When Jonathan was first looking at colleges, I got a copy of National Review’s guide to schools which had required core curriculum. (I should note, BTW, that it was not a guide to conservative schools, as places like Columbia and St. Olaf’s were on the list.) There were 56 schools, including William and Mary, Grove City, and a few others that were already on his radar or ours. After reading it, I told him I would be happy with any of the choices. Asbury was listed and praised. The reason behind their list was that one could get an excellent education at many colleges, there was more of a guarantee of this at a place that had required literature, science, and history courses. I agreed fully with this sentiment, and leaned heavily on Jonathan to stay within those bounds. This was less explicitly the case with Ben, but still a clear expectation.
Looking back, this now seems like reminding Baptists that they want to have some water around for the revival meeting. Whether we installed the broad knowledge culture in them or bequeathed it to them in their genes, they had it on board. I do acknowledge that perhaps the early and explicit focus, including the sendoff, may have been the final push needed to make it happen, but I only say that out of obligation to appear open-minded. I don’t really believe it. What actually resulted was their attendance at a school which reassured them they were on the proper track for intelligent young Christians.
I had already begun to question this value when Ben was 16 or so. I recall a conversation with his (ahem) guidance counselor who was explaining to me that colleges really liked to see a well-rounded resume (as if he knew a lot about the topic), trying to convince me that Ben should do something-or-other activity. I thought: Basketball, skiing, math team, school plays, church leadership, part-time job, great grades, great SAT’s, a couple of hobbies – if that’s not already enough…Y’know, that may actually be too much. I think specialisation might be the new goal here. And then I thought: The really competitive schools seem to prefer one exceptional ability, plus enough general ability to pass the other courses or go cross-disciplinary, don’t they?
Adopting two Romanian teenagers exploded the theory even more.
I wondered if I and my culture had thought it was a superior thing to be well-rounded rather than one of those monomaniacal guys with no social skills only because that plays to our strengths. Yeah, you know the best kind of person to be? One like me.
I’ve changed my mind on that. I’m no longer even sure that being well-rounded is even a good way to go, never mind the best way. Not that it’s ever that simple, of course. Be great at something, the rest is for entertainment. Eh, sumus quod sumus, we are what we are. I don’t think the option of sticking with a specialty was ever real for me. I pick a new fascination every year or so, which allows me to just sort of top off my knowledge in that area as maintenance for another decade or two. Even in college, the summer before I expected to be in math but was already dropping that by freshman orientation. I was immersed in theater for 2-3 years, then switched to medieval literature. Eventually my knowledge becomes dated enough, or misremembered enough, that it’s no longer a going concern. Neither of those subjects interests me much now. I still keep my hand in the game, I’ve collected a few dozen other topics along the way. I no longer think of this as anything I deserve credit for. I cannot do otherwise, and wouldn’t be happy trying.
Might be a better choice if you can manage it, though.