Professors are not giving sight to the blind, but turning a soul made in the image of God toward the original. This should not discount data distribution and training. Better information and techniques are essential to being effective in life, but do change the fundamental dynamic in a college classroom from guru to guide. The training, practice, and information come from one human soul to another human soul.
The college is not (must not) stamp out a series of imitations of the professor, but well informed, trained, virtuous graduates who are made fully themselves.* My best professors, and I was blessed in my teachers, had expertise and data to share, and they did, to my great benefit. There was, is, and always will be so much I do not know even in my area of specialization. The very techniques of how to read well, write analytic philosophy, and teach are skills that can be taught with practice. There is constantly new research, data, and improvements and so this kind of learning never stops. They also cultivated my “way of being.” They turned me toward goodness, truth, and beauty. My Christian professors turned me Godward. At the end of the process, I was still myself, but a self with a better view.
In this deep way, they pivoted my soul from looking at my opinions (God help me!) to knowledge and the Source of knowledge. God makes every human capable of this fundamental shift in perspective, even if we cannot all learn the techniques of some profession. We can all look to logic, even if many of us will never teach mathematical logic! We can turn towards beauty, even if the technique, training, or talent to write beautifully is beyond us. All of us are peers at the soul level, even if not in training or ability.
Plato developed this deep education that found a home in the eastern Mediterranean world and sometimes in the west:
“Then, if this is true,” I said, “we must hold the following about these things: education is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn’t in it, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes.”
“Yes,” he said, “they do indeed assert that.”
“But the present argument, on the other hand,” I said, “indicates that this power is in the soul of each, and that the instrument with which each learns—just as an eye is not able to turn toward the light from the dark without the whole body—must be turned around from that which is coming into being together with the whole soul until it is able to endure looking at that which is and the brightest part of that which is. And we affirm that this is the good, don’t we?”“Yes.”
“There would, therefore,” I said, “be an art of this turning around, concerned with the way in which this power can most easily and efficiently be turned around, not an art of producing sight in it. Rather, this art takes as given that sight is there, but not rightly turned nor looking at what it ought to look at, and accomplishes this object.”**
The art of turning a soul is something that we can learn without a guide, but a mentor makes this process easier. The process includes learning moderation: when to say “no” and “yes.” Learning difficult mathematics or music can help as the abstraction points us away from the merely practical to the eternal.
If we want wisdom, the essential element to any good college education, we must learn to ask good questions and how to know when those questions have been answered. This process, this dialectic in the soul, never ends, because good answers lead to deeper questions. As easy or basic questions are given (tentative) answers, we build on what we have learned.
This attitude of tentative acceptance and constant wondering is the role of a creature to the creation and the Creator. We have a spark of the divine, but are not the Divinity. God’s cosmos does not exist for us, but we are invited to care for bits of it. We can carefully curate the cosmos to create!
As our own children have graduated from college, Hope and I are thankful for the professors who gave them good training, data, research, and the knowledge that this would need refreshing for a lifetime. We are indebted to the few that never tried to stamp over the icon of God with their own image of the image of God.
Find those blessed guides.
*Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
**Plato, Republic 518 D (Bloom translation)