As the students were talking I became more aware of them. This was their second larger than life guest within the week. The ancient mind Jaffa first, then the ram-rod straight Bunting. Each speaker had both the age and the authority to make the young think twice before trying to question anything being said. Yet they questioned, opined, talked, even pushed. They were at home with it, the authority, the power, the subjects all. The guests at first are always surprised , and then come to know this great fact and they like it. They feel at home among those that trust the mind.
Such students are dangerous. Ordinary professors are afraid of them because, well, they can’t just talk at them. The lecture they prefer is closed and time bound. They approach all topics as if they know them and if they just had enough time they could explain them to everyone who is listening. They talk to fill in time, as if they are paid by the word. But they don’t know that real students aren’t note-takers and ciphers, but participants and friends in the conversation. The students insist on knowing, and discovering, and they want to be thinking in public. If a professor is not courageous enough to think aloud, they come to ignore him. If he is merely ignorant, they make a great attempt to help him. If he can’t do any better, they leave him and do something serious.
I had a class yesterday in which we considered a heavy thought. How is ruling reason affected by the thing it is trying to govern? My always limited—and then especially tired—mind was sinking in deep waters. I couldn’t get anywhere with any word. I couldn’t breathe. I perceived my inability, the weight pulling me down. And then someone to my left said a few words that were unclear to me. I asked him to repeat. He did and things became clearer. And then a yellow haired woman spoke with more clarity, and then the shy man came into it, then another. Then a new student was born, one who had yet said nothing in public during the whole term. Although his voice was hesitant, the thought was clear. I asked for repetition and clarity and kept getting it. An hour later I realized that I was no longer sinking. My mind was fresh and I was thinking with my students. We were back in the breathing world.
I have been a teacher for almost thirty years and I have had some very good students. I have seen some fine students. Many have become friends and we stay students together. I am lucky. Yet I have to say the students here at Ashbrook and Ashland are the best students I have ever encountered, anywhere. They are always interesting, thoughtful and mature. Even when I know they approach a thought not for the first time, they talk as if they do. They speak in fresh and enlivened terms and tones and are always surprised by their discoveries. Yet they keep their balance, and if one of us sinks he is pulled up by their reason and their generosity. Their eyes sparkle and their laugh is deep and honest. And everyone with them and around them is made into something better and finer. And even old authorities visiting who remain teachers know this. I am also aware of this and am deeply in their debt and am grateful to them all. I am happy in their company and their conversation.