Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Transformational food 

There's a course on campus called "Sociology and The Global Politics of Food". �It's not taught in the political science program but in the sociology department. �That in and of itself isn't the interesting part. �Social sciences often try to blur the lines between disciplines -- economics departments are as imperial as any of them (public choice in politics, experimental economics in psychology, etc.) �Nor do I really concern myself with the politics or the sociology. �Here's what they did this year for class projects.

Outside the faculty office of the instructor (one of those offices festooned with leftist propaganda) was something that looks like a bookmark (a strip on thick paper.) �On one side were "resources" with names of a number of local areas that appear to be related to food (not all are obviously connected, but I'll assume they are.) �On the other side are "Action Steps". �This is the list:

I like that list. These are good things and I hope people do them. Here's my question: Does this constitute something we do in a public university? �What is the purpose of higher education -- to organize a food drive? �To say "if you liked what you learned in my class, you will give more to charity"? �I cannot imagine teaching a course where, among the items I give students or make available to students -- perhaps this professor distributed this in class, perhaps not -- I cannot imagine giving a student an "action step". �

Robert George writes:

Of course, what goes on ... in far too many classrooms is radically different from the classical understanding of the goal of liberal arts education, which is not to liberate us to act on our desires, but precisely to liberate us from slavery to them. Personal authenticity, under the traditional account, consists in self-mastery�in placing reason in control of desire. �

How can it be liberating to enter into the great conversation with Plato and his interlocutors? According to the classic liberal-arts ideal, doing so enables us to grasp more fully the humanizing truths by which we can direct our desires and our wills to what is truly good, beautiful, worthy of human beings as possessed of profound and inherent dignity. The liberal-arts ideal is rooted in the conviction that there are human goods, and a common good, in light of which we have reasons to limit and even alter our desires, thus becoming masters of ourselves.

Now if you accept this ideal, you are seeking answers to the question: What qualities make for an upright life?
This appears to support telling people to donate to food shelves, but the purpose of education is to give students the opportunity to "place reason ahead of desire" by their own lights. �Telling them what "action steps" they can take is not something that belongs in a university where we are developing reason and intellect of young adults attempting to transform themselves. � Telling them what to do is something we do in kindergarten. �By the time they're 21, we hope they don't need someone to give them action steps.

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