Thomas Martin is the O. K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Along with his fellow colleagues who are dedicated to the study of the Great Books, he teaches the works of Plato, Aristotle, and G. K. Chesterton.
A local friend, who was impressed by all the building going on the campus at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, commented:
Your university is really on the move with all the new construction, and the interim President James Linder at Rotary talking about the proposed University Village. Wow, this is really something.
It is "something." However, it is not necessarily the case that UNK's new buildings and the proposed University Village are signs my university is doing well.
Case in point: it is now possible to graduate from the University of Nebraska at Kearney without taking a course in history, literature [British, American, or World] or philosophy, but rather to satisfy the humanities requirement through the general studies program.
A student can satisfy the humanities requirement by taking an intermediate Spanish, French, or German course, and a Cross-Cultural Communication class. These beginning language classes can be learned in the third grade, and Cross-Cultural Communication - whatever it is - does not require reading primary sources of history, literature or philosophy, the very core of the humanities and of learning what it means to be human.
In other words, there is a core curriculum, but it is not being required of all the students to graduate.
What do you make of students graduating from an institution advertised as a university without a sense of history, a love of literature, or the ability to distinguish between a civil law implemented by the government as opposed to a moral law uncovered through an examination of conscience?
In effect, we are training a generation for the work force, but we are not educating responsible citizens with a sense of their heritage.
Aristotle saw that, of all the creatures, man is the only one who is born ignorant. Fortunately, man is also the only creature who by nature desires to know. In other words, we must be taught to understand what is before our eyes.
Man has two eyes.
He has an external eye, which looks out on the world of chronological events streaming right before him. This is the quantitative eye, the scientific eye, which measures everything by size, shape, color, speed, and quantity.
The second eye is the internal eye, the qualitative eye, the eye of the heart looking deep down into man's soul through time. This is the eye of memory and self-examination; and it is anchored by a conscience and the moral judgment necessary to distinguish between what is just and unjust, good and evil, smoke and mirrors.
The external eye can be taught to see and describe what is right before it and its medium is the natural science.
The internal eye looks back in time through the lens of history, literature, philosophy, art, scripture, etc., to learn the necessary art of being. It requires learning moral principles to distinguish between good and evil, and what is just and unjust.
Deprive a student of either one of his eyes and you have a Cyclops, with myopic vision that makes for a narrow mind. He will be all head and no heart, or all heart and no head.
The former leads to heartless abstraction and the later leads to mindless compassion.
In all of this, it is important to remember a university is not housed in its buildings. A university is housed in the minds of her students, who can see as far as they can read, what is in front of them as well as those permanent thoughts rooted in the past, with understanding. *