Esolen on education and life

August 26, 2011

Anthony Esolen has another fine essay in the current issue of Touchstone magazine. He begins by describing an experience he had listening to a speaker at a recent convocation ceremony:

I am still trying to understand it. He congratulated the students for being part of the “most selective freshman class in the last ten years.” He congratulated them for their being what he called “engaged learners,” unlike freshmen at our school thirty years ago—many of whom, it should be noted, were present in the audience and pay his salary—who were “passive learners,” taught merely to memorize information from lectures. That last was an ill-bred and ill-informed slap at our Western Civilization course.

He concluded his short acceptance speech by declaring that he had no doubt that the honorees in attendance would make us proud. This they would do by “earning high scores on standardized tests,” or “obtaining internships and fellowships,” or “distinguishing themselves in musical or theatrical competitions,” or “winning admission to prestigious graduate schools.”

As Milton’s Belial says in Hell, “And that must end us, that must be our cure.”

The essay goes on to reflect on the relationships of teachers and students, on what teaching is for, what education is for, and what difference it makes to life. It is lovely, and surprisingly moving. Read the whole thing.

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