Students and teachers of the liberal arts who pride themselves on their glorious inutitliy may be selling themselves short, according to a recent article. How many utils is a liberal education worth?
A recent post on this site explored the Canadian Association of University Teachers investigation of Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, on the grounds that the university required its faculty to affirm their Christian faith. Evidently Trinity Western University has committed the egregious (and intolerant) error of expecting its faculty to share the university’s Christian worldview. This would endanger academic freedom, according to the CAUT. The post calls to mind what is perhaps the next great political battle (at least on the cultural front): religious liberty.
In a 2006 issue of the Catholic journal Commonweal Alasdair MacIntyre made an intriguing point about the state of Catholic higher education. MacIntyre observed that “From a Catholic point of view, the contemporary secular university is not at fault because it is not Catholic. [Rather,] it is at fault insofar as it is not a university.”
William T. Cavanaugh is a scholar of Radical Orthodoxy – an intellectual movement that originated in 1990s Britain (especially Cambridge University and the University of Nottingham), and one that can broadly be characterized as postmodern Christian theology. It proclaims its radicality in four parts: 1) a return to patristic and medieval roots, most particularly to the Augustinian formulation of knowledge as divine illumination; 2) efforts to deploy this recovered sensibility to offer bold criticisms of modern society, culture and philosophy; 3) simultaneous to the criticism of modernity, a realization that the inherited tradition itself must be rethought in light of the challenges of the postmodern era; and 4) a recognition that, just as Christian critics of the Enlightenment identified the destruction by secularity of those things it claimed most to celebrate (e.g. embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience and human political community), “only transcendence, which ‘suspends’ these things in the sense of interrupting them, ‘suspends’ them also in the other sense of upholding their relative worth over-against the void”. Put briefly, Radical Orthodoxy refutes secularism in favor of a Platonic-Christian participatory theology “which alone can lead us to God”.
Perhaps the purpose of an educational system is to foster a common world of moral and intellectual values, a common memory that helps a given culture maintain itself. Specialized education, while important at the graduate level, can hinder the education of the rising generation of undergraduate students into such a common memory.
I'm sure Socrates would agree, you shouldn't write important things down, but if you must, then use CHALK.
Burton's Alice in Wonderland was recently released, sparking all sorts of renewed cynicism towards Lewis Carroll concerning his proposed drug-use and fascination with little girls. My university's Sigma Tau Delta selected the book for this semester's book club in hopes that the timing with the film would increase the audience. (Since I've offered extra credit for my 100 students, I don't think attendance will be a problem.) They asked myself and another professor to be the primary speakers and host a panel where students may ask us questions about the book.
After spending the last two weeks (in what I could call "spare" time, though I'm not sure what that phrase means) reading Alice again, Carroll's biography, books on Alice, etc., I finally wrote a paper. The contents were unexpected to me, and I know they'll be surprising to my audience this evening. I found myself relying on G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy to understand the profound importance of this nonsense work. Who'd 've thunk orthodoxy would go well with nonsense?
What I discovered is that Alice's adventures accomplish what Chesterton asserts all people need: a foot in fairyland. Chesterton believes this foot away from earth stabilizes; its madness keeps us sane. Wonderland not only reveals our ridiculous emphasis on reason by parodying it, but paradoxically its nonsense also counters our dependence on reason.
Chesterton writes in Lunacy and Letters, "Carroll's works should be read by sages and gray-haired philosophers in order to study the darkest problems of metaphysics, the borderland between reason and unreason, and the nature of the most erratice of spiritual forces, humor, which eternally dances between the two." He meant this appraisal of Carroll's works.
In Wonderland, Alice is questioned about who she is and where she is going and where she wants to go, and she has no answers. Because she does not know who she is, she does not know where to go. The implications are intriguing. Tonight, I hope not to explain Alice, but to draw out these implications. I hope that by reminding students how to wonder about these questions, they'll find the answers. Perhaps, like Alice, they'll leave the lecture saying, "It's no use going back to the beginning, for I was a different person then."