Practicing Your Deepest Gratitude

This is a talk that I gave in Chapel today:

I want to talk to you today about gratitude, about being thankful.

What can we learn from the Bible about gratitude?

From 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18: See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The Bible is very clear here: “always seek to do good to one another” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think we can read this in two complementary ways: give thanks when someone “does good to you” and, perhaps, “do good to one another” in part by giving thanks.

From Romans 1:21: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

We need to pay attention here to Paul’s description of the unrighteous, which specifically tells us that a lack of gratitude, knowing God but not giving him our thanks, leads to futility in our thoughts and foolishness in our hearts. Reading this in the light of the passage from 1Thessalonians, we can extend honoring God and giving him thanks to include obeying his command to “give thanks in all circumstances”-that is, to thank one another lest we become futile thinkers with foolish hearts.

From Colossians 3:15-17: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I propose to you that the Bible reveals that God wants us to be thankful, to have thankfulness in our hearts, and to give thanks—and not just to him but to one another as well. Always. In all circumstances. We should be obedient to this commandment.

How might we do this? Is it enough to just say “thanks” a lot? That’s a good start, certainly, but one way to be truly thankful is an approach I call practicing your deepest gratitude. It’s got three parts:

First, you need to recognize that someone did something for you, something he or she was not required to do. For example, students at Hope College are very good about holding a door open for the next person coming through. You don’t have to do that. I can get the door. So… thanks! Not a very deep thanks, mind you, but thanks all the same.

A deeper gratitude has a second component, which is to identify the need, your need, perhaps unstated or unrealized, that this action addressed. If we keep with the door example, sometimes I’m carrying too many things or I have a big box in both hands. I can’t get the door myself. So… thanks for holding it open. You didn’t have to do that, but I sure needed it. OK, this is a deeper thanks, but we’re not quite there yet.

Practicing your deepest gratitude means articulating the way in which this action has, as the Bible often says, “built you up”—that is, formed you and shaped you towards a better version of yourself. Closer to who God intended you to be. Here are some examples:

I want to express my deepest gratitude to Tryg for inviting me to speak in Chapel today. You didn’t have to do this. There are plenty of better speakers, and there’s no requirement that you work your way through the faculty and staff. It wasn’t my turn. But, you know, I needed this. I’m in my ninth year at Hope College, and I’ve never done this before. As I prepared for this talk, I realized that I had some things I needed to say and that I needed to connect with students, and with God, in this way. Finally, speaking in Chapel has helped me live into parts of who I am that were dormant, perhaps, or at least unrealized. So… Tryg, you have my deepest gratitude.

I don’t know if Megan Fisher is here today. Megan works in the Career Development Center, and she’s on the Life After College team. I want to express my deepest gratitude to Megan for the work she’s doing with this program. You didn’t have to do this. I’m sure you could have told your boss that your plate was already full or suggested someone else in the office to work on it. I knew I needed someone from Career Development to help with the project, but I didn’t know that I needed someone so gifted in working with students, in keeping the details in place, and in thoughtfully considering what students need when considering life after college. And I have learned from working with you, learned things I didn’t know about working with and for students, and I know that I will be a better member of the Hope College community for it, sure, but also, I think, a better person. So… Megan, you have my deepest gratitude.

One last example. Friends, did you know that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, who died for our sins so that we will not perish but have eternal life? He didn’t have to do this. We don’t deserve this. I certainly don’t. But Jesus did come down to Earth to dwell among us.

Friends, I needed God to do this. I need Jesus. I am broken and sinful. I’m the worst sinner I know: whoring, drinking, lying, stealing… and I’m just talking about this week. I need Jesus to be with me, and He is.

Friends, this good that God has done for me, for which I am so thankful, has been and continues to be transformative. I am a different, better person because of Jesus. He didn’t have to do this, it’s only through God’s grace that my need for a closer relationship with God is being met, and I am built up everyday because of it. So… God, you have my deepest gratitude.

What does practicing your deepest gratitude have to do with life after college?

In general, before you move on to the next season of life, reflect on the previous one. Seniors: Practice your deepest gratitude for those who have done good to you, something that addressed a real need (possibly one you didn’t know you had), something that built you up.

Develop a disposition toward expressing your deepest gratitude. Identify when people help you. Use those moments to reflect upon your needs. Think about how people are changing and forming you. Identify when you can do good to another person and build them up through an action that addresses one of their deep needs.

Despite what the world tells you, despite how it feels, despite the realities of making individual decisions… you are not alone. You are not an individual, you are a person in relationship with others and with God. You will never confront this more directly than when you transition to life beyond Hope College. Practicing your deepest gratitude will help you to grow into the righteous person that God knows you can be.

 

Evaluating a Student’s Lifeview Paper

Q: What about feedback on and grading of the Lifeview Paper? Isn’t it ultimately my lifeview?
A: As a well-educated individual, you should be able to distinguish between form and content in written communication. When your instructor assesses form, she will look at your paper’s use of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. When your instructor assesses content, she will look at your paper’s depth of analysis, its connections to the content of the course (texts, in-class discussions, etc.), and use of evidence (i.e., backing up general statements with specific examples).

Remember the Senior Seminar objective that states: “Students will consider, discuss, and develop their own philosophy of life and write about it in a compelling, coherent, and disciplined manner.” Think of a compelling Lifeview Paper as one with excellent content, a coherent Lifeview Paper as one with outstanding form, and a disciplined Lifeview Paper as one that combines outstanding content and form.

I tell students that, when thinking about how much time to put into this assignment, how many times to revise it, and, frankly, how well-written you want it to be, consider these questions:

  • Would Hope College let you graduate if this were the only writing assignment you ever submitted?
  • Would a potential employer hire you if this were the only writing sample you could give them?
  • Does the gift of the opportunity to “consider, discuss, and develop your own philosophy of life” also carry the responsibility to “write about it in a compelling, coherent, and disciplined manner”?

 

Finally, a good Lifeview Paper is also the result of the particular context in which a student writes it. I tell students: You are taking this particular Senior Seminar at this particular moment with these particular peers and this particular instructor. Embrace the context of the content of your section of Senior Seminar, including the texts, conversations, discussions, and dialogue. Put another way, your compelling, coherent, and disciplined Lifeview Paper should also reflect the learning community in which you write it.

The Lifeview Paper

The objectives of the Senior Seminar Program include the following: “Students will consider, discuss, and develop their own philosophy of life and write about it in a compelling, coherent, and disciplined manner.” The result is what students and faculty at Hope College have for decades called “The Lifeview Paper”: a synthesis of a student’s life story and worldview.

Q: What is a worldview?
A: A philosophy of life and a conception of the world, your worldview can be understood as a comprehensive perspective composed of your answers to the following questions: What is? Where does it all come from? Where are we going? What is good and what is evil? How should we act? and What is true and what is false?

Q: What is a life story?
A: Something between an autobiography and a memoir, your life story narrates where you came from, how you got here, and where you are going. It also identifies the main characters (like your family and friends) and moments that were critical to your development. Your life story might also identify major themes, turning points, etc.

I tell students that, as a synthesis of your life story and your worldview, your Lifeview Paper will use one to explain the other. For example, you might illuminate some of your convictions using moments from the narrative of your life. Or, you might make sense of your life journey (particularly as you look to your future) through a reflection upon what you find most valuable. In their book, Hidden Worldviews (InterVarsity Press, 2013), authors Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford (with help from Steve Green) provide a graphic representation of the concept of a life story and its relationship to aspects of a worldview:

The components of this model are:

  • story: the central narrative of your life
  • identity: how you see yourself and present yourself to others
  • convictions: those beliefs that make up how reality works for you
  • values/ethics: what you believe you should do and what you take to be your highest priorities
  • morals/actions: the realm of doing that includes all of our activities

 

Using this approach, one way to understand the Lifeview Paper assignment is that it is a synthesis of your life story and worldview in which you write the central narrative of your life, how you see yourself and present yourself to others, those beliefs that make up how reality works for you, what you believe you should do and what you take to be your highest priorities, and the realm of doing that includes all of your activities. Your Senior Seminar instructor will give you direct guidance on the assignment and might use different language and terminology to describe it.

Nevertheless, when a student writes a Lifeview Paper, she invariably addresses aspects of both her worldview and her life story. What’s more important, a meaningful Lifeview Paper does not overly emphasize one at the expense of the other. This is neither an autobiography/memoir (life story) nor a statement of faith (worldview) but, instead, a synthesis of the two.

Suggested Reading: “The Lost Tools of Learning”

Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”
Available here as a PDF.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) briefly entered on a teaching career after graduating from Oxford. She published a long and popular series of detective novels, translated the “Divine Comedy,” wrote a series of radio plays, and a defense of Christian belief. During World War II, she lived in Oxford, and was a member of the group that included C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield. By nature and preference, she was a scholar and an expert on the Middle Ages. In this essay, Miss Sayers suggests that we presently teach our children everything but how to learn. She proposes that we adopt a suitably modified version of the medieval scholastic curriculum for methodological reasons. “The Lost Tools of Learning” was first presented by Miss Sayers at Oxford in 1947.

“Is not the great defect of our education today—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning…

“Modern education concentrates on ‘teaching subjects,’ leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along. Mediaeval education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature…

“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio [we could easily add the Internet to this list], we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.”

Questions for Students:

  • Hope College has certainly taught you academic subjects, but have we taught you how to think?
  • Why are the Internet and social media so influential in shaping your thinking and your lives today?
  • Can you remember everything that you’ve studied at Hope? Why some things—skills or content—and not others?
  • Has your Hope College education empowered you to be able to learn a new subject on your own in the years and decades after graduation? How?
  • Did your education at Hope teach you how to connect one academic subject to another, for example: science and philosophy? Why or why not?

 

Questions for Faculty:

  • Why do our students’ intellectual growth and development not keep up with their physical growth and development?
  • Why are radio, TV, advertising, the Internet, movies, and music so influential in shaping our students’ thinking and lives today? What can we do to empower them to engage these media critically?
  • Why can’t people (faculty, staff, students, or administrators) in a conversation or debate address the real issues and answer the real questions being asked?
  • Why can’t faculty members lead committees and keep them focused on their true purpose?
  • Why don’t people (faculty, staff, students, or administrators) define the terms they use clearly so that others can understand what they are saying and respond appropriately?
  • Why can’t students remember what they study and why can’t they learn a new subject on their own? Why can’t we learn new subjects?
  • Why can’t people (faculty, staff, students, or administrators) distinguish between good and bad sources of information?
  • Why can’t or students figure out how one academic subject connects to other school subjects, say science and philosophy? Is it because we can’t do it either?

 

This post is indebted to David Naugle’s “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning”.

Suggested Reading: “The Landscape of the Liberal Arts”

Mark Roche, “The Landscape of the Liberal Arts”

This chapter provides a rationale for the value of a liberal arts education, addressing briefly the recent history of the liberal arts, explaining the value of the liberal arts in diverse educational settings as opposed to simply residential liberal arts colleges, and exploring a contemporary rationale for the liberal arts.

What are the “liberal arts”? The term has its origin in the medieval concept of the artes liberalis, the seven liberal arts that were appropriate for a free man (the Latin liber means “free”). On the other hand, the artes illiberalis or artes mechanicae were pursued for economic purposes and involved vocational and practical arts, which prepared young persons to become weavers, blacksmiths, farmers, hunters, navigators, soldiers, or doctors. The seven liberal arts included three basic arts focused on developing a felicity with language: grammar (or language), rhetoric (or oratory), and dialectic (or logic). These were known as the trivium. Added to these were the four advanced mathematical-physical arts: geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy, which were known as the quadrivium. The liberal arts were preparatory not for gaining a livelihood but for the further study of law, medicine, and theology. Today we understand the liberal arts to involve study of the arts and sciences, and we contrast the liberal arts with vocational education. Some college students major in the liberal arts; virtually all others take a certain percentage of their courses in the liberal arts, including basic subjects such as composition, mathematics, and history, as well as electives in fields ranging from biology and economics to literature and philosophy.

Mark Roche, “The Landscape of the Liberal Arts”
NEW DIRECTIONS FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES, no. 163, Fall 2013
© 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com)
DOI: 10.1002/cc.20065

Questions to Consider:

  1. On pages 5-6, Roche offers three arguments for the value of a liberal arts education. Although his audience is composed of community college students and those who work in those institutions, I think Roche would argue that these are good reasons for any student to pursue a liberal arts education. To what extent do his arguments align with your own? What does Hope College do to emphasize to its students these or other rationales for a liberal arts education?
  2. Roche argues that liberal arts students “learn to participate meaningfully in the give-and-take of discussion, listening attentively and asking other students to clarify their points, articulating their own perspectives and offering evidence to support them, and asking good, searching questions that take discussions to higher levels.” (7) If Senior Seminar indirectly functions as a final assessment of our students, then should we expect them to have cultivated the virtues, skills, and dispositions necessary to “participate meaningfully” in the types of discussions that are the heart of Senior Seminar? What about the anecdotal evidence from students who say things like: “I wish I had been given the opportunity to have discussions like these before Senior Seminar.”
  3. Roche claims that a liberal arts education “is about understanding, through the asking of great questions and the development of new capacities as well as through other formative experiences, such as conversation with faculty members and fellow students, what kind of person one is and what kind of person one wants to become.” (9) Where in our academic program, other than Senior Seminar, does this development of understanding intentionally take place? What can we do, either as a community or individually, to increase the likelihood that each student develops an understanding of themselves—both in the present and in an imagined future?

 

Note: Neither I nor the Senior Seminar Program necessarily endorse all or any of the views, perspectives, or pedagogical practices in the readings that I recommend. Rather, I hope to stimulate and foster meaningful discussion and dialogue, which often means reading texts that you might find challenging and/or in opposition to your own attitudes and perspectives. Therefore, I hope that you find this suggested reading thought provoking.

Reflecting on a Liberal Arts Education

During her first year at Hope College, each student writes a Liberal Arts Reflective Essay as part of the First Year Seminar (FYS). At some point during Senior Seminar, we ask students to write an essay in which they reflect upon the FYS essay that they wrote during their first semester at Hope. I tell students that there are three really good reasons to do this:

  • Your FYS Essay is like a time capsule. Who were you three years ago? One student in my Senior Seminar course went to download her FYS Essay and learned that three years before she had uploaded her packing list for college instead. It was an interesting list, and one that with the benefit of hindsight she would have written differently.
  • Reflection is a good thing. You’ve put a lot of time, effort, and money into your college education. Was it what you expected? What worked? What didn’t? Reflecting on your FYS Essay can help you see how much you’ve grown in three short years. Doing so will also get you started on the kind of self-reflection you’ll practice in this course.
  • Reading and responding to your FYS paper will help future Hope students. Every two or three years, a team of Hope professors reads an anonymous set of FYS Essays and the corresponding responses written as seniors. Their observations help the College assess a number of things, including writing instruction, cognitive development, and how all of the pieces of the liberal arts education fit together.

 

For students: To retrieve your FYS Essay:

  1. Go to courses.hope.edu and select the term when you wrote your FYS essay (e.g., Fall 2013) from the list.
  2. If prompted, login with your 1Hope account.
  3. Click the “My Courses” link in the top box.
  4. Find the “First Year Seminar Resources for Students [Year]” course in the list and click on it.
  5. Click on “Assignments” in the “Activities” box.
  6. Click on the “Submit your reflective essay” assignment.
  7. Click on the file in that assignment and save it to your computer.

 

Each Senior Seminar instructor gives a specific assignment for students’ essays. We tell students who do not have access to their FYS Liberal Arts Essays (perhaps because they transferred to Hope) to think back to their expectations concerning a “liberal arts education” prior to becoming a Hope College student.

The Value of Reflection

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
– John Dewey

 

What is Reflection?

At its essence, reflection is “considering for further understanding.” A classic educational definition of reflection states: “Reflection is active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds that support it and the further consequences to which it leads” (Dewey 1933).

 

What characterizes Reflection in academic applications?

Reflection is purposeful. There is a stated purpose for the reflection, including learning outcomes and actions. The purpose of reflection in Senior Seminar is to help students consider, discuss, and develop their own philosophy of life.

Reflection actively draws upon prior experiences. Students are asked to draw upon prior experiences, knowledge, and assumptions and to put them in conversation with new knowledge and experiences (In some educational literature this is identified as “meaningful learning”). Ideally the learning environment includes experiential and applied learning events to encourage this dialogue. Senior Seminar is “meaningful learning.” The course prompts students to reflect upon their First Year Seminar experience (specifically through their FYS Liberal Arts Essay), their childhood and upbringing, and their experiences while a student at Hope College. New knowledge and experiences come from the readings, subject matter, and discussions that take place in Senior Seminar. Many Senior Seminars take place during the summer in off-campus locations, and students can also take Senior Seminar while studying off-campus through the Chicago Semester, Philadelphia Center, and Washington Honors Programs—all of which include experiential and applied learning events.

Reflection is integrative. It encourages dialogue between prior knowledge and new knowledge, between multiple disciplines, as well as engaging experiences, emotions, and beliefs. Senior Seminar is the capstone of a liberal arts education at Hope College. Seminar topics are interdisciplinary, the course are taught by instructors from across campus, and students engage classmates with different majors whose academic and disciplinary formation has differed from their own—particularly in their junior and senior years. Senior Seminar also prompts students to reflection in order to integrate their experiences, emotions, and beliefs into their philosophy of life.

Reflection is investigative and challenging. Putting prior knowledge and new knowledge into conversation. Senior Seminar

  1. encourages students to critically consider how and why they believe the things they do,
  2. challenges student assumptions, and
  3. promotes the search for clarification and alternative understanding.

 

Reflection deepens and shifts learning. In Senior Seminar, students move

  • from description to understanding,
  • from no questions to having questions to responding to questions,
  • from the momentary to stepping back and considering meaning,
  • from self-questioning to self-challenging, and
  • from focusing on one’s own view to the consideration of others’ views. 

 

Reflection is a continual part of the learning experience.

Senior Seminar can be an example of David Kolb’s model of experiential learning in which students move from concrete experience to reflective observation of that experience. Then, students learn from that experience through abstract conceptualization and move to active experimentation—trying out what they’ve learned by planning for their future.

kolb

Source: Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as
the Source of Learning and Development
. Prentice-Hall, 1984.

 

Why the focus on Reflection at Hope College?

Reflection encourages high levels of cognitive engagement.

Reflection encourages student ownership in learning (i.e., moving away from being passive consumers of content and experiences to active participants and change agents).

According to Wabash data, as students engage in more reflective learning activities, they show grater gains in:

  • Attitudes toward Literacy and Need for Cognition (a measure of interest in and willingness to engage in considering and solving complex problems)
  • Intercultural Competence
  • Psychological Well Being
  • Socially Responsible Leadership
  • Civic Engagement

 

Special thanks for Ryan White, Director of Student Advising and First Year Seminars, for preparing and sharing much of this information.

What is Senior Seminar?

 

Professors and peers walk with students on their Senior Seminar journeys. Our hope is that this course will be an opportunity for students to engage in a conversation with the historic Christian as they reflect on their beliefs and convictions and, what’s more important, to make them their own. Students do this by reading thought-provoking material, having deep discussions with peers, and writing a Lifeview Paper: “a synthesis of your life story and worldview in which you write the central narrative of your life, how you see yourself and present yourself to others, those beliefs that make up how reality works for you, what you believe you should do and what you take to be your highest priorities, and the realm of doing that includes all of your activities.”

Students-01

I tell students that there are three ways to look at this course:

Senior Seminar is the last course of your liberal arts education.
You’ll have an opportunity to read your FYS Essay and reflect on how much you have grown academically and personally over the last few years. You should bring the skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking that you have learned in your many courses at Hope to your Senior Seminar class. At this point, as a college-educated individual, you should be able to write a polished, well-revised paper that is the result of critical thinking and self-reflection. Put another way, Senior Seminar is your opportunity to pull together all of the pieces of your education.

Senior Seminar is the first course of the rest of your life.
Two of the most important skills you will need to use after college both responsibly and without prompting are critical thinking and effective writing. Take advantage of this first opportunity to take full charge of your education and to be responsible for the quality of the work that you will produce after you graduate. In Senior Seminar, as in your life after college, people will expect you to live up to your potential and deploy your strengths, knowledge, and skills without having your hand held and without being told exactly what to do and when to do it. Put another way, Senior Seminar is your opportunity to act as the mature, confident, and well-educated individual that have become.

Senior Seminar is a learning community.
You are a member of a particular cohort of students who share common academic goals. How you personally participate in this course will influence others’ experiences, and vice versa. Therefore, the conversations, discussions, and dialogues that take place within your Senior Seminar classroom depend on your active participation. Although completing the assignments and writing your Lifeview Paper are individual needs, your Senior Seminar community will help you fulfill them by creating spaces for interpersonal connections in which you can safely ask for help (and give it), provide your perspectives (and hear those of others), and share stories and emotional experiences. Put another way, Senior Seminar is your opportunity to give meaningful shape to both your and your peers’ capstone education experiences.

Suggested Reading: Eva Brann, “Eight Theses on Liberal Education”

Eva T.H. Brann (1929-) is a former dean (1990–1997) and the longest-serving tutor (1957–) at St. John’s College, Annapolis. In 2005, she received the National Humanities Medal. Born to a Jewish family in Berlin, Brann immigrated to the United States in 1941. She holds a B.A. from Brooklyn College as well as an M.A. in Classics and a Ph.D. in Archaeology from Yale. From the NEH’s website:

Eva Brann calls herself a latecomer to St. John’s College and its great books program. “I’ve been here only forty-eight years,” she says, laughing.

When Brann arrived on the Annapolis campus of St. John’s in 1957, fresh from Yale with an archaeology PhD in hand, she found herself a student all over again. “I fell in love with it at first sight,” she says. “Our tutors learn along with students. It is an all-required program for the students but it is also all-required for the teachers.”

“I read my way and discussed my way through four years worth of great books,” says Brann. “It’s never boring. It’s sometimes strenuous, but it’s never boring. I can’t remember ever being bored.”

St. John’s is a rarity in American higher education. It is the only nondenominational institution based solely on the study of a great books curriculum. There are no majors and no departments at St. John’s. There are no textbooks. Rather, students go straight to the source of Western tradition, read ing and discussing the classics of literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, political science, economics, history, mathematics, laboratory sciences, and music. In addition, faculty members are called tutors rather than professors, and do not give lectures. Every class is discussion-based, with students talking to each other as much as responding to tutors. “By and large, everything is done in common, which means that they can always talk to each other. And they do.”

A ten-minute interview with Brann is available here:

Brann’s “Eight Theses on Liberal Education” appeared in the Winter 2000 edition of Pepperdine University’s Great Books Quarterly. Here is the short list:

  1. Lectures are not a legitimate part of liberal education, at least not as a primary part.
  2. This subject matter, the matter proper to liberal education, has the following character: It is what is elementary in all the subject matters.
  3. Those who have liberal education in their keeping, by and large the faculties of liberal arts colleges, should not give an inch to demands for utility or currency.
  4. Students should not specialize (or at least not soon), and professors should teach not what they know but what they don’t know.
  5. A large, probably the largest, part of a college education should be prescribed.
  6. Everything falls apart when politics rears its ugly head.
  7. Liberal education is irremediably bound to reading. The reading that defines liberal education is that of great books.
  8. Education should never ever be academic.

 

I encourage you to read Brann’s full description of each thesis as a PDF.

Questions to Consider:

  • How well does Hope College measure up to Brann’s theses? To what extent does Hope provide students with a liberal education that Brann would recognize as such?
  • When discussing the argument in favor of a prescribed curriculum, Brann asks: “‘First learn, then choose’ ought to be the curriculum-maker’s motto, and who can make curricula but a faculty?” In what areas of the General Education curriculum at Hope College would you prescribe students’ choices? Why?
  • Brann writes: “The thought that there exists greatness not only in books but in other human enterprises defines and illuminates a certain kind of life. It is a life in which there is splendor and drabness, significance and insignificance, extraordinariness and ordinariness.” How well do we educate our students to identify (and pursue) splendor, significance, and extraordinariness? What aspects of undergraduate education (e.g., grade inflation), hinder this?

 

Suggested Reading: The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric

Sister Miriam Joseph was a member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. She earned her doctorate at Columbia University and served as professor of English at St. Mary’s College from 1931 to 1960. She learned the trivium from Mortimer Adler, who instructed her and the teaching staff at St. Mary’s College on how to use it. These quotes are from an excerpt of Sister Miriam Joseph’s The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, which is available here.

The liberal arts denote the seven branches of knowledge that initiate the young into a life of learning. The concept is classical, but the term liberal arts and the division of the arts into the trivium and the quadrivium date from the Middle Ages…

The seven liberal arts differ essentially from the many utilitarian arts (such as carpentry, masonry, plumbing, salesmanship, printing, editing, banking, law, medicine, or the care of souls) and from the seven fine arts (architecture, instrumental music, sculpture, painting, literature, the drama, and the dance), for both the utilitarian arts and the fine arts are transitive activities, whereas the essential characteristic of the liberal arts is that they are immanent or intransitive activities.

The utilitarian artist produces utilities that serve the wants of humanity; the fine artist, if he is of the highest order, produces a work that is “a thing of beauty and a joy forever”2 and that has the power to elevate the human spirit. In the exercise of both the utilitarian and the fine arts, although the action begins in the agent, it goes out from the agent and ends in the object produced and usually has a commercial value; and therefore the artist is paid for the work. In the exercise of the liberal arts, however, the action begins in the agent and ends in the agent, who is perfected by the action; consequently, the liberal artist, far from being paid for his hard work, of which he receives the sole and full benefit, usually pays a teacher to give needed instruction and guidance in the practice of the liberal arts.

Question: It is no longer controversial to claim that the significant growth in professional training programs at liberal arts colleges influence their mission and culture, a development that student and parent interest in “getting a job” underscores. How might the distinctions between the liberal, the utilitarian (or servile), and the fine arts inform discussions about pre-professional programs at Hope College? As Sister Miriam Joseph points out, traditionally a liberal arts education preceded training in the utilitarian or fine arts. What does it mean that at Hope, as at other liberal arts colleges, training in the liberal, utilitarian, and fine arts takes place more or less simultaneously?

Because communication involves the simultaneous exercise of logic, grammar, and rhetoric, these three arts are the fundamental arts of education, of teaching, and of being taught. Accordingly, they must be practiced simultaneously by both teacher and pupil. The pupil must cooperate with the teacher; he must be active, not passive. The teacher may be present either directly or indirectly. When one studies a book, the author is a teacher indirectly present through the book. Communication, as the etymology of the word signifies, results in something possessed in common; it is a oneness shared. Communication takes place only when two minds really meet. If the reader or listener receives the same ideas and emotions that the writer or speaker wished to convey, he understands (although he may disagree); if he receives no ideas, he does not understand; if different ideas, he misunderstands. The same principles of logic, grammar, and rhetoric guide writer, reader, speaker, and listener.

Question: Setting aside a consideration of how effectively (or even whether or not) we teach our students logic, grammar, and rhetoric, Sister Miriam Joseph calls us as educators to consider our own abilities to exercise the trivium as we communicate with our students—and, by extension, one another. How might we as professors cultivate our facility with logic, grammar, and rhetoric in order to achieve mutual understanding?

From Milton: “Of all the arts the first and most general is logic, then grammar, and last of all rhetoric, since there can be much use of reason without speech, but no use of speech without reason. We gave the second place to grammar because correct speech can be unadorned; but it can hardly be adorned before it is correct.”

Question: Milton’s form of argumentation (noted above and cited by Sister Miriam Joseph) highlights the benefits of sequence or hierarchy. That is, it is one thing to list the three arts in the trivium and another to argue that one comes before (or above the other)—and why. In many of our majors and minors, we make similar arguments about the sequence of courses, the building/scaffolding of skills, and the development of our students’ knowledge and abilities. In the General Education program, however, no structures exist between FYS and Senior Seminar. How might thinking through the Gen Ed requirements in a manner such as Milton deploys with logic, grammar, and rhetoric change our students’ education?