Where is the Good life? Students Seek a True Answer

 Dr. Tom St. Antoine
Faculty and staff listen to Dr.  Tom Antoine speak on The Flipped Curriculum.

“Where is the good life?” is the common question liberal arts honor students often ask Dr. Tom St. Antoine ‘93, professor of communication and director of the The Frederick M. Supper Honors Program

 

“I hope one of the things that the students do while they’re here is get the answer to that,” St. Antoine recently told a group of faculty and staff as he presented his lecture entitled, “The Flipped Curriculum: Your Discipline and the Liberating Arts and Sciences” at the Weyenberg Center, now viewable on YouTube.

 

St. Antoine’s lecture was the first of a lecture series on the “Christian University” topic hosted by the Center for Teaching Excellence. These talks, given by The Charles & Hazel Corts Award for Outstanding Teaching recipients, explores the intersection of a faculty member’s Christian faith and their academic calling.

 

“There are a couple of reasons why we started this series,” said Dr. Nathan Lane, associate provost for instruction, before he introduced St. Antoine. “The first is to foster some discussions that are already happening on what it means to be part of a Christian university, and the second is to purposefully make more connections in the broader University—English professors talking to history, math, communication and pharmacy folks—making for some interesting discussions.”

 

According to St. Antoine, anything he’s learned about the integration of faith and learning, he’s learned from colleagues at PBA, either as a student or as a faculty member. And so, this forum provided the perfect platform to talk about things that are intellectually and spiritually in nature.

 

St. Antoine started with a quote from Seneca, a Roman philosopher and satirist of the Silver Age of Latin Literature. His work in literal and vocational studies explains that while a good education may be financially profitable for an individual, liberal studies are more valuable than gold.

“But there is only one really liberal study—that which gives a man his liberty,” Seneca emphasizes. “It is the study of wisdom, and that is lofty, brave, and great-souled. All other studies are puny and puerile.” --Seneca

This brought up an interesting point that explains why we call liberal arts by its name. The Latin word for liberal is liberali, which means to be free. Originally, liberal arts students talked about liberal arts as the pursuit of a free-born gentleman, and not be a slave of a lecture of things. So when we talk about the liberal arts, the idea of freedom is the outcome of it, not a prerequisite.

 

As St. Antoine clarified, the idea of a curriculum flip is this: “the real purpose of an education is to live a good life. A life of freedom. And so often we make the mistake of defining the liberal arts as a means to an end—how liberal arts will be useful to us in our majors—teaching us how to think, write and to communicate well.

 

“All these will be useful for us in practical ways within our major, but I’d like to turn that around and instead of thinking how the liberal arts will serve our majors, think about how our majors serve the larger purposes of the liberal arts,” he said, describing how liberal arts make us free in two important ways: our studies lead us to a life of obedience and a life of service, and this leads us to the truth, and the truth sets us free, and ultimately to a good life.

“The main thing that frees us from sin and death is our obedience to Jesus Christ, who freed us from the slavery of sin and death,” St. Antoine said.

To support what the Word of God says with other literature used in the Supper Honors program, he pointed to a quote from Mortimer Adler, an American philosopher, educator, and popular author of Great Books of the Western World and the Great Books Foundation.

      

Adler says, “the traditional meaning of the world liberal, as applied to education, tells a distinction between free men and slaves. Slaves, like domesticated animals, are trained to perform special functions. They are not treated as ends, but means. And so, they’re not domesticated for their own good, but for the use for which they are placed.”

 

In this, St. Antoine continued to make the distinction of the liberal arts education at PBA—the difference between training and education. As he says, training is used to perform a task and does not set an individual free like a degree in a liberal arts education would. Training is not a mean to some end; it is used as a tool to achieve some economic or social agenda. And it does not set a person free, but instead it makes them slaves to a social system.

 

In the end, the purpose of education is not to fix the economy by supplying qualified labor; it’s not to fix our nation by supplying good citizens. And our students are not the means necessary to fulfill economic or political agendas. But to be the product of a humane education, which makes us free to develop our intellect and to submit to the truth, as we serve others.

 

“Liberals arts leads us to a life of service—to a good a life,” concluded St. Antoine. “A life in which we commit ourselves to our community. It’s at the heart of who we are. We were made to give ourselves to others, and that’s Christianity’s great commission.”


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