As a young man, working in the yard with my father, there would often come a time when he would say, “We are losing light; get a move on.” The obvious meaning was the sun was going down and our light to do our work well was leaving us. Working in the dark is difficult. Teaching in the dark is also difficult. I fear our culture is leaving us in the dark in our classrooms and making it much harder to teach.
If you define education as the accumulation of knowledge (which only a partial definition at best) then you can certainly accrue some knowledge even in a culture of relativity and sophism. But if you believe education to be the cultivation of wisdom and virtue, found through a contemplation of truth, goodness, and beauty, then darkness, or the denial of any real light, makes such very difficult.
Just today I had a confusing and sad discussion in class with some freshmen over the nature of the f-bomb. I was told that it might be inappropriate for my culture, but it was acceptable in their own “generations” culture. Beyond the obvious confusion over the term “culture,” there was this idea that meaning must be made within one’s own experience. Meaning is not objective but subjective. So anytime we ask within a classroom “what does this mean?” we step nowadays toward the shadows, not toward the brilliant light of the sun.
To explore Plato’s analogy of the cave, when the chains fall off (if they even exist) the liberated man does not go out into the bright sunlight but shifts off into the inner reaches of the deeper cave to find his own meaning, hands outstretched, eyes perhaps wide open trying to discern what is there, but more likely tightly shut as it makes no difference.
I discussed this with colleagues at lunch. This is why true education, that believes that truth exists, can be known, and can be (must be) shared, is more and more counter-cultural. The truth is going to taste more and more like bad medicine, or harsh objectivity, or the more general and ubiquitous term: offensive. We must teach the truth in love, but we must have the courage to know that it may be taken as something other than loving. It seem we are asking fish to swim in water they have been told does not exist. “All this wetness is annoying.”