Plato’s Guardians and UGA’s… what?

We finished up our second Plato “unit” (actually just read enough pages to get to paper 2’s revision days) with a haphazard discussion of whether or not UGA students are somehow analogous to Plato’s guardians. Some folks seem pretty comfortable with the assertion that college students are there for self-improvement primarily, while others have some idea that they (we) ought to benefit “society” but have trouble articulating who counts as “society” and what concrete benefit college-educated folks confer that high-school-educated folks couldn’t.

At Milligan the answers were much clearer. From our opening-week Matriculation ceremony to the commencement ceremony, Milligan let us know that we are indeed the next generation’s guardians and that our intellectual pursuits ought to serve the Church make meaning out of God’s fallen world even as our vocations, be they education or business or preaching, ought to seek justice, the corrollary of God’s good ordering of the world. The “we” was clear, and the expectations were clear.

There are days when I wish I could give the same sort of clarity to my students here at the University, but every time I try, I fade into some fuzzy sentimental idea about “universal humanity” or “local community” or some such. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, but without a clearer sense of who “we” are and whom “we” serve, concrete action is hard to imagine. Like my students, I’m not quite sure why we’re here. I think that Plato’s basic idea of morality, the strong working to benefit the weak, ought to apply, but I’m not sure how.

I think this is at least partly why my students want to return to a sort of omission-model when they talk about morality. UGA students must not be a guardian class, because they don’t refrain from smoking, drinking, chewing, and screwing. Plato names those vices as well (along with pastries), but in his treatise, to abstain from such things would not itself be morality but would open up more space in which morality could take place.

To bring this back to the particular, my students look at me as if I were from another planet when I tell them that Milligan had no football team and that a significant hunk of the students, from majors as diverse as business and television communications and Bible and nursing, would consider as a viable option for a Friday night a long night at the coffee house talking philosophy and theology. I’m not making that up–I can think of a number of nights and a wide swath of people who indulged in just that on a regular basis. We also played games and watched movies and took in local bands on other nights, but there was no sense that the weekend necessarily had to involve turning off one’s brain for three days.

Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with undergrad culture here as someone ought to be before making these kinds of statements. There might be pockets of weekend intellectuals I just haven’t encountered. But in the absence of a clear guardian-vocation, I do see that there’s a massive business of turning these four (or six) years of students’ lives into one long spring break–do whatcha needs to do to graduate, but certainly don’t order your life around intellectual activity.

That’s not to say that Milligan is necessarily superior in every way. But in these ways, it is clearer.

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