Sunday, May 9, 2010

What did you get out of your Education at OLSWA?

Just a passing retrospective in light of our recent graduates.

Really good people arrived three years ago. The question is, did they become better people as a result of their time here, stay just the same, or worsen?

Did they get worse? I doubt this was really the case for any of our graduates, but some passing thought must be made to it since many of our students come from wonderful home schooling environments, and compared to those, we are worldly. Believe it or not. Well, compared to a Trappist monastery we are a worldly place, and so it must be. Generally, however, for that person who would find our school 'upsetting' in light of their secure, family-centred primary education, my initial response is that if you find us upsetting, what do you think the rest of the world is like? The fact is, no matter the school, there is always sin because there are always people in a school. Yes, there is also always room for improvement. I would just add that a lot of really good, even saintly, people do differ over what constitutes 'better.' Don't be so arrogant to assume you have the recipe that they lack.

Did they stay the same? If they stayed the same, I would argue that their education was a failure. An 18 year-old should not be spiritually the same as a 21 year-old, not that there is a huge difference implied by three years, but there ought to be subtle differences, especially when that time is being spent in intense intellectual, Catholic formation. I appeared to all and sundry at 20 years-of-age saintly. I appear to nobody today as saintly, but I would argue that I am ten-times the person I was then, since I am ten-times as strong, morally and emotionally, while nevertheless wearing my humanity on my sleeve. I am a wretched sinner, but at 20 I was a good young fella, but an accident waiting to happen; fragile. I was the best I could be then. Now, I fall short of the best I can be now (by a wide margin), but nevertheless much stronger and more dependable than ever. When I think of my duty to my students I think along these lines. Is there anything I can do - for lack of a better phrase - to help them mature in Christ? I approach this task most humbly, but it is the one I set for myself. I do it as a teacher, not as their father. I do it as one who knows the faith better than they do, one who has lived fifteen years longer, been a parent nine years longer, been a husband ten years longer, but I don't do it as an oracle of God.

My role in their 'getting better' looks something like this:

1) knowing what is true of the Faith, what is not true of the Faith and what is only probable or less-than probable. This is important because truth makes good, at least to some extent.

2) letting them know about the world, what is good in it, what is evil in it and how to respond both intellectually and morally. My primary task is of course intellectual preparation, but I do the other side a bit too. Some might argue that I should make the latter my priority, but I would argue that that would be to overstep my commission to an extent (I am neither their father nor their pastor), the fact that they are not children, but young adults, and that they pay me to educate them, not counsel them. My job is to present the human truth effectively. Who is God, who are we? I am to make them into good thinkers who won't be deceived by false-thinking, and will be able to present the truth to others. If they have not developed in this area, then I have failed them.

3) Providing a good example of a Catholic adult, and in my case husband and father. This happens in the classroom, but mostly outside of it. My example should not be one of perfection, but of encouragement. I never hide the problems of living with oneself as an adult, but I have to always be taking them on in a manner that encourages them, makes them think that it is possible and a good thing to be a Catholic today. They will run into bad examples. I should be remembered as an argument to the contrary of it is impossible and not important to be a good Catholic today. They will be tempted to give in from their ideals in the next five or ten years of their lives. These next five to ten years of their lives likely will be the morally most difficult of their lives.

Yes, likely the most difficult of their lives! I think that by knowing that that may be the case will make them aware that they need to brace themselves spiritually for it. They are going off on their own, relatively speaking, for the first time in their lives. OLSWA is a fairly protective environment, a sort of middle-ground between their families and the world. Now they are making the next step. Sexuality, the work force, etc., these are hard things to 'do' in a Catholic manner. I found those years tremendously difficult from a moral perspective. Not only those years, but leading from those even on into marriage. Marriage (or religious life), of course, doesn't change everything. It changes some things instantly, some things slowly, while other things not all. I can't be there for them after they leave the precincts of OLSWA. There was a time when I blamed all parents and other authorities for not being there 'for us,' for youth. But I've tempered this view somewhat, having realized that young adults are not children, and, yes, for as awful as it sounds, we must give them the freedom to sin.

In the end, what I have to try to supply is a joyful example to encourage, wisdom to help them avoid the evils I did not avoid, and knowledge so that they are not convinced by lies that will hurt them.

What does better look like? It is not always easy to say. Again, in my case, worse looking but better over all. Better doesn't even always look like certainty. Some of the most certain people are objectively in the worst circumstances. Certainty is sometimes a sign of immaturity or self-delusion. Uncertainty, however, is not wisdom, regardless of modern prejudice, but an open mind and heart may be. It depends over what one is certain and what not. Can a good person be epistemologically other than a Thomist-Realist? I do not see why not. Can he be a solipsist? Tried-and-true? - seems doubtful.
Let me perhaps give a succinct definition of a good graduate of OLSWA (or anywhere else for that matter, but less likely so - haha). A good graduate is aware of the breadths and limitations of his knowledge, knows how to reason, find new information, knows the good, the great evils and lies of the modern world. See how these things include both knowledge and will? That's my two cents on the matter.


  1. Your question reminds me of "The Closing of the American Mind", by the late Allan Bloom. He argued quite persuasively that liberal higher education in the U.S. (also N. America and western Europe) not only failed the greatest aspirations of young people, but was ultimately soul destroying. The book was a tremendous indictment of what we generally regard as "the best" universities.

  2. You are soo right! It would be good to figure out ways to quantify this change. I have seen first-hand how poor are the reasoning skills of public school children now. Education is looking a lot like 'say the right thing' rather than proving the skills to enable one to discover truth more fully.