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The Proposal for George Wythe University

A Renaissance in Education

In 2006 an internal George Wythe Foundation white paper outlined the case for George Wythe University.  This document is being published in its entirety in The Statesman over the course of several months.  What follows is Part II. Click here for Part I.

The Case for a Renaissance

~Part II~


"Perhaps the greatest of pedagogical fallacies is that a person learns only what he is studying at the time.

Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes

… may be and often is more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history

… For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.”

~John Dewey~


What is the Ideal?

If we are to create the ideal college and offer the much needed Depth Phase (applying principles in real life after acquiring a strong liberal arts education) to a new generation of American and world leaders, new foundings are needed.  But what is the ideal, and how should it be founded? Perhaps the three leading modern American educators of the Twentieth Century, Dewey notwithstanding, were Mortimer Adler, Jacques Barzun, and Russell Kirk.  Each had something to say about the ideal college.

Adler suggests that there are many ways to provide high quality education, but that there are five things that an ideal college should not do:

“First, a liberal arts college should not allow any form of special training for specific jobs, vocations, or even learned professions to intrude itself into the curriculum.  This is not to say that liberal schooling has no relation to earning a living  . . . Liberal schooling will, in fact, prepare [students] to earn a living in the one way that it should.  A person well trained in the liberal arts is able to learn anything more readily than a person not so trained.  Hence he is better prepared for whatever specialized learning may be a necessary condition of earning a living, whether that further learning takes place on the job or in the course of further schooling. Second, a liberal arts college should not provide any elective courses in its curriculum, nor should it afford any opportunities for specialization in particular subject matters . . . Third, the faculty of a liberal arts college should not be divided into departmental groups, each representing special competence in some particular subject matter, and narrow interest in some limited field of learning.  This does not mean that the members of a college faculty must eschew all special scholarly interests, or that they should be chosen for their general competence and lack of all scholarly attainments.  It means only that as college teachers, engaged in administering a program of liberal schooling, they should be willing to submit themselves to the whole course of study which the college is prescribing for its students . . . Fourth, no textbooks should be used in a liberal arts college; there should be no lectures in courses; and formal lectures should be kept to the minimum and should, wherever possible, be of such generality that they can be given to the whole student body . . . Fifth, written examinations, especially of the objective or true-false type, should be eliminated in favor of oral examinations . . . .These five negative recommendations, if adopted, would still allow for a variety of different positive programs, differently organized and differently administered.  The negatives, if enforced, merely create the right sort of vacuum, so that whatever positive content then rushes in to fill the void has some chance of being right.”

Jacques Barzun advocates numerous ideas for the ideal university, chief among them that we must as a nation take the emphasis off “educating,” and focus on teaching and learning.  The key to this, argues Barzun, is the faculty.  Teachers are the university, not the buildings, library, endowment, administration or anything else.  No ideal college can or will exist unless the trustees, administrators and faculty understand that the college is its teachers—and that superb education occurs by putting great teachers in a room with students and letting them alone to “do their thing.”

As Barzun teaches, great teaching is “the transfer of personality,” the core sharing of the deepest and best the teacher has to give with students who are closely enough associated over a period of time adequate to truly mentor them.  This only happens when the administration administrates and leaves the classroom to the teacher.  Indeed, when great teachers are allowed to practice their craft, students are inured with a deep and lasting passion for learning—and they study hard and learn. The ideal college puts great teachers in the classroom and allows miracles to occur day after day.  The rest of the college is organized to ensure the delivery of great teaching.

Russell Kirk rightly argues that an ideal college would have to start in the right place, by clarifying its purpose: “What then is the chief end of a college of arts and sciences?  Why, to enable a body of senior scholars (the professors) and a body of junior scholars (the undergraduates) to seek after Wisdom—and through Wisdom, for Truth.  The end is not success, pleasure, or sociability, but wisdom.  Wisdom is not the same as facts, utility, training, or even knowledge. . . .Success, increasingly, has been substituted for virtue in our curricula; facts, for wisdom; social adjustment, for strength of soul. . . . The aim of the old-fangled college education was ethical, the development of moral understanding and humane leadership; but the method was intellectual, the training of the mind and conscience through well-defined literary disciplines.  A college was an establishment for the study of important literature.  It was nearly that simple.  Through the apprehension of great literature, young men were expected to fit themselves for leadership in the churches, in the law, in politics, in principal positions of public responsibility.”

The ideal college needs to emphasize liberal education and the training of leaders.  This, above all, is the great need of society and the role of the college. To achieve these ends, Kirk argues, the school must do things in the right order as he describes in the following story:  

Canon Bernard Iddings Bell once was showing an English visitor about the environs of Chicago.  They drove past a handsome Gothic building of stone. ‘Is that a school?’ inquired the visitor.

‘Yes—a new one, distressed to appear old,’ Canon Bell replied.

‘Indeed! Who is the headmaster?’

‘There is no headmaster.’

‘Curious! A kind of soviet of teachers, I suppose.’

‘There are no masters at all.’

‘Really? Then where are the boys?’

‘As yet, there are no students. Here in the United States, we proceed educationally in a way to which you are unaccustomed,’ Canon Bell told his friend.  ‘First we erect a building; then we obtain students; next we recruit teachers; then we find a headmaster; and at last we determine what is to be taught.’”

After telling this story, Kirk recommends: “Let it be otherwise with our model college.  The first matter is to determine the program of study . . . . After that, let us turn to the staff, then to the students, and finally to the ‘plant.’


An Ideal for the Twenty First Century

It is clear that a new model, or rather, a return to a true liberal arts model, is needed in America to safeguard liberty and the pursuit of human excellence.  At this point, building on the shoulders of past greats and focused on the needs of our Twenty-first and Twenty-second Centuries, we submit to candidly to the world our proposal for an ideal college:

First, the mission of the college will be to build statesmen, men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.  The purpose of the college will be to prepare leaders who will influence for good the families, communities, businesses, governments, media, society and nations of the world.           

Second, it will be a college first, then several colleges, and finally a university.  There are two types of universities: those which start as a centralized unit that divides itself up into colleges and departments to allow specialization, and those where a cluster of separate, focused colleges share administration and community.  Our ideal university will be the latter.           

Third, the most important people in our colleges will be teachers.  We will recruit, train and otherwise hire truly great teachers and empower them to inspire their students.  The whole university will exist to support and help teachers in this endeavor.  When great teachers inspire, students are inured with the lasting desire to work very hard, to study long and often painful hours, and to earn their own superb education.  This is our educational model.           

Fourth, teachers will serve as mentors rather than just expert lecturers and graders.  Mentors will sometimes coach, sometimes lecture, but usually lead discussions.  For most discussions, students will come prepared having read or written something important.  The old saying that “a great education is a student on one end of a log and John Hopkins on the other” will not be the guide, but rather the model will be C.S. Lewis’ sentiment that great education is a mentor and a dozen or fewer students arguing about a very important idea around a table late into the night.           

Fifth, we will apply the Five Pillars of Statesmanship: Classics, Mentors, Simulations, Field Experience and God.           

Sixth, the role of the board, president and other administrators will always be to support mentors in delivering superb education through the Five Pillars of Statesmanship. Adequate funds must be raised for this purpose.           

Seventh, the leading executive of the school must always be a superb teacher who is daily involved in teaching and mentoring. Organizations always take on the personality of their chief, and schools that are run by businessmen soon become businesses—the school dies.  Likewise, schools that are run by fundraisers soon turn into projects for hire, spelling the end of schooling.  The chief must of course appoint and empower the highest quality of business leaders to run the administration and raise the needed funds.  As former University of Michigan thinker Stephen J. Tonsor put it: “If the university is to retain its lost authority in American society, it must find university administrators who see their mission in providing something more than . . . ‘football for the alumni, parking for the faculty, and sex for the students.’  The university and college president must once more play the role of educational statesman.”           

Eighth, a majority of the faculty will always consist of graduates of the school.  This point, like the others, is very important, but it will be tempting to ignore it at times.  As Dr. Tonsor said: “Any college or university president who at the present moment determines to make his institution unique in mission, curriculum, instructional method, student body, or educational philosophy will discover very quickly that his great enemy is not the alumni or the board of trustees or even the student body, but his own faculty.”  This lesson was learned by the greatest educational leaders, including Robert Hutchins at the University of Chicago, Grayson Kirk at Columbia University, Chester Finn, Jr. and William Bennett in the U.S. Department of Education, and even George Wythe at William and Mary and John Witherspoon at Princeton over two centuries ago.  The solution is to train our own mentors as our first priority, supplementing them with great teachers from other schools who are asked to learn of and become passionate about the existing culture and mission of the university.  Unlike corporate America’s "bring in new top executive blood to forge a new vision," the vision of George Wythe University is built upon principles of human greatness.  These principles may be applied differently from time to time, but will never be abandoned.   Hence, a faculty trained in the tradition of these principles is vital to the mission/vision.           

Next month's installment will outline the specific proposal for George Wythe.

The Proposal for George Wythe University was written in 2006 by Shanon D. Brooks, then CEO of George Wythe College, based on ideals and plans formulated by Oliver DeMille during the 1990's.  The Proposal was presented to the George Wythe Foundation board of trustees and the American Academy for Liberal Education at the time of GWC's application for accreditation.