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August 19, 2009

Friendship creates a kind of equality between persons. Other kinds of friendship may create other and debased kinds of equality, but the noble friendship that is directed toward what is good in itself, what is good for another and oneself, creates a noble equality–an equality that is not a leveling, but a lifting up, a mutual recognition of the immeasurable gift that is given in the intimated unity of one’s own destiny with the destiny of another.

We might hear the word equality as it has been uttered by Socrates, in the context of that potential for community which holds together gods and men, earth and sky. We cannot or ought not imagine our good without making some beginning at imagining the good of the whole, the good of sky and earth, the good of what is unreservedly broad open, the home of flight, of constellating light, of what is closed and sheltered, what is molded in the secret depths, the barrow and treasure house of the forgotten past … and also the weather of this in-between: the dew fall, welter of winds, snow drift, sun shower, rainscape. We must make some beginning at the difficult work of friendship–whether as invitation, conversation, prayer, or simply patience–with gods and with humans … and in doing so we set our hopes on being or becoming, if only in some small way, equal to the destiny of others, to great men even, and to the divine.

For to receive something for what it is, according not only to our good, but according to its own good, we must be equal, somehow, to the gift. It is in this way that I would like to understand Dr. Sampo, when he says that “one of the truths revealed by the incarnation is that equality is part of the good.” If the gift of God is God himself, and God poured out pro multis, for the many, then all are capable of, are equal to his being.

The Humanities cycle at Thomas More was so structured as to express the hope that our reading together, including a kind of accountability to each other in conversation, would be enriched and not diminished by the range of intellectual prowess and different stages of development represented in the members of the school as a whole. The proper response to what is beautiful and good in our history does not belong only to those whom we tend to think of as possessors of intellectual virtue; and we learn from the responses of all, even the flawed or fatal responses of a Polus or a Callicles. What ultimately distinguishes the career of a student is not his or her level of ability, but dedication to the call.

Moreover, I would assert that the work of receiving our cultural and historical heritage, is synergetically linked to the work of understanding and loving each other. … As suggested by the life of Socrates, ideally they become one work.

I think some of my claims I owe in part to the insight of the Cowans. If you will pardon me for quoting Unbinding Prometheus, not as though it were a new Republic, but because it sheds some light on what equality might have meant for the Thomas More College we knew …

Education itself is the best beneficiary of a normal mixture of minds. The concept of a magnet school for special interests or for ‘talented and gifted students’ is a ruse perpetrated by fond parents and bowed to by administrators embarrassed by the quality of their enterprise. Granted the problem they face is vexing: how can a single scheme serve both the best of students and the worst? The curriculum is the center of the solution; it must be the same for all students, but designed for the best—not in its complexity but in its imaginative scope and profundity. Ordinary and even lower than ordinary students respond to good material; they may remain less adroit than their brilliant classmates, but they live on the same plane of understanding. And the superior learners acquire from a mixed community responsibility and respect for their fellows.

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