We often read about drifts in the great Universities of Europe and the British Isles. Some are not true as official policy, but some professors have been influenced by Woke and its desire to “cancel culture”. We do have to be careful about what we believe and adopt a prudent attitude in the absence of real evidence.
Perhaps on the other hand, we should be aware of the influence of some fine philosophers in the task of education of school children and university students alike. As I discovered the German Romantic philosopher Novalis, I read about his notion of Bildung in German education. Novalis was not the only one to express such ideas, but I think this is a good mind to approach. Another was none other than Newman in his Idea of a University.
The Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Christian University exists to teach us to think and be purposeful, not go along with some ideology of mass humanity. Novalis was very close to Fichte who was deeply influenced by Kant. Philosophy aims to bring us to know ourselves.
True idealism, Novalis claims, is not opposed to realism, but only to formalism.
A proper account of the self, in its relation to itself, should consider the self’s development in and through history as well as its externalizing of itself in the encounter with other minds and nature. Novalis did not invent Bildung – education in and through culture, but developed it. It brings the student to become mature and self-understanding. It brings a capacity to make a reasoned judgement. Novalis’ Romanticism consisted of bringing ourselves to a state of critical self-understanding. We cannot do this work alone but in a spirit of commitment to the wider community in a tradition of history, science and art. There is a traditionalist dimension, but one that is tempered by critical reasoning and a desire to understand history. Another dimension of Bildung is the dialogue with the other’s point of view, not the usual way in our days of opinionated persons shouting others down in a narcissistic rage. It is designed as a remedy to prejudice and bigotry.
A real understanding of education is a challenge to authoritarianism, to dead letter and formalism. The Enlightenment is needed to challenge excesses of traditionalism and Romanticism is needed as a counterweight to dry and formal rationalism.
In the website of this recent academic foundation in America, the emphasis given by the Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Christian University is on the notion of a community of scholars. This University is explicitly Christian, believing in human persons as spiritual beings and the profound dignity and worth of all human persons. The Christian humanism is plain. The love of beauty, truth, goodness and justice is Platonic. The thought of Fr Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi comes exactly from the era of German Romanticism and Idealism. As Novalis had said, Idealism is not opposed to Realism but formalism, the fixed and fossilised mind. I find here a philosophy of education than pleases me.
The existence of this University is real and it has shown its favour to the Anglican Catholic Church by awarding Bishop Damien Mead a Doctorate honoris causa. Fr Jonathan Munn, with his doctorate in mathematics, is also a graduate in theology with his Masters degree. As a community, we build each others’ credibility and esteem for our talents in study and thought. This University was only founded recently but is not a “degree mill”. It is allowed by the State of Florida to award its own degrees in a certain range of studies, but it does not award secular degrees like medicine or law. It is honest about not having the same kind of accreditation as many of the older universities. Perhaps such a status might be obtained in the future, but what is important to me is the philosophical foundation of this educational institution.
Why study with this University? For me personally, I am 62 years of age and have no ambition to a career requiring a degree. I do believe that I do have some things to “prove” so that I can get the community interested in some of my own concerns, including my little Sarum group in England which has been put on hold because of the Covid pandemic. There needs to be a very different kind of liturgical science than nit-picking ancient fragments and using them to decorate make it up as you go along contemporary “expressions”. That is the point on which my own tutor at Fribourg and I disagreed, even if I was too a priori and set in my traditionalist ideas. I do believe that academia needs new foundations and new philosophies to challenge the formalism and authoritarianism of the old universities.
I think I can help in a small way to put this University on the map. Another thing I like about it is its European ethos despite being an American foundation. There is a lot to build on.