As I survey the lobby at 7:20am, I see parents buying and selling Scrip. I hear elementary students practicing their poetry recitations on the way to the PAC. I listen to high school  students debating about literature one second, history the next, laughing even as they defend their points spiritedly. I see parents fixing their daughters’ hair, carpools dropping off their neighbors’ children, and a board member smiling warmly as she greets students and parents. I answer an attendance call and talk to a mother excusing her ill child from school, while also asking for something for him to work on at home. We in the front office see all of this, and we cheer on all these teammates.

We hear that many students excel in sports outside of school. Some of them are math wizards. Some of them play multiple instruments, participate in sports outside of school, or prepare for dance performances nightly.

We hear the stories of some parents who work two jobs, while some work long nights. Some are single parents and some have the help of grandparents. Many of them work through their child’s homework, learning the material themselves in order to teach it. Parents envy an education they did not know to wish for.

We have heard that students, teachers and parents are tired, excited for family trips and outings. Some of our families have lost dear ones this year and are grieving. And, we grieve with them.

We listen to tales of students who came to Ridgeview from kindergarten, adjusting as challenges come. We know that others found it later as a refuge from unchallenging academics or disadvantageous environments. We, too, see Ridgeview as a citadel of learning.

More than that, people tell us their motives and motivations. Every student, teacher and administrator is not here incidentally, but purposely. Everyone is at Ridgeview because although it is not always the easiest, it is certainly the most worthwhile.

In the Front Office, we recognize the silent efforts of community members who wish to be better, and we hide identities of anonymous donors who wish to better others. Our interactions with both are awe-inspiring and humbling.

I would just like to remind you that every effort is both seen and appreciated. I would like to remind everyone of the community spirit that Ridgeview embodies. While this spirit sometimes seems to hide, it fills the halls and lobby daily. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! I look forward to 2018 and all the new stories it brings with it.

 

 

 

Just as a liberal arts education prepares its students to seek the good and true, it also teaches them to appreciate the beautiful. “Beauty” may be even more evasive than the “True” or the “Good,” as it has become commonly accepted that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

There are also different contexts in which we employ the word “beauty.” We might call a kind soul, a sublime view, a strong horse, a fit person, a well-designed blouse, a geometrical pattern, a chair, and a spider web all beautiful.

For sake of definition, let’s look at “Beauty” comparisons between Athens and Sparta. Athens was a city that prospered in trade and arts, whereas Sparta flourished in the art of war. An Athenian might see beauty in a pot, sculpture, or building, whereas a Spartan might see beauty in personal fitness and simple dwellings. In each case, their definitions of beauty, or attractiveness, revolve around their particular pursuit of the Good.

As I mentioned before, the Good and True exist independent of perception, as must Beauty. However, should Beauty be a reflection of the Good? Should it make us want to pursue the Good, even if it depicts evil? What role does Truth have in Beauty? Can beauty serve any other purposesay, as a dwelling or a chairor should it be beautiful by itself? Can a technique be beautiful, or does the actual product need to be?

The best education can answer only some of these questions. What becomes most obvious to a student is that you can figure out what someone perceives as Good and True based on what they see as Beautiful. And, thus, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what you perceive as beautiful reflects who you are.

 

The True, like the Good, is often hard to capture but always worth pursuing. That in itself poses difficulties.

The liberal arts attempts to separate (though never alienate) the True from the true. Many truths are observable, like scientific facts. The Earth is round, things fall when we drop them, and light has characteristics of both particles and waves. These descriptions of the natural world do not depend on our awareness of them to be accurate, nor do they change with our knowledge. For instance, the ancient belief that the world is flat does not mean that it was flat when they made their observations. Natural truths are not relative, even when knowledge is situational.

Capital-T Truths are more complicated because they rely on the difference between what is and what should be, lest they fall into the naturalist’s fallacy. There are factual descriptions of how the world is AND factual descriptions of how the the world should be. It is equally true that man is not always kind and that man should be kind; it is equally true that society often falls short of justice and that society ought to be just.

The Truth deals with, as Alan Bloom poses it in The Closing of the American Mind, “‘What is man?’, in relation to his highest aspirations as opposed to his low and common needs.”*

Thus, as Allan Bloom writes, one of the dangers is claiming that, because everyone has a different understanding of Truth, Truth does not exist. The result is relativism:

Opennessand the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims of truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beingsis the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.**

The other way to reject Truth (which is opposed to relativism in theory, but identical in practice) is nihilism. Instead of saying everything is true because it seems true to someone, nihilism says that because everything is true to someone, nothing is True. Both use personal preferences and beliefs as standards for living.

The liberal arts do not pretend to know what Truth is, but rather aim to discover it. They say that Truth exists, even if it is difficult to define or discover. The student trained in the liberal arts is able to evaluate themselves and the world around them, assessing their relation to Truth. For instance, they can assess different governments based on what they believe man is and should be. Thus, they can be better equipped to assess themselves, as well.

*Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 21.

**Ibid, 26. 

One of the first seventh grade history lectures Mr. Busek presents is the “Goodness versus Greatness” discussion. After delving into definitions of each word, it becomes evident to the newly-minted middle school students that goodness requires virtue whereas greatness entails prominence. The rest of the year and even all subsequent curriculum,  hinges on students’ understanding of this quintessential principle of the liberal arts.

The distinction, of course, is not always black and white. Gray hues exist between ends and means, beliefs and reality. Do the ends ever justify the means? Is something more evil when we know it is evil, or when we believe it is right? Is there such thing as the lesser of two evils, and to what extent does that mitigate blame, if at all? How do immoral choices affect a man’s general goodness, and to what extent? What is forgivable? How much should we separate a man’s public life from his private life?

Although without obvious answer, each of these questions re-frames every discussion students have at Ridgeview. Misalignment of students’ perspectives on these aspects of goodness informs every conversation and disagreement in every history and literature class, culminating in a senior thesis that dares to answer “What is the good life?”

The classical education dares to lift up ideals like areté, pietàs, virtus, and gravitas,  and yet also demands that we see our heroes for who they are rather than who we would have them be.

The most elementary reading of the Iliad focuses on the heroism of Achilles, while a more advanced understanding reveals a lazy, lustful demigod who serves his own pride and vengeance. His greatness becomes muddied by his immorality. But, the classical education does not rest on mere myth, which is why we are so dedicated to studying the founding fathers. Again, the introduction of heroes who accomplished so much requires glossing over certain flaws. The most basic understanding of these men must be what they have accomplished, but a more mature education must acknowledge Washington’s slaves and Franklin’s debauchery. Thus, the boundaries between goodness and greatness become not just distant matters of heroism, but fundamental challenges of humanity.

Although these distinctions seem obviousconclusions that could be drawn from a half-conscious analysis of Hollywoodwisdom comes in the ability to simultaneously respect greatness and scrutinize goodness, to have a proper reverence without misguided worship.

A successful liberal arts education produces seekers of “the good” who witness ubiquitous moral imperfection without accepting ethical ambiguity. Ridgeview is dedicated to such an education.

 

The following entry is guest authored by Kelsey Niichel, Class of 2011.

Since graduating from Ridgeview, it has come as a surprise to me to see how many people live an “unexamined life,” as Socrates would call it. Much of my interaction with my fellow man has been superficial, at best, which has left me sometimes wondering if the Senior Thesis really does matter. In revisiting my own presentation, I have come to the conclusion that yes, it still does.

As a senior, the question posed, “what is the good life?” not only forced our young minds to wrestle with moral issues, but relationships, spirituality, and other dimensions of the human experience. My thesis was centered around a constant interplay between good and evil, the desire to do what is right versus the desire to do what is easy. I hypothesized that man really has two natures that are constantly at war, much like Jekyll and Hyde or Gollum and Smeagol (the two examples that I drew most heavily upon). The achievement of the good life, for me, was found in chasing the “right” option, choosing the moral high ground, when it presented itself, and in continuing to do so as to make it a lifelong habit. While this seems easy in theory, my own personal experiences show that it is not so. I have, since graduation, experienced dark periods in my life, both emotionally and morally. I subsequently had to make a conscious decision to stop choosing what was easy or what felt good, and to choose what was the absolute good. I specifically remember my parents referencing my thesis when I would do something particularly wrong or bad.

The strengths of my personal thesis can be found when presented with a moral challenge, but it had left me woefully unprepared to deal with adult relationships, or other aspects of modern life such as money or career building. I do believe though, that by allowing students on the brink of adulthood to answer these questions of morality, it allows them to build an identity that will carry through to other aspects of their lives. They have examples of healthy and unhealthy human interaction within the books they read, and ultimately they have the freedom to act however they choose and face the consequences of those actions. This freedom gives the Ridgeview student a depth of character that is not often found elsewhere.

This freedom also allows the student to amend their thesis, footnote it, if you will, when they are faced with certain challenges or scenarios. Herein lies the virtue of presenting the thesis to a hungry audience. One of the most difficult questions that I have had to grapple with, both during my presentation and as an individual is the measure of what is right and wrong and to whom can we look for examples. I was challenged to define a higher power that helps us determine. Some look to moral philosophy, while others look to religion and spirituality. I recently had an interaction with a philosophy student (not a Ridgeview graduate) that centered around this question, and I was pleased to find that my musings during the process of writing this thesis resurfaced. While I still hold that there are absolutes, I would venture to say that there is much more gray area in the field of morality than I previously thought. The relevance of my thesis though has come through again recently as I begin my career in medicine, and will be forced to deal with ethical dilemmas that have lasting consequences.

In conclusion, and in speaking to the students directly, the thesis still matters because it allows you two main advantages over the general population. First, it allows you to examine yourselves in a way that is often forgotten. You have this opportunity to define for yourselves what is beautiful, right and true. It allows you to become an individual. Secondly, it allows for personal growth. As a senior, you have these examples of how to act and how not to act, and yet ultimately the choice is yours. You will come across situations for which you have no answer. You will have questions posed to you to which you cannot answer. In the face of this uncertainty, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Don’t be afraid of not having the answers. Ridgeview’s senior thesis gives you a foundation for your beliefs, and it is just that – a foundation. Not the entirety of your life, not the entirety of human experience. You will learn and grow through personal experience just as much, if not more so, than you have in the halls of Ridgeview. However, the foundation is the most important part of a house, and your educational foundation serves as the most important beginning to life as a thoughtful, moral, engaged adult. This foundation is why the senior thesis still matters.

I asked Amanda Sanders, class of 2010, to reflect on her thesis. Amanda explained:

“I discussed how one could only be great if you were to accept and embrace your mortality. The truly great man would be the one who knows that he is going to die and accepts that fate choosing to live life to the fullest, despite the unknown of what comes after death.

“My thesis has shaped me in how I try to live. I have experienced a lot of loss in my life and so my thesis was particularly meaningful to me in that I realized I want to truly live. I have tried to accept my mortality and do what makes me happy and live my life to the fullest rather than choose the safe route, which has been challenging but has also brought great reward.

“My thesis really rang true with me after the loss of my Nana. She always talked about wanting to do so many things like write a book, travel more, see me graduate college, start a family and watch my kids grow. She would always say that she was going to be around for a long time to do those things. She was a great woman, but she didn’t do a lot of what she wanted because she thought she would be around for longer than she had. After she died, I was faced with the decision to study abroad in Spain. I had never been away from home or on my own at that point and when making the decision I thought of my Nana and how she never got to do things because she didn’t take the opportunity. I knew that I had to realize I may never get another opportunity like this and I needed to take the chance to live life to the fullest despite all my fears and inhibitions.

“During my Q&A I got a question along the lines of, ‘If you believe in God and an afterlife, why does accepting your mortality matter since you will go to a better place?’ I answered then, and still say now that knowing you will go to a better place doesn’t excuse you from accepting your mortality. If you know that you are going to a better place, then it is even more important that you use your knowledge of the inevitable to have an effect on those around you and show them that life on earth matters.

“I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but when writing your thesis 1) break it down into manageable chunks and 2) write about something you are passionate about.”

Since graduating, Amanda has graduated from CSU with a BA in Languages, Literatures and Cultures with a concentration in Spanish. She now teaches elementary Spanish and has an infant son.

Although most community members know that the senior thesis project is the pinnacle of the Ridgeview experience, some may not fully understand its significance.

On the most basic level, the assignment reflects the completion of the Latin trivium, utilizing most directly the final stage: rhetoric. It requires the expression of ideas not simply memorized, but reasoned out and strung together in a thorough, logical way.

More radically, it embodies Ridgeview’s primary purpose: to provide minds with a liberal arts education – an education concerned with freedom of the mind – in a world where most education has become emotionally charged and vocationally directed.

Those who have attended a thesis understand that, though products of the mind, presentations are neither emotionless nor impractical. Instead, Ridgeview seniors interweave the questions of how they should live and why they believe this to be true.

These are questions that very few adults can answer, in my experience. Surely, very few people examine themselves this deeply. Ridgeview seniors are asked to give eloquent solutions to humanity’s problems not because it is easy, but because it is necessary. These young adults are not required to be right, but they are required to provide evidence for why their view is good, beautiful, and true.

And, in my experience, all of them are able to touch on these, and most are able to grasp them firmly. Every thesis is backed by the Greek concepts of freedom and order, the Medieval comparisons of right and might, the American struggles of change and stability,  the modern questions of cruelty and humanity, and so much more. When each student has grappled with such questions, their answers contain immense experience and depth.

Thus, the senior thesis becomes both a graduate’s justification and Ridgeview’s validation. Ridgeview has often quoted Goethe, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” And thus, in asking eighteen-year-olds a timeless question, Ridgeview invites them into the conversation the faculty has worked so hard to prepare them for.

If you want to know why a Ridgeview education matters, attend a couple theses. The students speak for themselves, boldly and eloquently. I would also encourage you to keep up with Alumna in Residence over the next couple months as graduates reflect on their own senior theses, offer advice, and explain why their theses still matter.

At present, I am reading through C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a collection of letters written from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood about a man’s struggles with Christianity. Although I could continue writing this blog as if reading this was a very noble pursuit, I will instead admit that I am still working on the same three books I have been working on for the past several months.

I am ashamed, as a Ridgeview community member who loves and values reading, to admit this. However, I am committed to the lesson this particular confession contains, and will thus explain:

As a Ridgeview student, and even as a college student, my primary pursuit was learning. The novelty of that only strikes me now that I have worked full time for about eight months. Until May, I had the seventeen-year luxury of having prescribed reading and learning times. When eight hours a day are spent in academia, spending an hour or two watching videos or TV shows hardly seems like much of a detriment.

Youth educates people in the art of wasting time. There is, indeed, virtue in being more creative and less wasteful. But, when time is so plentiful, a few moments hardly seem indispensable. And, when most time is useful, flippant moments seem acceptable.

How many moments have we, young and old alike, spent disengaging and merely passing time? A moment in a college classroom tells you how adept young people are at a half-conscious habitual withdrawal. A glance around an auditorium of two hundred students will quickly reveal more than that many devices offering distractions not just from the learning itself, but from the time between classes. A waiting room at a doctor’s office shows tens of adults absentmindedly tapping at a game on their phone.

Upon reflection, I believe that technology has conjured one of the worst distractions:  the art of not simply wasting time, but of doing nothing. Perhaps this is not entirely a new problem. In the twelfth of The Screwtape Letters, I came across this passage: “The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes he does not like.”*

There is a special evil in being distracted by something that brings pure distraction rather than pleasure. That said, I would argue that some of the shows I watch have value, intellectual and otherwise. However, at what point do we keep watching not because we want to, but because we are attached to wasting time?

With this realization, my hope is not to cease wasting time, but to waste time more sparingly. As Screwtape chastises Wormwood, he remarks: “And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there- a walk through country he really likes, and take alone.Were you so ignorant to see the danger of this?”**

Indeed, if we are to spend time, rather than waste it, we might receive goodness and joy rather than emptiness and guilt. So, may our students realize the great luxury of spending eight hours a day in something joyful and worthwhile. And, may our community members like myself  make time for noble pursuits rather than filling our time with nothing.

*C S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, pbk. ed. (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007, Copyright 2002), 219-220.

**Ibid, 221.

My freshman year of college held a plethora of changes, many of which were expected and a few of which were not.

I had anticipated the change in work load, with more free time but also more homework. I had not anticipated feeling like ninety percent of the classes were easier than those in high school.

I had predicted that I would have fewer close friends but not that my closest friendships would still be formed over studying.

However, the most obvious alteration was the change in the standard of dress.

At first, I wore slacks and my regular dress code Ridgeview attire because it seemed most proper for class. As fall came, I reveled in the freedom of wearing jeans. One day, I spotted a nineteen year-old woman (presumably on the way to class) wearing Hello Kitty “footie” pajamas. I quickly realized that knowing how to dress oneself was as much a privilege as much as a Ridgeview education.

I was not unaware that my school attire was more professional and demure than many others’ (I went to Ridgeview, but I did not live under a rock). I had never come into conflict with the dress code or taken issue with it. I felt the dress code furthered my expression of individuality, allowing more emphasis of my thoughts and ideas.

Indeed, as Albert Einstein points out, clothing in itself is not the object: “If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.”*

Moreover, what stunned me in college was that others did not seem to possess a way of gauging appropriate styles. Other students did not understand that there ought to be a different standard of dress for having a night out, hanging out with friends,  going out with your grandparents, going to class or even sleeping. It seems trivial, but knowing how to dress for an occupation or occasion is certainly a virtue.

Machiavelli writes: “When evening comes, I return to my home, and I go into my study; and on the threshold, I take off my everyday clothes, which are covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal and curial robes; and dressed in a more appropriate manner I enter into the ancient courts of ancient men and am welcomed by them kindly.”**

Thus, how we dress reflects not only what we think of ourselves, but how we view the task at hand. It is only fitting that we dress more formally in class than we do hanging out with friends because the task itself demands a graver demeanor.

*Treasury of the Christian Faith: An Encyclopedic Handbook of the Range and Witness of Christianity, ed. Stanley I. Stuber and Thomas Curtis Clark, Association Press (New York: 1949), 415.

**Niccolò Machiavelli, The Portable Machiavelli, ed. Peter E. Bondanella and Mark Musa, The Viking Portable Library (Hammondsworth, Eng.: Penguin Books, 1979), 1.

The holiday season is a reprieve from the hustle and bustle. It is like hitting a pause, although perhaps it feels more like a flash-forward.

This year was a great year for me. I graduated from college, I got my job at Ridgeview, and I got married. There are many who are celebrating life this year: newborns, recoveries, weddings, and other accomplishments. This holiday season will bring new people and new traditions together.

I also know many for whom this year was rough. People have passed and people have begun to forget everything; people have done terrible things or suffered terrible things; people have struggled and watched loved ones struggle.

There will be empty seats this year, some of which we might have anticipated. We might have cemented the memory of a grandparent’s last Christmas. Other empty seats, we never could have or would have foreseen. There has been tragedy and loss this year, both beyond measure.

There will be truly happy hearts as well as melancholy souls. Some people will be touched with a combination, smiling sincerely with tears in their eyes. We must recognize each of these feelings as part of the universal human experience, and welcome all at our celebrations.

After all, the holidays are a time to be together, to help each other look beyond the momentary happiness or sadness and find an underlying joy. May we all find that joy this season, a joy that will refresh after a long year and sustain us through another.

Good tidings and Happy New Year!

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