Via James K.A. Smith in this post on his blog
In a shift of historic importance, America’s colleges and universities have largely abandoned the idea that life’s most important question is an appropriate subject for the classroom. In doing so, they have betrayed their students by depriving them of the chance to explore it in an organized way, before they are caught up in their careers and preoccupied with the urgent business of living itself. This abandonment has also helped create a society in which deeper questions of values are left in the hands of those motivated by religious conviction – a disturbing and dangerous development.
The following was particularly interesting and , for me, one of those “head shakers”. The characterization of “any one church” assumes an automatic limitation on what “any one church” could possibly explore by virtue of their being one of those narrow, limiting, “doctrinaire” churches. Like there’s nothing else available.
The question of life’s meaning is a worry of the spirit. Our colleges and universities need to reclaim their authority to speak to the subject, in a conversation broader than any church alone can conduct. The beneficiaries, in the end, will be both their students and the culture they will inherit.
From James K.A. Smith’s response
While I think his diagnosis of the commodification of knowledge in University, Inc. is right on the money; and while I’m all for a more robust role for the humanities in a university education; and while I’m downright enthusiastic about a university education that actually grapples with “the big questions” about what it means to be human and what it looks like to live “the good life”—the fact is Kronman’s lament points out the need for so much more than he proposes. What’s needed is for the university to recover an understanding of education as formation.
But Kronman’s liberalism won’t let him imagine that. In order for education to be formative—in order for education to actually mold and shape students into certain kinds of people who are primed to live out a vision of the good life—such education needs to be shaped by a story, grounded by a tradition, and oriented toward a particular vision of the Good. But that would entail a violation of cherished liberal principles of the modern university—the stories it tells itself about its alleged neutrality, its supposed tolerant largesse, and its respect for human autonomy and self-determination. This is why he demonizes a “religious” education as the worst possible threat. So Kronman really just imagines a liberal, modern bastardization of a formative education: a syllabus that “raises the big questions,” but then leaves the sophomore in the place of lord and master, free to make her own decisions about the good life. (In this respect, his pedagogical memory is selective: the rich tradition of education that he points toward was not just unabashedly formative. It was, at times, positively dogmatic!)
I’m right there with JKA on this one.
Not to mention an assumption (on the part of this “well-rounded” , diverse fare of “big question” prodding secular educators) of awareness of just what those “big questions” are. And also an assumption that “those motivated by religious conviction” can’t help but produce a stunted and distorted formation.