The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saving Your College Kid

I wouldn't even try to guess how many books have been written since the first Sumerian or Egyptian wordsmith decided to apply a little charcoal-based ink to a handy sheet of papyrus. How many would you think? A hundred million, a billion, even more? I think we can agree that it's a big number. The vast majority of these tomes probably aren't worth reading, and since we've been blessed with a limited lifespan, it would be a shame to spend much, if any, of that precious time reading unworthy books.

This got me thinking about today's college students, young people at the mercy of their professors when it comes to the books they're assigned to read. And sadly, too much of that assigned reading likely falls into the unworthy category. The young, with a few rare exceptions, lack experience, a key ingredient in the process of discernment. Absent the valuable experience of life, they too often fall prey to the seemingly attractive excesses of the ideologue. And believe me, the ideologues took control of most American colleges and universities decades ago. 

Ideology, a child of the Enlightenment, came into its own a few hundred years ago. As anyone who knows me might expect, I agree with Russell Kirk who considered ideology the antithesis of conservative thought. For Kirk the conservative "thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless." Kirk goes on to describe ideology as "a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells." [See Kirk's The Errors of Ideology.]

These hells were brought to life (and death) in the 20th century in Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia, and the Kim dynasty's North Korea, not to mention China, Vietnam, Cuba and Venezuela, among others. Ideology, then, intends to replace religion by providing "salvation" here on earth and hopes to accomplish this by any means necessary, including violent revolution. One can, I believe, make a good case for claiming that Islam in its purest, most fundamental form of the sort that motivates ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and their terrorist allies is really more ideology than religion. But that's a topic for another time.

Because the ideologues of the left have taken near complete control of most American institutions of higher education, their students receive an indoctrination rather than an education. Colleges and universities, especially the elite liberal arts colleges and the state universities, more closely resemble the re-education camps of Communist China and Vietnam than the schools their founders intended them to be. Indeed, today's student activists are reminiscent of the vicious Red Guard of Mao's so-called cultural revolution of the late 1960s. So consumed by their leftist ideology, today's student and faculty activists cannot abide the presence of anyone who might disagree, and they are willing to use violence to keep their little world ideologically pure.
(An aside in the form of a word of advice to today's confused and disheveled campus radical: The campus has little resemblance to the rest of America, so you might want to reconsider any plans to lead violent revolution in the United States. After all, very few of those tens of millions of firearms owned by Americans are owned by folks on the political left. Just a thought...)
As we might expect, most college administrators tend to share at least some of the radical beliefs of their students and, predictably, will cave in the face of violent protest and agree to even the most outlandish demands. For the "normal" student -- i.e., the student who hopes to receive an education -- the situation has become almost intolerable. In many of our colleges academic freedom, the sharing of ideas, and open debate on controversial topics have become things of the past. Too many professors punish students who do not worship the accepted wisdom of the moment. The more courageous students fight back in what is usually a losing battle, while the majority simply keep quiet or parrot the party line.

Way back in 1962 I spent a year at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service prior to receiving a congressional appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis from which I graduated in 1967. Sadly Georgetown is now plagued by extreme political correctness and actively discourages any straying from the ruling ideology. And even at the Naval Academy there are signs of a growing PC culture. This truly saddens me.

Fortunately some institutions still consider open debate and sensible argument to be key elements of the educational process, but their numbers are few. Even once strongly Catholic institutions like Notre Dame, Providence College, Boston College and many others are now ruled by political correctness to the extent that faculty and students who actively defend the Faith often find themselves under fire by the school's influential, and more vocal, radical elements.

Providence College's recent scandalous treatment of Professor Anthony Esolen is a sad example of this. (You can read about this here.) I don't know Tony well -- we first met when I worked at Providence College for a few years back in the 1990s during the time of my diaconal formation -- but I have followed his career, read his books, and know him to be a brilliant scholar and strong apologist for the Catholic Faith. Tony recently resolved his personal situation by accepting a teaching position at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. How fortunate for Thomas More College and how very unfortunate for the students at Dominican-run Providence College.

As you might expect Thomas More College  is among those institutions that continue to believe in true academic freedom in the pursuit of truth. There are others: Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA (our elder daughter is a 1993 graduate, and the college will open a second campus in Massachusetts in 2018); Christendom College in Front Royal, VA; Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL; Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH...and quite a few more. (See my post of May 15, 2010.)

And so, for parents, especially Catholic parents, I strongly recommend you consider sending all that hard-earned cash to a college that actually offers a good, solid education. Send your almost adult to a school that values the pursuit of truth, one in which his or her faith will be preserved rather than destroyed. This is the preferred option.

An alternative is to encourage the exploration of online educational opportunities. I'm serious about this. Many excellent colleges and universities now offer complete degree programs online. The degree earned is no different from that earned by those who attend classes on campus and your young scholar can escape much of the idiocy that plagues both classroom and dormitory. It is also much less expensive. An additional and not insignificant benefit of an online educational experience is the opportunity it offers to hold down a real job in the real workplace while the student studies from home. Talk about a learning experience! It might require an extra year or two to earn that BA or BS degree, but there is no on-campus substitute for the discipline, maturity, and real-world experience gained from working for a living. And an education paid for, at least in part, by the student becomes far more valuable. I would also encourage the online student to take a trade-related job. Learn the basics of plumbing, or electrical work, or welding, or carpentry; that is, learn a trade for which there will always be a demand. Given the political and economic instabilities of our rapidly changing world, many of our so-called knowledge workers might find themselves without jobs and wishing they knew how to repair a furnace or a Ford.

Anyway, as a result of all this not very clear thinking, I decided to compile a short list of books that I believe all college students should read before or during their years of undergraduate study. I offer these as a kind of antidote to the ideological poison forced on students by too many of their professors.

I have not included the classics -- or "great books" as they are often called -- on my list because every pursuer of truth should make them a part of his journey through life. The late Mortimer Adler -- founder of the Great Books Foundation -- offered a comprehensive list that you can find here: Adler's Great Books. Another list with a Catholic focus can be found on the four-year undergraduate Syllabus of Thomas Aquinas College. I've also placed Adler's famous book, How to Read a Book, among the selections on my list.

Now for the list: books written in recent decades that helped me maintain my sanity in this increasingly fractured world. My aim in offering this list is not to be "fair and balanced" but to help overcome the grotesque ideology of the left that permeates much of modern society. Some of these books I read while in high school and college, others during my working years, and a few since my retirement. Of course, I don't agree with all the ideas expressed by the authors, but every one of these books forced me to think, and to examine and often modify my worldview.

A few comments about my list:

I've resisted listing more than one title for any author but, believe me, each has much more to say and most have done so in other books. I would hope a reading of the books I've included on my list will encourage the reader to dig more deeply into each author's work.

I've provided links (Amazon) to each book. I prefer actual printed editions with covers and paper pages, but most are available in Kindle editions for younger folks who seem not only to tolerate but to prefer digital editions.

Sadly, several of the listed books are no longer in print, so you will have to search for used editions.

To save space I haven't offered descriptions of the books. You can follow the links to Amazon and read the descriptions and reviews included on each book's page.


How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (1940)

The Servile State, by Hilaire Belloc (1913)

Up from Liberalism, by William F. Buckley (1959)

Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton (1908)

The God that Failed, Ed. by Richard Crossman (1950)

Dynamics of World History, by Christopher Dawson (1978)

Christianity and Culture, by T. S. Eliot (1940)

Out of the Ashes, by Anthony Esolen (2017)

The End of the Modern World, By Romano Guardini (1950)

The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayak (1944)

The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk (1953)

Lovely Like Jerusalem, by Aiden Nichols (2007)

Collected Works, Flannery O'Connor (1988)

Leisure, the Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper (1948)

Personal Knowledge, by Michael Polanyi (1958)

Truth and Tolerance, by Joseph Ratzinger (2002)

The Life of the Mind, by James V. Schall (2006)

Small is Beautiful, by E. F. Schumacher (1973)

Order and History (5 volumes), Eric Voegelin (1956-1987)

Faith and Freedom, by Barbara Ward (1954)

Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard M. Weaver (1948)

I could add a few dozen more to the list, but it's long enough as it is.

Time to work on my homily for tomorrow...

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