And, for the most part, he is dead-on. Higher education, in particular, is so steeped in this kind of "therapeutic" nonsense Hanson describes that it becomes almost impossible for the so-called "educated" classes to make the kind of common-sensical decisions they could have made before coming to college. Not so, however, in a handful of wonderful oasises like the Ashbrook Scholar Program and The Master’s Program in American History and Government at Ashland University. I’ve been visiting the Center for the past few days as high school teachers from around the country have gathered to take classes on interesting, important and permanent things. In speaking with them I am struck--first of all by my jealousy at their getting to spend 3 or 4 weeks of the summer reading great books and engaged in serious conversation--and second, by how well they understand that such opportunities are beyond precious. One woman remarked to me that coming here every summer (to take classes!) was the first among her luxury priorities! She is, of course, exactly right.
In addition to my conversations with these high school teachers, I have talked with a few of the student interns and Ashbrook Scholars. They are smart, engaged and intensly interested in the serious questions of life. Of course, this was true back in the dark ages when I was studying at AU too--but now . . . well, things have only improved. I regret that I cannot stay longer and meet more of these fine students. But as I read (and agree with) pieces like Victor Davis Hanson’s, I am comforted and confident that common sense in the joy of real learning has a path to reassert itself--at least in Ashland.
There is nothing therapeutic about the Master's program at Ashland. By the end of my third week, the third course, I might have needed therapy. I was truly exhausted. Two days later I feel as if I were back from the front lines of something akin to battle. I loved it.
However, I would say of Hanson's article that even my community college students know the difference between a serious course and blissful uneducation. This spring I took over a course, mid-term, from a real pro whose wife had become ill and needed his attention. I found that he had taught on paraphrasing for eight weeks. That meant that I had eight weeks left to to teach what I thought necessary for college level writing. Anyway, they got a taste. Mostly they were grateful. The other three just stopped coming. I am grateful for the rigor of my summer courses, which I take with me into my classroom.
Not incidentally, it was a pleasure to meet Julie and have our own private NLT conference.