Monday, February 6, 2012

"Love, in public, looks like justice": Cornel West on Education

Dr. Cornel West visits with an NAU student before his lecture Thursday.

  It's a good feeling to be surrounded by people that you admire.  I'm so proud of my colleagues in the College of Arts and Letters, who have been advocating for a well-rounded education, believing that the arts and sciences are both equally important to creating a self-actualized human.  I admire that, because it raises the tide for all of us.  It encourages our society to be more interesting, more creative.

  I've taken to persuading my son that working hard at school is essential--not only because it will help him get a good job making more money, doing something he loves, but because it will make him an interesting person with many talents and hobbies, able to attract interesting friends and a life-long partner.  It will help him make better, more creative decisions.  It will create a life that is more meaningful and interconnected for him.  He will have a tough time getting bored, because his knowledge will be quicker. 

  In the spirit of wholistic education, the Martin-Springer Institute invited Dr. Cornel West to speak to a packed audience last Thursday night at Ardrey Auditorium on "Education as a Human Right."  Dr. West very quickly explained to the crowd that he viewed "education" in the classical Greek way, "paedeia." Paedeia was a system of instruction in ancient Athens in which students were given a well-rounded cultural education.

  West took the definition of paedeia further and challenged us to examine ourselves and our prejudices.  "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being," said Socrates.  West wanted us to examine our prejudices and our addictions to money, titles and prestige, leading us to ignore others without power.  "Death of your prejudice is essential for rebirth," West said.  It takes more courage to face your own prejudices and darkness than to fight on a battlefield.

  But the government finds money to fund war, not education.  "Education is an issue of national security!" Brother West shouted out.  If we don't advocate for the youth, those without power, then we are not being just.

  "Love, in public, looks like justice.  Love, in private, looks like tenderness," he continued. We should embark on a quest for unapologetic truth, a quest for love, a quest for sweetness.  "Instead of body stimulation we should look to the soul-stirring."  Instead of the "thin stuff" we should strive to be original, not conformist. "Justice, not vengeance," he encouraged.

  Laughing at oneself, having strength, style, moral fortification, and bearing witness against injustices of those in less powerful positions--this is what the examined life should lead us to.  This is what paedeia should inform.  This is why education is a human right--it leads to universal human rights.

  This is why it's important to do more than learn how to make money--we must also learn how to examine ourselves.

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