Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oxbridge or American System?

During a discussion last night, the question was brought up concerning the University system most proper and conducive for an integrated education, specifically Catholic education (it was also remarked that the secular academy is in pretty bad shape as well.) The two options brought forward were the Oxbridge model (used at Oxford and Cambridge) and the American model. The Oxbridge system is based around residential colleges with faculty in various disciplines. The University has a certain number of faculty in each discipline doing scholarly work at the University. Students choose a subject to study (History, Maths, Physics etc.) and find the appropriate tutors from the University faculty under which to study. This is at least how I understood it.

I am of course a little more familiar with the American system as I go to an American University. Each discipline is part of a College or School of related disciplines. The students live in dorms or apartments and enroll in a college based on discipline. They then have a certain number of requirement from the University and a number of requirements from the college. The faculty belong to the college and of course are still doing scholarly work.

The sort of "ideal" curricular organization that we discussed was as follows: Each School or College would offer at least two semesters of the history of the subject (History of Engineering, not of electrical engineering per se), a couple of semesters of the philosophy of the subject and depending on the discipline, some other interdisciplinary classes (psychology of environment for architects, for instance). At a Catholic University, at least one of the requirements would be a theology class either based on the subject (for instance, reading the Latin and Greek Fathers for a classics major) or the theology of the subject (for instance, studying the theology of human nature for psychology majors).

Presumably, these interdisciplinary classes could be co-taught by faculty of the different disciplines, or they could be taught by someone who has experience in both. There are many architecture professors at Notre Dame who have a philosophy of architecture and only barely avoid having a class on it.

Of course, you would not be required to be in the major to take one of these interdisciplinary classes. I mean, anyone should potentially be able to take "The Latin and Greek Fathers" as a theology course whether or not they are Theology or Classics.

And at a Catholic University, these classes should be taught with either a specifically Catholic view of the world and the subject, or at least one that is friendly to it.

So, which system would work better?

Perhaps it would be a mixture of both.

More discussions will be had.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Education according to the Liberal Arts

Taken from a post at IgnitumToday.

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, andholiness.

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 we're back...

After a hiatus of about a year and half, the New Tractarians are back on the web. Hopefully we will be posting further ideas on how to promote the Catholic University in the modern age very soon.

Eventually, we hope to develop a set of documents that express our ideas, which will, of course, be called "The New Tractarians Report."

Till then, we shall keep thinking.

And praying.

Monday, September 20, 2010

This past Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman. Note that Newman was a confessor, not a martyr. There are a lot of English martyrs, and plenty of British monks, but there are few intellectuals and writers like Newman was. Here is Benedict XVI's homily at the Mass in Birmingham:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This day that has brought us together here in Birmingham is a most auspicious one. In the first place, it is the Lord’s day, Sunday, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead and changed the course of human history for ever, offering new life and hope to all who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. That is why Christians all over the world come together on this day to give praise and thanks to God for the great marvels he has worked for us. This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms. Yet there is another, more joyful reason why this is an auspicious day for Great Britain, for the Midlands, for Birmingham. It is the day that sees Cardinal John Henry Newman formally raised to the altars and declared Blessed.
I thank Archbishop Bernard Longley for his gracious welcome at the start of Mass this morning. I pay tribute to all who have worked so hard over many years to promote the cause of Cardinal Newman, including the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory and the members of the Spiritual Family Das Werk. And I greet everyone here from Great Britain, Ireland, and further afield; I thank you for your presence at this celebration, in which we give glory and praise to God for the heroic virtue of a saintly Englishman.

England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognize today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing. He is worthy to take his place in a long line of saints and scholars from these islands, Saint Bede, Saint Hilda, Saint Aelred, Blessed Duns Scotus, to name but a few. In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.
Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or "Heart speaks unto heart", gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, "a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231). Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (cf. Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (cf.Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a "definite service", committed uniquely to every single person: "I have my mission", he wrote, "I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling" (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2).

The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing "subjects of the day". His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world. I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it" (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.
While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: "Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you" ("Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel", Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The First Tract

As the summer draws to an end and the school year is about to start, the New Tractarians are gearing up for a full year of thinking, writing and Seeking Truth. I have now completed a first draft of the first Tract and will be presenting it to the rest of the New Tractarians as soon as I see them, which should be soon. Hopefully we can get this done in a timely fashion.

--Nathaniel Gotcher, President

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Younger than Sin

The Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame is calling for papers for their fall conference "Younger than Sin" (November 18th-20th). A few Tractarians are considering submitting something. The theme is all about Retrieving Simplicity through the Virtues of Humility, Wonder, and Joy. Possible paper topics are:

 Education and the cultivation of the simple mind
 Cultivating a sense of wonder
 An addiction to self-distraction—Web-surfing, infinite playlists, and the pursuit of novelty ―on demand‖
 E.F. Schumacher and distributivism—small is beautiful
 Subsidiarity and the role of small, mediating institutions in a flourishing society
 The clear sight of truth—the complexity of simplicity in the arts
 The role of wonder and beauty in the sciences
 The modern emphasis on youth
 The beauty of simplicity
 The virtue of smallness
 Contraception and abortion—the rejection of children
 Childishness v. childlikeness
 The simplicity of the Liturgy
 Advent and Christmas mediations on childhood
 Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents
 Awakening us to the sacred: what children teach us about God
 St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Doctor of the Church, and her ―little Way‖
 The Christ-child—The Word has made Himself small
 Reflections on dependence, vulnerability and trust
 Reflections on the adage, ―wise as serpents and innocent as doves‖
 Reflections on wonder, whimsy, and spontaneity
 ―Divine play‖ and ―divine order‖ in Christianity and Eastern religions
 Analysis of legal protections for the vulnerable and the innocent
 The virtue of humility in politics and business
 Humility and humor
 Mediations on the virtue of hilaritas
 Exploration of the theme of childlikeness in the work of:
o St. Therese of Lisieux
o George Bernanos
o Charles Peguy
o Hans Urs von Balthasar
o G.K. Chesterton
o C.S. Lewis
o Hans Christian Anderson
o John Paul II

A couple ideas we are having are papers on Music and Wonder, Naivete, and Obedience in Catholic Universities.

Hopefully if we end up giving papers, we'll be able to enter the arena with our ideas and will have an easier time writing and spreading the Truth.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Newman to be beatified by Pope Benedict

This September-September 19th to be exact-Benedict XVI will personally beatify Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman. Of course this is wonderful news for those of us who have a devotion to Newman, the New Tractarians being some of those. Benedict himself is a Newman fan, which is pretty obvious considering this is the first beatification he has ever done.

We still face a problem here at Notre Dame. Newman has been a huge help in getting us started, but more than ever, the students need to understand that Truth is more than what feels right, or what accomplishes our desires, or what the world says. I hope we can announce our first is certainly in the works. I pray through the intercession of Cardinal Newman that God's will be done.