By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
Veith, Mitchell, and Evans
share a lively panel discussion.
Mr. Charles T. Evans, co-author of Wisdom and Eloquence, the tome on classical learning students and faculty had spent weeks discussing, covered a thematic range at the College’s first-semester Faith and Reason lecture. Topics included the history of the liberal arts, the complexity of modern society, and Christian and classical virtues. It was his last conclusion – that practical management skills constitute yet another liberal art – that struck a chord of controversy.
Never once did the affable Mr. Evans mention together the words, “faith” and “reason,” which left some students and faculty poised at alert. Following Evans’ lecture, small group discussions and a concluding panel discussion by Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Dr. Mark Mitchell, and Evans, continued in the same vein. By day’s end, the lecture’s focus had been effectively narrowed to a question of the notion of “management” as a liberal art.
Both Evans’ comments and students’ questions circled around a central premise: Do many Christian graduates, as Evans suggested, really lack a certain set of skills essential to leadership in the current age? If so, should such skills be assembled under the heading of “liberal art,” or something else? Others openly wondered -- What makes our own day and age so distinct, so filled with unique challenges and possibilities, that one would be tempted to add to classical learning’s long and venerable tradition? Can one truly teach management academically, or must such skills be gained by experience?
The discussion turned back to a sober analysis of the foundational principles that define and should, ultimately, animate an institution of Christian classical learning like PHC. Students and faculty wrestled with a core assumption that, at heart, legitimate conversation about Christian classical liberal arts must incorporate a true marriage of faith and reason. Faculty must discern and impart specific sets of knowledge proven most essential for equipping a rational creature with an immortal soul toward a life of righteousness, wisdom and eloquence. Does a particular field of study, skill-set, or liberal art, fill the requirement, and nurture those qualities in an individual’s soul. Is it something every member of the culture should learn in order to lead wise and eloquent lives?
Students converse before panel discussion.
“The next frontier for Christian colleges,” Mr. Evans had argued in his speech, “is to become places in which Christian people are educated in the means of accumulating and managing resources and the ability to discern the proper use of those resources in serving the cause of Christian civilizing principles.”
While most agreed that everyone needed to give leadership skills a special focus in this age of unusually complicated organizational structures, the question remained—how do such skills relate to the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (music, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry) as classically understood?
“The liberal arts are categories of subjects, not a list of specific topics that change with a given age,” said Dr. Veith in the panel discussion. The College’s Philosophy of Education document echoes this sentiment: “The classical liberal arts, of course, is not just a sequence of courses but a conceptual framework and a methodology. The seven liberal arts cultivate mastery of language (grammar), analysis (logic), communication (rhetoric), aesthetics (music), numbers (mathematics), spatial relations (geometry), and empirics (astronomy). Thus, other courses in a variety of subjects can contribute to this breadth of education.”
When asked about how to implement management skills into the curriculum—classes for credit? seminars?—Mr. Evans quipped good-naturedly. “I’ll leave that to your faculty,” sparking peals of laughter from his co-panelists. “I just see a need that Christian education should fill,” he said. “In my time in K-12 classical schools, we had to consciously inculcate elements of leadership experience for students.”
This discussion will continue for the rest of the semester, as students and faculty finish Littlejohn and Evans’ Wisdom and Eloquence in Tuesday morning Christian Study Groups. Meanwhile, most members of the Patrick Henry community found the day informative and thought-provoking.
“I thought it was a fantastic experience,” said Mr. Evans of his day at PHC. “You all have a great school culture. I can’t wait for these students to be teaching at Christian schools and running Christian organizations.”