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Full speed ahead

Published November 28. 2009 09:00AM

Dear Editor:

For this essay, I would like to elaborate a bit upon pages 14 and 15 of A.G. Sertillanges' book "The Intellectual Life."

Here I am, a man of the 20th century, living in a time of permanent drama, witnessing upheavals such as perhaps the globe never before saw since the mountains rose and the seas were driven into their caverns. What have I to do for this panting, palpitating century? More than ever before thought is waiting for men, and men for thought. The world is in danger for lack of life-giving maxims. We are in a train rushing ahead at top speed, no signals visible. The planet is going it knows not where, its law has failed it: who will give it back its sun? (Sertillanges)

There are two things I would like to talk about regarding this passage. First, I believe that Sertillanges was pointing the finger at most, if not all of the politicians of the West who were involved in World War I. I write this because of the cause of the war. It is believed that when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, tempers boiled and cooler heads did not prevail until - within a short period of time - the entire world was at war. I think that this coincides with one of the points that Sertillanges is trying to make when he states that he is "living in a time of permanent drama, witnessing upheavals," and "We are in a train rushing ahead at top speed, no signals visible."

I would also like to associate this issue of World War I with the reading of literature and literacy in 21st century America. The whole "We are in a train rushing ahead at top speed, no signals visible" phenomenon is taking place in 21st century academia just as it took place during the events that led to World War I. Only, we're no longer in a train. Rather, we are in a space ship travelling at light speed. In many high schools, administrators institute what they call "accelerated reading." Students read books as fast as they can, only to take short automated quizzes to assess their reading and comprehension skills with a computer as judge. In short, there is no time for discussion or interaction between instructor-student, student-student, and student-instructor. The same can be said for many of the college classrooms in America. How many times do students read an assigned piece of literature only to go to class the next day and have what they just read regurgitated back to them in one giant notetaking session? (While I was an English major at DeSales University, I noticed that in the classes where the material was regurgitated and the students were required to take notes, the student rarely did the reading. On the other hand, when the classroom was an open discussion forum, almost every student did the reading and participated frequently.) As Sertillanges states "More than ever before thought is waiting for men, and men for thought."

The politicians of Sertillanges' age were not willing to take the time to sit down with each other and use diplomacy to figure out their problems. The train was rushing ahead at top speed the same way it is in our academic fields today.

Christopher Hafer

M.S. in Bible student

Philadelphia Biblical University

Langhorne, PA.

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