An Article to Discuss:

I wish I had time to engage this article as fully as I would like.

Hutchins’s models of a collegiate education were the medieval Trivium — rhetoric, grammar, and logic — and Quadrivium — arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Technical knowledge was to be strenuously avoided: “Facts are the core of an anti-intellectual curriculum,” he observed. “Facts do not solve problems. . . . The gadgeteers and the data collectors have threatened to become the supreme chieftains of the scholarly world.” The true stewards of the university, said the career administrator, should be those who deal with the most fundamental problems: metaphysicians.
A worthy concept, with a noble history. What was the problem?
Only St. John’s College maintains a curriculum built exclusively around the Great Books. Every student takes at least two years of ancient Greek, two of French, four of math, and three of laboratory science, the last taught not through textbooks but through primary works like Copernicus’s On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres and Lavoisier’s Elements of Chemistry.

Beam sat in on a St. John’s laboratory seminar and found it “flat, flat, flat.” The same went for a seminar on portions of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (example: “Whether the proposition ‘God exists’ is self-evident?”). “Everyone had done the reading,” Beam laments, “but few could make heads or tails of it.” The problem, as Beam sees it, is that the students aren’t allowed to bring to the discussion anything outside the text. Beam imagines “a thousand interesting questions” that would have enlivened the proceedings: “Why did Aquinas feel the necessity of proving God’s existence? Who in the Middle Ages disagreed with him?”
This reminds me of some of our discussions on the Laches, in which the problem of physical education is considered. Can practice-fighting in armor yield anything of the virtues required to actually fight in armor? Here is the intellectual companion -- for the education of the full man includes both intellectual and physical education.

How can you learn to fight like Odysseus or Musashi? Not by studying how they fought alone, nor by reading their words or only words about them: you must also actually fight. How can you learn to think like Aquinas? Not by reading only Aquinas -- but by learning to fight like Aquinas, which means learning to understand his foes as well as himself. It is the battles he fought that gave rise to the spirit of the argument.

If you want the spirit of the man, you must preserve more than the man. You must also preserve his foes.

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