In my Catholic Social Thought course, our first class was occupied by what I call “meta-issues” — questions involving the nature of the course, its place in a law school curriculum, and its relevance to the lives of future lawyers. One of the difficult questions involves the relationship of academic inquiry, academic freedom, and the authentic association of an institution of higher learning with Catholicism. We read Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and we also read material in some tension with it; I particularly like a couple of Stanley Fish’s chapters in Save the World on Your Own Time as one type of counterpoint.
This evening I read an interesting old essay by T.S. Eliot called, “Modern Education and the Classics,” which I may use in the future. Modernists like Eliot and Pound can be useful on these sorts of questions, as they were occupied with their own varieties of ‘aggiornamento’ (“make it new!”). Here is one helpfully complicating passage, at least to introduce some doubt against the general skepticism that any relationship does or could exist between education and religion:
Questions of education are frequently discussed as if they bore no relation to the social system in which and for which the education is carried on. This is one of the commonest reasons for the unsatisfactoriness of the answers. It is only within a particular social system that a system of education has any meaning. If education today seems to deteriorate, if it seems to become more and more chaotic and meaningless, it is primarily because we have no settled and satisfactory arrangement of society, and because we have both vague and diverse opinions about the kind of society we want. Education is a subject which cannot be discussed in a void: our questions raise other questions, social, economic, financial, political. And the bearings are on more ultimate problems even than these: to know what we want in education we must know what we want in general, we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem.