The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 15, 2017

To Educate for Liberty
Christopher Long - 06/22/11

ISI president Christopher Long, who rejoined the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in April, recently sat down with the CiRCE Institute to talk about ISI’s work. First Principles is proud to publish excerpts of the interview.

As the new president of ISI, what drew you to the work done at ISI? What made you want to return?

I have always been attracted to big ideas that can change the world. Since ISI was founded in 1953, it has helped connect college students with some radical ideas that are embodied in America’s founding documents, including the concepts that people have God-given rights, that government should have limited powers that are spelled out in the Constitution, and that its power is derived from the consent of the governed.

A longtime speaker and author for ISI was Richard Weaver, whose book Ideas Have Consequences is now a classic. Ideas do in fact have important consequences, but the battle of ideas relies on human interaction. So, while the principles and concepts are important to ISI’s work, equally essential are the relationships that develop around the communication of the ideas. What I have enjoyed about ISI since I was an undergraduate student is that ISI engages young people with big ideas, smartly articulated by thoughtful speakers at on-campus lectures and conferences.

Given the climate on campuses today, which is ambivalent if not hostile toward open intellectual discussion and debate, ISI’s work is more relevant than ever. My deep commitment to the liberal arts tradition as being a critical prerequisite to maintaining our economic and political liberties—which are currently imperiled in this country and throughout the world—compelled me to agree to take on the task of leading ISI when my fellow members of the ISI Board of Trustees came calling.

Are there any new plans in the works that followers of ISI should know about—or about which you can provide a sneak preview?

We have just launched a three-year campaign called Leadership for America’s Future. The campaign will work to ensure that the next generation of leaders is ready to take on the most critical work of our republic—securing the promise of the American Dream.

The campaign is designed to transform the lives of students through a multifaceted, community-building approach at 150 carefully selected target colleges. It will inspire high-quality college students to become more deeply involved with ISI through various leadership programs that have proven successful over the years: graduate fellowships, undergraduate honors fellowships, journalism internships and fellowships for conservative student writers, and scholarships to enable students to participate in ISI regional and national conferences and seminars.

Importantly, there is a focus on establishing active communities at the target schools. ISI staff will frequently visit the campuses to encourage and help foster ongoing lectures and seminars, reading groups, student publications (including newspapers and opinion journals), and lots of meaningful interaction between ISI student and faculty members.

ISI claims to work “to educate for liberty.” What does this look like, practically speaking?

First of all, “to educate for liberty” signals a certain conviction of ISI: namely, that liberty is not something that simply comes naturally. Rather, liberty is the fruit of a particular history, culture, and constitutional art—and its preservation depends on virtue and wise statesmanship. Liberty is difficult, and it is always fragile. We are never more than a generation away from losing it. ISI seeks to open up for students the deepest roots of America’s free society and to inspire in them a desire to learn more, so that they can be the wise statesmen (and citizens) that we need. Practically speaking, ISI pursues this goal through a variety of means: lectures, seminars, conferences, colloquia, publications, books. The particular topics are ever-changing, but ISI always seeks to connect students with the first principles that undergird our liberty.

Do you have any advice for parents and teachers of students in high school and younger who wish to also “educate for liberty”? How can this be done in the lower school classroom or in the home?

CiRCE families already know the value of a classical education and the liberal arts, and their essential role in fostering the moral imagination, virtuous living, and a genuine sense of citizenship and patriotism. College and popular culture are quick to ridicule and demean these things. That pervasive attitude ultimately leads to a very dangerous spot, a place the Founders and Tocqueville warned we could end up: we become a people not only vulnerable to tyranny and servitude but so unaware of the dangers of this path that we actually choose it.

As Noah Webster wrote back in 1788, “Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice.” Becoming acquainted with America means learning its history, its institutions, the principles that have ensured our freedom and prosperity for more than two centuries, and America’s creed and civic character.

Parents and teachers can certainly help young people learn this history, discover and embrace the principles and virtues of our free society, and understand the American creed and character. ISI, in fact, has just published a book expressly aimed at doing that. What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song is ideally suited for the living room or the classroom. Acclaimed teachers Amy Kass, Leon Kass, and Diana Schaub have assembled classic short stories, speeches, poems, and songs by the likes of Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr., Francis Scott Key, and dozens of others. Syndicated columnist Mona Charen recently wrote that this “should become The Book of Virtues for patriots.”

ISI has many other excellent resources for families. These include books in our Foundations series, such as Everyday Graces, as well as Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen’s wise and eloquent response to dangerous trends in education and parenting.

How can families be involved in the work of ISI?

This is simple: join ISI! Basic student membership is free, and our annual membership level for nonstudents is little more than the cost of a pizza.

While ISI ultimately exists to serve students, so much of what we have to offer extends beyond the formal classroom and is useful to anyone. For instance, ISI’s journal of scholarship and opinion, The Intercollegiate Review—which members receive for free—has for nearly fifty years argued for the importance and relevance of first principles and a traditional liberal arts education. Additionally, ISI has sixty years of journal archives available on the Web, hundreds of video and audio lectures that can be downloaded with the click of a button, more than two hundred books, and new material being developed all the time.

Whether you are a student, parent, or grandparent, ISI is about lifelong formation. We need to have as many people as possible capable of defending the republic and Western civilization. Friends of ISI have started local reading clubs based on our books and journal articles, and hosted events for ISI staff or speakers to come and talk about the Institute’s work.

What advice do you have for students graduating from high school this month?

Take charge of your own education. Nobody else can or will. Even if you’ve been accepted to a college that is friendly to a liberal arts education, one that still requires a real core curriculum, one that is not advancing left-leaning political agendas disguised as education, or one that has not been bewitched by the latest academic fads, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to control your education right from the beginning. And don’t do it alone. You need a peer group of like-minded friends and ideally a professor who can act as a mentor. This is where being a member of ISI makes so much sense. We help connect students with others and with a wide range of life-changing opportunities.

On a very practical level, I would urge students to go to CollegeGuide.org and look at the resources there. Our Student’s Guides to the Major Disciplines are also incredibly valuable. On the CollegeGuide.org website you can read two of these short books for free. And just reading through the entries on that site and identifying the best courses and professors and special programs can save a student so much valuable time.

Counselors will tell you to plan for your life after college—which is important to a point. ISI, though, encourages you to prepare for your life after college. True education is not just job preparation; it prepares you to be a liberally educated citizen ready for the responsibilities of freedom. Taking a rigorous core curriculum that teaches writing, speaking, languages, history, etc., is an excellent way to prepare for the opportunities that will come to you after graduation—most of which will be unexpected and unplanned for. As a freshman it is difficult to plan with certainty what will become of you after graduation. But if you tend to your studies, take advantage of the unique opportunities that American higher education affords students—including joining groups that facilitate that learning and networking like ISI—then you will have developed the competencies you need to make your way in our increasingly complicated global world. Trust me: that kind of preparation will pay off.

This interview originally ran on the website of the CiRCE Institute.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute • 3901 Centerville Rd. • Wilmington, Delaware 19807 • www.isi.org
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