There Ain’t No Quick Fix
The following is adapted from a keynote address delivered by Dr. Shanon Brooks on April 13, 2004 at the 2004 Statesmanship Invitational.
In the immortal words of Jerry McGuire, “we live in a cynical world.” We also live in a surreal environment of entitlement, enlargement, enticement, fat blasting, and muscling up. With the baby boomers refusing to grow old and a very individualistic Generation X, it is little wonder everyone is looking for that miracle cure, the solution in a bottle; a quick ﬁx.
In this “blame everyone else,” “I want my fair share,” “I deserve it” world, we are looking for the fountain of youth of “quick ﬁxes” (and spending in the search, hundreds of thousands of hours of time and literally billions of dollars). We can’t really help it, it
surrounds us in the media and entertainment, it is the new morality taught in our schools and churches. This search for the “quick ﬁx” is the new (or old as Tocqueville speaks of it in 1835) American approach to marriage and the modern family, personal and corporate ﬁnance, functions of government and domestic and foreign policy.
The search for the “quick ﬁx” impacts the food we eat and how we eat it. It controls our attitudes about nearly everything we do and think. It is the antithesis of patience, compound interest, traditional white weddings, Olympic gold earned on sheer will, delayed gratiﬁcation, courting, “wait and see” and “building for the next generation.”
The last two generations of Americans have suffered immensely from this search, but I fear nothing like the current generation which has little or no mooring in the ancient bulwark of principle. The more we desire things from an entitlement perspective, the less we are willing to “pay the price” or to accept our current station and moving forward from that “plot of ground which is given to [us] to till.”
No, we will continue to demand today with no effort, that for that which our grandparents spent a life time living to acquire, and never securing the knowledge that they possess—that the joy is not in the getting, but in the living towards.
In education (not schooling mind you), we make huge strides in the direction of entering on the path of becoming true liberal artists, only to be sucked out to sea with the tsunami undertow of public opinion and fear of pain. The truth is, unless we can resolve to just be honest with ourselves, our attempts at Liber Education will end up in little more than slightly higher mediocrity. There is a price to pay to get a superb leadership education and in our day everyone seems bent on ﬁnding a short cut.
Acquiring a liberal arts education is likely to be the most difﬁcult and painful thing you have ever attempt in your entire existence. It impacts every aspect of your domestic, religious, and professional life. If you are alone in this endeavor, you will be chastised, ridiculed, gossiped about, made fun of, and left out. You will spend hours upon hours in solitude studying books that nobody you know has ever heard of. People will say, “while I admire your effort, what kind of job can you get with that?”
But it gets worse. First, if you are unfortunate enough to have a group to study with, then the going really gets rough. Whenever two or more people get together to study (without a world class liberal arts mentor) to gain a liberal arts education, it is nearly always a failure before it begins. Immediately they start to make it easier by distributing the workload, dividing the reading up between themselves so they can “share the experience.” This is anathema to true learning in most cases. It is like trying to build muscle mass on your own body by having one person work out their own legs, another doing their own biceps and so on. It might be a great work out, but you gain little from the experience.
Second, it is so tempting to ﬁnd anything claiming to be connected with Thomas Jefferson Education and just adopt it as the real thing. It often costs less and always requires less. “The easier, the better” seems to be our national motto. And we are
tempted to apply it to our education just like every other aspect of modern life. After hearing great mentors promote superb but “gut-wrenching” hard education, we are so relieved when someone comes along with the “quick ﬁxed” short-cut version.
Third, particularly if you are working with youth, you will naturally begin to look for ways to streamline and mainstream the curriculum, easing the youth into the educational process. We do this so we can impact more youth and help them improve their minds. But this is a little like watering down the Kool-Aid so everyone can have some; they all get a drink but nobody ever knows what “Loonie Lime” truly tastes like.
Remember, we do all of this with the best intentions, with vigorous efforts to ensure balance and good feelings all around—at the sacriﬁce of sound principles of extremely hard work, missed games and parties, nights crying in frustration, and mornings dawning with new and solid realization and resolve. This protected, “take the hardness out” approach to education, especially applied to acquiring a liberal arts education, results in the following natural consequences as summarized by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
If our young men miscarry in their ﬁrst enterprises they loose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the ﬁnest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an ofﬁce within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles it, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.
Aristotle to Augustine, Homer to Shakespeare, Adler to Hutchinson, Barzun to Lewis, Dickens to L’Amour—it is always the same. True Leadership-Statesmanship comes out of none other than pain, struggle with God and self, tenacity and hard, long study. This concept is no where better discussed than by Mortimer Adler in his essay Invitation to the Pain of Learning:
One of the reasons why education given by our schools is so frothy and vapid is that the American people generally—the parent more than the teacher—wish childhood to unspoiled by pain. Childhood must be a period of delight, of [happy] indulgence [of] impulses. It must be given every avenue of unimpeded expression, which of course is pleasant; and it must not be made to suffer the impositions of discipline or the exactions of duty, which of course are painful. . . What lies behind my remark is a distinction between two views of education.
In one view, education is something externally added to a person, as his clothing or other accoutrements. We cajole him into standing there willingly while we ﬁt him; and in doing this we must be guided by his likes and dislikes, by his notion of what enhances his appearance. In the other view, education is an interior transformation of a person’s mind and character. He is plastic material to be improved not according to his inclinations, but according to what is good for him. But because he is a living thing, and not dead clay, the transformation can be effected only through his own activity.
Teachers of every sort can help, but they can only help in the process of learning that must be dominated at every moment by the activity of the learner. And the fundamental activity that is involved in every kind of genuine learning is intellectual activity, the activity generally known as thinking. Any learning which takes place without thinking is necessarily of the sort I have called external and additive—learning passively acquired, for which the common name is “information.” Without thinking, the kind of learning which transforms a mind, gives it new insights, enlightens it, deepens understanding, [and] elevates the spirit, simply cannot occur.
Anyone who has done any thinking, even a little bit, knows that it is painful. It is hard work—in fact the very hardest that human beings are ever called upon to do. It is fatiguing, not refreshing. If allowed to follow the path of least resistance, no one would ever think.
You do not need it easier. You don’t.
My colleagues and I often hear people who are learning about Thomas Jefferson Education saying things like: “that just won’t work,” “we don’t have time,” “you just can’t expect that out of teenagers,” “it’s crazy to study so much,” or my personal favorite: “I liked this other seminar better because the lady giving it made Thomas Jefferson Education so much easier.” Great mentors hate that one—they work so hard getting people to put in the hard work, and then someone with the excited ﬂush from eight months of reading classics goes around teaching people the “easier road” or the simplified system to a great education. What a waste!
No, what we need in our homes and in our generation is for our education to be much, much harder. The strength and fortitude for the completion of a future mission is never developed within the comforts of our “Comfort Zone.” It is incumbent on parents and mentors of the youth to embody the “leadership arts” standard, profoundly articulated by
Mentors must embody the qualities of character we wish to educe in our students. When we say ‘educe,’ we mean draw forth . . . be paragons of the sort of excellence we want our students to learn. And not only learn, but to become . . . . These men and women, these mentors, are themselves unﬁnished persons. They are to be strivers, searchers, tenaciously engaged in their work.
This is just as true today as it was in the times of great mentors like Moses, Socrates, Christ, and George Wythe. It was Sir Walter Scott who wrote, “All men who have turned out worth anything, have had the chief hand in their own education.”
To take the chief hand in your own education, allow me to suggest four tools vital to the development of a Liberal Arts Leadership Education:
- Beware of Self Importance
Remember the Proverb – “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Perhaps the most written about and least heeded warning from one generation to the next is that of the danger of Self Importance.
In Mitchner’s epic tale “Hawaii”, he masterfully weaves the self-righteousness of God’s chosen self-appointed leaders, the Calvinists missionaries, together with the “heathenistic” wicked ways of the loving and gracious Hawaiian natives. This is the same old story of honest intent that leads to a sense of superiority because of the nature of the call, which leads to a sense of pride and cockiness in our humility. Being right and knowledgeable is a very dangerous thing. It is a two-edged sword – one edge is a knowledge base and keen intelligence developed to serve society, the other is the skill and ability to abuse and do harm.
- Achieve High Literacy
The National Adult Literacy Survey represents 190 million U.S. adults over age sixteen with an average school attendance of 12.4 years. The survey is conducted by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey. It ranks adult Americans into ﬁve levels. The last survey was in 2003, results are expected by May 2005. It is feared that 2003 will not be an improvement on 1993. However, here are the results of the 1993
- Forty-two million Americans over the age of sixteen can’t read. Some of this group can write their names on Social Security cards and ﬁll in height, weight, and birth spaces on application forms.
- Fifty million can recognize printed words on a fourth and ﬁfth-grade level. They cannot write simple messages or letters.
- Fifty-ﬁve to sixty million are limited to sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade reading. A majority of this group could not ﬁgure out the price per ounce of peanut butter in a 20-ounce jar costing $1.99 when told they could round the answer off to a whole number.
- Thirty million have ninth and tenth-grade reading proﬁciency. This group (and all preceding) cannot understand a simpliﬁed written explanation of the procedures used by attorneys and judges in selecting juries.
- Less than 13 million or less than 6 percent of American adults in 1993 demonstrated literacy skills adequate to do traditional college study, a level 30 percent of all U.S. high school students reached in 1940, and which 30 percent of secondary students in other developed countries can reach today.
- More than 94 percent of the American population is mediocre to illiterate where deciphering print is concerned. This is no commentary on their intelligence, but without ability to take in primary information from print and to interpret it they are at the mercy of commentators who tell them what things mean. A working deﬁnition of immaturity might include an excessive need for other people to interpret information for us.
In Adler’s book “How to Read a Book” he outlines four levels of reading:
- Elementary Reading
Elementary reading is that reading we all learned as young children. The basics in phonics and vocabulary development usually through grade school, hence: elementary reading. Unfortunately, for most, reading development stopped here, and in most cases actually regressed to the point of little or no reading as an adult.
- Inspectoral Reading
Inspectoral reading is used by those who are careful about how they spend their reading time. You “inspect” the book before putting hours of labor into it. You will read the Table of Contents, the Index, you will skim through each chapter looking for keys points. Generally this will take about 30 minutes. From this process, you can determine if it is worthwhile to continue reading and moving to the next level of reading.
- Analytical Reading
This level is just what it sounds like, you are analyzing the message of the book, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter. This is a rather laborious process requiring a lot of note taking and writing impressions, contradictions, epiphanies and the like. Really getting inside the concepts and getting the concepts inside of you.
- Syntopical Reading
Syntopical reading is combining the insights and study of a number of books and putting them through a process of comparing and contrasting one to another. It is a high level of reading and reaps great beneﬁts.
- Develop a Discipline of Long, Hard Work
On August 29th, 1897 Theodore Herzl presided over the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. Herzl had spent years preparing and organizing this event to kick off the establishment of a Jewish homeland. In his opening address he declared:
“Zionism is the return to Judaism even before the return to the Jewish Land.” He sought an inner movement before moving in a major way to the outer movement. After the Congress he wrote in his journal: “In Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this today in public I would be met with derision. In ﬁve years perhaps, but in any case in ﬁfty everybody will understand.” It was during this Congress that he established the World Zionist Organization and was elected President.
Nothing deﬂected Herzl from his dream, his goal of a Jewish homeland. His work was marked by his motto “If you will it, it is no fairytale.” In Hebrew, the word “will” means – to feel, to sense deeply- if you feel it, if it has a strong sense of being real, it will become so. It is your mission.
By 1904, little progress had been made. Unsuccessfully soliciting aid from heads of state across Europe, Herzl died before he saw his dream come true. But the force of his vision lived on. Today millions of Israeli’s are living the dream of Theodore Herzl and beneﬁting from his discipline, hard work, and tenacity.
- Incorporate Service into your Curriculum
Under the control of Russia since the early 1800’s, Poland was denied the use of its own language by Czarist edict in 1848. All Polish books were destroyed and replaced with their Russian counterparts. Teachers continued in their classes under the threat of arrest of worse if they used Polish or dare to teach Polish History.
All across Poland developed a dream of all believers; the preservation and retention of Polish culture and language. One organized group called themselves the “Positivists.” This group created the “ﬂoating university” which met in secret and encouraged all to take a turn as teacher in teaching (in Polish) anatomy, biology, history and other topics promoting Polish culture. One girl who’s family called her Manya, wrote of the experience: “We can not hope to build a better world without improving the individual.”
Coming from a home where parents surrounded their children with liberal arts education and having a few brave elementary teachers who dared to teach in Polish when the Russian monitor was not in the room, Manya moved on from the “ﬂoating university” looking for application, ways in which she could help her people. She soon found herself promoting Polish culture by quietly reading in Polish to the poor women who worked in the dressmaking establishments.
With a deep desire to learn and serve their beloved Poland, Manya and her sister Bronya watched in misery as their brother went off to study at a university to become a doctor. This was especially painful, as women were not allowed to go to university in Russian rule. Eventually, the sisters devised a plan that allowed Bronya to attend university in Paris, a school that welcomed women.
Sacriﬁcing nearly all of her wages to support her sister, Manya accepted a governess position and moved to the country. There she observed the deplorable conditions of the poor and vowed to commence the work of the Positivists there. She opened a secret Polish school at the risk of being exiled to Siberia, and in no time her secret classroom was ﬁlled to standing room only. She was humbled by the almost frantic desire of these poor country folk who so desperately desired to gain that gift of all gifts: the power to read and write.
After ﬁve long years of running her contraband school in the country, Manya moved back to the city and again began attending the “Floating University”. This time with more resources and a scientiﬁc laboratory, Manya was introduced to hands-on science and seemed to ﬁnd her calling. Finally in 1891, Manya was allowed to leave Poland and join her sister in Paris.
Having held the highest standards of humanity, Manya now immersed herself in study and research with the same energy of soul she had exhibited all along. Once again she blessed the world with her work. Everyone of us here tonight enjoy the highest levels of comfort and standard of living thanks to Manya, better known as Marie Curie, the discoverer of Radium. Modern Poland exists today because Marie and many like her, would not let the language and the history of Poland die. Marie spent her entire life putting the service of her fellowman ahead of self.
There are thousands of people in America today just like you who have refused any and all easy roads to education, who have taken the Thomas Jefferson Education challenge to get a world class, superb, Thomas Jefferson level education, no short cuts and no simplifying. I challenge you, if you have not already, to join our ranks, to settle for nothing less than a real Thomas Jefferson Education—the kind you painfully earn.
The easier it is, the less you are learning. The harder it is, the greater chance that you’re earning the kind of education you want. As the great classical historian Thucydides put it:
“There is no need to suppose that human beings differ very much one from another: but it is true that the ones who come out on top are the ones who have been trained in the hardest school.”