Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book note: The Mind's Adventure, by Howard Lowry

I don't mark up books as I read them. I put in bookmarks to show pages to go back to. On The Mind's Adventure, by Howard Lowry, c. 1950, published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, I had to give up on bookmarking. A book won't close properly with that many in them. And, besides, bookmarks cease being useful, if there are too many of them.

This is one of those books that sat and sat on my shelf, because I thought it would be perhaps interesting, but probably a hard, 'scholarly' slog. The full title is The Mind's Adventure: Religion and Higher Education. The contents page lists five chapters: 1. Halfway in the Century, 2. Vision and Revision, 3. Liberal Education and Religion, 4. Liberal Education and Religion: The Church College, 5. The Last Half of the Century. Then there's a References section.

Dry, right? Possibly even dusty and/or ponderous, yes?

Well, no. Now that I've read it I can see I was badly mistaken in my first impression.

Uhm. I hate to make comparisons to C.S. Lewis, since Lewis is held in awe by so many people, but off the top of my head I can't think of a closer comparison. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this book, both in content and in style.

In fact, if I could find the copyright holder I'd beg him to put it back into print. Or ask him to let me put it back into print. Or post it on the Internet. It has some of the best coverage of long-running worldview battles in colleges that I've read yet. But it's more than that. There's a good bit of American history in it, and philosophy, and... is reasoning the word I want here?

I'd recommend it to a Christian trying to better understand various secular stances, but also to any nonbeliever who wants to understand the Christian point of view.

I'd also recommend it to anyone who is appalled by the anti-Christian activities on many college campuses today, or discrimination against Christian professors, particularly in the sciences. By 1950, this sort of thing was already a problem, and to my mind Lowry suggests some good ways of addressing the conflicts. He also provides a good overview of what led up to the conflicts. And he's articulate. (Did I mention he reminds me, at least vaguely, of Lewis?)

Then, too, anybody who wants a snapshot of American culture a half century ago could do worse than to read this book. Just from a history of culture aspect, it has its merits.

From the preface:

The plan of this book is a simple one. It begins with an analysis of our contemporary situation, of some of the ideas and influences that have brought us where we are, midway in the century, and of the bearing of all this on colleges and universities. Then in the second chapter there follows, not an account of the growth of higher learning in America, or even of the colleges founded by the Church, but the story of how and why religion that brought forth most higher education in this country yielded its place very widely to the secular spirit. The Harvard Report, General Education in a Free Society, is examined as a part of this story, as are some recent educational trends and their significance.

The heart of this book is probably Chapter III, which considers the relations of religion and education. Can a liberal education include religion and remain what it is supposed to be? If, on the other hand, it ignores religion, can it, in the nature of things, be liberal at all? Anyone who knows our contemporary campus scene knows the reawakened and vital interest in these questions, just as he also knows that one small book will not exhaust any treatment of them. Chapter IV, on the Church college, is but the second part of this same discussion. It is not a case study in any sense. It is rather an analysis of the nature of those colleges, whose influence in American life is out of all proportion to their size, that have the task of trying to be true to their religious purpose and at the same time be genuine places of higher learning and free inquiry.

The last chapter looks forward to the second half of our century and to the part education may or may not have in achieving some of our democratic goals. It tries to suggest also the kind of Christianity likely to have much significance for education and for human living.

This book deals only with colleges and universities, and leaves untouched the vexed question of the general role of State and Church in public education -- a problem less troubling, incidentally, at the college and university level, where there is allegedly a greater level of maturity, than at the level of the elementary and secondary schools. Some matters treated here have, to be sure, great bearing on the general question. Any thoughtful college officer or teacher knows that what happens to young people of pre-college age crucially affects all higher learning. He knows how relatively unimportant he is compared with those who deal with boys and girls before he sees them.

It will be obvious that by the term 'religion' the writer is usually thinking of Christianity, though much of what is said here has bearing on other religions, as well, in their relation to education...

This book was written at the request of certain men and women who felt a need for it or, perhaps more exactly, for something like it. Its engendering spirit was Dr. E. Fay Campbell, Director of the Division of Higher Education of the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.... Dr. Campbell secured the co-operation of and gave much preliminary detail for consideration to a committee that crossed denominational lines. This group, students of religion and education, met with the author twice...for detailed discussion...

[...snip...]

Any thoughts or feelings I have about education owes so much to colleagues I have had at Princeton University and at The College of Wooster that I could not begin to detail the obligation...

As a side note, here's an article with a 1950 picture of Dr. Lowry with choral director Robert Shaw and playwright Thornton Wilder, on the occasion of Wilder going to Wooster to stage a production of Our Town, with Wilder himself starring as The Stage Manager. From the linked article:

During his campus stay, Wilder also received an honorary degree. Speaking to the new graduates, he praised Americans’ freedom to make choices and cited Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.

Wilder’s visit may have been brief, but his bond with Wooster was strong. Writing to then-President Howard Lowry shortly after leaving town, he thanked him for “an Ohio college and for the opportunity you gave me to move around in it; for a re-dipping into a series of American ways and joys and hopes and strains and reminders that I could not have obtained in any other way... I feel a deep affection for Wooster, and if you ever get any flagging of heart about the college or your evident mission in it — write me! I’ll tell you some home truths! I’ll sound the clarion! That right, and that privilege you put into my hands, publicly. My deep regard to Wooster.”

Special Collections, in Andrews Library, holds a selection of letters and postcards that Wilder wrote to Lowry and [speech professor William] Craig. Circulation cards from books that Wilder checked out proved that he researched his commencement address thoroughly. — Emily Ryan ’05

1 comment:

jeverett said...

This book is profound. It is one of the few that provides the fuller - the real - questions that a student should ask when he or she falls back on question that all undergraduates ask, oversimplified, "Why am I here (at college)?" Even if you do not agree with Lowry's answers (I do), at least you are provided with the real questions of education; they will stay with you all of your life.