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Seeking Wisdom in an Age of Information

December 29, 2016
By Jason Smith

{Jason Smith, Dean of Faculty and Instruction}

"21st century skills . . . are not new, just newly important." Elena Silva

Our Humanities Chair Valentina Adams (studying for her Masters in Humanities with Faulkner University) shared an essay with me by the scholar Russell Kirk entitled, "Humane Learning in the Age of the Computer." You can read it here. Thought-provoking (if not a little polemical), his argument sparked more than a few ideas for me about what we do at Providence.

Written in 1987, Mr. Kirk pointedly (and presciently) analyzes the Knowledge Age, Information Age, and the cultural trends that have steered modern education off course. He demonstrates that while there is importance in using the tools of technology to access information, the tools and the access should not be mistaken for worthwhile educational enterprise. Information alone shouldn't distract us from wisdom.

From the essay:

"For information is not knowledge; and knowledge is not wisdom. This is movingly expressed by Eliot in some lines of his choruses for The Rock:

Where is the Life we have lost in living? 
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? 
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries 
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

Aye, where is the knowledge we have lost in information not to mention the wisdom? What humane learning used to impart was not miscellaneous information, a random accumulation of facts, but instead an integrated and ordered body of knowledge that would develop the philosophical habit of mind -- from which cast of mind one might find the way to wisdom of many sorts."

I couldn't agree more. Having been a classroom teacher for 20 years, I've repeatedly realized the time a teacher spends with a student is limited, and the breadth of information is practically unlimited. In many disciplines, the content is constantly expanding. Feeding students information and having them regurgitate it on tests is a very low-level form of learning (and an ugly metaphor). Mrs. Adams, our faculty, our administration, and our school board share a conviction that classical Christian education -- and its emphases on developing logical thought, practicing powerful personal expression, and prayerfully seeking virtuous and wise interior lives -- is the educational answer for an age adrift in a sea of disparate information. Coursework, careers, and Christian lives demand we develop, primarily, into life-long learners -- not merely receptacles of information.

Through thoughtfully designed lessons and courses of study, we are teaching students how to think and what to love. This is the humane learning Russell Kirk lauds. We value inquiry-based instruction. We value the Socratic seminar. We seek assessment that asks students for application of what they are learning. We esteem and apply a Biblical worldview. We impart and practice a robust aesthetic with norms for the true, beautiful, and good.

Much of this approach (but not all) is consistent with the best practices celebrated by current educational research. From Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning (published by ASCD), Mike Schmoker writes that the best educational voices are arguing we "go back to the future, to embrace -- at long last -- a powerful combination of the following strategies for all students:

Adequate amounts of essential subject-area content, concepts, and topics;

Intellectual/thinking skills (e.g., argument, problem solving, reconciling opposing views, drawing one's own conclusions); and

Authentic literacy -- purposeful reading, writing, and discussion of the primary modes of learning both content and thinking skills" (26).

It takes time, talent, and personal devotion to identify what matters most and to share it winsomely, inviting students to do the work of real learning. Our faculty knows what is enduring, is able to identify true understanding in each discipline, and models and shares the tools of learning. Providence's curriculum is centered around the Big Ideas and Essential Questions of life and learning. Big Ideas and Essential Questions animate every subject we teach. We plan for cross-curricular connections; and, ultimately, we seek to reveal to our students the wisdom of Christ found at the heart of every subject.

This is education that impacts the whole student for the whole of his or her life. (See our Graduate Profile: Download PCS Portrait of a Graduate.)

Please pray with us as we continue to mature towards and accomplish this vision. As Russell Kirk cautions:

"What we ought to resist is a schooling that turns out young people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing: people replete with information and unable to digest it. If we restore the dignity of humane learning, we may transcend the Informational Society; we may even achieve a Tolerable Society."

It is timely; it is timeless; and it's worth more than all earthly treasure (Proverbs 2:4). We don't want to miss it.

Event Facility Time Notes
Sunday - August 29, 2021
Monday - August 30, 2021
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