Georgetown Day School Covers Student Visit to Messiah College

Fea with GDS students

I covered this event here. Now it is Georgetown Day School’s turn. Here is a taste of “Civil Dialogue,” Daniel Stock’s piece at the GDS website:

Over the course of the minimester, Sue, Lisa, Michael, and special guests explored the other side of the political, social, economic world beyond the “typical GDS view of things.” A variety of speakers, from “explainer” journalists and commentators to those who inhabit the conservative spectrum, engaged with the group as they dove deeply into the current political landscape and the operative theme of, “How did we get here?” 

GDS parent Jennifer Griffin (Annalise Myre ’19 and Amelia Myre ’20) and alum parent Juan Williams (Regan Herald ’99), both journalists and political analysts for Fox News, spoke to the group. The students also engaged in conversation with Kate Bennett of CNN (author of Free Melania) and conservative Republican freelance writer for The Washington PostGary Abernathy

They also journeyed outward, exploring the world beyond the Beltway and the “GDS bubble.” The group traveled to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to spend the day at Messiah College with John Fea, a professor of American history at the school and author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. John Fea published this story about his day with the students and faculty. In his piece, he lauded the importance of civil dialogue across lines of difference. He closed with this moment: “At the end of the day one of the students asked me for some tips about how to overcome the divisiveness and partisanship in American culture today. I suggested that we need more days like this one! She agreed. As these kids head off to college and find themselves in positions where they will be able to change the world, I hope they will remember their visit to Messiah College and their experience in central Pennsylvania.  Thanks for coming and letting us see ourselves through your eyes. I learned a lot from the visit!”

GDS teachers strive to create the circumstances through which students can develop the ability to listen with open minds, think critically, and engage in dialogue—that is both civil and rigorous—with those whose life stories are different from their own. Whether in a Lower School classroom, on Capitol Hill with 8th graders, or at Messiah College with a High School Minimester, students learn to change the world first by understanding the people in it.

Read the entire piece here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "American History and the American Church: A Proposal"

I spent the weekend in the beautiful beach town of Ocean City, NJ where I was the guest of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church.  I spoke in all three Sunday morning services (including an 8am communion service on the boardwalk!) and gave a public lecture on how liberal arts education, especially the study of history, contributes to a more democratic and civil society.

I have been doing a lot of this kind of thing lately.  In the course of my visits to churches like St. Peter’s I have learned that there are a lot of congregations whose members are hungry for intellectual resources to help them think deeply about how to engage the world.  While the purpose of the church, of course, is to bring people into a closer relationship with God and others, it is also important that Christians understand the culture in which they hope to live out their faith.

What might it take to strengthen the Christian mind?  Seventeen years ago historian Mark Noll diagnosed “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”  Since the appearance of his book, an increasing number of Christian intellectuals have entered graduate schools, created venues, publications, and websites for the exchange of ideas, and pursued careers in the public sphere informed by thoughtful Christian engagement.

Read the rest here.

Himmelfarb on the Civil Society

Gertrude Himmelfarb (echoing Charles Murray’s conclusion in Coming Apart) believes that we need a revival of civil society in America.  Such a new “civic Great Awakening” (Murray’s phrase), she argues, must draw upon the views of older defenders of civil society such as Locke, Tocqueville, and Burke who wrote about the links between civil society and political association.

Here is a taste:

Today, in our anxiety about the excesses of individualism and statism, we may find ourselves looking upon civil society not merely as a corrective to those excesses but as a be-all and end-all, a sanctuary in itself, a sufficient habitat for the human spirit. What our forefathers impress upon us is a more elevated as well as a more dynamic view of civil society, one that exists in a continuum with “political society”—that is, government—just as “civil associations” do with “political associations,” “private affections” with “public affections,” and, most memorably, the “little platoon” with “a love to our country and to mankind.” This is civil society properly understood (as Tocqueville would say), a civil society rooted in all that is most natural and admirable—family, community, religion—and that is also intimately related to those other natural and admirable aspects of life, country and humanity.

Douthat on the Role of Government

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes sense here.

A taste: 

…In this (liberal) worldview, the government is just the natural expression of our national community, and the place where we all join hands to pursue the common good. Or to borrow a line attributed to Representative Barney Frank, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

Many conservatives would go this far with Frank: Government is one way we choose to work together, and there are certain things we need to do collectively that only government can do.

But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres….

A Proposal: American History for a Civil Society

I was recently browsing the web and came across the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue & the Common Good.  From what I can tell, it seems to be a well-funded center devoted to the promotion of a “good society,” a “good economy,” and a “good life.”

Frankly, I am quite impressed with their mission.  I am interested in many of the questions the leaders of the Agora Institute are asking.  At this point, they seem to have a somewhat conservative bent (at least in terms of the speakers they have invited), but I know that Eastern University is a rather diverse place and questions of civic virtue and the pursuit of the common good are issues that transcend partisanship and left-right ideology.

As I looked at the Agora Institute website, I thought about a vision that I have had for some time about a center or institute devoted to the study of American history and its implications for the common good and civil society.  It is time to share this vision with my readers.

I am in the process of completing a book that, in part, explores the kind of civic virtues that the study of history can promote in American society.  (And any society, for that matter).  Anyone who has followed this blog or reads my Patheos column (especially here and here and here and here) is familiar with my ideas on this front.  My thirteen-year career as a history professor, and some of my own reading and study at the intersection of theology, history, and civil society, has led me to the conclusion that the study of the past, and the process of historical thinking, has the potential to produce citizens who not only understand how to think about the way the past informs the present, but also see the past as an encounter with a “foreign country” that can result in the cultivation of certain social virtues such as humility, reconciliation, intellectual and cultural hospitality, empathy, and solidarity.

What might such a center or institute look like?  First, it would be ideal if it could be connected to an institution of higher learning, but it does not have to be.  Second, it would offer programs on historical thinking and historical content to a wide swath of the public.  American history teachers would benefit from seminars in content, but also in historical thinking and pedagogy.  High school students would benefit from summer institutes or “history camps.”  Churches would benefit from workshops in church history and American religious history.  College students could benefit from intensive summer programs in historical thinking and its connection to civil society.  The general public could benefit from intellectually rigorous tours of historical sites.

Of course such a center would have a social media presence, a public lecture series, and perhaps even a radio program and podcast.

I know this is a big vision, but we history professors can dream, can’t we?

What do you think?

And if there is anyone out there who has a few million dollars to invest in such a project I would love to hear from you!!