seeks after them, namely after true goodness, wisdom, and reason, and is occupied in loving them, until, by the exercise of love with the help of grace, it [ultimately] attains the objects of its affection" (247). It seems that a Christian Liberal Arts education should cultivate the intellectual virtues, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; the moral virtues, prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice; and  the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.