While public service is often heralded and promoted in “service learning” that has become another feature of contemporary education, the nature and extent of what constitutes public service is often determined by the autonomous individual (usually director who has some kind of “expertise”) who has been empowered, through leading and living “an extraordinary life,” to decide what the public needs regardless of whether this is beneficial or detrimental to the common good.
What is missing from all of these shaping factors of the “good education” are crucial elements of Catholic social thought whose benefits are not restricted to Catholic thinking and institutions: (1) the inviolability of the human dignity that belongs to everyone; (2) the common good as defined by the inextricable connection of the righteous life well-lived by everyone (and I do mean everyone) in cooperation with the destiny of everyone to do the same; (3) the idea of solidarity which underscores the common good; and (4) the cultivation of the cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude or courage, prudence, and temperance or forbearance. Unfortunately, too many members of the mainstream contemporary academy respond to these elements as I have proposed them as old fashioned. The fact that these elements also undergird much of the development of western law and legal theory is oft forgotten in most law school—to say nothing of undergraduate—education of the present day.
In an oversized society, a university cannot teach about the common good and legal justice because it does not exist in a community, and Behemoth U. itself is often too large to be a community as well.
Bradley J. Birzer, A Modest Proposal: A Freshman Year of Studies
While I have immense appreciation of a Great Books approach, such as that found at St. John’s, I’ve been far more influenced by a cultural approach to the liberal arts as understood by my heroes, Christopher Dawson, Russell Kirk, and Jacques Barzun.
The cultural approach (or the poetic education of John Senior) may be a necessary part of a liberal education, but is freshman year too late? No, if the freshman are 14 year-olds. If I were in charge, I'd do more to reverse the infantilization of young adults. (Would such a cultural component of a liberal education be necessary if our young grew up in real communities with real story-telling? I don't think so.)
Shakespeare's Spirituality: A Perspective, An Interview with Dr. Martin Lings
World Wisdom profile of Dr. Lings