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Reconsidering Education PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 23 August 2009 20:11
I don't have much time to post - I have to walk back from Starbuck's, where I have access to the 'net, back to the rectory where I'm staying the night, and then get up early for a flight back to Colorado Springs, but I ran across a review of a book that sounds interesting - and very Catholic - coming from a Dutch Reformed philosopher from Calvin College.

In Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic) philosopher James K. A. Smith calls for a "temporary moratorium" on the hallowed notion of the human person as primarily a rational being, which has led educators to focus on reason, logic, data, and "that which can be proved," rather than as beings created for love.

Here's a bit of the review, which outlines Smith's question:
For Smith, worldview-centered education reflects a continued understanding of human beings as primarily rational creatures, moved and animated mainly by ideas. From this assumption has come a particular form of education—very much in line with the secular academy—that elevates the classroom and privileges fact, argument, and belief. To those who espouse this view, Smith poses one fundamental question in the form of a thought experiment: "What if education wasn't first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?"

If educating is indeed about properly ordering our loves, as Smith (following Augustine) believes, then formation rather than information should become the primary end of our institutions. This presents a colossal problem for a professorate that's had its formation in the modern academy, and the modern world at large. Today's academic disciplines weren't exactly designed to get to the heart—quite the opposite, in fact. The very notion of "research," whether done by chemists or anthropologists, centers on cultivating detachment and "objectivity"; "thought," of course, requires freedom from emotion: this was the modern confidence, indeed, the modern creed.

But what has it turned out? Several generations of students-turned-professionals who have learned to love success and excellence, who climb corporate ladders with ease, and who are very good at shopping (in all forms). These are the kinds of loves that direct us away from our deepest ends; this is mis-education—missed education. And Christian institutions, Smith charges, have been complicit in this destructive, demonic project. "Could it be the case that learning a Christian perspective doesn't actually touch my desire, and that while I might be able to think about the world from a Christian perspective, at the end of the day I love not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of the market?"
This perspective is remarkably similar to a question Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, poses in his parish mission titled, "Friendship With God." In this wonderful mission, Fr. Michael examined the Fall from the perspective of humans seeking the wrong thing: knowledge, rather than experience, or being - particularly the experience of being loved and loving, or appreciating that which is. It's a brilliant, inspiring extended reflection on our choices and what it is that God is really offering us.

I think Professor Smith's question is timely and important, especially given that so many Catholics seem more comfortable in the realm of ideas, rather than relationship. I don't want to propose a false dichotomy, either. Both ideas and relationship are important; both the mind and the heart make up the human. The Holy Father said as much more than twenty-five years ago in a preface of a book by Cardinal Suenens: "What is the relation between personal experience and the common faith of the Church? Both factors are important: a dogmatic faith unsupported by personal experience remains empty; mere personal experience unrelated to the faith of the Church remains blind."
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, foreward for a book by Cardinal Suenens, Renewal & the Powers of Darkness, 1983.

Our ideas of formation in Catholic circles these days does seem to be heavily weighted toward an intellectual formation. While this is important (I am a Dominican, after all), it is not the only aspect of the human that must be formed. There were many, many highly intelligent people in the Nazi regime, for example, but obviously their moral, spiritual, affective formation was altogether lacking - at least in regard to Christian teaching (or even the natural law, for that matter).

Particularly in regard to Christian formation, I think we are seeing the ineffectiveness of formation that is almost solely focused on the intellect. We try to teach our children the Faith, and time and time again they reject it. It is perceived as boring, abstract, out-of-touch, and inconsequential. Compared to the "facts" provided by science, the "Truths of the Faith," which cannot be seen, but must be believed, pale in reality. The faith of the apostles is something that is experienced as well as taught; felt as well as known; life-changing as much or more than mind-changing.

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