On Hail Mary Passes

  1. Time for a Hail Mary Pass
  2. A Rorschach test of patience
  3. Middlebury College
  4. Blurring lines, smashing limits
  5. Appliances

1

One of my concerns about people voting for Donald Trump was that it seemed desperate, radical — a political “Hail Mary pass” or even a revolutionary “It couldn’t get worse, so let’s smash this system and see what happens.” We’re in the middle of seeing if it really couldn’t get worse, I guess.

But Monday morning, catching up on Rod Dreher (whose blogging isn’t coming to me timely in my RSS feed for some reason), I realized that I’m ready for my own Hail Mary pass of sorts: Classical Christian Eduction.

The spark for this insight was Dreher’s discussion of Anthony Esolen’s new book Out of the Ashes, which then moved to one Orthodox Christian response to the sort of decline Esolen sees:

Who is John Mark Reynolds, and why is he relevant to our discussion? He was the founder of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, then the provost at Houston Baptist University, and more recently founded an classical school in the Orthodox Christian tradition. I write about him in The Benedict Option:

Christian graduate students in the humanities tell me that they can read the handwriting on the wall in academia and see no future for themselves as college professors. In the fall of 2016, some younger members of the Society of Christian Philosophers publicly assailed Richard Swinburne, one of the most eminent living philosophers, as a bigot for briefly defending the orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. Prominent non- Christian philosophy professors from Yale, Columbia, and Georgetown piled on, insulting Swinburne and his defenders in lewd, profane terms. This kind of thing is why one Christian Ph.D. candidate in English literature at a prestigious American university confided to me that the total left-wing ideologization of literary scholarship caused him to give up plans for an academic career.

The ground is moving swiftly and decisively under our feet. It’s time for Christians to recognize the danger and begin creating a Christian academic counterculture. John Mark Reynolds is preparing for that shift. When he left the provost’s job at Houston Baptist University a few years back, he was offered the presidency of a college. He turned it down, even though it was a prestigious job that paid much more money than he’s making as head of the Saint Constantine School, the classical Christian academy he founded.

He wears a number of hats at the fledgling Houston school—even part-time janitor. It’s a bit of a blow to his pride, but he says it has been good for him to realize how coddled he was in conventional Christian academia— and how much it made him dependent on a higher education model that he believes is financially unsustainable, and will collapse.

Reynolds explains that even Christian colleges are living on the edge of a financing bubble that is bound to burst. When he was a Christian college provost, less than one-third of the school’s budget went to academics.

“College as we know it must die,” he says. “I’m not willing to have an inner-city kid come to school and borrow a hundred thousand dollars to get a baccalaureate degree that may or may not lead to a job, where they don’t see a full-time professor for two years. That’s the real world.”

The Saint Constantine School model will eventually include a four-year liberal arts college. The school is tied tightly into local churches, and its college component, when launched, will be closely affiliated with the King’s College, a Christian institution in New York City. The reason, according to Reynolds: “Those Christian institutions that were accredited before the troubles that are coming will be the last to be challenged.”

John Mark’s idea is to get back to basics, offering traditional humanities studies in an authentically Christian environment, at an affordable cost. You can do that when you serve students who are there for the sake of real learning, not for a four-year vacation at a spa with a football team attached.

 The curriculum at the college level is shaping up as dynamite:
Fall Courses Spring Courses
ENG 110: College Writing ENG 120: Research Writing
HIS 111: Western Civilization I HIS 212: Western Civilization II
REL 110: Christianity and Society REL 112: Introduction to Literature of Hebrew Scriptures
PHL: 110: Foundations of Philosophy POL 110: Foundations of Politics
MAT 155: Quantitative Reasoning ECO 110: Introduction to Economics

But make no mistake: opting for Classical Christian Education is a sort of Hail Mary pass.

  1. Start-up Classical Schools be reaching further than they can grasp — they may fail to produce the rounded human beings they hope for.
  2. You may be limiting college choices — Classical Education is unusual and typically unaccredited.
  3. Don’t think that your classically educated kid is going to eat up the competition in college and get the most prestigious job offers, either. Rounded, balanced Christians — little Christs — is the desiderata, not little Donald Trumps who Tweet Bible verses instead of preposterous lies.

But they’re your children. You have the primary responsibility for their education and spiritual nurture. And the times are tough enough for tough responses.

2

Rod Dreher’s own forthcoming book, The Benedict Option, is proving, in pre-publication reviews, to be very much a Rorschach test. Rod will need to develop the patience of a Saint to endure the willful and clueless misrepresentations — for which patience I intend to pray.

3

Some grownups at Middlebury College respond to the petulant speech disruption and subsequent criminal battery at last weeks Charles Murray address:

Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.

Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.

The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.

The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and even to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.

No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.

The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.

The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.

The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.

A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.

All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.

We are steadfast in our purpose to provide all current and future students an education on this model, and we encourage our colleagues at colleges across the country to do the same.

***

The list of signatories is available at FreeInquiryBlog.wordpress.com.

(Jay Parini and Keegan Callahan in the Wall Street Journal) Two cheers for the grownups.

Student Government also responded:

Middlbury SGA

(Via Samantha Harris of FIRE, who responded “I can’t even.”) More student responses here. (Warning: Not Suitable for Sanity)

As with the Milo riots at Berkley, when are we going to see arrests, expulsions, criminal prosecutions?

4

Trump and his party bear the bulk of the blame. They are the ones leading the way into the wilderness of absolute partisanship, blurring lines between political argument and entertainment, denigrating the authority of science, treating blatant falsehoods as truth, encouraging belief in conspiracy theories, dismissing the need for expertise in policymaking, and even denying the possibility of objectivity altogether. In all of these ways, the Trump administration poses a serious danger to the health of liberal democratic government in the United States.

But that doesn’t mean left-leaning partisans — including large swaths of the mainstream media — are innocently upholding justice, the common good, and objective truth. As Delmore Schwartz once joked, sometimes paranoids have real enemies, and the paranoid-in-chief occupying the Oval Office has some very real and very powerful enemies.

Anyone who denies this needs to go back and reread the most important (and unfairly maligned) magazine feature written last year: David Samuels’ 9,500-word New York Times Magazineprofile of Obama administration senior staffer Ben Rhodes. Journalists hated the piece, but for reasons so self-serving that it’s hard to believe anyone took the objections seriously. (My colleague Noah Millman noted as much shortly after the essay appeared.)

Samuels portrays (and quotes) Rhodes as someone who views both reporters (“they literally know nothing”) and Washington’s foreign policy establishment (Rhodes calls it “The Blob”) with utter contempt. It’s that contempt that Rhodes uses to justify the propaganda shop he ran out of the Obama White House, subtly but significantly manipulating the story that the mainstream media told about the Iran nuclear deal by selectively and repeatedly leaking tiny bits of information to dozens of journalists who wove those bits of micro-spin into countless tweets and stories over the course of many months. The end result was a pro-Iran deal conventional wisdom — a pointillistic picture of reality composed entirely of colorful dots painted by Rhodes and his staff with the knowledge and support of the president.

(Damon Linker, Trump Is Wrong: That Doesn’t Make His Opponents Right) “Blurring lines between political argument and entertainment” is the best phrase, no?

5

This means it’s the second time in six months the dishwasher has broken, so the writing is on the wall. It would likely cost more to fix it than it is worth. The unit isn’t even five years old yet, but I’ve come to learn that appliances come in three categories these days: cheap crap, mid-priced crap, and hideously expensive crap. Any of them can wow you by lasting more than five whole years (why, yes, darling, that was sarcasm; however did you guess?), and any of them can disappoint you by being lemons from the get-go. You can buy a product that was manufactured overseas cheaply by aspiring college students and it can be a workhorse of a machine; you can buy a product made in the USA by people who know more about tools and machinery than you ever will, and it can suffer catastrophic failure the third time you use it, or the first time you have company after the purchase, whichever happens first.

(Erin Manning, Lessons in gratitude; or, my dishwasher is broken)

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.