What begins with Goldilocks and Three Billy Goat’s Gruff culminates with Fyodor Dostoevsky and Joseph Conrad. Our memories are such fragile instruments that we forget all the ground that is covered in a liberal education unless we have been gifted with the opportunity to retrace our steps by accompanying someone else through it. Of course, “the journey,” that much hackneyed phrase, is different for every individual. At least one of the reasons that we speak of classic texts, or of texts being classics, is that they retain their novelty despite their establishment. They mean different things to different people and different things to the same people at different points in their lives. This is a part of why the senior thesis is of fundamental importance to a Ridgeview education; indeed, to the Ridgeview experience. We want to know is that it has meant something to the student.
In Matthew Arnold’s term, if they remain unmoved by the best that has been thought and said, we have labored with defective materials. We want to know that for each student who has moved from Pinocchio to Publius, from Rapunzel to Raskolnikov, from Hamlet to Homer, that he has made the impersonal personal and taken on a sense of the importance of these classics. If all he has done is to flip through the pages and deafly sit through the discussions parroting back what his teachers thought, he has failed himself. What is worse, he becomes his own sort of tragi-comedy in having done so little amidst such plenty. To stare the message squarely in the face and yet miss it by a mile is no private embarrassment, but a most public and lasting one. No generation preceding the current one has had so much brought within such reach with such ease, and too many have made waste of what others languished wanting. Fortunately, more than a few have made the most of their opportunity, and we are all gainers for their efforts. We know not just what they have read, but what they have thought, considered, weighed, and compared – the great ideas juxtaposed with their own, the great lives and heroes of the past compared beside theirs, and they have articulated all of this for us to hear. We have a little insight into who they are, and if we are bold enough to take a chance on probabilities, more than a little into who they will become.
If you are an elementary parent just working through Pollyanna or Alice in Wonderland, enjoy this time, but also take time to listen to a senior thesis. To do so is to gain an appreciation for what it has all been about and gives some sense of what Ridgeview means when we speak of an education. Doing so will tell you more about any given student than their grade point average, their teacher’s recommendations, their test scores, the colleges they were accepted to, or the scholarships they were awarded. It would be easier if those things told us who they were, but a life is harder to judge and we should let it speak for itself. If you would like to know the purpose of what they are doing, nothing can better inform you than to see where they believe they have been.