Saturday, March 10, 2007

Founders College: A Strategic Division of Labor

After spending a weekend at Founders College near South Boston, Virginia – a place I now think of as the future “Galt’s Gulch” of education – I have had time to reflect on the importance of that place and its vision. And one of the first things to occur to me, once the means and ends of the institution had percolated in my mind for a while, was how ingenious an educational strategy had been conceived by its founders.

If a goal of a liberal arts college is to prepare a student with a “comprehensive knowledge and deeper understanding of great ideas, their connections and consequences,” structured as an “integrated, logical whole,” then that goal would complement perfectly a student’s pursuit of a profession in the work world or if he matriculated into a university to master a specific field of knowledge.

This is truly a revolutionary concept, having no precedent even in the liberal arts colleges of the 19th and early 20th century, when educational standards were immeasurably higher than they are at present. I recall a Wall Street Journal article some time in the 1970s when the paper reprinted part of a private New Jersey high school’s entrance exam. It required an active knowledge of American, European and ancient history, of a language other than English, of calculus and trigonometry, of philosophy, of science, of law, and the ability to solve complex problems. The test, as I recall, had been given to modern Harvard and Princeton juniors; every one of them flunked it miserably, unable to correctly answer a fraction of the questions or to solve any of the problems.

Yet fortunes were and still are being spent on these students’ education, sending them out into the world barely less ignorant than when they matriculated, and if not indoctrinated by vicious, anti-mind ideas, then indifferent to all great ideas.

Of course, even in the 19th and early 20th centuries, education was “traditional,” that is, it relied chiefly, as the Founders College brochure describes it, “on rote memorization of a random set of disconnected facts and opinions.” It might have been at a higher, more demanding, and an even comprehensive level of knowledge, but it was largely disconnected and certainly not logically integrated. In only a few students would education instill in them a “lifelong passion for knowledge and discovery.” It was up to the students to discover the “whole” on their own efforts, possibly encouraged by the even rarer teacher with a passion for his subject.

If we treat as an absolute truism that ideas can influence the direction of a culture – indeed, of a nation – and that those ideas flow from the centers of education, then the power of reason – in this instance, the logical integration of ideas from a wide spectrum of human endeavors – should be enhanced in the student, in the culture, in the nation.

Ideas can certainly influence the direction of a culture and nation. Witness the influence of bad ideas inculcated in students for a few generations – of collectivism, of nihilism, of environmentalism, of religion, of virtually every brand of anti-reason, anti-mind philosophy – and then observe the state of the country and of the world. These ideas are spread by the colleges and universities. The best institutions are today in a state of criminal decrepitude – the logical dead end of a century of promulgating irrationalism – and the destruction they are wrecking in every field of human action is of an unimaginable magnitude.

Countering this phenomenon is the Ayn Rand Institute’s Objectivist Academic Center, which trains students in an unadulterated philosophy of reason, together with its efforts to place as many of its graduates as possible in the country’s top universities. There is no other such organization or program in existence. And it is such an organization with which Founders College can establish a complementary relationship. It is a perfect educational fit.

Imagine it: A student who graduates from Founders would be far better prepared to grasp and absorb a philosophy of reason than a student who, similarly motivated, had to endure two or three years of agony in a liberal arts school that sought to cripple his mind and which regularly extorted his silence or agreement over irrational ideas and opinions. In the context of an irrational culture, Founders would serve as a kind of advanced crèche for adolescents and adults alike.

There is a mutual benefit to stress here. Instead of Objectivist teachers and scholars having to struggle with students who have been mentally stunted and flayed of any pro-life, pro-reason values, they could begin to have in their classes students ripe for the refinement of reason and imbued with pro-life values, students who value an “integrated whole” in their education, and who would exhibit a far broader and deeper knowledge of the liberal arts – philosophy, politics, law, literature, and so on – than most students could even imagine today.

And, instead of the most able and intellectually ambitious students having to resort to outwitting their extortionate, irrational teachers just to pass a course or obtain a degree, they could encounter teachers and scholars hospitable to their ambition and abilities, and who reciprocated excellence and performance with recognition and academic justice.

Excuse the hubris of an individual who decades ago was repelled by the modern, “traditional” mode of “higher” education, but I see no conflict between the two levels. If the goal of the OAC is to produce professional intellectuals, what better preparation for that role could there be in today’s educational environment than Founders College? Founders College would be the next step up from such pro-reason, pro-individual, pre-college schools such as the Van Damme Academy and the Leport Schools, whose typical students are so far advanced in every important respect over their traditional or public school counterparts that one is hard put to find a credible measure.

What I find incredible is that anyone who values reason and the mind would express opposition to the idea of Founders College. Such a person must be blind to the overall, revolutionary strategy conceived by Founders’ principals.

Founders College is the missing piece of the vast puzzle of turning a culture and a nation back to life-saving, life-enhancing reason. If I had the funds to spare, I would without hesitation invest in its future.