Scott Newstok, a professor of English Literature at Rhodes College in Tennessee, just gave a very fine convocation address to Rhodes’ incoming class of 2020—“How to Think Like Shakespeare.” Newstok’s defense of a traditional liberal arts education includes a spirited defense of tradition itself:
Tradition derives from the Latin traditio — that which is handed down to you for safekeeping. I think part of our innate skepticism of tradition derives from our good democratic impulses: We don’t want someone else telling us what to do; we want to decide for ourselves. In other words, you rightly reject a thoughtless adherence to tradition, just as you rightly reject (I hope) the thoughtlessness that accompanies authoritarianism. However, as the political philosopher Hannah Arendt insisted, education "by its very nature … cannot forgo either authority or tradition, and yet must proceed in a world that is neither structured by authority nor held together by tradition." Educational authority is not the same thing as political authoritarianism.
This, and much else in Newstok’s address, is a lovely articulation of what college education should be. It speaks well of Rhodes College that it selected Newstok as their convocation speaker. Newstok’s speech is a fine model for American professors to imitate.
Image Credit: Public Domain.