Hattip to Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts. Patrick Deneen who teaches political theory at Notre Dame decries the ignorance of his pleasant students in a post entitled Res Idiotica:
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten it origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself.
It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject), they build superb resumes. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though with their peers (as snatches of passing conversation reveal), easygoing if crude. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publically). They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting who will run America and the world.
But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian war? What was at stake at the Battle of Salamis? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?
He contends that this pathetic ignorance among students who should be the most learned among their generation is no accident:
We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, historyless free agents, and educational goals composed of contentless processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.” Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical). In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps. Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.
Go here to read the rest. Now such ignorance is appalling but why? Cicero said it best: “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.” One of the chief goals of education should be to produce morally responsible men and women, not forever children, and hard won knowledge is usually an essential part of the process. Deneen has a series of questions to underline the ignorance of his students: Continue reading
Note: once again, this is a guest post by Stephen Herreid, not Bonchamps.
“Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.” – President Barack Obama
“…America was never well-founded, so either needs to be differently re-founded or at least endured, even survived.” – Patrick Deneen
Faced with the historic government overreach that is the HHS mandate, it ought to be easier than ever for Christians to know who their enemies are. One would hope that in this desperate time conservatives and Christians would unite against the enemies of the Church, and defend the religious liberty that has already been half-robbed from us. Unlike in many other countries, where Christians are already third class citizens and some are killed and violated by the thousands, America is the home of a long-standing Constitutional Republic, a Rule of Law tradition that explicitly protects and honors our religious liberty. The army of the Left is united in its effort to topple that grand tradition and the Church that it protects. Appallingly, the army of the Right is not so united in their defense.
What’s a tenured associate professor of government teaching at a Catholic university to do when he believes the institution isn’t really Catholic?
It’s pretty easy to say “Give up your tenure and go where you will find what you are looking for.” Sometimes, witness to one’s faith entails suffering.
Agreed. But, making that decision isn’t so simple when other considerations—like those of family, financial obligations (a mortgage, for example), and the like—must also be factored into the equation.
The situation presents an authentic ethical dilemma, one that confronted a former Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, Patrick Deneen.
In a letter published at Front Porch Republic, Deneen said with regard to Georgetown University:
…Georgetown increasingly and inevitably remakes itself in the image of its secular peers, ones that have no internal standard of what a university is for other than the aspiration of prestige for the sake of prestige, its ranking rather than its commitment to Truth. Its Catholic identity, which should inform every activity of the community, from curriculum to dorm life to faculty hiring, has increasingly been cordoned off to optional activities of Campus Ministry.
Describing his experience, Deneen wrote:
In the seven years since I joined the faculty at Georgetown, I have found myself often at odds with the trajectory and many decisions of the university. In 2006 I founded The Tocqueville Forum as a campus organization that would offer a different perspective, one centered on the moral underpinnings of liberal learning that are a precondition for the continued existence of liberal democracy, and one that would draw upon the deep wisdom contained in the Catholic humanistic tradition. I have been heartened and overjoyed to witness the great enthusiasm among a myriad of students for the programming and activities of the Forum. However, the program was not supported or recognized by the institution, and that seemed unlikely to change. While I did not seek that approval, I had hoped over the years that the program would be attractive to colleagues across disciplines on the faculty, and would be a rallying-point for those interested in reviving and defending classical liberal learning on campus. The Tocqueville Forum fostered a strong community of inquiry among a sizeable number of students, but I did not find that there was any such community formed around its mission, nor the likely prospect of one, among the more permanent members of the university. I have felt isolated and often lonely at the institution where I have devoted so many of my hours and my passion.
So, where is Professor Deneen headed?
The University of Notre Dame (UND).
However, Deneen appears not to be headed to South Bend blinded by all of the UND hype. He wrote:
I don’t doubt that there will be many battles at Our Lady’s University. But, there are at least some comrades-in-arms to share in the effort.
UND hired Deneen, he wrote, because they regard him as “someone who can be a significant contributor to its mission and identity, particularly the Catholic identity of the institution.”
Although considerations like these are not typically a criterion for hiring at Georgetown as Deneen noted, The Motley Monk would humbly suggest that even in those institutions where they are, there’s quite a distance between espousing those ideals and translating them to pedagogical lessons in every classroom, dorm, and student activity.
For Professor Deneen’s willingness to witness to the importance of an institution’s Catholic identity in name and in fact, The Motley Monk offers a “call out” and “both thumb up.”
To read Professor Deneen’s letter, click on the following link:
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Patrick Deneen of Georgetown University has an essay on Minding The Campus in which he argues that cultural and intellectual conservatives should be more cautious about championing Great Books type programs in colleges and universities as an antidote to the rootlessness and relativism of the modern curriculum, because the Great Books format itself is often essentially relativistic:
Most curricula in the Great Books offer the various philosophies as inherently coherent and valid systems, suggesting to each student that there is finally no basis on which to decide which philosophy to adopt other than mere preference. One must simply decide. This Nietzschean (or Schmittian) lesson is reinforced by the typical organization of such curricula (where they persist), which is typically chronological. Given that most students today have deeply ingrained progressive worldviews (that is, the view that history has been the slow but steady advance of enlightenment in all forms, culminating in equal rights for all races, all genders, and all sexual preferences), a curriculum that begins with the Bible and Greek philosophy and ends with Nietzsche subtly suggests that Nietzsche is the culmination of Enlightenment’s trajectory. The fact that his philosophy is reinforced by the message that an education in the Great Books consists in exposure to equally compelling philosophies between which there is no objective basis to prefer only serves to deepen the most fundamental lesson of a course in the Great Books, which is a basic form of relativism. The choice of a personal philosophy is relative, and the basis on which one makes any such choice is finally arbitrary, the result of personal preference or attraction.