Make it a habit:

Hutchins, Robert M

Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education (1991) unleashed new jeremiads whose targets were "PC" and multiculturalism run amok. David Horowitz and Peter Collier even launched a monthly journal,...

...First, I'm ready to concede that obtaining faculty consensus on a core curriculum-one that would address what Bloom calls "the permanent questions"-is virtually a lost cause...
...In this effort at some level of education, instruction in moral philosophy has a part to play...
...The great and specific contribution that a college or university can make to the development of virtue is in supplying the rational basis for it, that is, in developing the Make it u habit 14: 21 April 1995 Commonweal ileged fraction of the total undergraduate student body...
...In an article (the Washington Post, "Can We Talk...
...The real test of instruction or research is whether it has high intellectual content and demands intellectual effort...
...the principal issue of our day is a moral and intellectual one...
...The beginnings of those habits which are the moral virtues are found in the training received in childhood...
...They must have standards of judging thinking, including their own...
...We are plentifully supplied with all three...
...Young Americans of college age-and that age at my university includes up to a third of my students who are age-thirtyplus "retumers"-are not inherently passive...
...any more than the test of a good research project is whether it is expensive and elaborate and produces large literary poundage...
...As we have seen, instruction in how to he good is not likely to be effective...
...Wisdom, science, and understanding, the three speculative virtues, and prudence, the good habit of the practical intellect, must be the focus of a university's educational endeavor...
...And yes, our media-dominated culture indeed inhibits long conversations in favor of thirty-second-sound-bite opinions and invites audience passivity...
...This means that their education must assist them in learning how to think and get them into the habit of doing it...
...The class syllabus tells them we begin by contrasting the societies of Athens and Sparta...
...It is here that we see the connection between the moral and the intellectual virtues...
...Let me explain...
...If the habits formed through training in childhood are to survive, they must be sustained by reason...
...David Horowitz and Peter Collier even launched a monthly journal, Heterodoxy, to document how leftist intolerance intimidates both students and professors in the classroom, forcing apologies where none are due...
...All education swings around the ancient dictum that man is a rational animal...
...Economic and social injustice does not result from lack of information, lack of natural resources, or any failure of technology...
...Russell Jacoby's Dogmatic Wisdom (1994) counters by portraying settings where "women study women, African-Americans study African-Americans, Latinos study Latinos...
...The economic and social injustice of our times results from the weakness or absence of the moral and intellectual virtues, which, as we have seen, are interdependent...
...Of course...
...Differing conceptions of the good life and the purpose of the state yield contrasting ideals for how young people should be raised and how they should relate to adults and adult authority...
...serious conversation about serious things is a rare bird...
...It is unlikely that a college student can acquire them for the first time in college...
...Indeed, thinks Jacoby, this student malaise reflects American culture as a whole: we make little space and time for sustained conversation, and TV doesn't help...
...As the object of the moral virtues is the good, so the object of the intellectual virtues is the truth...
...IN hat about all this...
...They are, to be sure, a priv he object of education is the production of virtue: for virtue is that which makes a man good and his work good...
...University students don't walk into their classrooms immunized from these influences...
...Yet it is possible to graduate from many colleges and universities without being compelled to face such questions and without the disciplines which would be needed to face them intelligently...
...Heavy stuff, indeed...
...How would each of them define the most critical youth problems today...
...If a man is to do good actions, he must do them from choice and not from impulse or by accident...
...Through the moral virtues our desires and appetites are perfected so that we select the proper ends...
...Later come two-to-threepage weekend writing assignments...
...And though the moral virtues are among the most durable of all goods, they, like other habits, may be lost, and for the same reasons...
...Few indeed are the state universities whose diverse faculty (ours numbers over twelve hundred) share a common cultural background allowing for fruitful dialogue on what a core curriculum ought to look like (by contrast, all faculty members of whatever specialty in the English university where I taught as an exchange professor four years ago, shared a broad knowledge of English history and culture...
...The great problems of labor, capital, the Constitution, the judiciary, communism, fascism, war and peace revolve around fundamental questions which every student ought to face intelligently, questions affecting the ends of economic activity, of organized society, and of human life...
...As virtue makes a man good and makes him happy, so also it makes him a good citizen, and this is the aim of general or liberal education...
...Yet the absence of a coherent core A la Bloom need not spell wholesale forfeiture of the desire for wholeness or personal development among students...
...Higher education must share the blame for the condition in which we find our selves...
...too, the nature of man and the nature of political society, for otherwise they will not be good men or good members of a political society...
...When I later read aloud some of the best paragraphs from those papers, I intellectual virtues...
...At the end of multiculturalism a primitivism returns, thinking by blood, race, and sex...
...A man becomes just by doing just acts, temperate by being temperate, and brave by acting bravely...
...But they do await an invitation...
...Like many universities, my own offers an undergraduate honors program built partially on the foundation of the Great Books...
...The text of a good course is not whether it is amusing or informational or seems to contribute to financial success...
...The electronic discussions consist of one or several people talking while millions remain quiet...
...A vital process begins the opening day of class when I issue an invitation to the students in front of me...
...The moral virtues depend upon prudence, which is practical wisdom...
...They must know how to read, to listen, to write, and to speak...
...The four cardinal virtues are justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude...
...Otherwise it has no place in a university, for it cannot assist in forming those habits which a university education is designed to foster...
...The common good is that condition of peace, order, and economic sufficiency which provides happiness for all to the degree to which they can participate in it...
...I have learned over the years to resist the almost overwhelming tendency to walk into a classroom and just start talking-you know more than they do...
...Commonweal 21 April 1995: 15...
...June 26, 1994) Jacoby paints them as mute, conversationless, rarely volunteering anything...
...They are the criterion of teaching and research...
...Nevertheless, habits may be lost, corrupted, or diminished...
...for when he has reached that age he has already committed so many acts that his habits, good and bad, are formed...
...But as he becomes a man his reason must understand and approve his actions: for in the order of human powers reason rules...
...And the students...
...A "new provincialism" has emerged, feeding on "a separatism that is turning prickly and hostile...
...Students desiring to explore and be challenged by the classics find a home at the Honors Center, and as Bloom notes, often develop close friendships with fellow students and faculty...
...Only by disciplines that teach them these differences can they hope to resist the demagogue and the propagandist...
...A common curriculum...
...He may be trained in infancy as animals are trained...
...Afro-American, Native American, Latino, Asian-American insistence upon respect for their distinct cultural identities threatens American wholeness, provoking Arthur Schlesinger's The Disuniting of America (1992...
...Happiness is activity in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues, that is, good moral and intellectual habits...
...The virtues are habits, and are acquired, like other habits, by doing certain acts...
...You will be asked to read and think and write about young people, mostly younger than you-consider your brothers and sisters, daughters and sons at home-and what kind of society they live in and what could be done to make it a better society for them and for ourselves...
...As virtue makes a man and his work good, so also it makes him happy, for happiness is activity in accordance with virtue...
...Their intellects must be disciplined...
...The violin player who stops playing and the tennis champion who stops practicing will soon fall from their lofty eminence...
...Multiculturalists see it as a bad idea in the first place...
...The students must act, and act in such a way as to strengthen their virtues and weaken their vices...
...One cannot become good merely by listening to lectures on moral philosophy, any more than one can become a famous violin player or tennis champion by reading textbooks...
...Have I encountered over my twenty-five years as a university instructor dispirited students uninspired by their courses and professors...
...tell it to them...
...Correct choice depends on the determination of the right end and of the right means of obtaining it...
...The students have thoughts, but they're not talking...
...ROBEKT M_ HUTCH INS Robert M. Hutchins (1899-1977) was president of the University of Chicago...
...Honors graduates are admitted to prestigious graduate and professional schools nationwide...
...This article is excerpted from the April 22, 1938, Commonweal...
...Thus an educational institution will wish to confirm and support the moral virtues of its students and modify their vices...
...They must be good and wise in respect to their own ends and in their relations with other men...
...They must understand...
...If' they are, they will n derstand that the good life can be led only in a political society, and that such a society is an organization designed to promote the common good...
...They must know the difference between honest thinking and sophistry and between reasoning and rationalization...
...Of course...
...Does campus PC get irritating...
...I welcome you to `Youth and Society' and invite all of you to go with me on a semester-long voyage...
...and one description of them is that they are social virtues, the virtues that good living in society requires...
...Despite the cogent critiques, I am irritated by the abstract and "distant" tone of what I read and of images of apathetic students flopped in their seats...
...If we turn to the production of good citizens, we see that democracy rests on the assumption that the citizens will be intelligent...
...Do universities seem to care less about the larger issues of life's meaning and about directionless students and more about ushering students into career tracks and on to majoring in something...
...I can think of no surer way to reinforce the passivity and "audience" mentality deplored by the critics...
...Universities still are settings where real people vitally engage in a mutual learning process, much as they did decades ago when professors (with a little help from Hollywood) smoked pipes and conversed leisurely with students under spreading oaks and maples...
...Do multicultural debates seem forever to rehash the same issues...

Vol. 122 • April 1995 • No. 8


 
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