Over a month ago, the Holy Father traveled to the Czech Republic.  Next month, the county will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, when the Communist regime was overthrown and freedom was restored.  Not surprisingly, most of the Holy Father’s addresses and homilies drew upon the ideas of freedom, justice and the reign of truth.

The day before he departed to return to Italy, Pope Benedict addressed the academic community of the Czech Republic with a speech in Prague Castle.   It’s not a long speech, and I’d recommend reading it here.   As always, he teaches with such clarity and insight.

He focused on the idea of academic freedom.   As in his other messages during those days, he recalled the effects of totalitarian rule in the country.  He reaffirmed the importance of the universities’ autonomy — as we all know, when a totalitarian regime takes over a country, it will always take over the academy and attempt to control thought.  The Holy Father reminded the academy, however, that “the proper autonomy of a university, or indeed any educational institution, finds meaning in its accountability to the authority of truth.” (emphasis here, and in the following quotes, mine.)

He reminded his audience that academic freedom has a purpose.  It is not freedom for the sake of freedom, but freedom to pursue truth.  “The freedom that underlies the exercise of reason – be it in a university or in the Church – has a purpose: it is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university.”

This perhaps brings up the age old question of Pilate: What is truth?  Is it subjective or objective?  Can it be found at all?

In his address the day before to civil and political authorities, the Holy Father answered Pilate: “For Christians, truth has a name: God.”

After referring to the triumph of truth over totalitarianism that the country witnessed in 1989, the Holy Father cautioned the academy.  He first warned them against the “fragmentation of knowledge” that arises today in the face of the “massive growth in information and technology,” where education is viewed as a gathering of facts, severing reason from the pursuit of truth.  Then he warned against the relativism that comes from this weakening of reason:

“The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk.  While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals?”

These are powerful words from our Holy Father.  Anyone with the slightest bit of contact with a public university has to find themselves nodding to that last sentence.  And let’s not just point fingers at public universities.  We all know of examples of private universities, who so proudly wave the banner of “academic freedom!!” whenever they do something to betray their founders or identity.  They too are bound in chains to public opinion, political correctness, and… money.

The Holy Father continues:   “What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded?  What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots?”

He has an interesting answer:  “Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good.”

Exactly the opposite of what they all claim to be, no?

It all comes down to truth.  When you get that wrong, you get it all wrong.

“In the end, “fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom” (Caritas in Veritate, 9). This confidence in the human ability to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth led to the foundation of the great European universities.  Surely we must reaffirm this today in order to bring courage to the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing, a future truly worthy of man.”

What is the goal of the university?  To become a premier research institution?  To have an acclaimed faculty that is published and esteemed?  To raise large endowments?

What is education?  Is it an accumulation of facts?  Acquiring a warehouse of skills?  Completing a certain number of requisites in order to earn that piece of paper that says “diploma” on the top of it?

In my favorite part of his address, the Holy Father reminded the professors that their mission is far greater:  “From the time of Plato, education has been not merely the accumulation of knowledge or skills, but paideia, human formation in the treasures of an intellectual tradition directed to a virtuous life.”

Wow.  Tell that to a state school.  Can you even say the word “virtue” in those halls?

He continues, “While the great universities springing up throughout Europe during the middle ages aimed with confidence at the ideal of a synthesis of all knowledge, it was always in the service of an authentic humanitas, the perfection of the individual within the unity of a well-ordered society.  And likewise today: once young people’s understanding of the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, they relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of how they ought to be and what they ought to do.”

Is that what is happening in our universities, who are so quick to hide behind the phrase “academic freedom”?  Do they realize that true academic freedom calls for the pursuit of truth and acquisition of virtue, not the lemming march to the politically-correct drum?  That it requires fidelity to what is true, noble, and good, not the pledge of allegiance to the latest ideological trend?

A society which allows itself to be hypnotized in the academy by the State will soon be conquered and ruled by the State.  Where are we headed?

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A fantastic article about education– not just Catholic education, but true education.

Found here at InsideCatholic.com.  (emphases mine!)

Not to Notre Madame

by Anthony Esolen
6/15/09

In the last several years I’ve been invited to a few dozen colleges and churches around the country, usually to speak about Dante. It’s no surprise, I guess, that a translator of the Divine Comedy should receive such invitations. What is surprising, though, and what confounds the secularist who derives his news from Mother Times and similarly reliable sources, is the happy variety of such schools, and their deep and unfashionable commitment to teaching the classics of western learning.

I’d like, besides, to declare up front that most of them have one need in common, a need that I encourage all Catholics and Christians who love our heritage to help to meet. They need money; and it is a cruel irony that in a recession largely fueled by government mismanagement of the money market, such small private and faithfully Christian schools as Thomas More College in New Hampshire, or Patrick Henry College near the nation’s capital, or Christendom College in the Shenandoah Mountains, will be first to feel the tightening noose. So now — I’ll not wait to the end of the essay — I call upon all Catholics disgusted by Notre Madame’s flirtations with the culture of death, or by Georgetown’s apostatic concealment of the name of Jesus, to scatter their seed in better soil. Those well-established Catholic schools need no more money from us, but others do, and desperately.

To lend my plea some additional force, behold here a few things I’ve found that my small Dante-loving schools have in common.

First, and most important: They are colleges. I don’t mean that they are merely institutions of higher larnin’. I mean that they enjoy an enviable collegiality among the students, and between the students and the faculty. Many of the schools, like Christendom or Thomas Aquinas College, are small enough that everyone knows everyone else — and their families, too. It is hard to imagine how dynamic and attractive and downright comical a community of smart and generally clean-living young people can be. I got no sleep at all the first night I stayed at Thomas Aquinas, because the boys in the nearby dorm were out on the patio, singing, fencing with wooden swords, and — one of them — taking a partly clothed bath in a metal basin in the open air. They weren’t rowdy; they were only young, and having innocent fun.

When I had lunch at Christendom College, I was amazed to see everyone, faculty and staff and students, in one big room, eating the same food from the cafeteria, and listening to the same school announcements [woo hoo!!  “May I please have your attention for announcements?”]— as if (and I know I am going out on a limb here) they really were members of the same Church engaged in a common intellectual and personal exercise, and not members of separate species going each his own way to a white-collar job and the grave. I had thought, visiting Christendom, that I’d see what a genuinely faithful Catholic college looked like. I did see that; and also saw, for the first time in my life, what a college of any sort looked like.

It’s no exaggeration; I could multiply instances of this sort of warm and intellectually stimulating collegiality. At Biola University — an evangelical college, literally the Bible Institute of Los Angeles — the Torrey Honors Institute’s students plumb the depths of classical Latin and Greek, patristics, and the theology and poetry of the Middle Ages. So I was invited to speak about Dante, and to lead a class; but my invitation came not from the director of the Honors program. It came from the students themselves. The students arranged for a flight for me and my son. The students put us up in a home on campus. The students booked a rental car for us. The students printed out our itineraries. The students found for us the directions to points of interest nearby, and to the local Catholic church. The students took us from and to the airport, and saw that my expenses were reimbursed. And why not? It’s their program, after all.

The second thing I’ve noticed is the intellectual fire among the young people. How could it be otherwise, when talented minds are confronted with Dante, Shakespeare, Aquinas, Dostoyevsky? The first time I spoke at Patrick Henry College — on a medieval Catholic Corpus Christi play — half the student body turned out (the other half were rehearsing for a play). Those young men and women kept me and my wife in the lecture room until near midnight, politely but eagerly asking questions of a caliber that one would not expect from the faculties at Soak-your-equity U. “Dr. Esolen, what you say about the role of popular celebration in reestablishing a Christian culture — can you connect it with the theology of Aleksandr Schmemann?” “Dr. Esolen, have you read De Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence? Isn’t Josef Pieper coming out of that same tradition?” Those questions — about an Eastern Orthodox theologian, and a French Catholic priest of the 18th century — were typical for the evening, and came from Protestants all, and all of them more truly daring than any cramped secularist can ever be.

It’s no isolated occurrence, that. At Thomas Aquinas, one young man — well known to every student in the school as the most passionate lover of the Divine Comedy among them — sat in the front row, waiting to ask the question about Beatrice, a question that brought the house down, because everyone knew it was coming. That fellow went on to write a publishable thesis on the relationship between eros and “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars,” and I became one of the readers of the thesis, 3,000 miles away. At Faulkner University — another Protestant college whose students are reading more of ancient and medieval Catholic literature than will those at nominally Catholic schools like Georgetown — students are graded daily by the quality of the questions they submit for discussion in their free-wheeling seminars.

In the heavily philo-Catholic honors program at nominally Baptist Baylor, students take part in what I can only call a storm of charity and soldiership: charity toward all true Christians fighting with them the good fight against the default nihilism of our time. You may doubt whether students at Villanova or Gonzaga could tell you exactly why such village atheists as Richard Dawkins should read their Summa Contra Gentiles, but the young men and women who took me and my son to breakfast at Baylor would give you an earful. Indeed, the provost of Baylor’s honors college, Catholic philosopher Thomas Hibbs, said to me that during his tenure there he had hired 167 committedly Christian professors. I doubt you could find that many at the five oldest Catholic colleges in the country put together.

One last thing I’ll mention, common to such schools and programs. The students understand that they are not like other students. They are the new counterculture, or rather I’d say they are the vanguard of the restoration of a lost culture, among the ruins. Grove City College, a Protestant school, will take no money from the federal government (nor will Christendom College). So Grove City has a great measure of — what did people use to call it? Ah yes, freedom. [don’t mention this to a liberal, or their head might explode at the thought.] The school sets aside exactly the same number of places for young men as for young women, filling their dormitories to capacity (and earning for themselves the accusation that they therefore discriminate). Chapel attendance, at least some of the time, is required, and perhaps not coincidentally, the school enjoys many — what is it, then, when young men and women flirt innocently and then fall in love? — ah yes, marriages. The same is true of Christendom College, and more: One in ten of their graduates discerns a vocation to the priesthood. At Patrick Henry, I asked one of the students — for students there do the groundskeeping and the cooking (as at Thomas Aquinas) and serve as the security officers — what would happen if someone brought a keg of beer onto campus. They looked at one another quizzically. “We don’t know!” they said. “Nobody has ever tried it!”

At Princeton, of all places, students inspired by Rev. C. J. McCloskey and the redoubtable Catholic philosopher Robert George established the Anscombe Society, with membership 200 strong, for the promotion of traditional sexual morality. When I visited the University of Dallas, I was among a packed house to watch, not the latest dreary body-part monologues, but a roaring comedy by Chesterton. In a space of two days I spoke, along with several other professors, on Chestertonian challenges to the modern view of the family; but what I most clearly remember was a bright young lady, knitting, rebuking me for going along with the consensus that Dora in David Copperfield was simply a foolish woman. That young lady understood Dickens’s intents better than I did, because she had firmly set herself against the asexual clichés of our time. She understood forthright femininity better than I did, too.

What I want to say, to sum up the matter of an article that could be much longer, is this. The cracks in the blacktop are showing, and green shoots are poking up through them — but not where we found them perhaps a hundred years ago. The tree that seemed dead is sprouting buds — but not on the old limbs. It is time, alumni of the old limbs, to consider pruning. To whom do we owe our allegiance at last? Is it to our almae matres, or to Holy Mother, the Church? If to the latter, then I think we know what we should do. The small and doggedly faithful Catholic schools need our support. Notre Madame will be with us a century from now. Let us make sure that Christendom College, Thomas More College, Thomas Aquinas College, and all the other faithful shoots of the true vine will be with us, too.

Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College and a senior editor for Touchstone magazine. His latest book is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery).

The following post is a few different things:

1) a copy of a post from my JoaninRome blog

2) a new post for those of you who didn’t have the joy of reading my JoaninRome blog

3) a rerun for those who did

4) a fitting post for this coming weekend, seeing that I first delivered this speech in front of Cardinal Arinze, whom I will see this Sunday, and Mary Ann Glendon, who had been slated to recieve the Laetare Medal up at UofND this Sunday

5) a fitting post for this weekend, when colleges across the country (including the one that employs me) will be saluting their graduates, who leave the hallowed halls of their alma maters having recieved the greatest gifts an institution of higher learning can give: the truth  (Unfortunately, many will leave institutions not having recieved that.  But I’ll refrain from saying too much about that, seeing that I’m aiming to tag this post “happy things” and a defective education is not a happy thing.)

So, without further ado, I give you the speech I gave last March at a gala in Rome to honor Christendom College’s 25th anniversary:

 

First, I’d like to say that I’m honored to be able to make this presentation. It’s given me the opportunity, these past few weeks, of stepping back and looking over the last four years. 

This is the perfect place to reflect on the gift Christendom College has been for me. Three years ago, I was studying here with the College Rome program. Right outside this hotel, on the night of April 7th, I camped out in the street with my classmates, awaiting the funeral of our beloved John Paul II. I was able to be present in St Peter’s Square to say goodbye to the only Holy Father I had ever known. Eleven days after the funeral, I was back in the square with my classmates, welcoming our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. For a history major, and for a passionate Catholic, the months spent here were the most powerful experiences of my life.

When I returned to the States, I chose to continue my education and pursue a graduate degree in theology. It surprised even me, to be quite honest, and I can only explain that it was the urging of John Paul II, guided by the hand of the Father. My Christendom education prepared me for my graduate studies more than I ever thought possible. It wasn’t until I spoke with students with different backgrounds that I realized what a gift Christendom had been for me.

Josef Pieper said that for true learning to take place, a school must be a sheltered place where students can dedicate their time to seek the truth. He reminded us of the original meaning of scholé, – a place for leisure. To quote him: “That is to say, a certain space must be left within human society in which the demands of necessity and livelihood can be ignored; an area which is sheltered from the utilities and bondages of practical life. Within such an enclosure teaching and learning, in general the concern for ‘nothing but the truth,’ can exist unmolested.”

After reading Pieper, I realized this was the environment that had surrounded my years at Christendom College, tucked away in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. No, we did not live perfect, carefree lives – besides our studies, many students had jobs and other concerns. If, during those years, you had asked me if Christendom was a place of leisure, I would have laughed and resumed reading, researching, writing papers, or studying for exams. It was, however, an environment pervaded with the Church, the sacraments, fraternity, and love of truth.

The leisure of which Pieper speaks is a time set aside to pursue truth – not just in studies, but in our daily activities. Truth is more than just facts – it is a way of life. At Christendom, we were able to immerse our daily lives in Jesus Christ, Truth Himself. Not distracted by the cacophony of modern society, we were able to focus on the harmony of reality to hear the whispers of the Triune God.

Christendom’s founder, Dr Warren Carroll, is an educator who knows history cannot be separated from Christ. “Truth exists; the Incarnation happened,” is his favorite phrase, and it encapsulates the vision of education that he has implanted at Christendom. With this Incarnational view of history, the graduates of Christendom emerge, not as one-dimensional minds, but as liberally-educated thinkers that understand where we came from and where we’re going.

For me, Christendom was the sheltered area that Pieper praises. It was not a time to run from the cares of the world, but a time to prepare for them. St. Peter was not sent out the day he was called by our Lord. No, he and all the Apostles first spent time with Christ and were given the necessary formation before going out to all the world.

You must remove yourself from the world for a time in order to prepare for the battle you will face when you return. When you are engaged in the ways of the world, it is impossible to see how the world can ever be different from the way it is. At Christendom, pledging to restore all things in Christ, we experienced true Catholic culture. It was not just something we read about in books; it was something truly embraced. We became participants in true culture, then were sent out after four years to restore whatever places lay in our paths.

Someone recently asked me where I learned to write and think. It surprised me, because I don’t recall taking a class called “Thinking 101.” In fact, I think I took the abilities for granted until the person asked the question. The question had an easy answer: Christendom College. When my friends were at other colleges being taught what to think, I was being taught how to think. While they were being taught to have an open mind, I was having my mind opened to the riches of philosophical and theological thought by professors who actually cared about my education. Professors who sat down at lunch with me. Who talked with me outside of class. Who attended daily Mass with me.

Pieper’s ideal of a school is the answer to the crises of our day. Educate the youth, but educate them inside of solid cultures, so they leave their alma mater’s with truth – both in knowledge and action. G. K. Chesterton said, “It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning, but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.” It may seem as if we have no time for leisure in education – we need to change the culture and change it now! But Pieper’s leisure – and Christendom College’s – is not a leisure of fiddling while the world collapses. It is a time to study the solution to the crisis – truth – and then go forth to restore the world.

I had an interesting discussion with my mom the other day — which is nothing new. We were discussing the crisis in modern higher education and the benefits of good, rock-solid schools like Christendom College. I’ll start off by admitting that I’m biased towards Christendom, although having done my research on other Catholic colleges, I do have support for my bias. But this post isn’t going to be solely about Christendom — I’m going to attempt to speak generally.

I won’t try to dance around the opinion I’m about to present. Going to a solid Catholic college is worth it.

I’m not going to condemn kids who choose to go to secular institutions of higher education. It’s not my place to judge. There are perfectly good reasons for attending a private secular or state school. I’m also not going to go into all the benefits of attending a Catholic college. That is material for ten or twelve posts. (I will say, however, that going to a solid Catholic college meant that the phrase “being sexiled from your room” was not in my vocabulary at college. It may not be a new term, but I just recently heard it, and thought of all my friends who have found themselves in that uncomfortable situation… and I thanked God that my roommate issues were never quite like that…) This post, rather, will merely touch on one of the biggest objections I hear about Catholic higher education: We can’t afford it.

Again, I’m not condemning anyone who says this. Everyone knows their situation in life and everyone knows what they can or cannot afford. I was blessed to be in the situation where my family could afford it. However, I think the cost issue needs to be seen in clearer light.

I think that state discounts, family and friends discounts, etc, mask the reality of how much college actually costs. Obviously, state schools receiving government aid are going to be able to offer much lower prices. A private school, not willing to accept government aid — and the government intervention that comes with it — is going to have to charge much more for tuition. In addition, what a school charges for tuition is much lower than the true cost of the education, which means private schools have to rely heavily on alumni support and other generous donors — just to keep the lights on and the heat going.

The low cost of a government-funded education at a state school (especially for state residents) makes the cost of tuition at other schools seem exorbitant, when really it isn’t even enough to really pay for the education provided.

So you can go to college for a lot less than what you would pay for a Catholic education. But let’s remember what we’re paying for with this money… is it a loaf of bread, that I can either get at either the corner bakery or at Wal-Mart for significantly cheaper? An oil change for my car that’s cheaper with this coupon? A plane-ticket that’s part of an airline’s summer deal? Papertowels, that are cheaper when I buy three rolls instead of one?

No! This isn’t an item to buy for the best deal, at the lowest seller. This is an education!

I remember being really proud of myself for buying a sweater from a low-end retailer. I patted myself on the back for saving so much money. The first time I washed it, the thing shrank in some places, stretched in others, and pilled up all over. Suddenly, the great buy I was so proud of was money down the drain.

Often, the same people who say they Catholic education is too expensive are the people who complain when they have to listen to garbage in class. When they waste class time on group therapy sessions about how reading some gay-porn novel made them feel. When they are given bad grades because they write objective truths in their papers. When they have to constantly question what they’re learning. When they are ridiculed by their professors for belief in God.

Well, you paid for it. You paid for that ridicule. You paid for that uncertainty in what you were learning. You paid for that unjust grade. You paid to read that gay-porn novel

Most — not all, but most– institutions of higher education are not spending time and money to educate you. More often than not, they’re agenda-pushing. I’ve heard countless stories of professors standing up in class and spouting off liberal rhetoric under the guise of “teaching.” That is, if you’re lucky to have a professor. Many college students don’t lay eyes on the prestigious, high-paid tenured professors until they’ve had their fill of TAs. Why are the professors being paid if it’s not to spend quality time with you (or your son or daughter) in the classroom, truly caring about your intellectual pursuits and desires?

And why are you paying tuition for this? Why are you paying for an education you don’t want? Wouldn’t you rather pay a little more and get the exact opposite? Wouldn’t you rather be edified in the classroom, rather than frustrated? Wouldn’t you rather hear the truth rather than a platform? Wouldn’t you rather have a professor who cares about you instead of one that doesn’t know you exist?

Perhaps this is when I should qualify my statements from the broad “Catholic school” to the narrower “Christendom College.” I cannot speak for the educational substance and challenge of other schools, nor can I say for certain that you will get professors that are willing to talk about Aristotle over lunch at other solid Catholic schools. But I’d being willing to bet on it.

As the quote goes, If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. You can go to college for cheap… but don’t come to me, complaining about the quality.