I Just finished The Fabric of Faithfulness by Steven Garber. His thesis is that true education is always about learning to connect knowing with doing, belief with behavior; and yet that connection is incredibly difficult to make for students in the modern university.
Garber argues that the modern university operates under the post-Enlightenment assumption that all moral judgments are nothing but “expressions of personal preference.” This eliminates the deepest human questions - those of meaning and morality - from the curriculum. Instead students are given only “marketable skills.”
The university is no longer an environment for emotional, intellectual and spiritual formation but simply a training center for a career. The mandate to the faculty is simply, “give me only the facts, tools and techniques required to ensure my instantaneous financial success -- all else is irrelevant.”
However, Garber maintains that meaningful education is only possible if questions of meaning are allowed in education. The modern university desperately needs to recover its sense of calling as settings in which students can pursue questions that matter: On what basis will I determine right from wrong? How do people become good people? Why am I here? What is it that really matters?
To illustrate this Garber quotes Augustine extensively, who in Confessions, acknowledged his own concerns with the education he received - taught to be “more concerned to avoid committing a grammatical error than to be void of envy in the case I did commit one and another did not.”
In his letter, “To Dioscorus, a Student”, Augustine responds to a young Greek who had traveled to Carthage to study Latin Literature - in Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations. Dioscorus had written Augustine about some complex questions that had come up in his studies.
Augustine responds with pages of thoughtful, critical interaction with Dioscorus’s questions, showing an amazing familiarity with the intricacies Cicero’s arguments - while reminding the young student that mastery of Cicero and Latin Literature is not a worthy end, in and of itself. He writes:
Finally, suppose that, when you’ve been asked all the questions you’ve sent me, you’ve been able to respond. Lo, people now call you supremely learned and acute! Lo, Greek breath lifts you to heaven on its praises! But remember your own worth, and your reason for wanting to deserve this praise: to teach something supremely important and wholesome to the people you have so easily impressed with your trifling talk, and who are now hanging on your words with such great eagerness and goodwill.
What I would like to know is whether you possess and can accurately impart to others anything supremely important and wholesome. It’s ridiculous if, after you’ve learned a lot of unnecessary things in order to prepare people to listen to you tell them what is indispensable, you yourself don’t possess it; and if, while you are busy learning how to get their attention, you refuse to learn what to teach them when you’ve gained it.
… You don’t need to be familiar with the dialogues of Cicero and a collection of beggarly and divided opinions of other people to win an audience. Attract them by your way of life if you want them to receive such a teaching from you.
The core requirement is godliness. It's easier to get educated.
So how do parents, professors, campus ministers and pastors help students, during this most crucial time of life, learn to connect their belief with their behavior? How do we prepare students not just for a career, but a calling; a way of life? How can we ensure they come through these four critical years with habits of heart and mind so in place that they are able to move into the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood without compromising their basic integrity or giving into cynicism and disparagement?
Garber suggests that students need to develop moral meaning in ways that will last, which will require people and environments that will help students to:
- develop a worldview that can make sense of the whole of life, facing the challenge of truth and coherence in an increasingly secular and pluralist world;
- pursue a relationship with a teacher whose life incarnates the worldview the student is learning to embrace. One learns best the values required for good scholarship - patience, tolerance, rigor, fairness and precision - by seeing them in action;
- commit themselves to others who have chosen to live their lives embedded in that same worldview, journeying together in truth after the vision of a coherent and meaningful life. Community is the context for growth of convictions and character. What we believe about life and the world becomes plausible as we see it lived out all around us.
A worldview, a mentor, a community. According to Garber, “these are the habits of
heart that can grow and sustain a faithful life, that so nourish a soul that a
career can become a calling that gives coherence to the whole life.”