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Intellectual Flourishing Through Graduate Study

Great Hearts Arizona January 11, 2024 -

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by Dr. Paul Weinhold, Director of Continuing Education

Allow me to begin with a seemingly inauspicious and miniscule grammatical observation: the verb “to flourish” is intransitive.

Like many things that go unnoticed, I admit that this diminutive fact seems inconsequential at first. It certainly does not recommend itselfas a flashy headline for the promotion of graduate studies. But I take it nonetheless as a fact worthy of our attention, if we are to understand what intellectual flourishing truly is and how graduate study can support intellectual flourishing. At the risk of appearing obscure, then, I shall stake my claim upon a technicality of the rules of language, but one which, I believe, gets to the heart of why we do what we do. I fear a grammar review really is unavoidable now, but I do promise to keep it brief.

I say that the verb “to flourish” is intransitive, but verbs can also be transitive. A transitive verb takes a direct object. For example, Marc Antony uses a transitive verb in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when he shouts, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” What does he want the crowd to lend? The direct object of the sentence, their ears. But not all verbs take a direct object. These verbs we call intransitive because the action of the verb begins and ends in the agent of the sentence. Consider Caesar’s words from the same play, “Cowards die many times before their deaths.” Unlike the verb lend, the verb die does not take a direct object. Who does the dying in Caesar’s sentence? Well, “cowards” do. That’s because one can kill something, but it’s impossible to die something (though of course you can dye something). Dying, like living, is an action that begins and ends with the person doing it, the agent.

You see? That wasn’t so bad. And now we may be in a better position to appreciate why I am drawing attention to the transitivity of flourishing. Flourishing is an action, but it is not an action directed toward an external object. Flourishing is an action that begins and ends in oneself.  (One can, of course, flourish a pen or a sword or a wand, but that is not the sense of “flourishing” that we mean.) The flourishing person exists in a state of physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual health. Like health, flourishing is not an action that a person exerts upon something or someone else, just as a rose’s blooming is not an action exerted on anything external to the rose itself. Flourishing is a state of being, an action that begins and ends in one’s own person.

We desire to flourish, in other words, for its own sake. We were meant for flourishing, and flourishing is an action that we exert upon our own selves.

Graduate study is a means of developing one’s intellect. If you are called to pursue a life of intellectual flourishing, if you believe, with Socrates, that the unexamined life is not worth living, then the clarion call of A.G. Sertillanges, author of The Intellectual Life, may be for you:

“You . . . who understand this language and to whom the heroes of the mind seem mysteriously to beckon, but who fear to lack the necessary means, listen to me. Have you two hours a day? Can you undertake to keep them jealously, to use them ardently, and then . . . can you drink the chalice of which these pages would wish to make you savor the exquisite and bitter taste? If so, have confidence.  Nay, rest in quiet certainty.”

You may not have two hours every single day, but graduate study can still sustain and improve your intellectual flourishing. We pursueexercise and nutrition for the flourishing of our bodies; empathy and friendship for the flourishing of our emotional and social life; prayer or meditation for the flourishing of our spiritual lives. The food of the intellect, however, is ideas. A good way to dig into deeper and more complex ideas is to attend graduate school.

Attending graduate school is by no means the only way to cultivate one’s mind. You could attempt the journey on your own through individual study, just as you could hike through the Grand Canyon on your own without a guide. But it is more pleasant to have company, and it is safer to have a guide. You are more likely to arrive at your intended destination. Likewise, an intellectual vocation, as Sertillanges reminds us, “is not fulfilled by vague reading and a few scattered writings. It requires penetration and continuity and methodical effort.” That is what graduate school, at its best, imparts: not a mishmash of miscellaneous information but what Russell Kirk calls “an integrated and ordered body of knowledge” designed to “develop the philosophical habit of mind.” True, not every graduate program pursues this intention today. Neither does every graduate student pursue further schooling for the noblest reasons. More often both are narrowly utilitarian. The completion of requirements for a degree serves the proximate end of meeting a demand for labor in the economy or of advancing one’s career ambitions. Such programs and such motives are fine, as far as they go. Fortunately, however, Great Hearts enjoys strong partnerships with graduate programs that share our noble educational vision and that cultivate intellectual flourishing of the highest order.

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Indeed, a growing number of programs are now specifically dedicated to classical educators. These are available online and designed with working teachers in mind. Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership has launched a Classical Liberal Education and Leadership MA that is “an integrated, interdisciplinary course of study that is student learning centered, employing the Socratic method of classroom dialogue.” The University of Dallas likewise offers a Classical Education Graduate Programthat “fosters inquiry, cultviates virtue, and instills wisdom.” Templeton Honors College provides an MAT in Classical Education that “offers a distinctly classical approach to training teachers.” More recently, graduate programs in classical education have proliferated at Hillsdale CollegeBenedictine College, and Belmont Abbey College. In addition, the University of St. Thomas-Houston offers both an online Ed.D. program that “blends the best of classical thought and wisdom with modern educational and leadership theory” and an Executive Master in Liberal Arts degree. Likewise, St. John’s College offers an MA in Liberal Arts degree program. Each of these programs provides a rarecombination: pursuit of the highest aims together with generous funding. They are, furthermore, motivated to enroll Great Hearts faculty and staff.

Colleagues who have completed programs such as these are flourishing as a result. James Manion, veteran teacher at Trivium Prep, testifies that his graduate education “revitalized many of the deeply unanswered questions I had left on the shelf since the days of my undergraduate program. Old college books and old college notes came back to life, and with great satisfaction and a more maturemind, I experienced the joys of answering questions that I forgot I had or that I never quite understood when they were first presented to me.” Similarly, Thomas Beyer, Assistant Headmaster at Great Hearts Irving Lower, writes of graduate school’s inherent worth: “The chance to study at the feet of Western Civilization’s wisest thinkers under the guidance of some of Liberal Education’s most accomplished professors, not to mention the impact such an experience has on one’s mastery of the craft of teaching, is of a value that is truly incalculable.”

The value of graduate study is incalculable because the worth of intellectual flourishing is intrinsic, and the dignity of the mind ispriceless. If your heart stirs at the thought of graduate education, and if you long to pursue intellectual flourishing for its own sake, then a life of teaching and service at Great Hearts affords many opportunities to fulfill that desire.

Candid photo of Dr. Paul WeinholdAre you interested in learning more about the pursuit of intellectual flourishing with Great Hearts? Contact Dr. Paul Weinhold, Director of Continuing Education, for more information:

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