Machines can’t teach us to be human

I spent the first two years of high school at a swanky Catholic boys’ academy in Southern California and hated it. The girls ‘question, never far from my thoughts, could not be answered and the corresponding girls’ school on the other side of town was run like a medieval mountain convent, that is to say like a fortress. At the end of the second year, my parents, sick of my gloom and my passive delinquency, gave in and let me go to an even more chic mixed Catholic school, where I met girls and the real pain was over. begin.

My parents were devout traditional Catholics. So it had to be a Catholic education for me. Whenever I mentioned the possibility of going to public school, my mother would raise an eyebrow and say something like, “These places are prisons. They will make you stupid and you will be stabbed in a week. Although I never really believed it (I don’t think she did either), the local news took great satisfaction in posting stories about shootings, stabbings and riots. gangs in the most difficult parts of the system. Later, I would learn that the two companies responsible for building most of the state’s high schools also built most of the penal institutions. Mom never lied. She just knew how to make a well-structured persuasive argument.

Attending a boys-only school also felt like jail. We wore ties, khakis and monogrammed sweaters. Clip-on ties were an abomination. You could shave at home every morning with dignity or sit over a bowl of water in the deputy principal‘s office and use a disposable razor that 10 other guys had used and never cleaned. My face hurt most of the time, but I chose the home option wisely.

The faculty, all the Augustinian priests, deacons and monks, spoke in Latin most of the day. Everyone was studying it and could add Greek, French or Spanish as desired. The humanities and the arts were given the same weight and consideration as the sciences. Essay exams were prominent in every course, and machine-scored Scantron tests were not used at all. We studied philosophy, civics, Augustinian theology, rhetoric and speech (called “oratory”) as well as all the usual high school subjects. Around lunch, the whole campus stopped, according to monastic tradition, and recited the Angelus.

It was there that I decided that I didn’t want to be a Catholic or a Christian, but I didn’t want it in college. They were some of the most intellectual, ethical and kind people I have ever met and I understood this with the clarity of a child’s intuition who in its simplicity can sometimes see beyond the facades of the world. . Years later, I would have taken these priests as an example when I was teaching English in high school, especially my world history teacher, who had been a CIA analyst before taking the stuff and knew how to present. politics and economics as a dramatic adventure.

In hindsight, it looks a bit like an intellectual paradise. And if I could go back to that time, knowing what I know about institutions and human nature, I would definitely step into the time machine. I was extremely lucky to have this kind of education at this point in my life. However, at 16, I was much more interested in music, sci-fi novels, martial arts, and escape than education. It was natural and maybe it was the right way for me to be back then; however, I am still not sure if I am educated.

One of the most interesting and Catholic rules was that if a student had a question about Church or religion, he could be released from the class to discuss it with one of the teachers. This was never overused, as most teens preferred to attend an organic chemistry class or analyze the Bello Gallico’s commentsthan having a long face-to-face discussion with a priest on catechism, papal dispensations in the Renaissance, or the problem of evil in society.

Nonetheless, I had an interesting experience one day while crossing campus. I had recently discovered that I had a certain affinity with writing. To be honest, I read a lot of HP Lovecraft back then and just wanted to make up stories about werewolves and Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos. But one of the monks had read an article in English I had written on “The Cask of Amontillado”, passed it on to a few others in the monastery, and got approval (all without my knowledge) to lift it. first-year students are prohibited from writing for the school newspaper.

One day my English teacher told me that I was now an editor. He said I should show up to the journalism room (a shed on the outskirts of campus) after school on Friday and didn’t want to hear any more questions about it. They were priests and monks, you did not ask why the Church entrusted you with a mission. You just did it. And your teachers’ homework was considered to come straight from Rome. Not doing one’s duty was obviously a matter of confession. And the duties were of the Pope. Who were you to discuss with the Pope?

I was too shy to write for the journal and felt like I was entering a new era of ridicule and maybe hitting after school. But when I found out that student writers all have passes that can be used at any time, I warmed to the idea. This is how I finally fell in love with writing for an audience and discovered the theological concept of cyclic time.

Abusing my pass privileges like all other journalism students, I deliberately and seriously crossed the quad towards the building that housed my locker. I was on my daily quest for snacks, which I had perfectly synchronized with the start of lunch, keeping me out of the back half of algebra class. By avoiding eye contact with faculty, staff, or students who might draw attention to me, I took a roundabout route that would minimize human contact. In doing so, I passed Deacon Chadwick’s senior theology seminar and noticed that he was drawing spirals and cones on the board, similar to what I had seen in the geometry or trig rooms.

I liked Deacon Chadwick. He was a stiff, white-haired, stern-looking creature who pumped a lot of iron and served as a de factodiscipline of the campus. You haven’t played with him. What I didn’t know was that he had a few master’s degrees, spoke several languages, wrote books on the history of mathematics, and had run a successful business before becoming a teacher. What I liked was that he always took students seriously as equals without condescension or pretension. You could ask Deacon Chadwick a question and you knew you would get a straight answer.

So a few days later, I saw him in the library and asked him what he was drawing. He put his work aside, motioned for me to sit down, and began to describe the subjective and objective aspects of time as conceived by the Church and developed, over the centuries, through a difficult conversation between philosophers, scientists and theologians. I remember our conversation in the library that lasted two and a half hours the rest of the school day. And I went home with my head full of ideas. I never had another conversation with Deacon Chadwick, but my public library card was used a lot more after that beyond Lovecraft, Poe, and Stephen King (although I still love all three).

When I transferred to the even higher-end coeducational school, where the “religion” textbook had a rainbow on the cover, there was no intense discussion of the strained relationship of the Church with post-Copernican science, and Latin was not offered, I had to continue on my own. A school newspaper was seen as too risky to endorse and too difficult to supervise. The room pass system could not be played. And the students all seemed calm as they ticked off the days until graduation and an inevitable future in the Ivy League.

I quickly realized that I might as well have taken the monastery with me, given that my family didn’t own multiple boats or go to a country club, which instantly made me undesirable in the eyes of the girls in town. high society whose parents were plastic surgeons. , intellectual property lawyers and executives of General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin. I did a lot more reading. And I learned about snobbery, which was a valuable lesson I wouldn’t have received otherwise.

But beyond that, in the occasional moments of honesty, I wonder if my life would have been different if I hadn’t had those excellent first two years. I wonder about the hyper-pragmatic politicians and university administrators who talk about the virtues of STEM and job creation, belittling the humanities as “vanity studies.” I suspect that many of them never had a single intellectual experience, as they completed the requirements for their degree, suffered from homework, and stepped into high-level positions, grateful that learning did not take place. not hindered their education.

What about students who have never had an insightful conversation with a teacher, who immediately think of a computer when it comes to education? What does their inner life look like? What do they care about? What memories serve as good examples of how they should teach and lead others? I hope that at least some are touched by the gift of humanistic research, if not for them, at least for the world around them. Many have forgotten that human beauty, human truth, and a sense of shared humanity are expressed primarily through human sensibilities and proportions. You don’t need Latin for this. But I suspect you need more than a canned conference on a screen.