President’s Address to the 2010 Gutenberg Graduates

by David Crabtree

We are here to recognize the accomplishments of the Gutenberg College class of 2010. But when you, graduates, tell people that you graduated from Gutenberg College that will mean nothing. Very few people have ever heard of Gutenberg. Even in Eugene only a small fraction of the residents know Gutenberg exists. Once you get out of Eugene the chances that someone has even heard of Gutenberg quickly approaches zero. For all intents and purposes Gutenberg College is an itty-bitty, unknown college.

So when you say you graduated from Gutenberg College people are going to assume that you went to some generic college. Their minds will conjure up a vague image of textbooks, large lecture halls, student body elections, and football teams. As I am sure each of you know from personal experience, if you try to explain what Gutenberg is and what kind of education it provides, your interlocutor’s eyes will glaze over either from disinterest or incomprehension. As we have talked about from time to time, it is hard to explain what Gutenberg is and how it accomplishes its goals. It is so difficult that no matter how hard we try, we can’t find a way to paint a clear picture for prospective students of exactly what to expect. And most Gutenberg students would say that it took them a couple of years to figure out what Gutenberg is all about. So, unfortunately, when you tell someone that you graduated from Gutenberg, there will be no appreciation of what you did to earn your degree.

It makes sense therefore on this occasion to take a few minutes to describe briefly the nature of the Gutenberg experience. For you who are graduating it is a good time to look back and survey all that you have traversed over the past four (and in a few cases more than four) years. For everyone else, it might be helpful to have laid out what these students have done to obtain their degrees. I will divide my description of the Gutenberg experience into two parts: that which is curricular and that which is extracurricular.

The curriculum is divided into two parts. The first two years students learn the skills and the background that they will need to competently complete the last two years. The first two years are organized around a survey of the history of Western Civilization, but it is a very full-bodied survey of Western Civilization. It includes the development of science, art, religion, literature, economics, political science, and sociology. In conjunction with this survey, students read all or part of more than 100 writings by some of the greatest and most respected thinkers of Western Civilization. Students read the very words of these authors rather than digested versions of their thoughts presented in textbooks, and then they discuss these readings in a small group with a tutor. In addition to this, students take two years of classical Greek, two years of math, two years of microexegesis (which is the close study of a few very dense writings), four terms of science, and two terms of art. All of this is, however, highly integrated. We want students to understand that art does not develop in isolation from philosophy, which does not develop in isolation from science, which does not develop in isolation from religion, and so on. Human thought is very complex and multifaceted. We think it is important to stress this point because we live in a culture of overspecialization. Our culture tends to miss the forest for the trees. You cannot understand a tree in a forest without understanding how it is related to all the other trees that make up the forest.

At the end of two years, every student must pass a battery of exams—the beloved Two Year Exams. They must show competence in Greek, science, Western Civilization and math. Of these, the first three are oral exams. The math exam is written, but probably not what you would think. Rather than solving equations, students must write essays. We do this because we are more interested in teaching our students what kind of thing math is rather than simply teaching them to manipulate numbers. This emphasis runs throughout our curriculum. We want our students to know the nature of each discipline and what it can and cannot contribute to our thinking rather than simply telling our students what experts in each discipline say.

The second two years, students read a lot more of the Great Books. Now they read more, longer works, usually, in their entirety. They are assigned approximately 150 readings over the course of two years. Preparing students to be able to read these works was the goal of the first two years. This is the heart of the curriculum. They read Homer, Plato, Virgil, Aquinas, Dante, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche, just to name a few. In addition, they must take two years of German, four more terms of science, two terms of art (one term is music and the other film), one more year of microexegesis, and a half year of biblical philosophy. This completes their regular course requirements. On top of this, students are required to write a thesis in which they compare the thought of one great thinker with that of another. When the essay is finished, students orally defend their theses before a committee of three tutors. I am proud of the theses our students have produced.

I have been describing the curricular part of Gutenberg. The other part of the Gutenberg experience is extracurricular. One of the things that makes Gutenberg unique is the fact that academic achievement is not our only goal. In fact, it is not even our primary goal. Our main goal is to help students grow in wisdom and maturity. Everything we do has this as it primary aim.

When I use the term “extracurricular,” I don’t mean that which happens after classes are over; I mean that which is not part of the planned curriculum. The reason we do not plan for the development of wisdom and maturity is because this is something that can’t be planned for. Every student is different and at a different stage in life. All we can do is to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the development of maturity and wisdom and then take advantage, as best we can, of whatever opportunities come along to contribute to each student’s growth. Every thing we do has this goal in mind. And we take advantage of every opportunity as best we know how.

The reality is that leading a student into maturity and wisdom is not a science. There are no measurable outcomes that can help us track our progress. It is, rather, an art. In fact, it is a very elusive art. It is an art with respect to which we, as tutors, have much more to learn. In our own bumbling way we do what we can to promote these virtues, but we are just a catalyst. Or to use Socrates’ image, we are midwives to the development of wisdom and maturity.

This much is abundantly clear to me: we are absolutely dependent on God to bring along the situations that are custom-made for each individual student to nudge him in the direction of choosing the way of righteousness. God knows exactly what each student needs; He knows that far better than we, the tutors. Because we are convinced of this, we are reluctant to jump in and try to control events; we are much more likely to let events take their natural course. You, graduates, got a huge taste of this in your first year.

When you first matriculated there were twenty students in your class. Within the course of the first year, half of those students had dropped out. Some of them were very disruptive, and the disruptive behavior of some may have contributed to the decisions of others to drop out. I could not say that every decision we made with respect to your class was a good one. I cannot say for sure what impact that year had on each of you. But this much I can say, your class has shown a lot of growth in maturity and wisdom in the wake of that first year.

I cannot tell you how important that is to Gutenberg College. What we as tutors live for is to see our students take their lives before God seriously. We are not privy to what goes on between you and God in your souls—that is as it should be. But we go day to day on the faith that we, in some small way, are making a positive contribution to your eternal destiny. And any indication that this is indeed the case is cherished.

Your class has been a great encouragement in this regard. You have demonstrated a great deal of growth and development, especially over the last year. Each of you has come along differently—some have grown more than others—but as a class, the growth has been impressive. Your accomplishments in this respect are at least as great as your academic accomplishments.

I am very thankful that each of you came to Gutenberg. You have made a huge contribution to the college, both individually and as a group. It has been a pleasure to work with you. It is sad to see you go. I hope and pray that each one of you will continue to grow in ways that are immeasurable.

Copyright August 2010 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

David Crabtree