21 December, 2009

(5) (b) The Lock-Step Curriculum

The model that seems to make the most sense for re-launching confessional Lutheran liberal education in the higher forms is the lock-step curriculum model. Examples of this type of higher education are available in Thomas Aquinas College (Roman Catholic), New St. Andrew’s College (orthodox Reformed), and St. John’s College (non-sectarian). This model has so much to speak for it that it will be difficult to distill it to several concise points, but this is an attempt to do so.

Financing. A college on this model has a relatively low overhead. Because the curriculum is focused on “the Greats”—the great human achievements in literature, music, philosophy, theology, science, and mathematics—and because it depends for its whole approach on a direct encounter with the texts that are these great achievements, it does not need an extensive library, extravagant laboratory space (scientific lab work reproduces seminal experiments on the basis of primary texts, beginning with, e.g., Pythagorean sound-theory, lever theory and flotation theory (Archimedes), and working through Newton, Mendel, Curie, Einstein, etc.), offices of experiential learning and service learning, etc. Student life is student-driven, meaning that sport is intramural or on the club level, student productions such as plays are, from start to finish, student productions, etc. The college provides space for these things, such as [equipped or unequipped] sporting fields, a stage and other such spaces, but not the personnel and other outlay required. All faculty in this model are required to teach across the curriculum, which alleviates the burden of supplying a certain number of disciplinary experts to build an adequate discipline-specific curriculum.

Initial cost. The cost to launch such a program would be, by rough estimate, $5 to $10 million for a campus (+10% of cost of campus as a maintenance endowment), along with another $16 to $20 million in endowed funds that support, respectively, 8 to 12 initial faculty positions [the endowment draws down, say, a rolling-three-year average of 5% of principal for annual salary and benefits support of $800K to $1M = 8 to 12 faculty positions]. Costs to students are fee-, book-, and room-and-board-driven. That is, with buildings in place and paid for and faculty salaries and benefits paid from endowed funds, the only outstanding to costs to students are those for administrative fees, their textbooks, and their room and board.

Viability. In the long run, a college on this plan is more viable than many other models. Since its overhead is low, since it invests its early funding not in extras, but essentials, and in such a way that it guarantees the long-term survival of those essentials, its bottom line is not driven by student numbers. In other words, in theory the college could operate with one student per year, because all its essential functions would be provided for financially. Conversely, stresses brought about by uptrending student enrollment can be met by student contribution to room and board, etc., or, conversely, met by ceilings placed upon student enrollment with a maximum “sweet number” in view.

Intentionality. Of all the possible curricula, the lock-step curriculum places into the hands of educators and, as a result, students, the greatest degree of predictable gain from the education proferred, intensified by the inevitably on-going conversation prompted by a shared education: it is not just one group of 5 students who read the Meno, but an entire class cohort, simultaneously, and upper-classmen have already read it and integrated it into their further study. Nor is the professor working through Archimedes’ experiments with the students in that term ignorant of the Meno, affording a fertile cross-germination between apparently divergent disciplines. The question, e.g., What does scientific discovery have to do with philosophical outlook? remains a constant throughout the four years of a student’s education, its answer ever more complex and nuanced over time.

Centrality of theology. In a lock-step curriculum, theology, ever more profoundly grasped and ever more deeply brought into conversation with human culture as the student’s walk through the curriculum unfolds, is and remains central; not, however, in a way that makes theology do what it does not or cannot do. In other words, while it may have some things to say about history, for example (as in Augustine’s De civitate dei), it is not made into a mathematics or science book, even if it may have claims and ways of looking at things that differ from and challenge assumptions and conclusions in other disciplinary lines. In a Lutheran context, however, it is self-understood that all things are “captive to the Word,” even if and when the surprising, but tentative results of this may be a validation of what is prima facie antithetical to the Word.

Language study. In the lock-step curriculum language study is required across the four years, and, because, as above, professors teach across the curriculum, intentionally reinforced across the curriculum. Ideally, language study will include an ancient language and a modern language, or a language used in the modern era. Greek provides the obvious ancient language as that tongue that unites pagan antiquity and Christian antiquity in a direct way. Latin or German are the obvious candidates for the modern tongue: Latin because it unites Roman pagan antiquity, pastristic-era Christian antiquity, the whole of the Middle Ages and the Reformation and Renaissance down to well into the 18th century and beyond. German is another obvious candidate as one of the chief langagues of the Lutheran Reformation, one with its own body of good literature from the Middle Ages on, and the language of confessional Lutheranism in the States until the late 19th century across the board, with continuing influence and use well into the second half of the 20th century—not to mention the 20th-century and present-day German Lutheran theologians, such as Sasse, Elert, Bayer, and many others. Language study is, however, critical in the curriculum, providing a window into worlds far beyond the confines of a parochial 21st-century American culture broadcast popularly through the pervasive electronic media. More importantly, language study forms that central locus of liberal education, grammatica, the study of words and how they work and are put to best use. Of course, it also provides at a level unachievable apart from knowledge of the original language an encounter with primary texts of vital importance to the Church and Western culture. And yet, not all languages can be entertained, and more than two is inadvisable, given the constraints. But as C.S. Lewis reminds us that all Christian living is particular Christian living, that is, Christian life is instantiated for each individual in the here and now on the basis of his connections in life—his station in life, as Luther would say—, just as that’s the case, so also is it the case that a good education need not (perhaps dare not) embrace everything, just a few good things (on which see the entry on a Few Good Books).

Religious life. As in all models here proposed, the religious life, as constituted by the divine service where, through His Word and Sacraments, God creates and sustains the individual Christian and the whole Christian Church, is at the heart of campus life. Certainly once-daily Matins with a brief homily is utterly requisite, with a rich liturgical and hymnodic practice, as is the regular celebration of the complete Gottesdienst, the “Mass,” every Sunday and on major and minor feasts. In a well-formed community, regular pauses will also be taken throughout the day to observe the hours, using the psalms as the rich food of the daily office. Following monastic practice, which was maintained well into the Reformation and into the confessional age, the 150 psalms are read, within a month, sequentially in the office over the five daily hours (this volume provides a possible resource--certainly the only one available among Lutherans today). The additional “pay-off” of such a practice is the ability to see the world as Luther did, whose own monastic life steeped in the psalms afforded him his profound insights into the life of a Christian, its tensions, dualities, triumphs, and disappointments. The music curriculum will, of course, enhance the rich hymnodic and liturgical life of the campus.

1 comment:

Rev. Sean L. Rippy said...

Sign me up!

Although, I would argue strongly for the necessity of Latin for all students- Greek and German being secondary choices and Hebrew being a third option.

Along with Literature, I teach composition and I think it can be shown that Latin has been more helpful for English speaking people than any other language for understanding and using grammar, logic and especially rhetoric.

Good speaking and writing comes from reading and copying good writing- and while there are fine examples in Greek, the best and most clearly written rhetoricians seem to be in Latin.

I think it is also important that the students are not only able to read Latin well, but to compose it (a requirement at New Saint Andrews), for it is in organizing your thoughts for another language and copying good examples, that we become the best writers and speakers.

Rev. Sean L. Rippy