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NYUSexton2013The Catholic Center at New York University held a symposium, 2/4, exploring the thinking of John Henry Newman and the question — What positive contribution can religion make to the ongoing life of the contemporary university?

“Newman reminds us today, that as unlikely and outlandish as it might seem, theology and the speculative contemplation of which it gives rise to is about the only thing that can save the university from its total functionalization and commodification. For theology reminds all the other disciplines that the greatest freedom comes with the contemplation and communication of the transcendent truth of God.” Reinhard Huetter, Duke Divinity School

“For you, also, we have a message, and it is this: Continue to search, tirelessly, never despairing of the truth! Recall the words of one of your great friends, St. Augustine: ‘We seek with a desire to find, and we find with a desire to seek further.’ Happy are those who, possessing truth, seek it, in order to renew it, to deepen it, and give it to others. Happy are those who, not having found it, go toward it sincere in heart; may they seek tomorrow’s light in today’s, till they come to the fullness of light.”Pope Paul VI

At this year’s Clinton Global Initiative, Queen Rania of Jordan called for an ‘education revolution’ in the Arab World. She said the focus of 21st century education should be on designing the future rather than dissecting the past.

Commentary: The American General George Marshall advocated, after World War II, for educators to teach students about how wars began. He thought that by doing so they might be avoided in the future.

LE engaged a CGI volunteer in a discussion about the Arab Spring — and its connections with the Russian Revolution. But she quickly said: “I was much better at science and math than I was at history.”

Today the ‘family of man’ is being torn asunder by the ‘strong and the weak’, as checks and balances fail and society disintegrates.

How can a modern democratic state, whose institutions are rotten to the core, possibly reform itself — when the people are so broken? What would James Madison and Thomas Jefferson say — on this the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution? Perhaps they would say: “We’re not surprised.” In different ways they both saw it coming.

Commentary: A good education should foster an authentic understanding of being human with free participation in a ‘more perfect union’. Self-interest, STEM Education, and passion are not enough. In the words of German philosopher Edith Stein: “The individual human being is in his content not merely a particularization of something more universal, but a member of a whole that realizes itself as a vital unity and that can achieve its unfolding only in the vital context of the whole, in its particular place and in cooperation with the other members.” Finite and Eternal Being (ICS Publications, 2002)

Photographs: Stephen Wise

It’s become fashionable at all levels of education (especially in the arts and the humanities) for instructors to say: “There are no right or wrong answers — that’s what makes it so exciting,” as one NYU professor put it to LE recently.

A junior at Columbia College wrote an editorial in the Columbia Spectator (April 19, 2012) in which she says: “I’m not ready to be a senior and I’m sure there are other juniors who feel the same way.” She laments not having anyone older to help answer her “existential questions”.

Who’s going to grab coffee with me next year? I’ve started wondering to myself. I never really had role models growing up — I had figured out by middle school that my parents, cheerleading coaches and baby sitters knew a lot about life because they were older, but in many ways they were still clueless too.”

The editorial takes a dramatic turn when she adds: “One of my professors recently said, ‘Parents don’t know what the fuck they’re doing either. There’s no ultimate handbook for parenting.’ Maybe we could say the same thing about being a senior — you’ve got three years of experience behind you, but you still don’t have a definitive guide for exactly what you should be doing…”

Photograph: Stephen Wise

As politicians and business leaders get more involved with education, the emphasis on productivity, efficiency and scale have produced  unfortunate outcomes — from No Child Left Behind (during the Bush years), to e-learning with President Obama.

E-learning is hot. A recent Google search generated 181,000,000 responses. But is it good? Already people are discovering (as with NCLB), that e-learning can fail to deliver what is most important (reality) for a person’s growth and development, and can even be harmful. Psychiatrists are finding that excessive computer time (over 5 hours/day) and WiFi exposure — are unhealthful for children and adults.

Maria Bartiromo, Anchor of CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” was honored at a dinner for “Futures In Education” — an organization whose mission is to provide tuition assistance and program support to the neediest students attending Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens NY.

Included with Ms. Bartiromo, in the photo are Frank Bisignano CAO, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (second from right) and The Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn.

At a time when public school education, in the U.S., is not oriented to helping young people discover the truth, Catholic education is needed more than ever. But it has to remain true to what it is.

Pratham, the largest ‘education’ focused NGO in the world, held a fundraiser this week in NYC for its work in India. The organization’s mantra is “Every Child in School and Learning Well.” According to Pratham Founder & CEO Dr. Madhav Chavan, Pratham has “developed a scalable approach to driving education and ending illiteracy in India.”

Pratham USA Ambassador, Archie Panjabi, the award-winning British actress, was on hand to help MC the program.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab, addressed a gathering of IIT (India Institute of Technology) alumni today at their 2011 Global Conference in NYC.

Describing himself as the ‘tooth fairy,’ Mr. Negroponte has sought through his non-profit OLPC (One Laptop per Child), to make laptops affordable (100 Swiss Francs) and available to all children — especially in developing countries — who he considers to be ‘agents of change.’

Mr. Negroponte spoke about the need for ‘learning learning,’ which for him means getting away from ‘rote learning’ — which he said it is “killing kids.”

A better way, he believes, is helping children to ‘make things.’ Toward that end, Negroponte has installed “constructionist” software (Logo & Scratch) in all OLPC computers going to children. He thinks the process of debugging a computer program is an example of ‘learning to learning’ — the “joy of bugs” as he put it.

Negroponte was highly critical of the Indian school system, saying that “to make children fearful of mistakes is criminal behavior.” He thinks it’s important to “get to children (by the first grade) before they are screwed-up by school.”

Commentary: One has to keep in mind the real likelihood of hindered spatial awareness and development, especially in young children, resulting from computers and devices. Those who push computers and devices on children are as irresponsible as those who push antipsychotic drugs on children. In fact computer use has contributed to mental health issues, resulting in school administrators/nurses forcing children to take psychotropes. ‘Children with computers’ is not a fix for the errors in education, but rather is adding to them.

Shamus Khan, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, reads from his book, Privilege — The Making Of An Adolescent Elite At St. Paul’s School.”

What is the future function of a predominantly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant upper class in an ethnically and religiously heterogeneous democracy? In many ways this is the most important question of all.” E. Digby Baltzell

” Some will always be above others. Destroy inequality today and it will appear tomorrow.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mr. Khan is a graduate of St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH (an elite prep school), as was E. Digby Batzell (1915-1996). Mr. Batzell is credited with coining the term White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP).

In his book, Khan looks at the “logic” of entitlement, privilege and elitism as they have evolved at the prep school level, and by extension the rest of society. He mentioned during his talk that America’s elites have historically “made fences around resources” to keep others from getting access. So, true to form, in places like Columbia, where the student population has become “representative,” graduates still “go on to drive inequality.” Schools can contribute to “entitled” individuals becoming elitists, said Khan.

LE asked Mr. Khan if he thought the U.S. was in decline, and if so — do the elites bear some responsibility? He said “yes” and “absolutely,” but added that if America’s elites were all of a sudden to disappear, “whoever replaced them would do the same things.”

On the St. Paul’s School homepage, the first thing a visitor notices is the question: “What is Freedom with Responsibility?” They answer with “clear rules, consequences, moral standards, and an honor code govern our lives together; freedom does mean we have no rules.”

“Honor Code?” Mafia bosses are guided by an Honor Code (see Joe Bonanno’s “A Man Of Honor”).

The elite schools of America are not presenting their students with a coherent, compelling and complete view of the human person and of reality. Until or unless they do, the leaders of society will continue to be driven and guided by their ‘animal spirits’ and society will founder.

Photograph: Stephen Wise


Stephen B. Wise


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