Ivory Comedy Clubs: The Tragedy of Modern Education | Dr. Jose Yulo | March 5, 2007 | IgnatiusInsight.com
Ivory Comedy Clubs: The Tragedy of Modern Education | Dr. Jose Yulo | March 5, 2007
"My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale.
For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility
there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The
task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.
The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By
starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the
propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard
heart is no infallible protection against a soft head." -- C. S. Lewis
A few semesters ago, a student remarked (with a semblance of
popular support), that he received his nightly news from comedic, "mock" news
programs on cable television. The immediate ramifications of this seemed quite
It is difficult, if not nigh impossible, to promote greater
public knowledge via newsgathering in a population which has all too many
diversionary and at times fraudulent outlets at their disposal. In addition to
this, the myriad of actual news sources only serves to add to the confusion due
to the attendant and varying levels of "spin" or editorial slant within each
media outlet. Lastly, cost, in both time and money, are prevailing factors in a
college student's search for information. Whatever media outlet that provides
cheap, quick, easily digestible, and as an added bonus, flippantly clever
programming, would appear to be in this regard the favorite.
One is inevitably led to the following conclusion.
Considering all the abovementioned factors, many in this generation of college
students choose to get their daily dose of information--information which will
hopefully one day allow them a greater facility for critical political and
moral judgments--from the polished, primped, and packaged routines of comedians.
Naturally, out of concern for this oddity, a question may be
raised. Why do young people, gifted with all the most influential society on
the earth can provide each of their waking moments, seek knowledge from paid
comics? The question of course is wrongly posed. It is not serviceable
knowledge the student is seeking in one night's engagement with such
personalities. Rather, what is being sought out, at the expense of all else, is
It is little different within academia itself. As they
ceaselessly pass from classroom to classroom, today's students are told that
they are immersing themselves in a world of letters and thought, which, after a
set number of years, will lead them to enter the world of "educated" citizens.
Sifting through a multiplicity of courses and fields however, there is a
perceptible ethos felt permeating many of the available choices.
In relation to the earlier propensity to favor the counsels
of comics, many students are drawn to the ethos of adversarial posturing
adopted in many an ivory tower. Though an old tune, it briefly deserves
mention. It is the sense that, somehow, student and faculty member share a
sense of solidarity that is qualified not merely through the relationship
between both parties, but by the tie between both against the society outside academia's hallowed halls.
Separated by both distance and varying income backgrounds, members of this
"union" frame the educational experience as a lengthy (and undeniably tedious)
tome of self-validation at the expense of those who could not possibly
understand the collective pathos now on display. All past and existing
semblances of order, familial, clerical, and professional, are now posited as a
monolithic, although curiously ill-defined atavism--the adversary by which a
society defines itself and its charge. In older times this dragon was something
to tilt at and gallop towards. This being a different age, a less daring
stabbing at the heels suffices. And, since all the previous elements are
stirred up within protective walls with little regard for accountability, what
is ultimately proffered up on a student's tray is yet another form of
Clearly, lost in all of this is the very crux and purpose of
an education. Lost and drowned out by the incessant self-gratification and
posturing against the institutional flavor of the day is a student's receiving
something which will make one's life, for lack of any other way of putting it,
In this current state education resembles what the ancient
Greeks would clearly call tragedy: a downward progression, or fall from a once
elevated, more exalted position. The bodies of research and results pointing to
this have by now been extensively documented. Students do not know the
Constitution from the Declaration of Independence. Undergraduates fail to
learn, let alone master, the rudiments of writing a passable paragraph. Instead
of boldly venturing to examine a new field or ancient discipline, college
courses requiring students to examine only those areas they are most familiar
with are flooded to capacity. The academic landscape appears a conglomeration
of diversified fiefdoms, each expert a duke or baron ruling over an ever
shrinking and alienating domain. As a final insult (and ironically a gift from
the latest television programming) adult college graduates struggle to vainly
compete on a game show with, of all people, fifth graders.
It may be considered by some unduly optimistic, and
unlikely, to see comedy arise from this predicament. Perhaps the only humorous
value present is akin to the flippancy of the comic-journalists, a rather
barren mirth possible only at the expense of others. Yet, as in the sense of
comedy written of in Dante's Divina Comedia,
a renewed sense of elevation may indeed prevail. Though lacking the guidance of
Virgil, today's students can still benefit from an authentic education's upward
A few integral directions, if taken in earnest, would more
ably allow beneficial reform to take place.
First, without necessarily undoing the more student or
faculty-centered approaches to learning dominating the academic landscape, a
renewed emphasis should be placed on a university's establishing a core
curriculum. Great works from past and present can be evaluated by each
institution and tailored to fit each particular circumstance. If an institution
chooses to forego this adaptation, there are other colleges and universities
with working models of "Great Books" programs available for research.
The benefits of a successful core curriculum exceed solidly
grounding students in the foundations of their civilization. The comedians and
academic showmen both attract students by representing themselves as the
outsiders or rebels of society. The reality of the situation is the reverse.
Comic journalists perform largely in front of settings and demographics they
know will be friendly or receptive to their messages of urbane, cosmopolitan
flippancy. Postmodern academics have an even better audience: a captive one.
What both groups fail to reveal is that they are not the intrepid challengers
to the system they claim to be. This conclusion is achieved by the realization
that, shrill protestations aside, they constitute the dominant ethos, therefore
the majority within the system. It is
logically most difficult to tilt at dragons when one is the dragon. Perhaps,
this is another reason for logic being revisited as a core curriculum subject.
Core curriculums need not depose existing fields. The former
can draw in students for reasons other than being authentically rebellious.
These programs are noteworthy not because of novelty, but due to their
adherence to substance in learning. Assimilating the early development of Greek
philosophy not only adds something of external worth to a student's acumen. It
challenges that student to critically and responsively engage in introspective
inquiry--inquiry that goes beyond self-revelation to a captive audience.
Second, in the effort to develop a list of texts to be read
in such a core program, special attention needs be paid to each source
possessing what Russell Kirk called moral imagination. Citing Edmund Burke,
Kirk related this concept as pertaining to "that power of ethical perception
which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events."
When the heroes of Homer, sung of in The Iliad, made their decisions to pursue glory and thereby be
remembered throughout eternity, they did not believe glory required a competent
public relations department. Much has been made in the last academic generation
of how some age-old conspiracy cryptically mandates certain books to be read in
a prescribed canon. This effort, as has been told, maintains what
postmodernists view as an eternal desire for control through power over a
society. The only insight postmodern thought exudes in this tired account is
its own obsession of viewing anything and everything through this pseudo-Nietzschean
lens. One has to ask whether these sources are incapable of veering away from
this habit, or whether they are simply unwilling, being power-holders
themselves, of relinquishing it.
No, Homeric warriors were memorable because they did
memorable things, emphasizing timeless beliefs. When Achilles brashly
challenges god, man, and river, we are reminded of our own capacity for
irrational excesses. When noble Hector falls defending his city, we inwardly
weep for the fated death of a city's, and civilization's, true champion.
Lastly, the texts read in core curriculums need to be
introduced to the student by the instructor keeping in mind the student's
intrinsic capabilities. As C. S. Lewis would remind, the tapping of "just
sentiments" should be carefully attended to.
Unlike sophists both ancient and modern, who would ply the
youth with diversionary, sensibility-stripping entertainment as a prelude to
the seduction of their own agendas, an educator buttresses the dormant decency
found in all. By showing students the substance behind a solid core curriculum,
selecting these works with moral imagination in mind, and fostering the inborn
sense of proportion and rectitude in each human soul, educators engage in
legitimate teaching. This teaching allows students to see for themselves what
separates the clarifying journey of elevation, from the meandering, ultimately
waylaid descent into salon sophistry.
Plato and Burke would have seen this fork along parallel
sides of the road. If, as Plato maintained, evil was the absence of good, then
darkness was the absence of light. Burke held that evil only prevailed when the
good did nothing. The light in the modern academy always has a chance of
prevailing. All the darkness ever strives to do is to monopolize power, simply
because it knows it cannot stand to face its dread rival.
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Jose Yulo, Ed.D. teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization,
United States history, and public speaking at the Academy
of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education
from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy
of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication
from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical
liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Originally from Manila
in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the
histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of
J. R. R. Tolkien.
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