Posted by Joseph Knippenberg
Terrence Moore writes compellingly about some future Ashbrooks here. I’ve seen a few like that myself, both where I work and where I worship.
Gives me hope.
Thank God were not all like "Promise" and her friends. The Ashbrook Program and my classes here at Ashland University would be pretty friggin boring . . .
Your students seem very bright and promising, and their work looks to have been very rigorous. But, are they still willing to learn? They seem to have all of the answers. If they do not seriously face the important questions, will they ever have gone through a truly moral education, at least in a personal sense? I dont know if relativism only results from selfishness. Its easy to play that game, but then youre only doing the same thing. Do any of your students like Dostoyevsky? I would think that The Brothers Karamozov might be able to personalize important questions rather than allowing them to project the questions on others so that the answers can be obvious.
My worries might be unfounded. It was only five and a half short years ago when I was a senior in high school and had everything figured out. I was going to college to learn, but I was going with the mindset that I would teach the school a thing or two as well. In fact, b/c I held what could be called relativistic ideas with a disconnected moral sense, I think my education elevated. Put simply, I thought there was no absolute voice of truth on Earth, so men could not make absolute moral judgments on other men in modern times. Modern circumstances were different during the Bibles time, and all it took to justify my foundation was to pull a few verses from the Old Testament not in accord with the modern understanding of morality or ethics. But in going to school with that mindset, I was forced to confront my whole beleif system when I was taught and read about the great men. In facing it, in being forced to make a choice about whether or not the beliefs I had could hold water in light of the ideas of great men, I think I underwent a true education, and realized that the education will only continue.
The curriculum at your school seems very good, and your students seem extremely prepared for the academic rigor of college, but the militaristic sense permeating from the piece seems unnatural. Perhaps my feeling only results from personal experience. But when I was that age, it was the sheer number of questions I had about the truth and the good that made me think there couldnt be absolutes, at least in man-made judgments. So, the conviction of your students, especially b/c it is so steadfast at such a young age, seems out of place.
First of all, Ive never laid eyes on any of Terrence Moores students. Theyre in Fort Collins, Colorado; Im in Atlanta, Georgia.
I have, however, seen students somewhat like them, as well as lots of run-of-the-mill relativists. In my almost thirty years (I hate to admit that) of dealing with undergraduates, Ive found that relativism is more often associated with "the closing of the American mind" than is the phenomenon Moore describes. Not all "natural law kids" are willing seriously to confront challenges, and not all "Im O.K., youre O.K. kids" stick their fingers in their ears and say "I cant hear you, la la la." But those who take the possibility of Truth (capital T) seriously have a stake in getting it right and are in principle teachable (which doesnt necessarily mean leading them away from what they already [think they] know, but only perhaps [intellectually] deepening their attachment to it). An evangelical kid, for example, may not yet have had a serious encounter with Aristotle or Aquinas, let alone Rousseau and Nietzsche.
With the relativists, theres a preliminary challenge--getting them to take common moral inquiry seriously. You seem to have risen to the challenge. Many more do not.
My comment was directed to Mr. Moore, not you. Sorry for the confusion, I should have used a heading.
Sure, the kids in the different camps are not uniform, and those that have an interest in the Truth (yes, capital T) have a stake in getting it right and (one would assume) are teachable... its just hard, damn hard, to get to it (or get further away, but such is the nature of an education). Also, I certainly dont think relativists have any advantage in the process.
However, Ive seen too many times smart students adhere to some previously held belief like their lives depend upon it. In doing so, they are closing their minds just as effectively as relativists who do not need to listen. I think there might be more to Blooms idea of "closing of the American mind" because it may be one sustainable on a uniform ideology. But as far as education is concerned, I dont think ideology is enough. Perhaps its best to let someone more capable say it for me. I quote him often, but not enough:
Well, few men love the truth or even regard facts so dearly as to let either one upset their picture of the world. Poor Galileo, poor John Jasper; they persecuted one and laughed at the other, but both were witnesses for the truth they professed. Maybe its just that some of us have had certain facts and truths slapped up against our heads so hard and so often that we have to see them and pay respects to their reality.... In this country men can be born and live well and die without ever having to feel much of what makes their ease possible, just because so much is buried under all of this black and white mess that in their ignorance some folks accept it as a natural condition. But then again, maybe they just feel that the whole earth would blow up if even a handful of folks got to digging into it. It would even seem a shame to expose it, to have it known that so much has been built on top of such a shaky foundation.
- Ralph Ellison Juneteenth
Different context I know, but just as applicable. If one is to step back and look at the cost such a process has had on human beings throughout history, perhaps remaining in the muck would not be as easy.
I am going to wag the finger at this one.
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