Friday, March 4, 2011

The Entire student

I just read a journal entry from one of my students, a very bright, very engaged, very motivated student. He commented that he is going through a bit of a crisis triggered by Hume. Hume notes, accurately I think, that reason is and ought to be a slave to the passions (contra a handful of philosophers, say, Stoics, who'd say that we need to use reason to control our passions). This student notes that he's spent his entire life trying to 'fine tune' his rationality and has realized that he is no happier because of it. He can appreciate the intelligence and care gone into arguments, but he misses and wants wisdom, not truth (and, yes, I want to hug him for this). So, instead of doing the reading for class, he find himself reading material from Buddhism, Thomas Merton, etc.

I have long believed that college education (in the classroom at least) treats students only as minds and not as whole people (thank you Dewey for making the point that students are, in fact, people and we need to treat them as such). Students, and all people, crave meaning in life and if they can't find it in the classroom, they are (a) going to look for it elsewhere (see the success of 'non-denominational' fundamentalist churches as one place where they find it -- these churches explicitly target young college students) and (b) think of college as only a place to learn college related skills and not things that are important to life.

So, how do we, in the classroom, work to remedy this? We appear to be contributing to the schism between intellectualism and real life instead of working to undermine it.

1 comment:

GTChristie said...

Great student. Too bad Hume troubles him, since that particular statement was one of the greatest errors ever. Good thing this leads a student to read some other stuff. And if wisdom, above truth, is what he wants ... that's good; more power to him.

Back to Hume: If I could choose between a world where reason is the slave of the passions, and one where the passions are tamed by reason, I would choose the latter, thanks. If we see reason as more than just "rationality" or analysis, so that emotion informs our thoughts but does not rule them, we become human in the highest sense rather than the basest. So I believe.