That might not be the best headline I have written and to make matters worse, I am unsure of how to introduce my idea. Let me just say that while randomly reading from some old books I pulled out tonight, I found a pamphlet from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, published in 1965. It is a collection of columns written by the college’s president at the time, Bishop James P. Shannon, that he had published in the college’s newspaper, The Aquin.
The pamphlet’s first essay, published in 1962, is a case supporting the value and goals of a liberal arts education. Bishop Shannon writes a convincingly sound and simple argument. However, there is one passage in particular that I think is especially important — especially in light of a political speech I watched earlier tonight — and I think it applies universally, whether one has a liberal arts education or whether one has any education at all.
The passage I like responds to what Bishop Shannon had just quoted from Jose Ortega y Gasset who defines an educated man as “one who understands and appreciates the cultural tradition which produced him and who is willing to spend his time, his talent, and his training in order that that precious heritage might be preserved, protected, and perfected for the generations which will come after him.”
Now, this might sound like a conservative view of education and culture, and it is. However there is no pejorative implied here, no lines drawn. There is nothing political or didactic here. Instead, this is a classic conservative view and reasonably so.
But here is what Bishop Shannon writes in response. This is what I Iike and what I want to share. Here it is:
“There is in modern or ancient literature no better definition of an educated man. [Ortega y Gasset’s definition] says everything . It looks to the past. It faces the future. It relates human rights to human duties and it demands that every man use all of his potential, that he recognizes his debt to his forebearers, and that he accept moral responsibility for the heritage he bequeaths to posterity.”
Isn’t that a wonderfully smart and simple way to go about things? You have respect both coming and going. And it seems to me to be about everything but the selfish priorities of the present moment. To wit, is building a wall the morally responsible way to recognize our debts to immigrant forebearers and to the generations yet to follow?