Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The University according to the Liberal Arts

Simul-posted at

Warning: This is almost an excerpt from a highly thorough non-fiction book that I have yet to write. If that is not your cup of tea (or glass of wine as the case may be) then you are certainly welcome to stay, but just remember you were warned. Catholic Education is one of my passions.

My very own Catholic University.

In discussions concerning Catholic Universities (and believe me, attending the University of Notre Dame I have heard more than my fair share), the focus seems to be how to best promote the Catholic Identity of the University. In other words, what makes the University a Catholic one? Does it actively promote a healthy faithful spirituality? Does it hire orthodox professors? Is its mission to form its students in mind and heart? Does University policy conform to Catholic teaching both Social and otherwise?

These questions are essential to the reform of the Catholic University, however I think that not enough thought is given to curricular reform. At a small Catholic Liberal Arts college, it is very easy to only offer classes that fit into the a Catholic conception of an education, at least for those who are looking for a Liberal Arts degree. The question of whether this is for everyone or when the Liberal Arts ought to be taught is a topic for another post (and believe me, there will be another). The question I would like to ask is this: Is it possible for a University with a full range of majors in the sciences, arts, and humanities and extensive graduate programs with an emphasis on research to create for itself an integrated education for each of its students based on the Liberal Arts?

First of all, it must be clarified that in an intensely specialized field such as Microbiology with an Emphasis on the Protein Structures Present in Fruit-flies, the Liberal Arts do not play a major role, nor should they. The dialogue between these specialized disciplines is certainly possible through symposia about relevant mutual subjects, but a more direct dialogue is required if we are to create a University environment based on the Liberal Arts and a Catholic understanding of education.

The question should then arise (after reading that last paragraph) "What constitutes a Catholic understanding of education?"

Having a chapel attached is helpful. (King's College, Cambridge)

The purpose of a Catholic education is to bring students to a closer proximity to their fulfillment which is in Christ. To be fully human is to be Christ-like.We are currently discussing an intellectual education (there are other kinds...topic for another post) and so we must determine what can an intellectual education can do to make us more Christ-like. There are three areas of growth that not only build on one another but are also sometimes the same thing. They are knowledge, wisdom, and holiness. 
Today, I will focus on knowledge. Of what should our knowledge as members of the intellectual community consist in order to aid our path to God?  How should it be organized?

Or we could use the college system... (Trinity College, Cambridge.)

The immediate problem once again comes in the form of specialization. At a University such as the one we are considering, each student chooses a major, a specific field in which to study. If students are immediately thrown into a major and they start to work toward it, the possibility of losing the cohesive Catholic education is greatly increased. The depth of their knowledge in that specific subject may become great, but the breadth of their knowledge which leads to wisdom and holiness is left behind. If we are to have majors at a University (and I argue that we indeed should have them) then we need to have some way of connecting them to a broader picture: In short, we must make our education an full integrated education based on the Liberal Arts and the Truth.

Let us look for a moment at where each discipline falls in terms of these Liberal Arts. The seven Liberal Arts are the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (Geometry, Music, Arithmetic, Astronomy). The Sciences in general would fall under the Quadrivium (Astronomy mostly, which refers more to the study of the three-dimensional world than to mere star-study). Linguistic studies and Philosophical studies would fall under the Trivium for the most part. Representative arts would fall under the Quadrivium (Geometry and Arithmetic). Obviously this is a very brief overview, but it's important. If we can place all these disciplines in relation to each other in this way, we can more easily create the educational structures we desire.

Is it enough to read the Great Books?

Considering a somewhat Utopian existence (if I'm not mistaken, it's not unheard of) where the student was educated in the Liberal Arts in high school, the task of a University is to take that basis and point it toward a specific discipline. Thus, the biologist should learn not only how to experiment on life forms, but also to speak and write logically, grammatically and rhetorically about them. The linguist should learn not only how to speak and write logically, grammatically and rhetorically in languages, but also to understand the origins of language in a given society and culture. A painter should not just learn how to represent forms but also should learn how the forms work together in a logical or rhetorical way.

What the Catholic university needs, then, is a curricular structure that recognizes the inherent connection between these disciplines. Of course I am not saying that a painter should take as many logic classes as art classes, but his art classes should be based on logic (or rhetoric...or music for that matter). No student can be an expert at everything, but in order to be an expert at one thing, that one thing must be completed by this more integrated idea of knowledge.

Finally, all disciplines at a Catholic university must refer to the philosophical basis of the Catholic faith. In other words, they must all be taught with reference to the Truth--how the world works, what our place is in it and the existence of God as the source of all creation. It is not enough to say "You have to take this many theology courses, but it's not really part of your major." No, Theology and Philosophy are essential to understanding all disciplines in their essence.

Now what this exactly looks like is certainly up for debate.

We will cross that bridge when we come to it. (Queen's College, Cambridge)
In my architecture education, I've experienced the hints and potential for a theological and philosophical basis for architecture as well as the influence of grammar, logic and rhetoric. I have often asserted that architecture, being a manual art, a visual art, a language, a work in sociology and psychology, a work of geometry and a practical science of building encompasses the Liberal Arts better than any single discipline. Now, I'm not quite saying that everyone should learn architecture (although as a high school education in the Liberal Arts, it might not be bad...). What I am saying is that it's possible to integrate philosophy, theology, science and art into an education. Why shouldn't a pre-med student learn Euclidian construction? A better sense of space and the precision that the constructions require will not only help train the mind, but could also help in the practical training of medical school.

With an education in a specific discipline, the student can establish a clear relationship with God through the channels that that discipline offers. With the support of the other aspects of the Liberal Arts, that relationship can deepen not only because it gives a broader understanding of the Truth, but also because it helps the chosen discipline to show its particular view of God's being.

This, then is where wisdom and holiness enter the picture. With the knowledge obtained through such an education, the wisdom to judge rightly comes more easily and the path to holiness becomes more apparent.

And I think that should bring that to an end. Anyone who got through that, I congratulate you. Tune in next time.....

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Germany to take over Greece.

Not really, but doesn't it always seem that every so often, Germany gets way too much power and then basically has everyone else fawning. At least in Europe.

This time, though, it's a peaceful process. At least for the Germans. As Greece faces the violence of fire bombs and riots, the German officials sign away its economic connection to the European Union.

Now, you might say "Don't you hate the EU? Isn't this a good thing for Greece, to finally be rid of this oppressive System?" If you did, you would be putting words in my mouth. But actually, in some ways, I think it would be good for Greece to depart from economic dependency on countries like Germany. As my room mate from last year said, then Greece will start to use its own currency, start a thriving economy and then buy Germany. That's about the size of it.

In all seriousness though, the fact that Germany is able to influence the economy and the global status of the less powerful countries in the EU is kind of scary. What if they decided that instead of letting Greece go, they decided to keep it tied to the euro and have to pay tribute to Germany and the other powerhouses. Oh wait, that's what happened with the Bailout, isn't it?

Essentially, Germany has the power to form a non-bloody empire. I don't like the sound of that.

Red Hat'd

Yesterday, Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York was made a Cardinal, princeps ecclesiae here in Rome. Well, technically, it was in the Vatican. I went to the Consistory but since I was a little late (as in half an hour early) I was only able to stand outside. It was mostly a lot of men in red parading in front of Pope Benedict and receiving birettas and rings. No big deal, right?

Wrong. It was amazing. Apostolic succession is one of my favorite things in the world, and the fact that my former archbishop is now a Cardinal is pretty swell. It seems to indicate that the Pope trusts him. Since I trust the Pope and I happen to agree with the Pope about Dolan, it's all good.

Is he papabile though? Could they make him pope? I think they could. Let us look at the Pros and Cons.

Pro: He's very friendly
Con: He's fat
Pro: He's Jolly
Con: He doesn't know Italian that well
Pro: He is popular
Con: He's not  a trained philosopher
Pro: He's is very clear on the important issues of the day
Con: He's an American and there hasn't been an American Pope in a Long Time. As in Never.
Pro: He's prayerful
Con: He's non-curial
Pro: He's the President of the USCCB and so he knows how to lead an unruly mob of apathetic ambivalent and sometimes faithful bishops.
Con: He's Irish
Pro: He seems to exude humility and Joy.

I'm seeing a clear winner.

Dolan for Pope? Maybe, but let's not forget that Benedict is still rocking the socks off the Catholic World.

The Mountain Lion leaps forth

So, my friends will tell you that I am a huge supporter of Apple, Monarchy, and Hot Chocolate. Or else they won't admit that they are my friends because of this. Whatever the case, I currently have one MacBook open to the internet while another one is being used to write a book on architecture (the summary of which can be found in the "Concerning Architectural Theory" tab above.) The reasons for this are irrelevant, but it did remind me about something I heard recently.

Apple is coming out with its latest version of OS X. In the tradition which it started a while back with "Tiger" "Leopard" "Snow Leopard" and "Lion", this new version is called "Mountain Lion." I usually like to suspend my judgement on these things, so I'm not going to rave about supposed features or anything. I doubt I'll get the update anyway.

One question I have though is why haven't they made an OS XI yet? Is the X just way too good to let go of? When does an Operating System cease being the same after it's been changed over and over and over again. It's like the Theseus's Ship problem.

Whatever the case, I'm excited because Apple seems to keep great products coming, and it seems as if this version of OS X will be more and more integrated with the tablet and smartphone mentality which the iPhone and iPad revolutionized.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Address to the American people and their Federal Government

It has been said that America is the land of the free and home of the brave. It has been said that we are a “sweet land of liberty.” My friends, it has been said: “In God we trust.” These ideas are foundational to the ideas on which this country is built. If we have the audacity to profess the belief in these ideas, we will be able to create a structure that is impervious to the attacks of malignant ideologies. If we deny these principles that have shaped the American identity since its inception, I can not but conclude that our founders dreamed in vain. If we are to truly pledge allegiance to this identity, we must preserve these ideals, not merely as an idol protected by glass and guns, not merely in the sentimental anthems which give them voice, not merely in the vibrant colors of patriotic displays of affection but also in the common, natural law of the American heart.
HOWEVER, while we have been at war abroad, a tumor has taken hold of our heart. While we spread the gospel of Democracy to every nation, the infection has only grown. Are we doctors of freedom? Physician, cure thyself! Do we denounce tyranny and corruption? Thus it always is with tyrants. Shall we hold ourselves up as the sole standard of political sanity? See, we write our diatribes and propaganda on padded walls.
What is this cancer that is now with ferocious appetite eating away at the very substance of America? It should come as no surprise that the threat comes not from the citizen who lives, works, and dies in relative anonymity; who builds the stage and sets the lights and runs the tele-prompter. Instead, this disease is a result of a direct attack on the principles of the nation by those that, having sworn to serve these principles, have been granted the power over our nation.
And what nobility resides in the hearts and minds of these public servants, so called! They are called noble because of their dedication to the cause of universal health and rightly so. They are called great because of their gallant fight for the rights of the oppressed. They are called wise because of their powerful diplomacy that makes tyrants subservient and military regimes lay down their arms. They have been praised for these and rightly so, for they have accomplished much in creating this, the greatest nation on the planet, built on the ideals of the Constitution as ratified by out Founding Fathers. 
And yet, they have turned their ideals and their policies on their head as their smiles become frowns. No longer do they look with delight on those they serve. They say “universal health care?” What they mean is conditional health care, and the conditions are the destruction of religious liberty. They speak of the rights of the oppressed, but are in fact oppressing those whose rights are guaranteed by our very constitution. They exhibit diplomacy in the face of grave moral evil and refuse to listen to their own citizens.
In short, there are certain members of our government who have, in the face of substantial protest and the certain threat of civil disobedience, decided to force certain constituencies to pay for that which they consider morally abhorrent. 
My friends, is it not enough that you may hold us without limit on a mere suspicion of the support of terrorism?  Is it not enough to have the power to take away our citizenship? Is it not enough to be able to define our beliefs for us? No, you must also force us to pay for the destruction of human life, the trivialization of Marriage, the bane of families! This shall not only destroy American society (indeed, has already begun to do so!) but shall also rip out the heart of this nation. 
Never since the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire has such a blatantly offensive command been made. We have been offered the idol of contraception, but will never worship. It is a false god, a human deformation of a sacred act. If the Christians of old refused to worship the Roman pantheon because God alone rules the world, how much more should we refuse to bow to this idol whose sole purpose is to prevent or destroy life?
My friends, this is our belief, and yet you command us to throw it away! And for what? Is there some greater good that will result from closing off our nation to the love of human life? Support this evil. We will not. Are the rights of the majority being trampled on? Support this evil. We will not. We will not pay for that which defies our morality and lays waste to our consciences. 
My friends, you have made enemies of us. You have divided a country still reeling from a time when some were considered less than others. This house can not stand. America can not stand. In fact, we refuse to stand for this violation, this rape of the conscience of Americans. If you refuse to turn from this evil, I only pray that when you look upon us, bruised and exhausted, you will repent. For we will not let it destroy us. No, we will in fact bring the fruit of our persecution to birth and we will once again raise the standard of our beliefs, daring the American people to discover that freedom, even ill-begotten by tyranny is beautiful.