Today was the first day of final exams for the term at my school, and honestly, I am very thankful I do not have to give any and in fact was able to turn in most of my grades today. Thank you, Lord!!
A lot of students wonder why we give final exams. Ideally, it is a chance to see how much of the material presented over the semester has stuck and how deep the student’s understanding of it has become. Ideally, the student has spent three and a half months struggling with the new material, trying to fit it into their understanding of the world and having that understanding reshaped to accommodate it.
The consideration of new ideas, new exercises in critically examining assumptions/arguments—both our own and those of others, whether we agree with them or not—these compose the real heart of education, the maturing of the mind and heart, ideally helping them work together and deeper with the goal of developing wisdom more than knowledge.
One of the attractions of a scholarly life is the opportunity to immerse oneself into a world of examination, but the scholarly life is better suited to how one approaches life rather than where one carries it out. In other words, anyone can go through their daily life proactively challenging themselves and those around them with different observations and thoughts about the world around us.
For example, Monday night, I was at a Christmas party at a social club of which I am a member. As I sat by myself watching the crowd, I noticed something. When one of the ‘stewards of the feast’ that I have gotten to know walked by, I stopped her. Taking in the crowd with a gesture, I said, “As I look around the room, I’m guessing the average age in here is, roundly speaking, fifty. Let’s say there are at least 200 people here. That means, that gathered in this room, at this time, is at least ten thousand years of human experience.” She had the same shocked reaction on her face I did when I realized it. And for that evening, all were sharing in the same experience, yet would have different stories to tell about it.
How many years of experience are in a packed football stadium? In a city? In the world? It threatens to shake up how I look at the people around me, both individually, and en masse.
In a similar, seemingly nonlinear fashion, the narrator of the 30 minute video “180” looks at moral choices in history with moral choices today, and challenges people he meets on the street to examine their motives and the consistency of their beliefs through this comparison. I recommend watching the video, though it has some quite graphic images and may challenge your own thinking in an uncomfortable way.
We humans are not usually fond of this exercise, so we tend to do all sorts of mental gymnastics to avoid it, and the workout can be tiring. Yet, it is critical that we do so to develop and maintain the mental and spiritual flexibility to recognize both truth and wisdom and follow them, even if it is only to better understand what we think and why. St. Peter admonishes us in I Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”