Monday, August 25, 2008

How we got started

The best way to really understand how we got started is to read the "First Fifteen Years" which is at the bottom of the GWU website. I will just give you a taste of it here with this excerpt from the that history:

Education of the Founding Era

Historically, liberal education was the standard in America from the time Harvard opened its doors in 1636, to the Common Schools advocated by Horace Mann in the 1850’s. For over two hundred years, American education rose from the foundation of religion and liberty. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution (early 1900’s for the U.S.) that the modern conveyor belt education, focused on job and career training, became the norm. This change, however, did not go unnoticed. In 1892, the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, many of the teacher unions in America joined together in a great celebration. The result of this coalition was a Book of Remembrance that detailed the legacy of education in America from its inception. It is important to remember that this was also the beginning of a shift in America towards compulsory education, including a move towards more secular curricula. These changes are reflected in a paragraph from their book:

"Whether this was wise or not (shifting to compulsory education) is not our purpose to discuss, further than to remark, that if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools, if the inculcation of principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily program, if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools, then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control."

Most of the colleges and universities of the day shared this sentiment. The need to teach young and old alike their duty as citizens was voiced by many American educational leaders. John Witherspoon, the President of Princeton University (at that time the College of New Jersey) stated in a collection of his writings, Works of John Witherspoon, that:

"He is the best friend to American Liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down on profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country."

As with European universities and colleges, the movement to found and support colleges and universities in early America was led by religion. Of the first 126 American institutions of higher learning, 123 were founded on Christianity.

Unlike European universities and colleges, the religious thrust was toward individual “piety, civility and learning”, rather than positioning to have a share in the control of the state. Mary-Elaine Swanson, author of The Education of James Madison, said it well:

"If education has merely imparted certain skills but has not opened up the student's mind to consider the deepest questions of life – Who is God? Who Am I? What is my purpose in life? – then it has failed."

Harvard College, founded in 1636, whose alumni include John Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, required the following of its students: Let every student be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. Everyone shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to account of his proficiency therein.

Yale, founded in 1701, the college attended by William Johnson and William Livingston (both signers of the United States Constitution), solicited itself as “…a college for the liberal and religious education of suitable youth”. Yale required, “…seeing that God is the giver of all wisdom, every scholar, besides private or secret prayer, shall be present morning and evening at public prayer.” Princeton, founded in 1746 and attended by eighty-seven of America’s Founding Fathers, declared: “Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”

The education received by Madison, Jefferson, Adams and other Founding Fathers stimulated deep thinking on these questions, gave answers and encouraged – but never demanded – personal commitment of the student to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This theme of living out one’s life based on personal conviction rather than political expediency was also expressed in strong terms by Montesquieu in, The Spirit of Laws, published in the 1750’s. He explained:

"Most of the ancients lived under governments that had virtue for their principle; and when this was in full vigor they performed actions unusual in our times, and at which our narrow minds are astonished. Another advantage their education possessed over ours was that it never could be effaced by contrary impressions. Epaminondas, the last year of his life, said, heard, beheld, and performed the very same things as at the age in which he received the first principles of his education."

In our days we receive three different or contrary educations, namely, of our parents, of our masters, and of the world. What we learn in the latter effaces all the ideas of former. This, in some measure, arises from the contrast we experience between our religious and worldly engagements, a thing unknown to the ancients. As America began to emerge over the horizon of recognized nations, many visitors from other countries came to see what made America so different from the rest of the world. In 1807, one of these visitors was Edward Kendall from Great Britain. He noted in his three-volume book, Travels Through the Northern Parts of the United States, that there were still laws being passed and enforced that encouraged the literacy of the populace. He pointed out that this was done to ensure that every citizen was able to read and know the law and to encourage high morals by the reading of the Bible.

Nearly all of the men who created the government structure of America—extolled by Sir William Gladstone as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man”—had been trained up under this system of education, recognized its virtues and desired to perpetuate it. On August 7, 1789, President George Washington signed into law a bill that had been passed previously by Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Feeling strongly about this law, Congress wanted to ensure that it had the full force of the new Constitution behind it. This new law (the Northwest Ordinance), outlined, in general, the criteria that a territory had to meet to gain entrance into the union. Section three held that the new state was responsible to ensure that the educational system within the state incorporated religion, morality and knowledge as the base for all instruction; it states: “. . . religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged . . .” It is significant to note that this bill was made law during the same time that the First Amendment was being discussed and adopted, giving context to the definition of “original intent.”

For any territory wishing to become a state, the process was relatively simple. The territory would petition Congress, Congress would issue an Enabling Act, which authorized the territory to assemble and create a state constitution as long as it was not repugnant to the principles of the Northwest Ordinance. In 1802, just three years after Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, Ohio was admitted to the union. In reference to education, article eight, section three of the Ohio State Constitution states:

“. . . religion, morality and knowledge being essentially necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instruction shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision.”9 Fifteen years later in 1817, Mississippi also gained entrance to the union. The Mississippi State Constitution declared: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the preservation of liberty and happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged in this State.”10 Eighty-six years after the Northwest Ordinance had been issued as the criteria for entrance of a state into the United States of America, Nebraska sought admittance and was accepted into the union with the State Constitution stating: “Religion, morality and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the legislature to pass suitable laws . . . and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.”11 Many other states also understood the intent of the Founders in creating the Northwest Ordinance and incorporated it into their State Constitutions as well.

It is abundantly clear that in the opinion of many of the founders, the foundation of American society and the strength of its future were inseparably connected to the American system of education enjoyed by five generations of New World Englishmen before Jefferson, and five generations of Americans after him.

Last Minute Preparation

I have been getting a lot of last minute registrations as we make the final adjustments to the event. It is great to see the local support as we get closer to the big day.

Eventhough I can visualize the final outcome, it is almost beyond imagination the good that is going to flow from here as a result of thousands of students being trained in the liberal arts.

I think that one of the things I want to accomplish with this blog is to convey very clearly what it is that we are trying to accomplish. To date, 16 years of the lives of at least 10 people and 5 or 6 years of over 40 others has gone into the creation of this dream. Almost every person that has taken the time to understand this vision has either changed their course in some significant way towards GWU or has actually taken classes or come to work for us. I think that means something.

Allow me to share then some of our philosophy and methodology with you:


“Perhaps the greatest of pedagogical fallacies is that a person learns only what he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes … may be and often is more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history … For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.”
John Dewey

The first question of any college or university is: what is our mission? The second is, “how well do we accomplish it?” Unfortunately, in our modern times a third question is needed: what is the “de facto mission” of the university, the mission that the school is actually pursuing?
Former Harvard President Derek Bok noted with concern that our universities are now chasing the market over everything else. Another former Ivy League President, Frank H. Rhodes of Cornell, wrote that given the new market realities our universities must change or become dinosaurs. James J. Duderstadt, former President of the University of Michigan, which many people consider the premiere public university in America, argued that American universities and colleges must change to match the new market or decline along with the rest of our industrial age institutions. In short, modern academia knows that significant changes are needed. But where exactly are we in the historical evolution and progress of higher education?*

The College and University in America
Roger Gieger’s book, The Ten Generations of American Higher Education, provides an excellent overview of where American education began, where it has been, and where it is headed. The first generation of American education began in 1636 and ran until the early 1740’s. During this period America’s first college’s were founded, including Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale. Harvard and Yale were established by churches to train ministers, while William and Mary was designed to help train political leaders in the
New World. All three were four year programs, with the first two years covering classical languages to prepare students to read the various classics.
In the last two years students read the great classics of world thought, guided by young faculty known as Associate Mentors. Schools typically had less than 100 students and about ten Associate Mentors, and the school was run by the head teacher or President who was chosen by a lay board of trustees.

* Much of these introductory sections were written by Oliver DeMille. Used by permission.

Generation two, from 1745-1775, saw the establishment of numerous “colonial colleges,” including King’s College, the College of Philadelphia, the College of Rhode Island, Dartmouth, Queen’s College, and the College of New Jersey (Princeton). Again, nearly all of these schools emphasized study for the ministry, and many were established specifically to increase the doctrinal purity of religious instruction. During this period schools began using Enlightenment works as part of the curriculum; many of them in modern languages.
The Republican Era, from 1776 to 1800, significantly increased the influence of the Enlightenment in American higher education as the college curriculum followed the breaking away of the new nation from the Old World. Schools during this third generation were still small. For example, Harvard had three professors and ten Associate Mentors while Yale had one professor supported by a few Associate Mentors. The quality of education their graduates exhibited was incredible.
From 1800 until the 1820s colleges put a lot of effort into fundraising and trying to find the finances needed to operate. As part of this, schools began offering professional degree programs in medicine and law. Still, the central focus of these small schools remained the preparing of ministers.
The fifth generation of American higher education from 1828 to 1860 could be called the Sectional Divide. During this period, the national split between the cultures of North and South impacted higher education. In the South, denominational colleges continued to grow and flourish in the training of ministers, while the influence of Enlightenment thinkers Hume, Locke, Turnbull and others led to a new type of Northern classical college which emphasized preparatory training for citizenship and the professions—law, medicine, teaching and the clergy. The Northern professional programs grew more rapidly than Southern colleges. For example, the average number of students in Southern colleges was fifty-six, compared to the average of one hundred seventy-four students in the Northern classical colleges.
The focus on religious learning in higher education ended with the South’s loss in the Civil War, and from 1860 to 1890 the Northern schools turned from the British and Scottish Enlightenment to the German University as the model of higher education. For three decades the American system systematically adopted the structures and traditions of the German Academy, including the following:

A Centralized University
Academic Departments
Graduate Studies
The Bachelor Degree
Professional Preparation as the Focus of Bachelor Level Studies

Three other trends during the sixth generation include the establishment and proliferation of 1) women’s colleges, 2) agricultural colleges and 3) the rise of colleges in the American West, which applied elements from Northern, Southern and European colleges.
The seventh generation marked a distinct shift from the earlier two centuries. The Industrial Age brought big changes to business, transportation, government, the military, lifestyle, and of course to the university. The quarter-century from 1890 to 1915 changed nearly everything about American higher education. Most of all, the university system standardized and then grew. The average American college or university in 1870 had ten faculty and ninety-eight students; by 1910 the average was thirty-eight faculty 374 students. Schools already had programs in ministry, law, medicine, teaching and agriculture; they now added engineering, business, dentistry, art, architecture, music and various other specialties. Administrations grew large, sometimes larger than the faculty. Universities broke into numerous colleges, and colleges divided into departments. The four year curriculum offered a classical education for the first two years followed by two years of job or career training.
This trend continued during the “nationalization” generation from 1915 to 1945. Accrediting agencies enforced the standardization of the curriculum, and many schools became interchangeable. Enrollments doubled. The number of colleges proliferated. To the old college system was added junior colleges, teacher colleges, and urban universities for the middle class. As demand grew, the older and more prestigious schools adopted a selective admissions system.
The stage was set for the huge growth of the 1950s spurred by the return of thousands of young men from war along with the GI Bill. In this ninth generation of American higher education, from 1945 to 1985, college became a possibility for almost everyone. The first two years of classical education were dropped in favor of a full four years of job training with only shallow general education courses, and graduate degrees proliferated. With the widespread system of American colleges and network of degrees, faculties and accrediting agencies, college became a norm of American life and job preparation.
The tenth generation completed the industrial age expansion. Colleges and universities had long since stopped being a check on business and government, instead choosing to become extensions of the government-industrial-corporate complex. Indeed, during this period schools decided that they were businesses like any other business, simply responding to market needs in order to survive and grow. The new mission of most American colleges and universities, regardless of their published mission statement, was “to effectively deliver whatever the market demands.” While perhaps viable as a mission statement, this left much to be desired for the institutions that once considered themselves “hallowed halls of learning” or great “promoters of freedom and knowledge.”

More tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Groundbreaking of GWU

At eight days out, it is hard to believe that we are really doing this. It has been an 18-year journey for a group of us and it is so exciting to know that we are almost there.

Of course, we have plenty of work left to do and decades ahead of us, but to watch George Wythe University go from idea to land to brick and mortar is extremely fulfilling. I hope to give you more soon but we are very busy grooming trails, setting up equipment and painting this historic house that doubles as our offices here.