Fifteen Years of Gutenberg

by David Crabtree


Gutenberg College President Dr. David Crabtree gave the following brief address at the commencement ceremony for the Gutenberg Class of 2009.

Today marks the completion of fifteen years of operation of Gutenberg College. I think such a milepost deserves at least a passing notice. As I look back over the years, I see many interesting twists and turns. It has been an adventure. It has also been a struggle. But, all in all, it has been a very worthwhile undertaking. In particular, I enjoy teaching, but to be more exact, I enjoy teaching at Gutenberg. A couple of our graduates who have gone on to graduate programs have told me that they would like to teach when they graduate from their programs. But they do not want to teach at institutions where they are currently studying. They want to teach at a place like Gutenberg.

How is Gutenberg different? I will just highlight two differences.

  1. Most education is designed to train students to make a good living. This makes a huge and unwarranted assumption—that students already know what it means to live good. This issue of what it means to live well—what constitutes a good life, what is the purpose of life—is both complex and complicated. To forge an answer to these questions that is capable of withstanding all that life can throw at it is a big undertaking. It requires a lot of experience of life and reflection. But this process is critical in order to be able to proceed through life wisely. One who has never settled these questions will experience life like one who is lost at sea without a compass. For this reason Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worthy to be lived.” Gutenberg seeks to prepare students to live a good life by encouraging them to examine life.
  2. Most education sees the process of education as the transmission of information from teacher to student. The student who memorizes that information can be said to “know” that information. At Gutenberg we want our students to learn some information in this way, but this is not, at all, our emphasis. We don’t just want our students to “know”—we want them to “understand.” Let me explain the distinction I am trying to make. One can “know” all kinds of things but stay untouched by what one has learned. In the way that I am using the word “know,” a computer can know. But we encourage our students to do more. We want them to interact with ideas. We want them to process ideas and make them their own. We encourage students to take in content and then ask themselves, “If this is true, what difference does it make to the way that I live my life?” When a student is presented with an idea, examines that idea from enough different sides to judge whether or not it is true, and then has the personal integrity to live his life accordingly, then we can say that he “understands” that idea. It is “understanding,” in the sense that I have just described, that we seek to foster at Gutenberg.

Obviously, when education is understood to include this level of personal engagement with the material that is taught, there is much that is out of the hands of the educator. This is a very important reality for the teacher to acknowledge. Learning is something that the student does rather than something that the teacher does to the student.

So the most important quality for a teacher to have is patience. The teacher offers food for thought, encourages the student to think, then waits. There is nothing more that can be done. Coercion and manipulation have no place in the process of learning important things. Each student must come to the place where he recognizes the significance of examining life. Until the student comes to this realization, there is little more the teacher can do, so he waits for another time. If and when the student reaches the place where he sees the value of such an examination, there is a whole world of things to talk about, think about, and examine together. The teacher hopes for this, but in the meantime he waits patiently.

For me life is like a huge, complex jigsaw puzzle that I would very much like to put together. I view every student who comes to Gutenberg as a potential co-jigsaw-puzzle worker. Some students decide to do it; some do not. But nothing is more enjoyable than having a discussion with a whole classroom of students who would like to examine life seriously. Discussions under these conditions are interesting, thought provoking, and life changing for everyone involved. This is what makes Gutenberg fun!

These comments are fitting with respect to the class of seniors that is graduating today. As a whole they have chosen to become engaged with the ideas that are presented by the authors of the works that we read in the curriculum. They chose to take more than an academic interest—they took a personal interest. I have enjoyed very much working on the puzzle with them. For that I thank them very much.

All of the students who are graduating today have earned the only degree that is awarded by Gutenberg College—a B.A. in Liberal Arts. It is a significant accomplishment. All students take the same set of classes. They must take two years of classical Greek, two years of German, two years of math, three years of microexegesis, almost three years of science, more than a year of art, two years of writing, a half year of biblical philosophy, two years of Western civilization, and two years of the Great Conversation. They read works by well over a hundred Great Books authors. After the first two years they must pass a battery of exams, and at the end of the senior year they must write and defend a senior thesis. It is a rigorous course of study. At a purely academic level, graduates from Gutenberg College have learned a lot.

But there is much more to a Gutenberg education than the formal curriculum. Students learn much about what it means to be a human being who interacts with other human beings and who will one day stand before his Creator and give account for his life. These students have learned an enormous amount in this respect. And of that I am particularly proud.

Copyright August 2009 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

David Crabtree