Victor Hanson’s The Humanities Move Off Campus is an interesting read, especially for its comments on Christian education and the recent move toward purely distance learning via online courses and audio CDs. My take on distance learning and audio CD courses is a bit different than Hanson’s. Although I think he is right that these sorts of things do not provide an ideal and full-orbed learning environment (particularly in terms of being able to get to know one’s teachers face-to-face as an integral part of the learning process), at the same time two considerations seem to offset his point.
First, we don’t live in an ideal situation. Classical education has all but disappeared from the American school system, and we are in the midst of at least our fourth or fifth generation of recipients of dumbed-down, democratized, propagandistic, vocationally-oriented public school “education.” To recover the sort of education that, say, our Founding Fathers or most educated people in the 19th century had is right now a severely uphill battle, and may require for a time the use of “unorthodox” and non-ideal tactics, such as – dare I say it – blogs, MP3 files, and audio CDs for the intellectually curious to listen to on their long commutes to their dreary, dehumanizing, mechanistic “jobs.” It’s not ideal, but as I recently read somewhere, whenever someone advocates an ideal it’s precisely because the here and now is so bad. In that case, the ideal can only be a goal for the future, and can’t be allowed to dictate the measures that have to be used to get to that future.
Second, today’s huge universities don’t seem to allow for much personal contact, either. I don’t know a single one of my teachers at the University of Dallas in the way I knew my teachers at the far smaller New St. Andrews College. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine being invited by any of my professors at UD to dinner at their house, or to spend a holiday with their family when one has nowhere else to go, but both of these personal things were fairly regular occurrences at New St. Andrews. The big university can indeed excel in terms of course content (and UD is top notch in this category, in my opinion), but it is still, for probably most students, going to lack that personal touch about which Hanson so properly writes of as an integral part of a true education.