I’ve made no secret of my fondness for Newman’s Idea of a University, and I’m glad to see others pointing in his direction as well. That brings me to an essay by Craig Bernthal, a prof at Fresno State. In his piece at The Imaginative Conservative (via The University Bookman), Bernthal contrasts Newman’s idea with the practice of education at Fresno:
The kind of mind Newman wanted to his students to build is perhaps best illustrated by his description of how an ideal tutor teaches:
His maxim is ‘a little but well’; that is, really know what you say you know: know what you know and what you do not know; get one thing well before you go on to a second; try to ascertain what your words mean; when you read a sentence, picture it before your mind as a whole, take in the truth or information contained in it, express it in your own words, and if it be important, commit it to the faithful memory. Again, compare one idea with another; adjust truths and facts; form them into one whole, or notice the obstacles which occur in doing so. This is the way to make progress; this is the way to arrive at results; not to swallow knowledge, but (according to the figure sometimes used) to masticate and digest it.
In contrast to the methodical and strenuous approach of Newman, General Education, which constitutes the liberal arts portion of education in California and makes the community college system interlock with the CSU and UC systems, offers a Home Town Buffet of individual consumer experiences. In its “critical thinking” component, Fresno State serves up twelve courses, among them: “Critical Thinking: Gender Issues,” “Critical Thinking in Chicano and Latin American Studies,” “Critical Thinking about Race,” and “Critical Thinking in Anthropology.” Students are required to take one of the twelve. You don’t have to be a good halfback to do a broken field run through our GE program to evade education; it is harder to go through it and get one.
Bernthal is no optimist, but his points are salient, and worth your attention.