James K.A. Smith (still can’t bring myself to call him “Jamie” as I’ve heard people do) wrote this a couple weeks ago, but I just now stumbled on it. Responding to Stanley Fish’s Sunday column discussing academic freedom and its philosophical underpinnings, Smith makes an articulate and compelling case for a plurality of visions of “university” as opposed to the monolithic, Research-One “University” that Fish assumes. (I might add that Fish also often seems to assume that all college teachers are superstar researchers.) Training his sights on the liberal conception of “critical thinking” (one of the most under-criticized shibboleths of college teaching), Smith offers this:
But might there be institutions of higher education that, in fact, embrace the project of education as formation, as inculcation into a tradition and its imagination, precisely as the ground for ‘critical thinking?’ (Every “critique” presumes some criteria.) Might there be universities which, suspicious of the empty ruse of “independent thought,” are honest and up front about their enterprise as educating a people toward a substantive telos, a particular vision of the good life? Couldn’t we imagine universities that acknowledge the traditioned nature of all our inquiry, and which seek to generate new knowledge, but do so in accordance with the rigors and “thickness” of an acknowledged tradition–a tradition which is not seen as restrictive and limiting, but rather which opens up the world for us? And wouldn’t that be exactly the mission and “enterprise” of Christian and Catholic universities? Otherwise, why should they exist?
Frankly, I wish that my polished educational philosophies that I’ve sent out to colleges with openings were this articulate, though the string-of-rhetorical-questions device really isn’t my style.