This week’s unicorns consider education at all levels, parenting and personhood, sandwiches, and self-help.
What is the role of the university in promoting the good life? Chris Gehrz offers an answer this week at The Raised Hand. A taste of his essay, “The Good Life Beyond the Real World”:
It’s those people—religious and non-religious—who see the university’s purpose primarily in terms of material “return on investment” who will have the hardest time understanding the mission of Christian and church-related universities, plus Christian study centers connected to more secular schools. Nevertheless, those religious institutions should continue to approach study as worship of the invisible Maker of heaven and earth. They should continue to understand education as forming the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. And they should still aim to provide students who “desire a better homeland, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16) with ROI more valuable than employment or earnings, success or status.
In short, such institutions must continue to help their students contemplate things more permanent than any of the ephemera of “the real world,” by pursuing study of “all that is, seen and unseen”—including bygone, imagined, and spiritual realms—in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In past eras, universities have led the way in this higher calling of education, and they remain one of our society’s best hopes in this pursuit today.
On a related note, literature scholar Beatrice Scudeler reflects on her experience in the PhD program in English at the University of Notre Dame—a Catholic institution, but one that feels at times conflicted about that identity. A taste:
Both claims are part of a current move in academia and public schooling alike that tugs at and ultimately tries to unravel our sense of canonicity. That is, it tugs at the idea that there are key texts and key thinkers that have shaped Western civilization, texts that are worth reading—whether we agree with their aims or not—because we cannot understand our history without them.
The best scholars I have encountered are those who value their integrity and search for truth over originality, and who will not engage in intellectual pyrotechnics for the sake of it. Tied to this is the increasing pressure to engage with the public, to make scholarship relevant and accessible to a wider audience in an attempt to ensure its very survival. This often means that the flashiest, most controversial or exaggerated claims make it into public-facing academia. In theory, public academia could do a lot of good; in practice, it too often becomes about the academic drawing attention to himself. In other words, it becomes all about profit and little about truth. What the cross in the classroom should signify is a contrast to this cultural moment: a willingness to suffer for the truth. It is easy for the scholar to twist arguments to impress or incite, but it is much harder to endure the pressure of seeking, comprehending, and communicating truth—even, or perhaps most especially—when it is uncomfortable.
Wheaton College hosted this week an incredible event, where Beth Moore, Esau McCaulley, and Daniel Nayeri talked about writing their respective spiritual memoirs. The recording is now available.
Arena regular contributor and prolific essayist Dixie Dillon Lane is finishing a book on the history of homeschooling, but it’s a whole lot more than just that, as she is a homeschooling mom as well. If you are interested in any aspect of the history/practice of homeschooling in the U.S., you want to catch this podcast interview with her by the HSLDA.
Speaking of matters of the home, Ivana Greco (whose review of Melissa Kearney’s Two-Parent Privilege this week at Current is a must-read!) is a trained lawyer who decided during the pandemic to become a homeschooling mom. She is now writing a book on homemakers, and you can get some previews and reflections on the quandary in which we are as a society through her many essays, like this one last Friday for The American Conservative. A taste:
Most American families would like to have mom or dad at home when their kids are little. The polling is clear: Fifty-three percent of married American mothers consider having one parent home and the other parent working full time to be the “ideal” arrangement for kids under age five. The same polling shows that lower, working, and middle class married parents all generally prefer a homemaker-breadwinner division of labor to other arrangements. The only outlier? Wealthy families, who mostly prefer to have both parents working full-time.
In a welcome change of pace, Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio… introduced a proposal that is designed to support moms who want to stay home after their baby is born.
The bill, titled the Fairness for Stay-at-Home Parents Act, addresses a provision in the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) that unfairly punishes mothers who decide to stop working after they give birth. As currently written, the FMLA allows employers to claw back healthcare premiums they paid during the leave period if the employee doesn’t return to work; in other words, the employer can demand the employee repay the premium costs. An employee who doesn’t return to work because of a “serious medical condition” or “circumstances beyond the control of the employee” is shielded from such a claw back. A mother who receives FMLA leave for childbirth, however, doesn’t get the same protection. In other words, should a young mother decide not to return to work after her baby is born, she might be on the hook for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
AI girlfriends and parenting lifelike dolls are a disturbing trend we should condemn, I argue in my essay at Mere Orthodoxy. A taste:
Robots and AI creatures cannot die, yet they cannot live either. They exist outside of time, for they have no real memory, no ability to feel and experience events the way real flesh-and-blood people do. Their realistic appearance is but a weapon of deception and destruction.
What might be the problem with these relationships—AI girlfriends or reborn babies? Should we be quick to condemn these phenomena, considering that such practices are not, technically, harming anyone? I contend that yes, we should, for these practices stem from a worldview that rejects the preciousness of human persons and sees created beings—virtual girlfriends or plastic babies—as equal to real people. In fact, individuals who choose these replacements for live people usually do so in lieu of such relationships in real life.
We know that what we love shapes us. Loving replacements, replicas of reality, shapes us to embrace the lie as if it were truth, only leading us further from a life lived in real family, real community. Such is not a life of flourishing.
A life of flourishing requires beauty, but beautiful things sometimes seem strange and pointless even in their stunning, bright yellow goldenrod beauty–muses Tom Okie, the historian with the soul of a poet, this week in Plough. Tom has written several pieces for Current, and if you haven’t read his work yet, or if you would just like to re-read now, you are in for a treat.
Last but not least, many thanks to John Haas for introducing and commending the following two Unicorns. First up, sandwiches:
Writer Talia Lavin has been, among other things, chronicling America’s sandwiches with a sharp historical eye and an even sharper philosophical sensibility, but at #73, a St. Louis concoction called the Gerber (“an open-faced hot sandwich made with ham, paprika, and a locally beloved processed-cheese product called Provel”), she confesses her Muse has gone AWOL:
I wish not to invest a further second of my time on this sorry excuse for a sandwich, which sounds like an ersatz croque monsieur at best. I mean, it sounds fine. It sounds like the dull droning hum that everything sounds like lately. … I’ve been imbibing pain and fear from the other side of the world and I am full up with it and have devolved into numbness, except the immediate terror for the people I love who are There Where The Bad Things Are Happening. I have gone through grief and self-distraction and mourning, and I will probably reemerge into one or any of those at any given moment, there’s no guide to following a war from afar, except not to lapse into apathy or true madness. Still, all these emotional states preclude me from really getting worked up about a ham sandwich half a country away, really opening the only heart that fuels my one wild and precious life to it.
And second, the New Yorker has a wonderful review of the new self-help book by Arthur Brooks and Oprah Winfrey:
You’ve got to love the panas [the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule] test. It means almost nothing, yet it gives you the bracing impression that you’re down on the factory floor, tinkering away on the unique machine that is you. It is, to use Oprah’s splendidly honest term, “science-y,” right down to the vague, if benign, laboratory conditions that Brooks dictates. “To take the test, find a time when you feel relatively neutral about life—say, right after lunch,” he writes. But what sort of lunch? If it’s three o’clock in the afternoon and you’re lingering over coffee and gazing out across the Bay of Naples, you will give thanks for the wonders of creation. Conversely, if you just blew seven dollars and twenty-nine cents on a Subway footlong, you will hold your fellow-humans in contempt and assume, naturally, that the world is an overcooked meatball hung in a meaningless void.