Highly Educated

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 “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn around at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you.” (Pr. 1: 22b, 23a)   

 With a sense of wonder and delight do I from time to time meet another human being who seems somehow always to be ready to turn around to face the truth, the light, the highest that she is able to perceive. Her interest, indeed her passion, is to discern the difference between the 'unreal to the real,' and to be in hot pursuit of the 'real.'  

 She is not, as in the verses from the Proverbs, a 'scoffer' or a 'mocker.' She is not the 'fool' who hates knowledge. Rather, she is a seeker with fire in her belly and soul. She yearns for truth and for deep understanding. 

 I find that I search for this interest and passion in various writers and search for this attitude in the faces of people I meet. I search for this attitude in every conversation I participate in.

 It may be rare to meet this kind of readiness to quickly turn around, but I’ve met it enough times that I still expect to find it.

 One could say that I am constantly on the look-out for the 'truly educated human being,' or at least for those searching beings who long to be. For my understanding is that the 'truly educated human being' is that one whose habit and practice is continually to turn around towards transcendence. 

 This was the Platonic vision and it is mine. The Platonic idea of the highly educated person is of someone who finds every possible way in her life to turn towards the unseen, (but not unreal!) realm of 'the good, the true and the beautiful.' Such an 'educated' person is always striving to go beyond the here and the now. She does not settle for merely the practical and the mundane. She continually dreams of what might be possible and never unquestioningly settles simply for what is.

 Plato’s vision was of human beings who practiced the art of turning around from the shadows to behold the eternal light. His cave dwellers had known nothing about the existence of another world until that fortunate day when one of their number stood up, removed his chains and turned around to behold the light streaming in from outside the cave. 

 In that act of turning around and emerging out of the dark cave, he entered a new world of illuminating light. This is the 'educated man!' He is that one who is always turning around from darkness and beholding the 'beatific vision,' the sight of the beautiful.

 Evelyn Waugh tells of a classics teacher in a private school whose sole concern was to create 'truly educated' and 'complete' human beings. But the school’s Headmaster, tragically, had decided that it was no longer important to teach the classics. He had come to regard the classics as irrelevant and useless.

 “What are we to do?” the Headmaster asked the classics teacher: “Parents are not interested in producing the 'complete man' any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?” 

 “Oh yes,” replied the classics teacher. "I can and do.”  That is, 'I do blame  these parents and hold them accountable for their lack of vision concerning their children.'  "They are responsible for turning them into unreflective robots who exist as functionaries in our depraved society. These parents are responsible for robbing their children of the possibility of a real education."

 Ignoring him, the Headmaster increased the pressure saying: “Has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?” 

 “Oh yes," said the teacher: “Often.”  

 Disregarding the teacher again, the Headmaster then suggested that some other subject be taught, such as 'economic history' - "you know, something more practical and relevant." 

 “No, Headmaster," was the firm response from the teacher.

 The Headmaster then warned his classics teacher: “But you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.” 

 “Yes, Headmaster.”  

 “Then what do you intend to do?”  

 “If you approve, Headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any one boy wants to read the Classics.” 

 And then these piercingly priceless words from the teacher:  “I think it would be a very wicked thing indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.” 

 To those words of holy defiance the uncomprehending Headmaster responded: “It’s a short sighted view.” 

 “There, Headmaster, with all respect,  I differ from you profoundly. I think it is the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.” (Evelyn Waugh, cited in Richard Gamble's The Great Tradition, p. xvi.)  

 The classics teacher’s vision of truth was too clear and strong to succumb to the pressure to leave his students chained up in their caves in the name of practicality, relevance and usefulness.  

 This man of integrity understood that the aim of the true teacher is to teach  students 'the art of turning around' to behold the true, the good and the beautiful. 

 For the fact is that students do not naturally and automatically turn towards the highest but must be guided towards its apprehension. Left to their own devises, their proclivity is spiritually to starve to death.   

 May it be resolved in our relations that we will determine to support in each other that longing and readiness to turn towards a vision of the highest. 

 Friendships built upon this basis have everything. Grounded in a common search for 'the real,' such relationships are built to last.  

DR. SONIA HERASYMOWYCH responds:

 "Al, you have done a wonderful essay on what it means too be a true learner. True awareness in learning is non-reversible and we can never go back to our original state of ignorance. I am reminded of an anonymous quote I found that I have modified and given to my own students: "Learning is to the human soul, what sculpture is to a block of marble." Really wonderful and effective teachers are like Michelangelo who once said that the block of marble always had the sculpture within it; he merely took away the outer layers to expose the essence that was within. Like you, I believe our task as teachers and mentors is to guide others towards the light of truth, and to challenge ourselves and our fellow learners to question the cognitive illusions that surround us in our everyday world." Sonia