My reading lately has been focused on a few different themes: education, restoration, preservation, and legacy. Besides creating a jumble of thoughts in my confused mind, I have been struck with the fact that educators like you are creating, or to be more accurate, carrying on a legacy. Legacy is defined as "something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past." Unfortunately, I believe we had lost a sense of legacy in our educational systems as they become more focused on education as a commodity rather than as something inherently valuable. Colleges have been sued by students who have been unable to find work after graduation and while that may signal a failure on the institution's part it reveals a dynamic shift in the way people view education as worthwhile.
Wendell Berry, one of my favorite American writers, made the following indictment of American education during a commencement address at Bellarmine University:
"...we are promoting a debased commodity paid for by the people, sanctioned by the government, for the benefit of the corporations. For the most part, its purpose is now defined by the great and the would-be-great 'research universities.' These gigantic institutions, increasingly formed upon the 'industrial model,' no longer make even the pretense of preparing their students for responsible membership in a family, a community, or a polity. They have repudiated their old obligation to pass on to students at least something of their cultural inheritance. The ideal graduate no longer is to have a mind well-equipped to serve others, or to judge competently the purposes for which it may be used." (source here)
This shortsighted view of education will have far-reaching consequences both for the fabric of our society and in how our cultural legacy will either thrive or wither. I find all of this alarming and see elements of it happening around me but today I want to focus on you, the people who are fighting against the commodification of education and preserving a valuable legacy!
In resisting the cultural onslaught that questions the value of education for its own sake, you are making a bold counter-cultural assertion and stating that some things are inherently valuable, regardless of their perceived market price. Educating through the use of literature and the great books is not the most efficient way to instill facts into the heads of young students but it is the best way to engage young minds and nurture curiosity. Discussing the ideas one finds in those books takes time and energy and is much more difficult than handing a student a worksheet, but it encourages discourse and contemplation. We are surrounded with commentators and pundits raised in educational systems that failed to teach them the value of civil discourse. This results in political stalemates and resentment as well as an increasingly small worldview. By encouraging discussion, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to see situations from various angles, you are preparing your children and students to be responsible members of their families and communities, equipped to serve those around them. An education rich in ideas and discourse allows students to see outside of themselves and gives them a legacy passed down through the generations. It may not be something that the market values, but it is essential for the continuation of a free society and a generous citizenry. So, I just want to encourage you that your work is a legacy and while you may not feel like it in the messiness of the every day chaos of teaching, your actions and choices are key in preserving a heritage that is increasingly endangered.