Classical Education, Freedom, and the Ordered Soul | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | CWR
Understanding is a spiritual thing, though rooted in really existing things, even ultimately in divine things
Editor's note: This essay was originally given in a slightly different form as an address, “On Not 'Keeping Quiet About a Study'”, at Kolbe Academy & Trinity Prep, in Napa, California, on August 8, 2014.
“Athenian: ‘We generally say that so far as the supreme deity and the universe are concerned, we ought not to bother our heads hunting up explanations, because that is an act of impiety. In fact, precisely the opposite seems to be true.’
“Clinias: ‘What’s your point?’
“Athenian: ‘My words will surprise you, and you may well think them out of place on the lips of an old man. But it’s quite impossible to keep quiet about a study, if one believes it is noble and true, a blessing to society, and pleasing in the sight of God.”
— Plato, The Laws, #821a.
A recent essay in the New Republic was entitled “Don’t Send Your Kids to Ivy League Schools” (July 21, 2014). Its thesis was that such schools merely prepare snobs who belong to a wealthy elite mostly out of touch with real people. We can be almost certain that this admonition not to send our kids to Ivy League schools will increase the number of their applicants. Snobs like to be with snobs. An elite likes to meet other elite.
The solution to this presumed problem, offered by the author, himself an Ivy League grad, was to send most everyone to state schools at state expense. This solution would assure equality and more diversity. I call this proposal “the totalitarian solution to the elitist problem.” It is the natural offspring of never having read with care Plato or Aristotle.
Allan Bloom, in his Closing of the American Mind, had already said that the unhappiest people in our society today are those students who go to the twenty most expensive universities. He also said, as if this fact might just be the source of the problem, that any professor, on entering a classroom, can assume that every student is, or thinks he is, a relativist. That is, he is someone who does not think that any truth is possible. Pope Benedict often spoke of the same issue at the cultural level.
The current annual tuition at Loyola/Marymount in Los Angeles, someone told me recently, is $53.000. The tuition per semester at Santa Clara when I was a student there in the 1940’s was $250. Loyola seems to have no difficulty in attracting students. Whether that is enough to make it an elite school is doubtful. Really elite universities generally waive tuition costs for students who cannot afford it if they can qualify to pass entrance requirements. An “elite” school today is one that can give free rides to the students it desires, such as football players. Just where the best education is given is not easily answered in terms of prestige, money, or state power. In fact, as I have often observed, the best education may well be mostly outside any academic institution.
Pope Francis often speaks of jobs and unemployment. He cites the number of unemployed youth in Europe, some 75 million. He talks about the frustration of youth who have no employment future even with education; he thinks a job is almost basic to human dignity. On the other hand, many economists tell us that there is no need for so many jobs in the future. Technology is rapidly replacing most all jobs but the menial ones. And immigrants are taking these latter jobs. There is some employment but we have to be highly educated in technology. We saw animals replaced by machines. Now we see that machines replace stores, robots replace factory workers, money is replaced by cards and automatic tellers, stores and shops are replaced by Costco, and Costco is replaced by Amazon.com. Newspapers and journals are on-line. Books are on Kindle,.
Writers like Wendell Berry think that this process is a disaster for the culture. The culture of family tradition, work, and social cohesion is broken when the young begin to go off to college. They seldom return to their places of origin. This view is the American take on the developmental brain drain in which the educated class left their countries for education and never returned. There is a small back-to-the-land, distributist movement. But this appears to be more like a hobby, however healthy it may be for the few who can still live on the land. E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful was also an attempt to gear machinery to a human size and not to make man a stranger among monstrous machines. Technology responded by making the tiny machines everyone carries in his pockets so they can talk to anyone, any time, any place in the world.
Looked at from another angle, however, the world has made great strides in reducing and eliminating poverty.