Welcome back to the Commons, a podcast about school leadership with Dr. Brian Phillips. On this week's episode Brian continues his reflections on enduring during the challenging month of February, with a particular focus on teaching through those "blahs" and the need for persistent prayer.
Student: In class, you talk a lot about the temptations which come with college. How did you do in college?
Gibbs: Badly. If I had it to do over again, I would do college very differently.
Student: Occasionally I hear about graduates from this school going off the rails in college.
Gibbs: So do I.
Student: Why do you think some students go off the rails and others don’t?
It has become my custom to begin every class period with the reading of a Psalm, and usually the same Psalm for each day of the week throughout a given quarter. Mondays, however, are different. We begin instead by reading from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, which is a potent reminder for all of us that the time for rest (Sunday) is over and that the time for study and labor has come again.
Few maxims are likely to excite the concern of a classicist quite like, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The claim rings with the kind of subjectivity that eschews the transcendent and easily slips into radical relativism.
“Good taste” is not, as most debates regarding the phrase assume, a term in the logical sense—a discreet idea signified by words. It will, for this reason, fare badly in argument; anyone who has tried for five minutes to defend the notion of “good taste” against the aesthetic relativist recalls the exasperating embarrassment of finding himself unable to define, let alone defend, the principle of which he nevertheless remains convinced.
McLaren: Some students told me that you were not covering Jackson Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, or any of the great 20th century abstract expressionists in your art history class. Why is this?
Gibbs: This is a classical school, and I don’t take that kind of art seriously.
McLaren: The larger art world takes them seriously, though.
Gibbs: I don’t really take the “larger art world” seriously, either.
Young people judge things too hastily. It is a mark of immaturity, and we all have areas where we are immature.
However, the ability to rightly judge what is good or bad, just or unjust, fitting or inappropriate is essential to our ability to function as human beings in a world that we all agree is full of dangerous people, immoral people, unjust people.
We have an organ by which we can judge these things, but like every organ when we don't use it or when we lose confidence in it, we stop developing it.
Dead Poets Society is a truly great film—if for John Keating alone. It’s Robin Williams at his best: a mentor authoritative yet tender, aristocratic yet plebian—a wise teacher balancing on the knife’s edge between the pater and peer. Who doesn’t rejoice at the demolition of the textbook? Who can hold back his soul when Williams performs his John Wayne Macbeth and Marlon Brando Marc Antony—rigor mortis jawline and all? And is there any teacher in film more iconic than Mr.
Parent: I wanted to tell you that I read this really amazing book by John Piper recently and it blessed me so much that I thought I should tell you about it. I think it would be a great fit in the school’s theology curriculum.
Dean: I am sure the book is quite good, but given that John Piper is still alive, the book does not meet the basic criteria which this school uses for admitting new titles into the curriculum.
Parent: What criteria would that be?
Dean: For starters, curriculum books ought to be old.
Parent: How old?
Under Modernism the last vestiges of meaning are removed from the universe. However, the divinely established (as I believe) impulse toward artistic expression remains as strong as ever, an irresistible energy that will unnerve the soul it possesses if it doesn't find an expression.
Prior to the Enlightenment, Europeans at least, and I think most cultures, used art to embody meanings that they believed themselves to have identified in the world as it is.
After the Enlightenment, this use was reduced and then, eventually, eliminated.