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Learning That Goes Somewhere

September 30, 2015

 

 There’s a question all students should ask about their course: where does it go?
 
As we set out to explore a Millis Institute education in more detail, we begin with the premise that a good curriculum goes somewhere—it follows a progression that has a particular purpose or point to it. 

 

Rather than offering a smorgasbord of disconnected subjects, a well-designed curriculum takes students along an intentional journey, arriving at a certain end or telos. 
 
For centuries in the West, this journey took shape as a “path of wisdom” that was based on several assumptions: First, educators assumed that reality—what there is to know—has a certain order to it, what Richard Weaver called “the deep-laid order of things.”  This order was established by God—it's objective in nature—and it includes things visible and invisible, concrete and abstract (the physical and numerical order as well as the moral and spiritual order). 
 
Second, educators held that the process of coming to understand this multi-dimensional reality also has a certain order to it, what Thomas Aquinas referred to as “the proper order of learning.”  This means taking questions in due order—establishing sound first principles and then progressing to particulars. 
 
The Millis Institute has structured its courses around the “deep-laid” order that inheres in both the universe and our way of coming to know it.  Our students begin with the tools of learning, then progress to what can be discerned by the senses, then advance to what can be contemplated through reason, culminating with what can only be known by revelation.
 
Our curriculum therefore takes students along a deliberate ascent of knowledge, ending with the Divine Creator Himself: the first cause and final end of all that exists.
 
The steps of this path of wisdom can be further articulated as follows.

 

 Whether you're an established professional or still in school, where will your future education lead you?  For more about this time-tested path of learning--and where it goes--see here.

 

"Just once I’d like to have a college student come up to me and say, 'I really wanted to major in accounting, but my parents forced me to major in medieval art.'"

So says New York Times columnist David Brooks.  In
an article earlier this month, Brooks warns students that they won't be able to prosper in the coming computer-driven economy simply by "improving your cognitive skills" or "developing more generic human capital."  "You should instead ask, What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans?"

"Those tasks are mostly relational. ... Transactional jobs are declining but relational jobs are expanding.  Empathy becomes a more important workplace skill, the ability to sense what another human is feeling or thinking. ... The ability to function in a group also becomes more important — to know how to tell stories that convey the important points, how to mix people together. [A counterreaction against pushing students in a 'practical' or mercenary direction] will be driven, too, by the inherent human craving for the transcendent."

Brooks concludes: "People eventually want their souls stirred, especially if the stuff regarded as soft and squishy turns out in a relational economy to be hard and practical."  We agree, which is why we consider a liberal arts degree to be such a wise and strategic pathway.

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