• Devin O'Donnell

Learning in Covid-19 Time

In this time, it's common to be stressed and anxious over many things. We are being forced to do this differently and to use new technologies. Technology disrupts tradition. And so when our normal routines and traditions are disrupted, we get stressed and anxious over many things. But only one thing is needed, and to do this, it's necessary to recall our mission and the purpose of education.

Remember, education has everything to do with what it means to be human. Humans are made in the image of God, that image has been broken by sin, and the thing we need most is to be reconciled to our Father, “that we might delight in His will and walk in His ways.” Learning is also about the cultivation of wisdom and virtue; this is the part of that restoration of the human person as the image of God. God is holy; we are made to be holy too. God is wise; we made to be wise too. Jesus was disciplined; we are made to be disciplined too. Thus, we learn not simply “facts” or "skills" but how to be more like our Creator. This is one of the insights of Hugh of St. Victor. That the goal of education includes nothing less than the process of sanctification and restoration of us as the image of God.

Some might think, that's fine and great but why do this now, when everything is shutdown and amid the changes to which we are all adjusting? So how do we defend why learning matters in an inopportune time? Looking to C. S. Lewis (our Virgil during this time of social-distancing hell), we can learn much from his essay, "Learning in Wartime," which perfect answers this question. I encourage you to read the full essay later. For now, it's enough to consider the central points of his argument.

Ultimately, Lewis argues that wartime is no excuse to stop school. World War II broke out on September 1, 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland. England declared war on Germany on September 3. This came right before the beginning term at Oxford (Michaelmas on September 29). Many questioned the point of learning during this wartime. In response, Lewis delivered this sermon.

Lewis writes

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.

In other words, the issue is not "learning in war-time, but learning at any time.” After all, “if mankind had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until all of life was secure for everyone, the search would never have begun.”

So let's see this time right now not merely as a negative interruption but as an opportunity. On the campus of St. Abraham’s, we disciple students and seek to awaken them to what is True, Good, and Beautiful. This is no time to stop doing that. Just because conditions might not be ideal doesn’t mean we should stop learning. As Lewis puts it in his essay, “Favorable conditions never come.”

Here's the agenda for today.

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