[Milton-L] Herbert's poetry and belief

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Fri Oct 2 16:59:16 EDT 2009

> Well said. We call it a liberal education because it liberates us from our
> particular circumscribed experience so that we can see the world as others
> do.

I agree that this is, and should be, the aim, but it seems to me that the
larger question raised by Prof. Thickstun's initial post is how to guide
students with sensitivity through a process that can feel--as Samuel Smith
rightly points out--like they're being told to doubt things that they feel
deeply and fundamentally to be true. I'm a Miltonist, and I believe with
Milton that belief can be strengthened by being challenged, but not everyone
feels this way. Sensitivity is important not so much for the sake of being
PC or touchy-feely, but because the challenge won't work if students feel
threatened and decide to turn off.

Of course, sensitivity framed in this way sounds like political guile, which
I suppose it is, but on the other hand there's the question of just what it
is students expect to get for their tuition. For me, the point is not to
breed heretics in the truth by directing students to preconceived ideas, but
to help situate them such that they are sufficiently exposed to difference
that they can start sorting things out for themselves. Simple reinforcement
of what I already think to be true can be had for nothing more than the
price of an internet connection or a cable TV subscription (not that these
media necessarily work only to that end). Cheaper than college, in either

I suppose the issue here is the same as in Of Toleration: everyone should be
tolerated, except the Catholics, because they reject the system of testing
ideas that makes toleration possible. If my classroom needs a certain amount
of tolerance to work, to what extent am I justified in pushing an
ideological agenda of tolerance? I realize that I'm talking about a minority
of cases here, but isn't respecting minority views one of the tenets of

Jason A. Kerr

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

          —Czeslaw Milosz, from "Ars Poetica?"
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