Three visions of a liberal education

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Thomas Hood
Contributing Writer

-----------------------Photo by Danny Sauer----------------------- Dr. Christopher Lynch spoke on education and democracy in relation to three educators, namely Jacob Klein, Louise Cowan and Leo Strauss.

Dr. Christopher Lynch examined the writings of three modern educational thinkers last Thursday evening, juxtaposing the three and viewing their writings as being in a state of dialogue. This endeavor was quite novel, as expressed by the members of the politics department (which hosted the event) who were present.

The three educators that Dr. Lynch examined were Jacob Klein, Louise Cowan and Leo Strauss. The three drew on earlier sources, noting the fact that Plato did not recommend liberal education to the majority of humanity, only in training the very special philosopher kings. The three, Cowan especially, wrote supporting the notion that liberal education is a necessity to society and to the individual, in actualizing the dignity of the human mind. This opinion, however, seems to be at odds with societal goals. Liberal education can be seen as impractical, pointless and unproductive, but Dr. Lynch stressed Strauss’ point that liberal education in fact “fulfills democracy’s original intent.” He also pointed out Louise Cowan’s insistence on the significance of classics and the ancient world since the West’s understanding of democracy at least has its origin in the classical world of Athens and ancient Greece as a whole.

In one of his closing remarks on Louise Cowan, Dr. Lynch summarized her idea of cultivating liberal education within democracy and Christian society. He noted that Leo Strauss was probably the most influential of the thinkers he examined, stating, “In modern education … we’re all kind of Struassians now,” drawing laughter from the politics department, not for the humor in the very frank statement itself, but rather from Dr. Lynch’s tonal change from academic formality to honest colloquialism. The sophistication and clarity of Dr. Lynch’s presentation was not lost on the audience, but perhaps the appreciation for the novelty of his examination of these three prominent (but little noted outside of academic circles) thinkers in one lecture was.

Having served as a senior advisor to the United States Department of State in 2006-2007, Dr. Lynch is an Associate Professor of Great Ideas and Political Science at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

Dr. Lynch has also translated Machiavelli’s Art of War, and is scheduled to complete a comprehensive treatment of the subject in an upcoming book titled Machiavelli on War in 2012, according to Carthage College’s website.

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