Knowledge vs. Truth: A Cry for Help

As many of our readers know, this is my first semester teaching at a Christian college, and I find myself less prepared than I expected to be. I am mostly ready to teach the material I have been contracted to teach–but the students have thrown me for a loop here and there. I have had students who are concerned with the explicit content of some of their readers–but I understand and sympathize with their concerns. I have had students complain about the perceived difficulty and impracticability of my course–but that’s a universal complaint, and I’ve never taken it particularly seriously. (The student who came to my office to wonder aloud why he or she had to work so hard without a guaranteed “A” dropped my course later that afternoon, and I wish him or her the best in his or her future academic endeavors.)

But one incident has shaken me up, perhaps more than it should. I completely overhauled my English Composition course this year, to the point where it’s now one-half “big ideas” discussion course and one-half introduction to classical rhetoric. As such, we begin with a text that has one foot in each camp: Plato’s Phaedrus. (If you’re wondering where I’m headed, listen to our Richard Weaver trilogy from the spring.) Because I can’t expect freshmen at my college to come in with even a working knowledge of Plato, I begin this unit with a broad overview of the Theory of Forms and its relation to the Phaedrus. Because the topic of this dialogue is ostensibly male/male love, I also give a brief explanation of Greek sexual mores. I went through this latter subject as briefly and gingerly as I could, and I was even careful to bring it back to the New Testament at the end.

The next day, I received a phone call from a student who informed me that he or she had dropped my class; when I pressed the issue, I received three justifications: first, “I don’t see how reading Plato will help our writing”; and secondly, “hearing about all that…stuff doesn’t help my walk with the Lord.” I am willing to disregard the first point, which is the same “I’m smarter than all my teachers” hogwash everyone encounters, whatever and wherever they teach. But the second complaint has shaken me up a bit. Besides the fact that I brought Plato around to Christianity multiple times, I’ve always seen all knowledge as interconnected. There’s no such thing, in my view, as a non-theological fact. Obviously, my student disagrees, so I bring the matter before the narrow wedge of the public this blog serves:

  1. Am I wrongheaded in viewing the conditions of Greek pederasty as related, however distantly, to this student’s spiritual walk?
  2. Is it my responsibility to convince students that this is the case?
  3. How on earth do I go about doing so?
Your comments are appreciated.

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