Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Education

On Rhodes Scholars and Education

John Moser directed us below to Heather Wilson's article in the Washington Post, but I wanted to add my two cents on the subject as well. Wilson writes about how "superficial" Rhodes Scholar applicants have become. The problem is not that the candidates are frivolous or unintelligent: just the opposite--they are ambitious and serious and know a lot about their very specialized area of study.

But, Wilson says, "our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism." For example, "[a]n outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president's health-care bill but doesn't really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn't really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral."

The students are, in short, not being asked to dig into the big, permanent questions of human life and society. They don't get anything like a liberal education--one designed to cultivate free human beings who can think for themselves about the great questions. They are what David Brooks once called "The Organization Kid".

Here at Ashland we're trying to do things differently with the Ashbrook Scholars. It starts the day they arrive as freshman, when they have a seminar with Peter on a great text from a statesman (Churchill's My Early Life this year). They talk about big questions like "What is education?" "What is justice?". It continues through their education in US history, Western Civilization, ancient and modern political thought, and American political thought. And it culminates in their senior year, when they write a thesis on some important question that really matters to them as a person and a citizen.

Wilson says that the Rhodes Scholarship is "looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership." Whatever others do, we at least are trying to cultivate just that kind of student.

Categories > Education

Discussions - 1 Comment

Sometimes I take my education as an Ashbrook Scholar for granted. I know better. Perhaps I may never be able to show my full appreciation for the time you've taken to "cultivate" me, but the least I can do is start with a simple "thank you."

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