Most people, if they think about it, probably live their life around some kind of rhythm. As a kid I remember my dad working seven days a week at the paper mill with a week off in the spring to do some home maintenance and a week off in the summer so that we could go on vacation, most often to the beach in South Carolina. I imagine my dad was probably entitled to more time off but simply did not or could not afford to take it. I erroneously assumed that everyone’s dad worked seven days a week. Turns out, that was not the case.
As a professor the rhythm of my life follows the natural flow of the academic year. I think in terms of mid-August to mid-December and February to May as the times when I am the busiest. The other months of the year allow me more freedom in how I approach my days and weeks. In a sense, my year doesn’t run from January to December but from mid-August to mid-August. Well, it’s the middle of May and the school year is coming to an end. Students and faculty are busy with exams and wrapping things up. At the end of this week we will don academic regalia again to celebrate with another group of graduates. This means that it is time for summer! I really enjoy these rhythms of my life.
Of course, with the end of another school year comes another opportunity to reflect on the nature of what I do and to reflect on the work that my students have done. This year like so many years before it has seen lots of learning happening and this is evidenced when I examine my students and they report all that they have learned. I can see it when they recount the contents of Kant’s Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic and when they compare a Lockean concept of liberty with the freedom found by Frederick Douglass through education, especially through learning how to read. This makes me reflect on the nature of education in general. Now, my colleague Paul Spears is the expert in educational philosophy so I do not presume to speak with any real authority. I seek merely to reflect.
Though I teach in an honors institute, I am not naïve that all of my students are enrolled in the institute for the sake of getting a good (sometimes even a great) education. I’m sure there’s some number of students who are simply at Torrey because of the word “honors” in our title – “I’m an honors student therefore I must go to the honors institute.” Others are likely here to meet the expectation placed upon them by their parents – “My parents have always wanted me to be an honors student so I’ve come to Torrey.” I also don’t doubt that there are numbers of Torrey students who simply don’t know why they are at Torrey. For those students I can simply lament that they are likely not taking full advantage of the education that they are being offered, not only in the honors institute but from Biola in general. Perhaps they will look back one day and say, “I should have taken greater advantage of the opportunity to go to Biola and Torrey.” Of course, if they never come to this realization that does not invalidate the fact that we are offering them a quality education. Could it be better if they tried harder? Sure, but we’re not here to babysit much less force learning onto someone who is not interested.
Instead, I choose to continue to work hard for the students who know why they are here and who are working hard in all areas of their education. I am here for the student who is not taking their education for granted, who does not think of a university diploma as a ticket to a better job, with more money and greater benefits in the long run. Rather, I choose to get up each day to educate the student who says, “Education is worth it regardless of any job or future prestige that may come from it. The truth is worth pursuing and knowing so I choose to do that with my time, energy and talents. I know why I am here and I am going to work hard to make it all that it can be.”
Will I have to continue to mentor, examine and teach students who are motivated by other reasons or who are here for less than ideal reasons? Of course, but that does not mean that I have to think of them as my primary audience. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for a living. There is likely no better job than being a professor in the Torrey Honors Institute and our students, hands down, are some of the smartest and brightest out there today. (If you disagree then you can take that up with our recent alum that in recent weeks have finished graduate, law and medical degrees from UCLA, St. Louis University, USC and the University of Arizona Medical School.) My goal and desire is to continue to work with all our students but to particularly appreciate those who “get it.” It is a privilege to serve those students. Working with all my students is easy since I often don’t know the difference between those who really want to be here and those who are simply here. In this instance, ignorance is bliss.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that every 18-22 year old university student today should really learn to appreciate all of the great opportunities that they are being given by getting a good education. Not only do they have the privilege of learning and pursuing truth but they are also given the opportunity to pursue paths to great careers. Learning and vocation do not have to be in conflict but we should never make the mistake of thinking that learning is only for the purpose of pursuing a particular vocation. Learning for learning’s sake is an excellent ideal and those given the grand opportunity of studying in an honors institute should realize that and take full advantage of it. To those students I say, see you in exams and bring your A game!
At this point I could (and should) probably offer a quotation from some great leading mind in the area of education or some prestigious author from the classical tradition. But I won’t. Most of you reading this blog already agree with me. Those who aren’t reading this blog likely don’t care one way or the other. But let it be known that I am a champion of good, even great, education and that kind of education continues to be made available at Biola University and in the Torrey Honors Institute. Lord willing, I’ll get to continue being part of such a great thing for another thirty years or so. If you’re interested then come join us!