Education is not primarily about preparing to evangelize in the workplace
by Ben Brown
I would like to thank Mr. Kelly for his contribution to the ongoing discussion of the place and importance of a liberal arts education and the interrelations between it and professional training, but at the risk of irritating Concourse readers by my commenting once again on this issue, I would like to make a few brief observations and ask Mr. Kelly a few questions, which I hope he and others might address in future issues.
First, Mr. Kelly says in his concluding paragraph that the liberal arts and professional training “cannot be separated.” In fact, he says that “one cannot survive without the other.” This seems to me plainly false, for there have existed for centuries and still do exist numerous liberal arts colleges, schools which neither give nor attempt to give any such professional training. These schools are straight-forward counter-examples of a liberal arts education surviving, and even flourishing, without any professional training. I suspect, however, that this is not exactly what Mr. Kelly meant when he said the above; I think that he probably meant something more like that if we are to “sufficiently arm our students in order to fulfil the Great Commission” we must have both liberal arts education and professional training, which brings me to my second point.
Mr. Kelly, and many others with him, seem to think that the one and only purpose of FUS is to prepare its students to go out and convert the world, especially in the workplace. This, too, seems to me plainly false. If it were true, then FUS would require all of its students to at least take catechetics 101 and apologetics 101, and certainly more than just two theology classes. And if evangelization was the only real purpose of FUS, then why can a student graduate without having had one professional training class but cannot graduate without having met the humanities core requirements (sparse as they are)?
Thirdly, and connected to the last point, the only reason Mr. Kelly gives as to why a liberal arts education is good and necessary is because it is needed “to fulfill the Great Commission.” What about the perfection of the intellect? Would Mr. Kelly say that the only reason to pray is to beseech God for His help in spreading the gospel, or the only reason for mortification to gain graces for the heathens, or the only reason for practicing virtue to set a good example? What about the goods of deepening one’s relationship with God, subjecting one’s appetites to one’s reason and will, and perfecting oneself morally? Aren’t these in fact primary, and the goods which result for others, even if primary in one’s intention in certain circumstances, secondary in themselves? Similarly, despite the fact that a liberal arts education may be important for evangelizing well and/or doing one’s job well, the primary end of such an education is the perfection of the person intellectually, just as the primary end of practicing moral virtue is the perfection of the person morally.
Fourthly, even if it were true that the real end of FUS was to arm students to bring Christ to the world, what would they need a liberal arts education for? Sure, it might help, but why in the world would the liberal arts be so essential to bringing Christ into the workplace that they cannot be separated from professional training? Why would not catechetics, apologetics, theology and maybe a little philosophy suffice? Why would history, literature, music, math, physics, etc. be essential to the evangelizing businessman’s meeting his challenge? Or is Mr. Kelly confused about just what a liberal arts education is? Too often around here I get the impression that people think that a liberal arts education is little more than theology, or at least theology is often seen as the only really important part of the liberal arts. One major reason, I think, why so many people see it like that is because they see the end of education at FUS as simply preparation for doing their part to convert the world; given that, of course all one really needs is theology and professional training, but are you really willing to give up the fuller and more complete picture which sees education and theology as something better and more noble than the purely utilitarian?
Fifthly, I would like to ask Mr. Kelly what exactly he considers a “strong” and “extensive” liberal arts education to be, which he thinks that the students of FUS are getting. The core requirements here at FUS, quite frankly, are a joke compared to any serious liberal arts institution, and academically FUS has a fairly poor reputation among those who have even heard of it at other universities. One philosophy, one literature, and one history class hardly counts as a strong and extensive liberal arts education, no matter how much theology one gets.
To conclude, let me make one final comment. The reaction of many to what I have said above may very well be: “So be it. It is better for FUS to be a thoroughly orthodox preparation ground for bringing Christ to the world than your extreme, elitist vision of intellectual formation. Evangelization is far more important than book-learning and there is far greater need for the former than the latter in this day and age. And besides that, let the person who wants a full-fledged liberal arts education go to one of those liberal arts colleges that you mentioned above.” Unfortunately, I cannot even begin to explain the deep, subtle, and sinister problems with such an outlook; what I have already said above and in past articles will have to suffice. I want here only to say two things. First, if that is what FUS is and wants to be (thankfully, despite the desire and influence of some, I don’t think FUS has yet reached such a stage), then we should stop claiming to be a university and a liberal arts institution, because arming people for the Great Commission is not what a university is about. And secondly, we need to think a little more carefully about how well the Catholic vision gels with a vision which sees intellectual culture as relatively unimportant. Who was it, after all, but the monks who kept intellectual culture alive during the “dark ages”, and where did universities spring from but out of a Catholic world with a Catholic vision? The truly Catholic vision sees an intimate bond between faith and reason and is not so ready to throw liberal arts education out the window or relegate it to a utilitarian position.
Ben Brown is a senior math/computer science/theology major at FUS and a contributing editor of the Concourse.