Reflection on "Classical Education and the Black Intellectual Tradition"

On November 12, the Templeton Honors College welcomed Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Angel Adams Parham, and Dr. Eric Ashley Hairston to the Warner Library to discuss classical education and the black intellectual tradition.

Dr. Cornel West is a philosopher, political activist, and an author.  He began the event by delivering a thirty-minute speech on the topic of Classical Education and the Black Intellectual Tradition.  Dr. West first gave his thoughts on the importance of this discussion, and the crucial need in our culture to continue having discussions of this nature.  Dr. West said,  “Anytime you’re talking about intellectual traditions, of whatever sort, you are really talking about wrestling with the most terrifying question any of us could ever raise, ‘what does it mean to be human?’  What kind of human being are we going to choose to be from our mama’s womb to tomb?”  

Dr. West strongly emphasized early in the speech the importance of conversation and discussion in pursuit of answering this question. Dr. West then turned toward vocation as a primary way in which we as humans answer this question.  Addressing students and young people, Dr. West clarified,  “We’re not talking about your profession solely; the set of skills you have to gain access to a labor force, we’re talking about your vocation.  What is your mission?  What is your purpose?  You’re not here that long.”  Expounding upon the idea that understanding your vocation is absolutely essential in contextualizing the realities of the current moment in our history, he then also clarified the challenges that accompany this cognition of reality.  Dr. West discussed our ability to see these truths: “All of us have blind spots no matter how clearly we think we see.”  It is in the arts that Dr. West says we are able to cultivate the openness and responsiveness that is required of all who seek to participate in the seeing which marks a purpose-filled life. He concluded by once again praising the virtue of open and productive dialogue in the preservation of the black intellectual tradition and in intellectual tradition as a whole.  This most sacred practice, he says, is the key to meeting the test which “Every generation must meet.”  

Dr. West’s speech left a profound impression on my heart and mind, both as a student and as a member of the generation which inherits the traditions and practices of previous ones.  Hearing Dr. West continually draw from, or make reference to, great black artists, authors, and orators gave me a deep appreciation for the depths of wealth which the black intellectual tradition boasts.  As we as a generation consider the traditions which we will embrace, Dr. West’s work will remain a powerful guide in our quest to take in the good, and reject the evil.  As Dr. West said, “traditions can both suffocate and liberate.”  I pray that we as a generation may have the prudence to recognize both such traditions.

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